KDF vows to protect Goma airport against M23 attack

Soldiers walk at Goma Airport in eastern DRC

An escort of Kenyan and Congolese military personnel stands guard at the airport in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta lands on November 15, 2022. 

Photo credit: Alexis Heguet | AFP

Kenyan soldiers have vowed to protect the strategic Goma Airport from possible attacks as M23 rebels advanced towards the city amid a battle with Congolese forces.

At a joint press briefing, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and Congolese forces said troops belonging to the East African Regional Force are ready to defend strategic installations and civilian areas from war, even as they said the priority is to seek peace through diplomacy.

“No one will take Goma. We are here to protect Goma airport,” said Maj-Gen Jeff Nyagah, the Kenyan military officer who is now the Commander of the Regional Force. However, he also clarified there was no immediate intention for combat.

“Sometimes, war does not bring peace. You have to pursue diplomacy. It is only after diplomacy and disarmament have failed that military force will be used,” he told the media, while referring to the pursuit of diplomacy under two tracks: one fronted by the East African Community and known as the Nairobi Process, facilitated by former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. The other is fronted by the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region under Angolan President Joao Lorenco.

Soldiers walk at Goma Airport in eastern DRC

Kenyan troops arriving in the Democratic Republic of Congo are received by the Armed Forces of DRC (FARDC) at Goma International Airport on November 12, 2022.

Photo credit: Mary Wambui | Nation Media Group

Maj-Gen Nyagah spoke after the second contingent of KDF troops touched down in Goma on Wednesday. His comments, however, may be viewed differently in the DRC.

KDF soldiers arrived as M23 rebel groups advanced towards Goma on Wednesday, causing massive displacement of civilians.

Locals reject calls for dialogue

congolese dancing protecting goma airport from m23 rebels

Hundreds of volunteers stand at Goma International Airport to receive instructions before boarding a plane that will take them to a training center after responding to President Felix Tshisekedi's call to join the army and fight against M23 rebels in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, on November 14, 2022.

Photo credit: Guerchom Ndebo | AFP

Locals have rejected suggestions for dialogue with the rebel group. They say they want M23 extinguished militarily. This is also the stance of the country's political authorities.

“Our position is clear and it is known: no negotiation with terrorists. There will be no negotiations with the terrorists until they withdraw from the occupied localities. We stand by this,” said government spokesman Patrick Muyaya, who is also the Minister for Communication.

Maj-Gen Nyagah has called on armed groups in eastern DRC to cease hostilities against the local population.

“We have been mandated to support the DRC in collaboration with humanitarian agencies to continue humanitarian assistance to populations affected by the activities of armed groups, including internally displaced persons,” he said.

Optimistic and determined

He added that the force is optimistic, determined, and has the capacity and means to carry out its mandate.

“I appeal to the local population, the media and the international community to support this important cause of the East African Community in its quest to restore peace and stability in eastern DRC," the force commander said.

Speaking on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said "the political process must be the priority in dealing with these tensions”. Macron said he had spoken with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and Kenyan leader William Ruto.

"I know I can count on the commitment of President Kagame and President Tshisekedi in this period and I will thank President Ruto for his political mobilisation and the deployment of his forces," said President Macron.