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East African Community’s Ability to Equip Military Force Questioned

FILE - Peacekeepers rest after the installation of a new base in Rugari, 50 km from the city of Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan. 28, 2022.

Analysts are questioning the East African Community’s capacity to equip a multinational military force formed to battle insurgencies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Last week, the seven nations that make up the regional body announced the force’s mission would be to ''end decades of bloodshed," Reuters reported.

The challenges of getting the force on the ground are enormous, said Onesphore Sematumba, an analyst on the DRC and Great Lakes region at the International Crisis Group. He questioned the readiness of EAC countries to provide troops and logistics for the force and deploy it.

"Unfortunately, this regional force does not yet exist. It must first be mounted and made operational," he told VOA.

Over 120 rebel groups and militias still operate in the DRC's eastern provinces nearly two decades after the official end of the country's civil wars. The effort to restore peace has, since 2010, involved the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping force, with billions of dollars invested in the operation.

Some of the groups in the eastern DRC have operated there for two decades or more. That includes cross-border groups considered hostile to their countries of origin, such as the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which operates in DRC's North Kivu and Ituri provinces. According to the United Nations, the ADF killed over 1,200 people in 2021 alone, an increase of nearly 50% from the previous year.

Other cross-border groups are the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), or FLDR, in North Kivu and the RED-Tabara of Burundi in South Kivu.

Naureen Chowdhury Fink, executive director of the New York-based Soufan Center, said it was crucial to "reflect on lessons learned from other regions" where multiple groups are active. "It can get complicated very quickly," she told VOA.

Fink added that it was important for groups such as the EAC military force “to ensure their operations are based on the rule of law, as human rights violations can further exacerbate tensions with the communities they are intending to serve.”

"Also importantly," she said, "there needs to be a clearly defined operational strategy and objective so that it does not end up targeting a wide and undefined group of actors in the name of countering terrorism."

EAC partners include Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and, finally, the DRC, which became the community’s newest member earlier this month.

"Even by bringing together all the armies of the region, it will be difficult to militarily defeat more than 120 armed groups scattered over a very large area in a region of forests and mountains," Sematumba said.

"We are dealing with extremely mobile groups that have a very good knowledge of the field and have good networks of information within the populations," he told VOA. "Their asymmetrical warfare strategy requires a similar type of intelligence and special forces response from a potential regional force. States need patience."