The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) says there has been little progress in East African Community (EAC)’s peacebuilding efforts since it joined the regional economic bloc early last year.
DRC Information and Communication Minister Patrick Muyaya said the peace they hoped for in the country’s troubled east is taking too long to be realised and “some Congolese are now questioning why we even asked to join the EAC”.
“When we joined the EAC, it was to connect our country with the region. The regional bloc was committed to peacebuilding but unfortunately, we have little progress,” Muyaya said in Kinshasa on Wednesday in a keynote address at the Nation Media Group-organised East African Entrepreneurship Conference & Expo.
Read: DRC makes slow steps in integrating with EAC states
But he reiterated that Kinshasa would stay in EAC “because we want reconstruction, not war”.
The regional bloc established the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF), a peacekeeping force, to create a buffer between the warring sides in the east — government forces and the M23 rebel group — as a political settlement is sought.
But the violence continues in spite of ceasefire agreements in line with the Nairobi and Luanda processes.
Read: Kenyatta: DRC peace talks to resume
The Congolese government and its people have lost faith in the regional force, which they hoped would rout the rebels, and now want the troops to exit the country on December 8, when their mandate ends.
Muyaya, who is the DRC government spokesman, has recently expressed his government’s unwillingness to further extend the EACRF’s stay.
The current EACRF mandate was recently extended, for the second time, for three months to December 8.
Kinshasa’s decision on the fate of the regional force was communicated to the EAC by Deputy Defence Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba, at the latest extraordinary meeting of the Sectoral Council on Defence Cooperation held in Arusha.
“The message is clear: the EAC regional force must leave the DRC by December 8, as agreed, because it has not been able to resolve the problem, particularly that of the M23, which has been blocking the pre-cantonment process for two months, in accordance with the agreements signed in Luanda,” Muyaya said in an earlier interview.
On Wednesday, he challenged political leaders to stop “imprisoning” their citizens by blocking borders over political differences, as this is a barrier to intra-Africa trade. He said politicians should facilitate building of bridges with neighbours rather than erecting blockades.
Read: Stop blocking borders, African leaders told
He said it would be hard to implement the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) when there is no economic cooperation in the subregion.
“If the EAC works well, we can move to the AfCFTA,” he said.
EAC integration has often been slowed down by erection of non-tariff barriers by member states.
For instance, DRC and Rwanda in June last year closed their common border in a diplomatic crisis triggered by an escalation of the rebellion by the M23. DRC accuses Kigali of sponsoring the violence by supporting the M23 while Rwanda says Kinshasa backs FDLR, a hostile group of genocidaires who want a regime change in Kigali.
Both governments deny the accusations, although UN experts have substantiated them.
The Congolese minister criticised the West for imposing their ideals on the continent and emphasised the need for Africans to write and own their story, saying, “We don’t need to democratise Africa, but to Africanise democracy.”
“Africa has its own values, its own culture. And today, even if we are ready to start working with them (West), there are some values we cannot accept.”
On the perception that the business environment in DRC is not good for investment he said: “People say they cannot invest here because we have insecurity… we have all those bad things, and I say let’s go back in history. When their forefathers came to colonise DRC, there was no good governance, but that did not stop them. Let African people find solutions for African problems. I am happy to see a Kenyan media group coming here and showing the world that DRC is the land where you can invest.”
Source: The East African