Luanda deal: Power shifts in the Great Lakes

Saturday August 24 2019

From left to right; presidents Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, Angola's Joao Lourenco, Rwanda's Paul Kagame and DR Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi hold hands together high after a quadripartite summit in Luanda, Angola, on August 21, 2019. PHOTO | URUGWIRO


On Wednesday, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and his Rwanda counterpart President Paul Kagame, signed an agreement in Angola, to end months of diplomatic and trade tensions between the two erstwhile allies.

The signing in the Angolan capital Luanda was witnessed by the presidents of Angola Joao Lourenco, Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi and Congo's Denis Sassou Nguesso.

The five chiefs are shown in a photo, holding hands together high, smiling—with Lourenco standing between Kagame and Museveni.

Museveni and Kagame first took a stab at burying the hatchet in Luanda in July.

“Museveni, Kagame agree to end ‘fight’’’ Tanzania’s The Citizen declared at the end of that meeting. They were on to something.

Anyone with a sense of history would have been struck by how unlikely the scene in Luanda on Thursday would have been barely 15 years ago.


With Rwanda providing the main muscle, a military coalition including Uganda, Ethiopia, Angola, Zimbabwe, with a few others throwing in a handful of troops, had backed DR Congo rebels in 1997 to overthrow the country’s long-ruling kleptocrat and dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

With the inevitable jockeying for the spoils of victory, and an erratic but quixotically nationalist Laurent Kabila installed in power in Kinshasa as some kind of vassal president, it soon came apart.

Kabila turned on Rwanda and Uganda and ran them out of town. The two converged on eastern DR Congo, and soon got into a deadly game of political hide-and-seek, which led them to two bloody clashes as they backed a myriad of rival of Congolese factions.

Against them was ranged Angola and Zimbabwe, as their main antagonists, with Namibia and Chad jumping into the fray as part of the anti-Uganda-Rwanda alliance.

The results were horrid, with the so-called “Second Congo War” resulting in the deaths directly and directly, depending on who is counting, of one million to six million Congolese over a decade and a half.

Whatever the case, until about 10 years ago, Uganda and Rwanda were still able to impose quite a bit of their will in the region.

A rapprochement between Kigali and Luanda as hostilities toward Rwanda by Jacob Zuma’s South Africa and Jakaya Kikwete’s Tanzania mounted, and as Uganda became vested deeply in Somalia as the lead contingent of the African Union mission, Amisom, in its early years, saw both countries ease their hard interventionist line in the Great Lakes Region.

Soon, the grip of Angola’s forever autocrat Jose Eduardo dos Santos began to loosen, and in 2017 he abdicated the throne to the younger Lourenco, who clearly has more democratic bones in his body than his predecessor.

In DRC, in a blindside, Joseph Kabila stole the election for least fancied opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi.

Tshisekedi has taken the fact that he’s not a threat to many to swim and slowly consolidate himself in the shallow end of the pool of Congolese power, avoiding to alienate ex-president Kabila, who remains the de facto ruler.

Many years ago, the picture would have been of Ugandan and Rwanda leaders standing over a Congolese leader, with a slightly apprehensive Angola strongman in the room. This, today, with Tshisekedi in the frame, even as an assistant mediator, and Lourenco as peacemaker, speaks to a sea of change in the wider Great Lakes politics.