Tshisekedi, Kagame to hold talks as eastern DRC conflict escalates

President of Democratic Republic of Congo Felix Tshisekedi is welcomed by President of Rwanda Paul Kagame with an official ceremony in Kigali, Rwanda on June 25, 2021. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • After his meeting with Angola’ President João Lourenço, the African Union mediator in the Congolese crisis, Prsident Kagame said he is open to a sit-down with President Tshisekedi.

Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame are expected to hold talks on simmering tensions between the two countries.

After his meeting with Angola’ President João Lourenço, the African Union mediator in the Congolese crisis, Prsident Kagame said he is open to a sit-down with President Tshisekedi.

According to Angolan Foreign Affairs Minister Tete Antonio, both Rwanda and the DRC have agreed to the principle to hold the meeting, with ministerial delegations from both sides working toward this goal. The Congolese leader told President Lourenço that he was ready for the talks. on February 22, President Tshisekedi told the media in Kinshasa that he was ready to “see him.”

But the efforts could be throttled by sideline battles including a suit at the East African Court of Justice loged by Kinshasa. On Monday March 11, while opening a training workshop for journalists from the East African Community in Arusha, EACJ president Nestor Kayobera said that the DRC had lodged a complaint against Rwanda, “but we can’t discuss that with you now because it’s a case that’s already underway.”

If the two countries start facing off at the EACJ, the new diplomatic move may face challenges. But Kinshasa says courts are part of the strategy.

“There is a diplomatic strategy with efforts underway, notably with the US government. There has been an initial deployment of SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) forces to support our forces. And we know that the motivations for the war are economic; measures have been taken, justice is needed if we are to have a guarantee that there will be no repetition, and all these terrorists must be punished,” said Patrick Muyaya, Congolese Government Spokesman.

The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels — the main source of conflict in eastern DRC, which Kigali denies. This has been reported in several United Nations expert reports. Several countries, including the United States and France, have called on Rwanda to “stop supporting the M23”. Congolese officials openly state that “the M23 does not just exist, Rwanda is behind it.”

Hence the Congolese president’s categorical refusal to talk to the rebels.

“The DRC will not talk to the rebels, but rather to Rwanda, as the real aggressor,” declared the Congolese president on February 22 in Kinshasa.

Rwandan authorities say these accusations go to “the root cause of the war,” which they say DRC has not addressed.

“The government of Rwanda wishes to recall that the conflict has persisted in Eastern DRC because the international community has deliberately ignored the root causes, which include support to and preservation of Rwandan genocidal forces in Eastern DRC, refusal of the Government of DRC to address genuine grievances of the Congolese Tutsi, and refusal to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees scattered in the region,” said Vincent Biruta, Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs in a letter to Moussa Faki, Chairman of the African Union Commission on March 3.

Ethnic cleansing

“Rwanda hosts around 100,000 of these refugees, some of whom have lived in Rwanda for almost 30 years now, including more than 15,000 who have, in the last five months, fled ethnic cleansing in Eastern DRC.”

Last week, a dispatch said the Council endorsed the deployment of SADC forces and pledged to financially support the mission from the African Union Peace Fund.

The issue of refugees has also come up against misunderstandings and procrastination between the two countries, each of which shelters refugees from the other. Talks to repatriate refugees from Rwanda and the DRC have stalled.

On the question of the Congolese Tutsis, Tshisekedi declared: “The Congolese Tutsis are our compatriots.There are Banyamulenge who died for this republic, and under the flag. So I’ve had enough of this rhetoric that consists of discriminating against these populations and thus giving certain regimes the opportunity to invade us under fallacious pretexts. I must draw everyone’s attention here, it’s very dangerous to have these kinds of speeches, you are rolling out the carpet for some to attack us. I don’t want there to be any discrimination in the DRC that I lead.”

The M23 complain of discrimination. It is one of the reasons for fighting, they say. Some analysts believe that the M23 want to take over several towns and villages to put pressure on the Congolese government to enter into negotiations.

But since Corneille Nangaa, former Congolese electoral commission president, joined the rebellion, along with a number of politicians from Kinshasa, some of the rebels are talking of conquering the whole country. It is in this context that the SADC mission must carry out its task.

In its communiqué, the African Union Security Council “also requests the AU Commission to accelerate the transfer of the equipment donated to SADC, which is still at the AU continental logistics base in Douala, Cameroon, in order to support the efforts aimed at ensuring the effective implementation of the SAMIDRC mandate”.

For Rwanda, the DRC is collaborating with the FDLR, rebels composed of remnants of the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. DRC rejects this allegation. A 2023 order from the political and military authorities has forbidden Congolese soldiers to have any contact or collaborate with these forces.

Despite the complexity, perhaps a window of hope may reopen from dialogue.