Ugandan troops stationed in North Kivu province, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have paid tribute to Private Second Class John Ndawo, a Kenyan soldier who tragically lost his life due to a bomb explosion in Nyiragongo territory. The incident occurred during a clash between the March 23 Movement and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), as well as a coalition of militias operating under the Wazalendo (Patriots) umbrella.
The fatal incident took place at the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) base located in Kibumba, Nyiragongo Territory, which primarily hosts Kenyan troops. Subsequently, the DRC army, represented by Lieutenant Colonel Ndjike Kaiko Guillaume, the spokesperson for North Kivu province, released a statement accusing the M23 rebels of initiating the attacks against FARDC positions by firing bombs, thereby violating ceasefire agreements. Lt. Colonel Ndjike asserted that the FARDC acted in self-defense.
However, M23 rebels’ political spokesperson, Lawrence Kanyuka, refuted allegations that the M23 was responsible for Ndawo’s tragic death. Kanyuka contended that the mortar bomb, which caused the fatality, was fired from a FARDC position. He also accused the FARDC and the militia coalition of employing Su-Khoi 25 fighter jets and heavy artillery in indiscriminate attacks.
In a moving display of unity and respect, Ugandan troops, led by Colonel Michael Walaka Hyeroba, the contingent commander, gathered at their bases in Niongera, Kiwanja, and Rutshuru territory on Monday afternoon to pay tribute to the fallen Kenyan soldier. Captain Hassan Ahmed Kato, the Ugandan contingent public relations officer, described Private Ndawo as a dedicated officer who lost his life while serving his duty. Kato emphasized that Ndawo would be remembered as an officer who actively contributed to restoring peace in Eastern DR Congo.
Kato further stated that flags at all Ugandan positions would be flown at half-mast until Private Ndawo is given a proper burial in his home country. The exact date of his burial remains uncertain.
Regrettably, Private Ndawo became the first peacekeeping troop in North Kivu province to lose his life due to the ongoing conflict. On October 16, 2023, an unidentified armed group ambushed Ugandan troops participating in the peacekeeping mission in the region, resulting in two soldiers sustaining injuries. This ambush occurred at Rukoro-Buari along the Rutshuru-Bunagana road in Rutshuru territory while logistics troops were en route to the Uganda-DR Congo border at Bunagana for resupply. Despite the attack, the troops effectively retaliated and continued their journey to Bunagana. Notably, no group claimed responsibility for this ambush.
M23 rebels, through their political spokesperson Lawrence Kanyuka, released a statement condemning the attack against Ugandan troops. They accused the DRC and the Militia Coalition of orchestrating the ambush in an attempt to disrupt the mission of restoring peace in North Kivu through diplomatic means.
The presence of troops from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, and South Sudan in North Kivu began in late 2022 with the objective of reclaiming positions previously held by the M23 rebels, following their defeat of FARDC soldiers. This deployment also aimed to establish a buffer zone to prevent further clashes between M23 rebels and FARDC soldiers, in accordance with resolutions from East African Community Heads of States summits.
The conflict initiated by the M23 rebels in March 2022, led by Bertrand Bisimwa and General Sultan Makenga, has been characterized by accusations from the DR Congo government, alleging support from Rwanda, which both Rwanda and the M23 have vehemently denied. The M23 rebels assert that they are fighting against corruption, xenophobia, and discrimination within the leadership of the DR Congo.