When Rwanda President Paul Kagame this week gave a speech criticising his Congolese counterpart Felix Tshisekedi, it looked like he was merely responding to Kinshasa’s incessant accusations that Kigali fuels rebel activity in its territory.
President Kagame, while addressing legislators in Kigali, said, “This problem can be resolved if one country headed for elections next year is not trying to create an emergency so that the elections don’t take place…”
“If he is trying to find another way of having the next elections postponed, then I would rather he uses other excuses, not us,” Kagame said.
He did not name Tshisekedi by name but DR Congo is heading into elections in December next year.
Initially political friends, Kagame and Tshisekedi have been exchanging barbs, often cooling on mediation, but resuming exchanges soon after. The bone of contention is rebel movements in eastern DRC. The region has at least 120 armed groups but the main focus has been on M23 and the FDLR, which the two countries alternately accuse one another of sponsoring to interfere with each other’s stability. Each side denies the charge.
Focused on M23
In his speech that lasted for over an hour, President Kagame said the country has focused on the M23 rebel group, even when over several other armed groups are operating in the Eastern DRC.
There is a historical problem to it. The M23 is mostly made up of ethnic Tutsi, who are in Rwanda. The Forces Démocratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) is seen as made up of remnants of the genocidaires who fled Rwanda after Kagame defeated the Hutu-led genocide gangs.
Kagame said he offered President Tshisekedi assistance to fight off some of the rebel groups including the FDLR, which is responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but the latter refused. DR Congo in fact has argued the FDLR, having been disarmed, is not a big problem.
The ethnic link and association with past atrocities have elevated hate speech in the DRC, a UN official warned this week. The United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu expressed concern that the spread of hate speech and armed groups and violence in Eastern DRC could trigger a genocide. Some of those massacres have been linked to people who originally fled genocide in Rwanda.
“The current violence is a warning sign of societal fragility and proof of the enduring presence of the conditions that allowed large-scale hatred and violence to erupt into a genocide in the past,” she said after completing her three-day visit to Eastern DRC.
Her visit followed a technical-level mission by her office that established that indicators and triggers contained in the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, including dissemination of hate speech and absence of internal mechanisms to address it, were present in DRC
Other triggers are the politicisation of identity, proliferation of local militias and other armed groups across the country, widespread and systematic attacks including sexual violence against the Banyamulenge on the basis of their ethnicity and perceived allegiance to neighbouring countries.
According to Ms Wairimu, the current violence in Eastern DRC mainly stems from the refugee crisis that resulted from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, leading to formation of armed groups that have led to the conflict that has rocked the region for two decades.
The complexity of ethnic compositions, political grievances and interested parties mean mediators must walk on eggshells in seeking peace. That burden is now carried by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, the EAC Facilitator for Peace in the DR Congo.
Mr Kenyatta must push for penalties on errant parties, while rewarding those suing for peace. Peace, however, is not the reward everyone wants.
This week, all the EAC leaders except South Sudan’s Salva Kiir took part physically or via video link in the discussions in the Nairobi Process that are meant to lay the foundation for continuous dialogue between the government in Kinshasa and the armed groups as well as neutralise negative forces in eastern DRC.
“There are groups that are yet to honour promises to lay down arms and we urge those who are not yet with us on the table to still give support to the Nairobi process. The resources of Congo are supposed to foster development and not to shed blood,” said Mr Kenyatta.
Agreed to disarm
The armed groups agreed to disarm and gave their proposals including withdrawal of foreign armed groups, freeing of imprisoned fighters by the FARDC and amnesty for those wanted for running armed groups.
The call for ceasefire was partly heeded by more than 52 armed groups that showed up for the Nairobi peace process.
The armed groups include those from North and South Kivu, Ituri armed groups, Maniema and Tanganyika as well as a small portion of the M23 rebels.
In attendance at the Nairobi meeting included Cooperative for the Development of Congo (Codeco), a mystical-military organisation that claims to defend members of the Lendu community in Ituri region; Collective Movement for Change (CMC), based in Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo; and the Mai Mai.
The Ugandan rebels based in DRC, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and the M23 were not invited. Both the governments of Yoweri Museveni and Felix Tshisekedi have designated the two groups as terrorist organisations.
President Felix Tshisekedi’s Special Envoy Prof Serge Tshibangu said DRC has plans to absorb the local armed groups’ ex-combatants into the army after the due recruitment process has been followed.
“The amnesty will however, not be automatic to all armed groups that lay down their arms as some will have to go through the transitional justice process and be held accountable for their atrocities,” he said. In the past three weeks, Mr Kenyatta has visited Bujumbura, Kinshasa, Goma and Luanda in his diplomatic endeavours.
However, some of the armed groups that are involved in the diplomatic process are concerned that EAC leaders are not doing enough to pressure President Felix Tshisekedi to listen and act on their grievances. Basa Zukpa, the spokesperson for Codeco, said they have had formal talks with President Tshisekedi since 2019, but Kinshasa instead prefers to send delegations to tell them to lay down their arms.
“We are willing to lay down our arms but we need the EAC leaders to make serious efforts to bring peace to eastern Congo because our previous talks with the government have not produced any formal agreement,” said Mr Zukpa.
He said that Codeco is more concerned about intermittent attacks by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) while their only intention is to defend their people from negative forces.
Jules Mulumba, the spokesperson for the Collective Movement for Change (CMC), expressed similar sentiments, saying they have been in touch with the government but there is no official communication yet.
However, President Tshisekedi, while addressing the gathering via a video link, expressed frustrations that criminal activities are sabotaging diplomatic efforts to bring peace.
President Kagame said that persistent insecurity in eastern DRC is due to the failure to implement various agreements in the past years. He, however, sees some hope in resolving the conflict because the recent resurgence has attracted attention globally.
On the other hand, President Museveni said that the region should adopt a dual approach: Political dialogue and military action against those groups that don’t want peace.
Reporting by Fred Oluoch and Ange Iliza