US top envoy Anthony Blinken to calm tensions in Rwanda, DR Congo

Wednesday August 03 2022
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 17, 2021. PHOTO | AFP

By Ange Iliza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected in Rwanda and DRC this week to push for amends in ties between the two neighbours, who had a public spat last month over the fanning of rebels.

But the US top diplomat will first tour Cambodia and the Philippines and attend a ministerial gathering of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) before arriving in the continent via South Africa.

An itinerary provided to the media said Mr Blinken would be in Kinshasa from August 9 to 10, from where he will travel to Rwanda.

Mr Blinken said his trip to Africa would include a push to have Rwanda and DR Congo iron out their differences. But it will also include discussions on “the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics, or shaping the technological and economic future.”

DRC has lately come under criticism from environmental watchdogs after it auctioned 30 oil and gas blocks in an area considered crucial for conservation. According to Greenpeace, “this would be an unmitigated disaster for the climate, biodiversity and local people.”

Read: Greenpeace opposes DRC oil and gas project


Between Rwanda and DRC, relations thawed recently following a high-level visit by the Rwandan Prime Minister to Kinshasa last week. But trade agreements between them remain suspended by Kinshasa, which accused its neighbour of supporting the M23 rebels in North Kivu, claims Kigali rejected.

“They [DRC] have been behaving like spoiled children. They cause trouble and then, in the end, they start crying or shouting and saying somebody is doing something wrong to them,” President Kagame said during an interview with France 24, a French newspaper. He added that it is surprising that some parts of the world have taken the side of DRC even when it is in the wrong.

Mr Blinken plans to raise this thorny issue with the Rwandan leadership, following concerns raised by US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez in a letter sent to him on July 20.

Also read: US endorses regional action to end conflict in DRC

In his letter, Mr Menendez said both Rwanda and Uganda have a role in the DR Congo conflict.

In addition, the US Secretary of State will also discuss democracy and human rights issues, including transnational repression, limiting space for dissent and political opposition, and the jailing of US permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina that American officials have deemed “wrongful”. His trial became controversial as the United States, European Commission, and human rights organisations condemned the trial and called for his release.

Despite the bumps in human rights issues, the US allocated more than $147 million in foreign assistance to Rwanda in 2021, making it the country’s largest bilateral donor. In 2013, the US blocked military aid to Rwanda, alleging it supported the M23 Congolese rebels.

John Ruku Rwabyoma, a member of the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security in Rwanda, told The EastAfrican that the US Secretary of State needs to come and investigate the truth himself.

“About DRC’s allegations, Rwanda will not bend because the truth is out there for everyone to see. Their allegations have no grounds. Posing sanctions against Rwanda would be simply wrong, but we have been there before, and the truth will always prevail,” Mr Rwabyoma said.

Regarding Rusesabagina’s case, the legislator said that it is ironic that the US has advocated for his release, yet its Federal Bureau of Investigation, he claimed, contributed to acquiring evidence that incriminated the ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero.

Read: Appeal in ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero case to proceed

Blinken’s tour will be his second visit to Africa after visiting Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal in November 2021.