Rwanda says east DRC war 'serious' national security threat

Monday February 19 2024
civilians flee

People carry their belongings as they flee from their villages around Sake in Masisi territory, following clashes between M23 rebels and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); towards Goma, North Kivu Province, DRC on February 7, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


Rwanda says the ongoing war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is becoming a national security threat in Kigali, confirming its fears of a possible regional conflict.

Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Sunday the war means Kinshasa has specifically abandoned regional efforts at dialogue.

The statement, issued on February 18, follows another communiqué from the US State Department, which called on Rwanda to withdraw its troops from the DRC, however.

Rwanda is “deeply concerned by the abandonment of the Luanda and Nairobi Processes by the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and by the international community's indifference to DRC's dramatic military build-up".

"DRC has launched massive combat operations in North Kivu, in contravention of the decisions of regional mechanisms, and clearly aims to expel M23 and Congolese Tutsi civilians into neighbouring countries,” Kigali said.

Officially, Kigali repeated its past allegation that Kinshasa was working in concert with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan ethnic militia which is directly linked to the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994.


The recent M23 advances, condemned by the US and Kinshasa in particular, are due to the DRC's decision to expel the East African Community Regional Force in December 2023, “which oversaw ceasefire and withdrawal efforts,” Rwanda argued, referring to the defunct EAC force, which deployed between November 2022 and December 2023.

'Protecting Tutsis'

In November 2023, following American mediation between the DRC and Rwanda, the Congolese army forbade Congolese soldiers to have any contact with the FDLR.

The Rwandan authorities claim that "the FDLR have been integrated into the Congolese army" anyway and argue that Congolese authorities are not protecting the Tutsi communities in the DRC, who are, according to Rwanda, “victims of hate speech and discrimination.”

"Taken together, these facts represent a serious threat to Rwanda's national security.”

But, Congolese authorities say Rwanda cannot take on the role of protecting citizens of another country. Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi spoke about this to counterparts at the talks held on the sidelines of the 37th African Union summit last weekend.

The question of refugees from the two countries has always been one of the points of contention between Rwanda and the DRC. In May 2023, Kigali and Kinshasa undertook, at the end of a meeting held in Geneva, to enter into a constructive dialogue to create conditions conducive to the sustainable return of Congolese and Rwandan refugees to their respective countries. No significant progress has been made since then.

Missile systems

Concerning the M23, the United States condemned Rwanda's support for the armed group and called on “Rwanda to immediately withdraw all Rwanda Defence Force personnel from the DRC and remove its surface-to-air missile systems, which threaten the lives of civilians, UN and other regional peacekeepers, humanitarian actors, and commercial flights in eastern DRC.”

Rwanda's response is that "the M23 issue must be resolved politically amongst Congolese".

"It will not be accepted for the problem to be externalised into Rwanda, by force, once again", added the Rwandan statement.

Rwanda also rejected the terms of the State Department saying it “fundamentally distorts these realities, and stands in puzzling contradiction with the substance and tone of the confidence-building process initiated by the US Director of National Intelligence in November 2023, which created a productive framework for de-escalation.”

Kigali has since said it will seek clarification from the US Government to ascertain whether its statement represents an abrupt shift in policy, “or simply a lack of internal coordination.”

While both countries say they want peace, through regional peace processes, the United Nations is warning of the risk of direct confrontation between the two countries, given the military build-up on both sides.

The DRC has always said it is ready for any eventuality. Rwanda, in its press release, retorts that it "reserves the right to take any legitimate measures to defend our country, so long as this threat exists".

The issue between the DRC and Rwanda continues to be a major concern for the region, but also for the US, whose Under Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee had talks with President Tshisekedi in Addis Ababa.