Behind the headlines: Burundian troops controversial role in Eastern DRC

On 9 December 2023 at 10:11

While it may not have grabbed deserved media attention, the involvement of Burundi in restoring security in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is raising considerable concerns, both regionally and within Burundi itself.

As the East African Community (EAC) took steps to address security challenges in the Eastern DRC, the Burundian government made a controversial move by clandestinely deploying troops into the DRC.

This deployment is viewed as a breach of peace agreements designed to stabilize a region threatened by over 200 armed groups.

The Burundian army formed alliances with groups like Wazalendo and the FDLR, a terrorist organization comprised of individuals responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. This alliance raises serious questions about Burundi’s commitment to the EAC’s strategy, which emphasizes political negotiations to resolve crises in the DRC.

Accusations have also surfaced about Burundi supporting the Congolese Army (FARDC) and its coalition, facing criticism for alleged atrocities against Congolese Tutsi. Reports from Kinshasa suggest that the Congolese government pays each Burundian soldier, with payments reportedly reaching $5,000 per month, to combat the M23—a group dedicated to defending the rights of Tutsi communities in the DRC.

Since November 29, Burundi has initiated the evacuation of its soldiers who were killed or injured in clashes with the M23 in North Kivu. While the Burundian government acknowledges approximately 60 deaths, credible sources suggest that the actual number could be higher.

Protests have erupted within the Burundian army and the national assembly against this intervention in the Congo, resulting in the arrest of senior officers.

On November 13, a meeting chaired by President Evariste Ndayishimiye at Ntare Rushatsi House confirmed the continued presence and reinforcement of Burundian troops in North Kivu. In addition to the initially deployed 2,000 soldiers, an additional 1,800 soldiers were sent to bolster these forces. The collaboration between the Burundian army and armed groups such as Wazalendo and the FDLR is particularly troubling, given their alleged involvement in atrocities against Congolese Tutsis.

It is essential to note that the alliance between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the FDLR remains a central element in the conflict between Rwanda and the DRC.

Despite the withdrawal of the East African Community Rapid Deployment Capability (EACRF) troops from the DRC, Burundi maintains its military presence under the bilateral cooperation agreement signed with the Congo.

Analysts closely monitor this situation, questioning the real impact of the Burundian intervention on the resolution of the conflict.