The six-day consultative discussions on peace and security in the DR Congo, or the inter-DR Congo peace dialogue, ended Thursday, April 28, in Nairobi, Kenya. Congolese armed groups engaged in consultations aimed at finding lasting solutions to the insecurity in their country’s volatile eastern region where more than 130 local and foreign armed militia groups have wreaked havoc for decades. The regional initiative is an outcome of the first and second East African Community (EAC) Heads of State conclaves on the peace and security situation in DR Congo under the chairmanship of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta held on April 8 and 21, respectively, at State House Nairobi. The first conclave was held on April 8, soon after Tshisekedi signed the Treaty of accession by his country to the EAC, making it the seventh member of the regional economic bloc. During the second conclave, Presidents Félix Tshisekedi of DR Congo, Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Rwanda’s foreign minister Dr Vincent Biruta, agreed to the deployment of a regional force to contain armed groups in DR Congo. Mid-way through the inter-Congolese dialogue, there were signs of optimism that the more than 30 Congolese armed groups participating were dedicated to finding a long-lasting solution. Good progress was being made and the discussions were honest and frank among the more than 80 delegates, Amb. Isaiya Kabira, Director General in charge of communications in Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The New Times on Wednesday, April 27. “The participants agreed that trust and confidence building, ceasefire, participation in the political processes in the country, prioritization and participation in the country’s development, citizenship, presence of foreign forces, fate of combatants during reintegration and status of refugees are among critical issues that require urgent and durable resolution,” reads part of a communiqué released on the final day. As noted, the participants are eager to contribute to reconciliation and lasting peace as well as determined to find a quick and lasting solution to the conflict in their country, particularly in the North and South Kivu as well as Ituri provinces. They are determined to maintain a unified and secure country, with coherent and credible institutions of central government exercising full territorial authority and also recognize that “peaceful means are the best way to resolve conflicts.” The discussions were convened in conformity with the decision of the second Heads of State conclave on the DR Congo which took place on April 21 in Nairobi. The talks were attended by a team appointed by DR Congo President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi, more than 80 representatives of local armed groups in the east of his country in addition to observers from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, the East African Community, the office of the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary General for the great lakes region, the United States and France. The groups that participated included two factions of the March 23 Movement (Mouvement du 23 mars), often abbreviated as M23, the Jean-Marie Runiga faction and the Bertrand Bisimwa faction. The Bisimwa faction “did not fully participate due to resumption of hostilities” while the discussions were ongoing. The faction left when skirmishes between its fighters and the Congolese army were reported in North Kivu Province but this did not halt the talks in Nairobi. Other groups that participated include Gumino, one of the groups fighting to protect the Banyamulenge people of the Hauts Plateaux of Uvira and Fizi territories in South Kivu; several Mai-Mai militia factions including Raïa Mutomboki led by Gen William Yakutumba in South Kivu; as well as numerous Nyatura factions including the Coalition des mouvements pour le changement (CMC)-Nyatura, one of the groups operating in North Kivu Province. On Wednesday, April 27, Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Tshisekedi, through pre-recorded video messages, addressed and closed the discussions. Lay down weapons to achieve prosperity Kenyatta, implored the participants to embrace peaceful means in conflict resolution and primacy of politics in pursuit of peace, stability and sustainable development. He emphasized that without working towards unity and cohesion among all Congolese, every separate section will remain a loser. “Without laying down weapons and forging an unbreakable national compact to secure the DRC, the fruits of prosperity, that you all deserve from the teeming rich endowments, will remain elusive,” Kenyatta told them. “This makes it urgent for all people of goodwill in the DRC to coalesce together and frantically set a foundation of prosperity by working tirelessly for an enduring peace. The historical call to be our brothers’ keepers is a bell that has been tolling and to which Kenya always keeps responding. We will not relent in your pursuit of peace for prosperity. This is why we reached out to you, our brothers, our sisters of the DRC.” He reassured them of Kenya’s support in the grueling journey towards peace, and reiterated the value of peace in the DR Congo and the region. “The DRC deserves to claim and assert its rightful place in Africa and the world at large. This is just but a first step towards that attainable goal. I thank you, each and every one of you, for heeding our call and seizing this opportunity,” Kenyatta said. Tshisekedi thanked the armed groups for answering the call for peace and coming to the table to start the long journey of laying down arms and returning to normalcy. He expressed his readiness to listen and guarantee security of all armed groups, pointing out that DR Congo will only develop if it has a national military and police force that is keen on defending the interests of all citizens. “I understand the different reasons that drew you to take up arms. However, to develop our country, we need to build and sustain national defence forces and police that are keen to defend the daughters and sons of DRC,” Tshisekedi said. The Congolese armed groups earlier noted that presence and operations of foreign militia forces – FDLR from Rwanda, ADF from Uganda, and Burundi’s Résistance pour un État de droit, or RED-Tabara – is a threat to peace in the region. The Congolese groups “take up arms for self-defence,” it is noted. Other common issues raised by the groups include concern that most of them signed agreements with local or national government authorities and are in the process of implementing them but there are pending issues around implementation. They also raised confidence building measures such as release of political prisoners, hinting that amnesty to their leaders and arbitrary arrests threaten the peace process. Tshisekedi also called on all armed groups to accept the process of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and reinsertion to help in the reconstruction of the nation for the benefit of all Congolese citizens. “This is a process that will take into account all concerns. We are going to obtain the technical and other support from many donors to enable us to succeed,” President Tshisekedi added. Tshisekedi echoed the goal for extending a stretched hand for peace and prosperity of the DR Congo to tap into the opportunities the EAC presents. Majority of the armed groups’ representatives accepted the request of the two Presidents to lay down arms. A few requested for more time to appraise themselves with the set conditions but expressed willingness to join hands in building their country. To take the process forward, it is noted, the participants recommended that the next meeting take place by the end of May and prior to the next regional Heads of State Summit on the peace and security situation in the DR Congo. The participants welcomed the regional leaders’ April 21 decision to form a Secretariat to oversee the implementation of the agreements of the Conclave administered by the special envoy in the office of the DR Congo President and the special envoy in the Office of the President of Kenya with the participation of the executive offices of the EAC Heads of State. “They paid tribute to the Presidents of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi for initiating the consultative discussions and appreciated accession into EAC and thanked the EAC Summit for supporting the search for peace in the region,” the April 28 communiqué read.