Nairobi – Kenya’s parliament has approved the deployment of more than 900 troops to the conflict-wracked east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a mission that will cost taxpayers $36.5 million for an initial six months.
The National Assembly on Wednesday approved the despatch of just over 900 Kenya Defence Force personnel to the DRC as part of a joint regional operation against a resurgent rebel offensive.
The mineral-rich DRC is struggling to contain dozens of armed militias including the M23 rebel group whose recent advances in the country’s east have revived old animosities and exacerbated regional tensions.
Kenyan President William Ruto announced on November 2 that the country would be sending in troops, following an agreement by the East African Community (EAC) regional bloc in April to establish a joint force to help restore security in the DRC.
Kenya will command the mission, which will also include soldiers from Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda.
“Our mission… is going to enforce peace, stabilisation,” said MP Nelson Koech, who heads parliament’s defence, intelligence and foreign relations committee.
“We must secure our region,” he told parliament on Wednesday, adding that the mission would cost 4.4 billion shillings ($36.5 million) for the first six months.
“If it escalates and there is a spillover of our time there, it will go up to 5.5 billion to six billion (shillings)” he said.
But he said talks were under way with organisations such as the United Nations to secure international financing for the EAC force.
Some MPs questioned footing the bill for the deployment at a time when Kenyans are suffering deep economic hardship including a cost-of-living crisis and drought.
A Rwandan contingent will be deployed along the border, after Kinshasa objected to Kigali’s participation in any operations within the DRC.
The DRC accuses Rwanda of backing the M23, claims denied by Kigali.
A UN force, known by its French acronym MONUSCO, is already operating in the DRC.
A mostly Congolese Tutsi group, the M23 first leapt to prominence in 2012 – briefly capturing the main city in eastern DRC, Goma, before being driven out.
After lying dormant for years, it took up arms again in late 2021 claiming the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate its members into the army, among other grievances.
The M23 has won a string of victories against the DRC’s army in North Kivu province in recent weeks, dramatically increasing the territory under its control.