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Violence in the east is escalating and threatening the elections

President Tshisekedi is campaigning against Rwanda's proxy militia but the clashes are spinning out of control

Last week's decision by the East African Community (EAC) to extend the mandate of its regional military force in eastern Congo-Kinshasa could lead to December's presidential elections being delayed (AC Vol 63 No 24, Scrambling for a Pax Swahili).

Known as the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF), it was meant to face down militias in Congo-Kinshasa's eastern provinces, specifically fighters from the M23 military, widely reported to backed by Rwanda.

Although President Félix Tshisekedi been ramping nationalist rhetoric against Rwanda as part of his election campaigning and initially supported the deployment of the force, he now sees it as an irritant.

Extending the force's mandate, due to expire on 8 September, to 8 December was agreed by East African leaders in the absence of President Tshisekedi.

In May, Tshisekedi, who is running for a second term, extended the Kenya-led force's mandate to September but insisted that a second extension would be based on his assessment of the force's performance.

The recent upsurge in violence in the east, where over 120 armed groups operate, including the Rwanda-linked M23, complicates the organisations of elections on 20 December. In present conditions, it would be nigh-on impossible to organise credible elections in much of the east of the country.

For many Congolese, the occupation of their eastern provinces by regional soldiers is the latest act in a history of foreign meddling dating back to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

And the killing of around 50 people by security forces in the week ending 9 September after protests in Goma against UN peacekeepers and EACRF soldiers has prompted more public anger. Tshisekedi said that it could 'only be the subject of strong disapproval and condemnation'.

Opposition leaders such as Martin Fayulu, regarded by many as the rightful winner of the 2019 presidential election, are seeking to make political capital out of the EACRF's unpopularity with civilians.

In recent weeks, Fayulu, Moïse Katumbi, and other opposition leaders and their supporters, have been banned from gathering to protest outside the electoral commission in Kinshasa, in response to what they described as 'the chaotic electoral process.'

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