The DRC and Rwanda continued to bicker over the activities of the M23 rebels and threatened to shake the foundations of the East African Community.
On Friday, Rwanda reported shelling of the village of Gasizi in the Kinigi sector, Musanze district around noon, pointing an accusing finger at the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).
News of the attack came as Rwanda fought claims by the FARDC that it had dispatched 500 disguised special forces troops Congolese territory. In response, Rwanda said it would not respond to such “baseless” allegations. The FARDC claimed that the Rwandan special forces, wearing a green and black uniform – different from their regular gear – were deployed to the Tshanzu border area in North Kivu province.
Kigali, tensions in Kinshasa
Kenya and Uganda have now stepped in to try to de-escalate tensions, saying further spats between Kinshasa and Kigali could ruin regional security and trade cooperation.
The Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni sent his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, now a diplomatic envoy, to Nairobi with a “special message” on the situation in DR Congo.
“Among the issues discussed was restoring peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” the State House said in a statement after General Muhoozi met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
High-level officials Officials in Nairobi told The EastAfrican that it was “no secret” that this was allowed. The simmering tensions in the Great Lakes were hampering efforts to end the conflict in eastern Congo.
An official said the eastern DRC, already scarred by decades of war and tensions, “is likely to be exploited by parasitic elements”.
Kenya and Uganda are investing heavily in peace efforts in in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo , where conflict has raged for three decades.
Last month, Nairobi launched an initiative, supported by EAC member states, to target local fighters persuade to choose dialogue with US government in exchange for amnesty and rehabilitation.
Read:East African leaders read DRC’s armed groups incite hr ahead
Also read:AU, UN endorse new regional peace offer in DRC
But the initiative faces challenges after the M23, a of the militias invited to talks, which has resumed attacks on the Congolese army. Kinshasa has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23. Kigali has denied the allegations.
Observers say the challenge now is to get Kinshasa to negotiate with M23, whom it has labeled terrorists and called for them to be expelled from the Nairobi peace process.< /p>
Rwanda has not announced its official position on the Nairobi Initiative (President Kagame was not at the summit that initiated the process), but it may support an inclusive dialogue also involving so-called terrorists.< /p>
Meanwhile, Uganda is concerned it could be drawn into tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo just months after it ended its own impasse with Rwanda over allegations of supporting dissidents, leading to led to a three-year border closure. Sources say President Museveni is keen not to shake the boat, hence the quiet effort with President Kenyatta to seek solutions.
Asked about President Museveni’s efforts, the spokesman for the Uganda People’s Defense Forces said , General Felix Kulaigye that he had not been informed about General Muhoozi’s visit to Nairobi and his intentions.
The last fighting started two weeks ago after the Democratic Republic of Congo had accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, who had resumed attacks on his army. The two countries have not spoken directly to each other since. They have instead communicated through intermediaries such as President João Lourenço of Angola, Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and now officially African Union mediator, and Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of Congo-Brazaville.
< p>President Nguesso said in Brazzaville on June 5: “We had discussed these issues at the Malabo Summit within the framework of the African Union, particularly with the current Chair of the AU, who chairs the ICGLR. Everything must be done to bring peace.”
At the meeting, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said there was “no doubt” that Rwanda supported the M23 rebellion.
“I hope Rwanda learned that lesson because today it’s clear… Rwanda supported the M23 to come and attack the DRC,” said President Tshisekedi.
His comments came as Huang Xia, the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes region, engaged in shuttle diplomacy with visits to Kigali, Goma and Nairobi.
Let’s continue our peace efforts. The people of eastern DRC don’t need a new war,” he said in a June 4 tweet.
Kigali has claimed that M23 is an internal Congolese problem that should be resolved as such.
According to the United Nations, the recent increase in fighting in eastern DRC has internally displaced at least 75,000 people, and as of May 30, more than 11,000 had crossed the border crossed into Uganda.
Rwandan and Congolese officials exchanged barbs on Twitter. For example, Congolese MP Francine Muyumba and Rwandan diplomat Olivier Nduhungirehe questioned whether the two Rwandan soldiers arrested by the Congolese military (FARDC) had actually been kidnapped.
“They were patrolling the border when they were kidnapped by the FARDC along with the FDLR,” said Mr. Nduhungirehe, referring to the acronym for former genocides now in hiding in Congo. Ms Muyumba had accused Rwanda of not telling the “hard truth” about supporting M23, for which the diplomat claimed that those who fled to Rwanda were disarmed and taken back to their country.
< p>At the time of writing there was no indication that the two soldiers had been released, as promised by the FARDC last week.
Given the presidential elections in the DRC in September 2023, tensions affect local politics . President Tshisekedi, a declared candidate, could capitalize on Congolese solidarity to reap electoral advantages.
His firm tone on Rwanda has won him admiration, as one of his opponents, Prince Epenge, claimed that the security crisis could even be choreographed in the east.
“A trick by Félix and Kagame to create sympathy and mobilization of the people for Tshisekedi’s supposed military victory,” said Mr. Epenge.
On 30 On May 11, DRC Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Christophe Pen’apala told the UN Security Council his government would extend an olive branch to armed groups, but added that those who do not lay down their arms would be the target from military operations.
Felix Ndahinda, an independent researcher and consultant in Tilburg, the Netherlands, recently published an article with d em titled “Streaming Hate: Exploring the Harm of Anti-Banyamulenge and Anti-Tutsi Hate Speech on Congolese Social Media”, an Analysis of the dynamics of hate speech and conspiracy theories on social media in eastern DRC finds that the more than 100 armed groups complicate peace efforts.
“These are armed groups with local and different agendas, demands and grievances. Until they are disarmed and this part of the country is secured by official authorities and a functioning government, they cannot live in peace,” Mr Ndahinda told The EastAfrican.
He added that alongside security issues, there are also identity issues that Congo needs to resolve, including recognizing historically marginalized groups.
Despite these attempts to consolidate local legitimacy, the Banyamulenge and Banyarwanda of the north remain exist Kivu face increasing challenges to their citizenship and affiliation.
“There is a mingling of ideas. For example, Congo has always had difficulty accommodating its citizens of Rwandan descent and other countries such as Burundi. Stability depends on being able to accommodate its own citizens regardless of their ethnic background or ties to neighboring countries,” he said.
Rwanda has previously accused the DRC of welcoming the genocide after fleeing Kigali. The Congo leadership’s response was that the FDLR no longer posed a threat to Rwanda.
“But on several occasions, Rwanda, with the approval of Congo-Kinshasa, has conducted operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to target the FDLR fight,” said DRC government spokesman Patrick Muyaya. “It is unacceptable that our people on both sides [Rwanda and DRC] are still victims of a belligerent attitude. Have you ever heard that the FDLR attacked Rwanda? We are the victims, we fought the FDLR and several of theirs Leader neutralized.”
A source in the DRC’s Defense Ministry told The EastAfrican that Kigali was planning operations in North Kivu to protect the to neutralize FDLR. However, President Tshisekedi had not received a positive response to Rwanda’s request to trace armed groups.
“The President made Rwanda wait to crush ADF rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This approval has reportedly frustrated the Rwandan authorities. This is a sticking point,” the source said.
In June 2021, Presidents Museveni and Tshisekedi began construction and rehabilitation of 228 kilometers of roads connecting Mpondwe in Uganda to several areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo This is a $300 million project funded 20 percent by the DRC and 20 percent by Uganda. Uganda and the DRC are very interested in exploiting this route commercially.
These tensions have spilled over into international fora.Following the resurgence of the M23, the DRC called for international bodies to condemn Rwanda by name, but international institutions, including the UN Security Council and the African Union, condemned only the violence and the rebels. Opponents of the Congolese leader describe this as a failure of President Tshisekedi’s diplomacy.
At a Bes Also in Kinshasa on June 8, Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre De Croo received applause when he said: “You have the right to ask your neighbors to respect your territory. You have the right to ask your neighbors for things that are necessary to avoid insecurity in your country.” Mr Croo was part of the delegation of King Philippe of Belgium, who was visiting the country for the first time.
King Philippe said: “You can count on the support of Belgium within international bodies for any initiative aimed at the stability and harmonious development of the African Great Lakes region.”
Nicaise Kibel Bel, an expert on security issues , The EastAfrican said that Uganda, emerging from a dispute with Rwanda , does not intend to get involved in the disputes between Kinshasa and Kigali.
“Museveni discussed military cooperation economic interests with the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Bel.