Defusing rising tensions around the imminent deployment of the East African Regional Standby Force to disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was the major reason for South African President Jacob Zuma’s surprise visit to Dar es Salaam and Kampala earlier this week, The EastAfrican has learnt.
Zuma held meetings with his Tanzanian and Ugandan counterparts during which they discussed peace and security in the Great Lakes Region, according to official statements. It turns out, however, that this was a euphemism for differences over the proposed deployment of troops from the East African Standby Brigade in the DRC in early January to attack “negative” forces that threaten regional security despite the recent routing of the M23 rebels by a combined Tanzanian, Malawian and South African force.
The major negative force is the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which the United Nations Security Council gave a January 2, 2015 deadline to surrender, demobilise and renounce its genocide ideology or an international force would be brought in.
The other is Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Recently, some 1,000 former M23 rebels fled from a camp in western Uganda to avoid forcible repatriation to the DRC.
Fittingly, Zuma’s visit to Dar on December 21, and Kampala the following day was about regional peace and security, although Uganda and Tanzania do not seem to pull in the same direction on the FDLR issue.
Tanzania is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), with close ties to South Africa. Given the bad blood between President Jakaya Kikwete and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who like Museveni favours an all-out attack on the FDLR, analysts say Zuma’s mission to Kampala was to delay the deployment of Ugandan, Kenyan and Rwandan combat units under the East African Standby Forces (EASF).
It is said EASF, mandated by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, is itching to attack the negative forces in eastern DRC, particularly the FDLR, following the UNSC’s verdict that the group will not meet the deadline to fully demobilise.
“Since July 2, no further voluntary surrenders of the members of the FDLR have happened and the FDLR have failed to deliver on their public promise to voluntarily demobilise. Only substantial progress towards the full demobilisation called for by the region and committed to by the FDLR could justify further reprieve from military action against the FDLR,” the UNSC said.
But SADC states, led by South Africa, Tanzania and the DRC, are edgy over this imminent attack. South Africa has economic interests in DRC — mining, oil and gas, as well as food chains —which an attack on FDLR could hurt.
The EastAfrican has learnt that in the meeting between Presidents Zuma and Museveni, it was agreed that a quick mini-summit be held to “first consult Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos on his position for this deployment.”
Museveni would then carry the position of the ICGLR chairman to his counterparts Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwanda’s Kagame, on whether to proceed with or suspend the onslaught on the FDLR.
“President Museveni and Uganda have a very inspiring position of pan-Africanism as well as the defence of our continent. When we come here, we come to consult and we come when we are sure that we get good advice,” Zuma said after the meeting with Museveni.
Dos Santos is the chairman of the 12-member state regional peace and security pact, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) comprising Angola, DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The other members are Burundi, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Congo Brazzaville, the Central African Republic and Zambia.
“It’s the festive season but the presidents are not resting; the deadline for the FDLR to surrender is almost one week away. Tomorrow, we are heading to Addis Ababa, where Museveni will meet Dos Santos,” a highly placed government source said.
Zuma’s intervention is seen as an effort to stop the bad blood between Rwanda and Tanzania spilling over into a regional fight for hegemony over who controls eastern Congo, where South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi deployed an international brigade in 2012 to fight the M23, a rebel force that Rwanda is allegedly sympathetic to.
As SADC states, both Tanzania and DRC are seen as having recently struck up an alliance that seeks to stop Rwanda from influencing the geopolitical configuration of eastern Congo.
Zuma also discussed the role South Africa can play in helping the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in the proposed transitional government of national unity in South Sudan.
Rival groups led by President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar have been seeking Pretoria’s intervention in the formation of transitional government and a power-sharing structure, where Igad proposed an executive president and the nominal slot of prime minister to be taken by the opposition. But Machar’s side is pushing for an executive prime minister.