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Tensions Rise Between DR Congo and Rwanda
Early November saw tensions flare between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). However, during the weekend of November 4th, there were some more positive indications given the meeting between officials of both countries in Angola, with President João Lourenço acting as a mediator. The discussions focused on the latest M23 rebel offensive which saw the Congo once again levy charges against Rwanda for supporting the insurgency.
Negotiators were discussing two significant events. First was the revelation that an estimated 3,000 troops had begun training as part of the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) effort to deal with the insurgency. The second item regarded a Congolese fighter jet that reportedly overflew Rwandan territory.
So far in 2022 tensions between the two neighbors have ebbed and flowed. Earlier this summer, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, visited both countries to try and defuse the situation after M23 launched an offensive.
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It is generally accepted that the root cause of the tensions between Congo and Rwanda is the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda. The Hutu-dominated Rwandan government at that time was driven out of the country by the Tutsis in the aftermath of the genocide, as forces from the Rwandan Patriotic Front pushed their ethnic rivals over the border into then-Zaire. Some of those who fled remain in the region.
Yet, another factor at play is the falling out of the relationship between two former allies in the conflict, Congolese rebel leader and first president of the DRC Laurent Desire Kabila, and the former vice president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. These two men were the leaders of the forces that marched on Kinshasa and ended the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko.
The general consensus is that the falling out began when President Kabila, in an effort to thwart a fear of annexation of territory, ordered Ugandan and Rwandan troops to leave the DRC. President Kabila then made a fateful decision, by allowing the Hutu refugees to rearm. This triggered an invasion by Rwandan and Ugandan troops in 1998, which in turn led to the integration of the Hutu militias into the FARDC which President Kagame took as a slight and would stoke tensions for decades.
Now Rwanda is of course not solely to blame for the issue in Eastern Congo, as most countries that are suffering from insurgencies have severe deficiencies in governance and face multiple challenges elsewhere. That said, Rwanda is not blameless either. Poor decisions made by successive governments in Kinshasa made Rwanda feel threatened, leading them to take action.
The question now is how the parties involved resolve their issues. There have been changes in leadership in Kinshasa, but President Kagame still rules in Rwanda. There is a question as to whether a buffer zone would be practical in the Eastern DRC. During the fighting of the early 2000s that might have provided a degree of resolution to the conflict. Whether the two parties will return to outright conflict is presently not certain, but it certainly could happen when the UN’s peacekeeping mission (MONUCSO) leaves the region.
To see relations between Rwanda and the DRC erode to this level once again is troubling. Memories of the massacres targeting Rwandan Tutsi in 1994 still motivate the current leadership in Kigali. Until such concerns are addressed, the crisis is likely to ebb and flow rather than abate.