By Ebi Kesiena
The East African Force (EAC-RF) has commenced its withdrawal from the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), following Kinshasa’s refusal to renew its mandate, citing ineffectiveness.
On Friday, an AFP team observed the departure of approximately 250 South Sudanese soldiers from Goma, North Kivu’s provincial capital.
Earlier, around 300 Kenyan soldiers from the EAC-RF, whose mandate concludes on December 8, had already left Goma last Sunday. Clad in fatigues and armed, the departing South Sudanese soldiers took off from Goma airport bound for Juba around 5:20 a.m. (3:20 a.m. GMT), with a second rotation scheduled later in the morning, according to an EAC-RF source on site.
The force, which also includes soldiers from Uganda and Burundi, will witness the departure of Ugandans and Burundians in the coming weeks, with officers leaving last. The withdrawal is expected to span a month until January 7, and equipment will be transported by road.
EAC-RF soldiers had arrived in Goma in November 2022, responding to an invitation from Congolese authorities to help liberate areas captured by the M23 rebellion.
However, the relationship between the Congolese and the EAC troops soured quickly, as accusations emerged that the forces were cohabiting with rebels instead of compelling them to disarm.
Following an EAC summit on November 25, it was announced that the DRC would not extend the mandate of the regional force beyond December 8, 2023. Kinshasa is now looking to replace the EAC-RF with troops from the Southern African Community (SADC), with a tentative deployment date of December 10 mentioned by a spokesperson for Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi.
The EAC-RF’s departure coincides with ongoing clashes between the M23 and the Congolese army, supported by so-called “patriotic” militiamen.
Meanwhile, the United Nations mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), present since 1999, faces criticism for its perceived ineffectiveness, prompting Kinshasa to call for its “orderly” but “accelerated” departure starting January 2024.