Breakthrough in DRC-Zambia border dispute … as SADC takes issue with UN’s change of rules

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Freddy Mambara

Harare – There has been a breakthrough in the long-running boundary dispute between the DRC and Zambia with new border markers being drawn.

Zimbabwe’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador James Manzou is leading a SADC-driven mediation process in the border dispute between the two countries.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa Chairs the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.

While the region was celebrating that diplomatic victory, it was at the same time taking issue with a United Nations decision to include non-SADC troops in the bloc’s intervention brigade deployed to assist ease the DRC’s broader instability problems.

SADC resolved this week to convene a special meeting with the UN to try stop the change in configuration of its brigade, saying allowing the changes to be effected could undermine an ongoing regional operation that required support rather than “tampering with”.

On the border issue, the decades-old dispute flared recently when the DRC and Zambia accused each other of illegally occupying territory, resulting in both countries beefing up their military presence in the area.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at the time the armies’ clashes had resulted in massive displacements in Moba.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi on May 11 sent his Foreign Minister, Marie Nzeza, to Zimbabwe to request President Mnangagwa’s mediation in the dispute in his capacity as SADC Chair of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.

An official directly involved in the mediation told The Southern Times this week that a mutually agreeable solution had now been found.

“Our experts went there to look at the disputed points and hear their stories and then it emerged that really, we had to peg new border points,” the official said.

“It was realised that the DRC army had encroached into the Zambian territory and that the Zambians, in reaction to that, had also marched into the DRC. But now both sides are happy.

“Initially, the DRC president was skeptical thinking that Zimbabwe would fight on the same side (as Zambia) and had also approached Congo (Brazzaville) and South Africa as he doubted that the Chairman of the Organ, who is the President of Zimbabwe, would be impartial.

“Now he is so happy that we expect him to fly to Harare soon just to say ‘thank you’. The Zambians are also happy. We had to reconstruct those border points,” the official said.

Ambassador Manzou could not be reached for comment.

However, President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba posted on Twitter saying: “As chairman of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Management, President ED Mnangagwa has brokered a border misunderstanding which threatened peace between sister republics of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Well done.

“We done governments of Zambia and DRC. Let lasting peace prevail so Southern Africa moves forward in fraternal amity.”

Meanwhile, SADC has asked the United Nations to convene a meeting to discuss pending changes to the international stabilisation mission that has been deployed to the DRC.

This was came out of a virtual summit of the Organ Troika, the Force Intervention Brigade and Troop Contributing Countries (FIB-TCC) and the DRC on August 5 at which the leaders of Zimbabwe, Botswana, the DRC, Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania reviewed the international intervention in the SADC member state.

“The Organ Troika Summit plus FIB–TCCs and the DRC noted the strategic review of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) that was conducted in October 2019, and the subsequent adoption of Resolution 2502 of December 2019 that renewed the Monusco mandate for the period of one year. 

“The Organ Troika Summit plus FIB–TCCs and the DRC commended the Force Intervention Brigade Troop Contributing Countries for their tremendous commitment, and continued deployment of their troops in fighting the negative forces in DRC.

“The Organ Troika Summit plus FIB–TCCs and the DRC, expressed gratitude to the United Nations for the continued support to the SADC Region and the DRC, while noting with concern the unilateral decision by the United Nations to reconfigure the Force Intervention Brigade contrary to SADC position.  

“The Organ Troika Summit plus FIB–TCCs and the DRC reiterated SADC position as was submitted to the UN Secretary-General which, among others, appealed that the Force Intervention Brigade should not be tampered with. 

“The Organ Troika Summit plus FIB–TCCs and the DRC called upon the United Nations Secretary-General to convene a consultative meeting with SADC to engage on the SADC position on the reconfiguration of the FIB.”

Earlier in her opening remarks, the bloc’s Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax explained that the problem with the UN decision stemmed from the world body’s resolution to include non-SADC members in the Force Intervention Brigade.

She said this was “not in line with SADC common position”.

“SADC has consistently emphasised that the FIB should not to be tampered with, but rather be strengthened, with dedicated enablers to enhance its combat capabilities,” she said.

“In the engagements with the UN, SADC has also on a number of occasions presented its concern that the inclusion of non-SADC troops in the FIB has the potential of undermining FIB’s operational effectiveness and unity of command.

“This notwithstanding, it appears that the United Nations is determined to proceed with the reconfiguration without taking into account SADC’s position.”

Dr Tax thanked SADC member states for their “tireless efforts aimed at attaining sustainable peace and security in the DRC, and in SADC as whole”.

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