Burundian Forces in the DRC: Trusted Allies of Kinshasa

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Over the years, while there have been allegations of collaboration between other East African force contingents and the M23 rebels, it is important to note that Burundian troops have managed to avoid any accusations or criticism from Kinshasa. This trust between Kinshasa and the Burundian troops has been fostered and nurtured throughout their years of cooperation.

For a considerable period, covert agreements allowed Burundi to deploy troops tasked with tracking down Burundian rebel movements, such as RED-Tabara and FNL, based in South Kivu, neighboring the DRC.

The military cooperation between Burundi and the DRC began during the presidency of Joseph Kabila. “It is important not to forget that the ruling CNDD-FDD Hutu rebels in Burundi fought alongside the Congolese during the first and second Congo Wars, and Kinshasa tends to place greater trust in the Burundian regime, which is also considered Bantu,” notes one of our sources.

As evidence of the enduring special ties between the two capitals, the Burundian army is steadily increasing its presence in eastern DRC, in line with a new bilateral military agreement signed between Félix Tshisekedi and Evariste Ndayishimiye at the end of August in the Congolese capital. Presently, the country has deployed four battalions, or approximately 3,200 soldiers, in this region as part of the East African Community (EAC) force, with an additional battalion sent to North Kivu at Kinshasa’s request. In detail, an 800-strong Burundian battalion has been recently dispatched to South Kivu, joining the three already stationed there, while two more battalions are pre-positioned in the Mudubugu military camp, not far from the Congolese border.

The Burundians will remain in the DRC.

Arriving in South Kivu discreetly by the end of 2021, Burundian troops eventually joined the EAC deployment under their banner in September 2022. Six months later, they made their way to North Kivu at Kinshasa’s express request, with the mission of securing the Saké area, straddling the Masisi and Rutshuru territories, following the departure of M23 rebels. This mission has garnered praise from Kinshasa authorities on multiple occasions, with one close aide to the Congolese presidency stating, “They saved the face of the EAC.”

Ultimately, Burundi intends to deploy two brigades, each comprising three battalions, which are “intended for deployment in North Kivu after the planned departure of other EAC forces,” explains a senior Burundian officer.

The aim of this “enhancement of Burundian military presence” is mutual security, confirmed by our source within the Congolese presidency, who adds that this presence in the eastern part of the country is intended to be enduring. “The Burundians will stay in the DRC, even if others leave; that is clear.” However, none of our sources were willing to elaborate on the precise role the Burundian contingent would assume.

Soukaina Sghir

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