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Kenya plays lead role in Congo intervention

Presidents Ruto and Tshisekedi meet in Kinshasa on 21 November over East African mission to pacify the east

Pledging more support for the 'Nairobi Peace Process', President William Ruto met with his counterpart Félix Tshisekedi on 21 November to underline Nairobi's economic and security interests in the success of the East African Community's intervention in easter Congo-Kinshasa.

It is Ruto's first big foreign policy outing and he has rushed it through the system as it serves multiple political and business interests. Ruto has chosen his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta to lead on the diplomacy, as he did in the recent Ethiopia peace talks, and like them, it could boost Kenya's standing in the region, encouraged – for different reasons – by the European Union, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Yet there are military risks in the speed at which the operation has been launched and sceptics point to the absence of a clear exit strategy, drawing parallels with Kenya's long-running intervention in Somalia.

The stakes for Kenya's commercial interests are growing fast in Congo-Kinshasa with many Nairobi companies and banks stepping up operations. The military mission could also boost Ruto's standing in Africa as other regional leaders such as Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari and South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa have focussed increasingly on resolving domestic troubles.

The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) has made protecting Goma Airport, on the border between Congo-Kinshasa and Rwanda, one of its first priorities in its mission to halt the advance of the M23 militia group.

The force, which falls under the auspices of the East African Community, is being commanded by Kenya, and has been given a six-month renewable mandate subject to bi-monthly reviews. (AC Vol 63 No 22, Conflicted over conflict). Until now, the EAC priorities were running the regional parliament, boosting cross-border cooperation and building a trading bloc: this new military role raises myriad complications for the grouping and the sectional interest of its members.

The immediate priority was how to pay for it. The EAC has struggled to get its members to pay their dues and they have have failed to agree over a plan to reform the bloc's funding formula.

The EAC's budget for 2022/23 has been cut to US$91.6 million, down from $97.6m the year before (59% to be contributed equally by member states and 41% to be sourced from development partners). This budget austerity, combined with years of delayed payments from national treasuries, raises questions about the regional force's funding.

Earlier this year, Kenya, the bloc's wealthiest member, rejected a proposal to amend the contribution formula to base it on a country's GDP. Yet Kenya says it will pick up most of the bill for the military mission; spending Sh4.45 billion ($37m) on it for the next six months. That could rise to about Sh7.2bn per year.

Those figures are already much higher than the the Sh3.85bn ($31.5m) mentioned in the government's memorandum to the National Security Council on the matter, prompting disquiet from some members of the National Assembly in Nairobi. We hear that Ruto has been promised external funding for the mission, from the UAE and the USA.

Uganda is expected to be the other main contributor but it is yet to specify how much will be allocated from its defence budget, announced in June, of $1.02bn, much of which was already intended to strengthen operations in eastern Congo-Kinshasa.

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