DR Congo peace talks a chance to unite region

President Kenyatta just hosted five East African presidents in a bid to end war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The high-level meeting on Monday attended by Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Evariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi), Felix Tshisekedi (DRC) and Salva Kiir Mayardit (South Sudan) at State House, Nairobi, came just a day after regional military chiefs met in Nairobi to finalise preparations for the activation of a regional force to quell the violence in the Congo.

A ray of hope that the latest talks on the turmoil in DRC would bear fruit was signalled by the gesture by both Mr Kagame and Mr Tshisekedi to attend the peace talks in person. The upheaval in the DRC has been fuelled by mutual suspicion, accusations and counter-accusations between the two neighbours. 

Kigali has been accusing DRC of giving succour to perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which left close to a million people dead. Kinshasa accuses Kagame’s administration of bankrolling and arming M23 rebels to devastate residents of North Kivu region.

These differences have escalated to ugly levels with President Kagame recently cancelling flights by the national carrier RwandAir to the major cities of DRC. And last Friday, DRC closed its borders amid claims of aggression by Rwandan soldiers. The merits and demerits of these claims and counter-claims notwithstanding, there is a need by the region’s leadership to prevail upon the two countries to see the bigger picture—that peace in DRC and regional stability supersedes the weight of the arguments they advance.

The EAC, chaired by President Kenyatta, shouldn’t rest until it pacifies eastern part of DRC, the latest entrant into the bloc. The dispute between the two countries must be resolved and a conducive environment for trade and deeper ties among the EAC member states created. A stable EAC is a major cog in the envisaged African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

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