What is behind South Africa’s troop deployment of in DRC?

On 13 February 2024 at 03:14

Since December 15, 2023, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has embarked on a mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), initiated by the regional bloc’s leaders in Windhoek, Namibia, on May 8, 2023.

This mission, grounded in SADC’s principle of mutual support, has attracted participation from only three countries: South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, to aid the DRC in its struggle against the M23 rebel forces. Notably, South Africa has contributed the largest contingent, dispatching 2,900 troops for a year-long mission, funded by a substantial 134 billion Rwandan francs budget.

The mission’s declared aim is to foster peace and security within the region. However, recent disclosures by South African officials have revealed a secondary agenda: advancing Pretoria’s economic interests in the DRC.

The South African Ambassador to the DRC, Mxolisi Shilubane, highlighted the dire climatic challenges his country faces, such as drought-induced food shortages. He pointed out the DRC’s abundant rainfall as a vital resource for agriculture, suggesting that South Africa could leverage this for its benefit and that of the broader SADC region.

Ambassador Shilubane advocated for a strategic focus on agriculture, proposing that South African regions affected by drought could benefit from the DRC’s year-round rainfall. He explained that this necessitates exploring collaborative avenues, be it through Congolese initiatives or South African assistance, to harness this agricultural potential.

Additionally, South African businessman Robert Gumede emphasized the DRC’s wealth in natural resources, particularly its mineral riches. South Africa’s interest seems especially keen on the Rubaya mineral reserves in North Kivu province, aiming to bolster its mining operations there.

This ambition aligns with recent bilateral economic agreements, underscored at an investment conference in Kinshasa attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa highlighted opportunities for cooperation in the mineral and oil sectors, envisioning a partnership that leverages the complementary resources, expertise, and technology of both nations to foster industrial synergy and economic growth for both countries.

Despite the portrayal of South Africa’s involvement in the DRC as a gesture of solidarity and mutual development, this deep engagement prompts scrutiny of the true motives—balancing humanitarian objectives against economic interests.

While Pretoria professes a commitment to regional peace and stability, its actions also suggest a strategic focus on securing key economic footholds in one of Africa’s most resource-abundant regions.

South Africa has contributed the largest contingent, dispatching 2,900 troops for a year-long mission in DRC.