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Blinken attaches security, rights to conditions for trade with Africa

Wednesday August 17 2022
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the President’s Office in Urugwiro Village in Kigali, Rwanda, on August 11, 2022. PHOTO | ANDREW HARNIK | POOL | AFP

By BERNA NAMATA
By PARTICK ILUNGA

Washington says it is interested in supporting trade and environmental conservation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, as long as both countries can tie loose ends on security and civil liberties.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken toured Rwanda and DR Congo, where he raised the matter of the M23 rebels and allegations that Kigali has funded the group to attack civilians and military bases in DR Congo. Kigali denies the charge.

At a joint press briefing last Thursday with Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, Blinken said Washington supports “African-led mediation efforts” that are being led by Kenya and Angola, to bring peace, security, and stability to the eastern Congo. He said the funding of rebel groups should stop.

“We are very concerned by credible reports that Rwanda has provided support to M23. We call on all parties in the region to stop any support or co-operation with M23 or, for that matter, any other non-state armed group,” he said.

“That is essential to actually bring peace and security to the region. And we urge the groups themselves – M23, all non-state armed groups operating in the eastern DR Congo – to cease violence, to demilitarise, to pursue talks, as necessary, with the government,” he said during a press briefing held shortly after brief talks with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

Blinken picked most of the agenda from a recent UN report that also says that some 300 Rwandan troops also conducted operations against rebel groups in eastern DR Congo, such as FDLR. It also confirmed collaboration between the Congolese forces and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

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For its part, Rwanda maintained its position, that until its security concerns linked to the presence of the FDLR on Congolese soil and its alliance with Congolese forces are addressed, it reserves the right to defend itself.

“We agree on the need to eradicate all irregular armed groups including FDRL. We noted the resurgence of hate speech, public incitement, and genocidal ideology in DRC,” Mr Biruta said, reiterating that Rwanda reserves the right to defend itself and will continue to do so.

“The presence of FDLR and close collaboration with the army of DR Congo has always been the most significant cause of insecurity, and this enables FDRL to conduct terrorist operations on Rwandan territory, something that the government of Rwanda cannot accept,” he said.

Blinken’s visit comes on the heels of a leaked report by a UN team of experts that Rwanda had funded M23. The report was made public more than a month after Kinshasa made similar allegations.

The leaked report says M23 fighters and Rwandan troops “jointly attacked” the Rumangabo area in eastern North Kivu province after Rwandan troops had crossed into the DR Congo the day before. Rwanda dismissed the report as a diversion.

Blinken’s trip was composite. In Kinshasa, a day earlier, he discussed security and military, economic and financial issues, environmental conservation and extraction of natural resources as well as and climate change and the planned elections scheduled for late 2023.

He met with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula, where M23 issues also emerged.

Since May this year, relations between DR Congo and Rwanda have deteriorated significantly. And the DR Congo suspended its trade agreements with Rwanda. The two sides, however, have started talks through a joint DR Congo-Rwanda commission in Luanda, mediated by Angolan President João Lourenço.

The US Secretary of State arrived in Kinshasa, two years after the country was reinstated in the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa) after being excluded for 10 years.

Kinshasa now has a chance to profit from easier Customs and exports into US. But that is if, it respects human rights, financial transparency and the fight against corruption.

Kinshasa has been under pressure to settle, and end business ties with Israeli businessman Dan Gertler, a minerals merchant and billionaire sanctioned by Washington for corruption. Earlier this year, Kinshasa had reached a deal with Gertler to refund the government, but Washington has since threatened to impose sanctions on officials who drafted the deal.

DR Congo Foreign Trade Minister Jean-Lucien Bussa said the DRC's decade long exclusion from Agoa was a punishment.

Bussa cited more than $623 million in exports to the US, mostly agricultural products, in 2010, compared with just $21 million in 2019 at the height of the ban.

"This trade between the DR Congo and the US amounted to about $100 million during the exclusion while Angola trades over $2 billion with the US state, South Africa around $3 billion and Nigeria trades up to $6 billion," according to the new DR Congo Chamber of Commerce.

There have been negotiations between the Congolese Ministry of the Environment and the American company Climate, to develop a carbon credit registry system in the DR Congo and to enable their monetisation. The agreement was supposed to remain in force for 10 years and was worth nearly $1 billion, divided into 10 annual instalments. But the agreement has not yet been implemented.

In Rwanda, Blinken said that any entry of foreign forces into the DR Congo must be done transparently, with the consent of the DR Congo, de-conflicted from the UN mission, and pre-notified to the Security Council, consistent with the UN resolution. The East African Community recently endorsed a joint military force to combat rebels that have refused to lay down arms. But the timelines nor terms of reference have not been released.

In June, Rwanda pleaded with the UN saying it is extremely concerned by the military co-operation between FARDC and FDLR, and urged the UN through Monusco to not stand by and watch the alliance continue.

“My message to both President Tshisekedi and President Kagame this week has been the same: Any support or co-operation with any armed group in eastern DR Congo endangers local communities and regional stability,” Blinken added in his statement in Kigali.

“And every country in the region must respect the territorial integrity of the others. The United States has the same message for all neighbouring countries.”

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