East African head of states have renewed their call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, DR Congo). The call came at an extra-ordinary summit in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura on Saturday. The leaders of the East African Community (EAC) also demanded the withdrawal of all foreign armed troops.
The East African Community is a regional intergovernmental organization founded in 1967. The EAC is currently made up of seven partner states: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republics of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania. According to a communique issued at the end of the summit, the head of states “met in a cordial and friendly atmosphere”. DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame both were among the attendees.
The heads of states also directed the chiefs of defense forces to meet within one week and set new timelines for the withdrawal of foreign armed troops. The Summit stressed that the security situation in eastern DR Congo is a regional matter that can only be sustainably resolved through a political process and emphasized the need for enhanced dialogue among all the parties. The heads of states directed all troop-contributing countries to immediately deploy and urged the DR Congo to immediately facilitate the deployment of troops from South Sudan and Uganda to the East African Regional Force.
In 2022 and early 2023, attacks by non-state armed groups in the eastern DRC have killed hundreds of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in search of safety. At least 52,000 people have fled recent violence in Ituri province which is already hosting 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Since March 2022, fighting between the “Mouvement du 23 mars” (M23) rebels and Congolese government troops has displaced at least 521,000 people in the eastern North Kivu province.
Ruanda has long been accused of supporting the M23 rebel group. A report by a group of independent United Nations (UN) experts - mandated by the UN Sanctions Committee on the DR Congo - found strong evidence that Ruanda supported the M23, among others by supplying weapons, ammunition and uniforms. In December, the European Union (EU) firmly urged Rwanda to stop supporting the M23 armed group in the North Kivu province.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is facing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world, and the situation in the country is one of the most neglected displacement crises globally. For decades, the country has endured multiple, overlapping emergencies driven mainly by conflict and forced displacement. The UN estimates that 26.4 million people will require humanitarian assistance in the country this year.
With 6.6 million forcibly displaced people, the DR Congo has more displacement than any other country in Africa. Some 5.6 million people are internally displaced within the country, mainly in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, while 1 million refugees and asylum seekers from DRC are hosted in neighboring countries.
Full text: COMMUNIQUÉ OF THE 20TH EXTRA-ORDINARY SUMMIT OF THE EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY HEADS OF STATE, released February 4, 2023