Opponents of proposal to deploy regional peacekeepers point to chequered history that some of Democratic Republic of Congo's neighbours have in the war-torn east of the country.

Opponents of upcoming deployment seek reforms and reinforcements in DRC armed forces instead.
Opponents of upcoming deployment seek reforms and reinforcements in DRC armed forces instead. (AFP Archive)

Many people in the conflict zones of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have greeted the proposed deployment of a regional force with mistrust and outright hostility.

The proposal to deploy a peacekeeping force was announced on Monday in the Kenyan capital Nairobi at a meeting of the East African Community (EAC).

But opponents of the move have pointed to the chequered history that some of DRC's neighbours have in the war-torn east of the country.

They have called instead for reforms and reinforcements in the DRC armed forces (FARDC).

"We vigorously reject" the EAC project and "call on you to give it up", the citizens' movement Lucha (Fight for Change) declared in a letter to President Felix Tshisekedi, citing "security, economic or geopolitical" objections.

Lucha was founded 10 years ago in Goma, the capital of troubled eastern North Kivu province, which borders Uganda and Rwanda.

The group added in its letter, "At least three of the seven member states of the East African Community — Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi — have been involved for more than two decades in the destabilisation of our country, through interventions directly from their armies or through armed groups."

All three named countries, DRC's eastern neighbours, were involved in the two civil wars that wracked the vast mineral-rich country between 1996 and 2003.

READ MORE: East Africa leaders agree on regional troop deployment for DRC

DRC rejects Rwanda's troops

Kinshasa has already made it clear it opposes Rwanda's participation in any regional force, accusing it of backing the resurgent M23 rebels. Kigali denies the charge.

The Kenyan presidency gave no details of who will make up the force, intended for the eastern border provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri to the north.

Even without Rwandan involvement, however, some in Goma are not convinced by the idea of such a regional force.

"I'm against it, really, that's enough!" said samosa seller Tito Rushago on a street in Goma on Tuesday.

"There are all the countries here, Senegalese, Tanzanians, Uruguayans ...," he said, reeling off the participant countries in the large UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO.

READ MORE: Rwanda seeks to exploit DRC’s ‘gold, cobalt resources’

MONUSCO's effectiveness sceptical

For many in the region, it was not clear how any new regional force could succeed where MONUSCO had failed.

"I doubt the effectiveness of this force," said James Biensi, pastor of a church in Bunia, Ituri province.

The EAC countries did not all get along, he argued, and he was wary too of a "hidden agenda".

Raphael Wekenge, the coordinator of the Congolese Coalition for Transitional Justice (CCJT) took a similar view.

"I am sceptical about the operational side of a force made up of countries that have interests in our own," he said, speaking from South Kivu's capital Bukavu.

READ MORE: Thousands hold anti-Rwanda protests in eastern DRC

Source: AFP