The deployment of Kenyan troops to DRC: is it worth it?

Barely three months into what he promised to be a transformative tenure as the commander in chief, President William Ruto, elected to send Kenyan troops into the regions of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on a peacekeeping mission to thwart the rebels that have plagued the region for several years now. Most people are familiar with the conflict that has been the routine in DRC ever since their Belgian colonial masters decided to grant them their independence back in 1960. The unending conflict has consistently ravaged the DRC, claiming the lives of more than five million people, driving millions more into starvation and exposing them to diseases, and has resulted in a violation of human rights, where millions of women and girls have been raped. The conflict has claimed the nation’s political and economic stability to the benefit of international conglomerates that have interests in the country’s natural wealth.

The country has continued to experience conflicts and instability despite consistent efforts at the national, regional, and international levels to negotiate the end of wars and consolidate peace. Key peace deals have been signed, including the six-country ceasefire signed in July 1999 in Lusaka; the July 2002 peace deal between the DRC and Rwanda for the pull out of Rwandan troops and disarmament of Rwandan Hutu militias in Eastern DRC; and the January 2008 accord between the DRC government and rebel groups. The failure of the various ceasefires and peace deals to consolidate peace is indicative of unresolved deep problems that perpetuate inter-group antagonisms, distrust of the people and communities vis-à-vis the state, and troubled relations between the DRC and its neighbors. Most of these problems have a long history dating as far back as the colonial era.

The conflicts in the DRC have been a major cause of concern at the national, regional and international levels, especially due to the heavy death toll and the massive abuses of human rights orchestrated by warring factions against innocent civilian populations. The wars have disrupted economic activity in key sectors such as agriculture and industry due to insecurity, population displacement and deterioration of physical infrastructure. They have also undermined the capacity of State institutions and governance, hence preventing the country from taking full advantage of the massive growth potential associated with its vast natural resource endowment and its strategic position in the region. When President Ruto decided that it would be worth it to risk the lives of the Kenyan soldiers on a war that has absolutely nothing to do with Kenya, many people had their doubts whether this was indeed the right cause of action to take. The question that comes to mind is, is it actually worth it and is it true that the conflict has absolutely nothing to do with Kenya?

It is important to appreciate that Kenyan soldiers have fought in peacekeeping missions before, most notably against the notorious Al- Shabaab in Somalia. Kenyan troops were deployed in 2011 to Somalia where they managed to liberate many towns including Kismayo albeit suffering immense casualties especially in El- Adde and Kulbiyow within the Geda region. In addition, increased attacks along the Kenya- Somalia border. Other than this, Kenyan troops have participated in peacekeeping missions in Angola, Namibia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This time, there will be deployment of about 900 soldiers (1 battalion) to DRC for the peacekeeping mission. It is unclear exactly how long this operation is going to take as this is war and it is not simple to project how long it will take. This operation is going to cost the Kenyan taxpayers Ksh. 4.4 billion in the initial six months but would rise to Ksh.7.2 billion if the troops stay for a year. Drawing from the past experiences of the Linda Nchi Operation in Somalia, it is more probable than not that this mission is likely to extend for more than the planned six months. It is not unreasonable to draw the conclusion that Kenya does not need to be involved in this conflict bearing in mind the immense financial costs and the loss of life that is inevitable in the face of such an altercation. Futhermore, the timing of this is also not the best. Kenya is struggling with the effects of the worst drought in 40 years. The ongoing drought, the worst in 40 years, has affected 23 counties; out of which 10 are under the alarm drought phase.1 With millions of Kenyan`s in dire need of food, shouldn`t the priority of the government be towards protecting its citizens instead of diverting resources towards another country?

DR Congo applied for membership in 2019, hoping to improve trade and political ties with its East African neighbours. In April 2022 after the signing of the Treaty of the Accession of the DRC into the EAC in Nairobi, this was realized. This meant a lot for the trading bloc because the DRC was bringing a lot more than just internal disputes to the table. Problem child or not, DRC has an impressive and unmatched resource portfolio including mineral wealth such as cobalt, gold, diamond, aluminum, and copper, among others, 96,027,187 people2, numerous water bodies, vast farmland, rich biodiversity, and the world’s second-largest rain forest.

`The DRC is the world’s leading producer of cobalt, used in the manufacture of batteries. It is also the world’s fourth- largest producer of copper, used in the assembly of electric cars and the infrastructure of most renewable energy sources. Lithium deposits, estimated at over 130 million tonnes, are also present in the southeast. Congo has most of the mineral ores that produce key components in making computer chips and electric vehicles, technologies that are powering the drive to the future. In a typical computer, copper and gold are key components used in making the monitor, printed circuit boards and chips. DRC is rich in these minerals, producing 68 percent of the world’s cobalt — the largest globally — and over 1.8 million tonnes of copper annually. In 2020, these minerals accounted for $17.8 billion, about 91 percent of DRC’s total exports, and 36 percent of the country’s GDP that year.’3

Like Tanzania, DRC is a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member state. DRC’s entry into EAC will strengthen the EAC-SADC bridge that Tanzania already established when she joined SADC. It will also improve ongoing bilateral negotiations for a Grand Free Trade Area between EAC and the 16-member SADC, and among EAC, SADC, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).4 Furthermore, the addition of DRC’s populace to EAC will swell EAC’s current population to 303,370,369 individuals, and expand the EAC-SADC one to about 613,588,439 people. DRC, sub-Sahara’s largest country, will become EAC’s largest country.5 The new EAC now offers a combined market-driven economy of 266 million people and a GDP of $243 billion.6 According to the East African Business Council, EAC’s exports to the DRC have averaged 13.5 percent in the last seven years to 2020.

In 2018, the value of imported goods into the DRC stood at $7.4 billion against exports of $855.4 million.7 To leverage the additional resources that DRC brings to the EAC table for the accelerated socio-economic development that the bloc absolutely needs to sustain its peace and security, EAC member states are best advised to embrace DRC wholeheartedly.8 Attacks by armed groups and recurring inter-communal violence continue to threaten populations in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where more than 120 militias and other armed groups actively operate.9 At least 5.6 million Congolese are internally displaced while at least 1 million have fled to neighboring countries, making this the largest displacement crisis in Africa.10 It is important to note that should there be peace in DRC, all the countries

of the trading bloc stand to gain from this. This is why it is a joint effort among all the states; Burundi (2 battalions), Rwanda(2 battalions), South Sudan(2 battalions), Uganda(2 battalions) while Tanzania has given commitment to join the peace efforts at a later date.

International relations are based on long time customs and honor between countries. The peacekeeping mission is a mission to protect humanity. It is no longer possible to sit idly by and conclude that the conflict has absolutely nothing to do with the Kenyan people. Albeit it would be the easier choice and it will not cost us any lives and any financial loss, one would argue that it would cost us our humanity. War has plagued DRC for years and many have lost their lives and many more displaced. The country has failed to develop economically, politically and socially. The conflict is being right on the border of the East African Community, how long before it encroaches past the borders to the member states? For a mundane Kenyan citizen who has never seen such atrocities, it is easy to condemn DRC and conclude that it is not worth it to help. If not us, the neighbours, then who? The economic opportunities that are coupled with the success of the peacekeeping mission should not be the only motivation towards the efforts in the first place.

In conclusion, it is worth it to risk the lives of the Kenyan troops, because of the many innocent lives that will be saved by the end of the mission to protect humanity.

1https://www.citizen.digital/news/ten-counties-on-red-alert-as-kenya-faces-worst-drought-in-40-years-n306031

2https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/democratic-republic-of-the- congo-population/#:~:text=The%20current%20population%20of%20the,the%20 latest%20United%20Nations%20data.

3https://www.privacyshield.gov/article?id=Congo-Democratic-Republic-Mining-and-Minerals

4https://horninstitute.org/the-pros-and-cons-of-democratic-republic- of-congos-entry-into-the-east-african-community/

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6https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/-opportunities-and-burdens-dr-congo-brings- to-eac-table-3769482

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8https://horninstitute.org/the-pros-and-cons-of-democratic-republic-of-congos-entry-into-the-east-african-community/

9https://www.globalr2p.org/countries/democratic-republic-of-the-congo/

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The Platform for Law, Justice & Society is published by Gitobu Imanyara & Co every month principally to offer a platform for informed and critical discussion of the National Values and Principles set out in Articles 10 (2) of the Constitution of Kenya.

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