by Byamukama Richard Bard
The root causes of the security crisis in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region cannot be resolved solely with military forces.
All countries in the Great Lakes region should understand the new dynamics of the mistrust between Kinshasa and Kigali, and the possibility of invisible forces behind the escalation, and that peace in one country is dependent on peace in the other.
Eastern DRC, where there is limited state presence, is considered the rear base and refuge of foreign armed groups that engage in incursions in neighbouring countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
Foreign powers’ long-standing enmity with Kagame
For those neighbouring countries, this provides ‘legitimate’ cause for their militaries to invade Eastern DRC under the pretext of stopping those groups.
The rapid deterioration of security in Eastern DRC and the resurgence of the Mouvement du 23 Mars (March 23 Movement or M23) could be an outcome of the long-standing enmity between the Western powers and the Rwanda President, Paul Kagame.
There are immediate and previous reasons for this escalation because the latter indicates a profound level of mistrust at all levels between DRC, with the backing of great powers (‘back passing’ as used in war)
By this, Felix Tshekedi, President of the DRC, could be a ploy of foreign powers to get rid of Kagame’s hegemony in Kigali, and the mistrust could erupt into a full-scale direct cross-border military confrontation between Kinshasa and Kigali.
Unless the underlying problems between the west and Kigali are addressed, we might see the M23 problem and the mistrust in Kinshasa as the only way to solve the rivalry, even if battalions of regional forces are deployed.
The DRC, now joined by France and the US, have sustained allegations that M23 received backing from Rwanda, a charge that Kigali rejects.
This position had already been expressed by several European chancelleries, including Belgium. Several United Nations expert reports have also cited Rwanda supporting the M23 rebels.
At the close of the meeting of African heads of states in Washington, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, called on Rwanda to use its influence to convince the M23 rebels to lay down their arms.
Tensions escalate at borders of DRC and Rwanda
This week on Wednesday, Rwanda accused neighbouring DRC of violating its airspace by flying a fighter jet over its territory.
A Sukhoi-25 fighter jet from the DRC violated Rwandan airspace along Lake Kivu in the Western Province of Rwanda and immediately returned to the DRC.
The incident is one in a series of provocations, including a similar airspace violation that occurred on 7 November 2022 when a DRC fighter jet of the same type briefly touched down at Rubavu Airport before flying back to DRC.
In June 2022, Rwanda and the DRC accused each other of firing rockets across their shared border. The DRC authorities also alleged that Rwanda deployed hundreds of soldiers in disguise on Congolese soil.
On 17 June, the DRC closed its border with Rwanda after a Congolese soldier was shot dead on Rwandan soil after an alleged incident with Rwandan border guards. Without a vigorous confidence-building process between the two sides, a wider interstate conflict is a strong possibility.
This would likely draw in Uganda and possibly Burundi on the side of the DRC as their familiar pattern of fighting proxy wars, given the profound levels of mistrust between them and Kigali. Without a vigorous confidence-building process between the two sides, a wider interstate conflict is imminent.
Allegations by DRC and Rwanda
For its part, the DRC accuses Rwanda of violating its sovereignty by supporting M23, the rebel group, along with multiple others, which is active in the DRC.
The recent United Nations report supports Kinshasa’s contention. A group of experts on the DRC detailed its accusations in a 131-page report. Kigali, however, dismissed the findings as “false allegations”.
Pointing the finger at Rwanda with claims that it had irrefutable proof of its aggression, Kinshasa decided to expel Rwanda’s ambassador in the DRC at the tail end of the higher council of defence meeting held on 29 October, which was chaired by President Felix Tshisekedi.
Rwanda, for its part, has always rejected Kinshasa’s accusations and accused the DRC of supporting the FDLR (The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), an armed group opposed to the government in Kigali and operating on Congolese soil since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
These accusations on both sides accentuate the mistrust and tensions between not only the leaders, but also the communities of these two countries, which are historically and geographically fated to live together.
But, kindly note that in case of any confrontation between Kigali and Kinshasa, that will be the end of the 1994 revolution in case of any slight troop movement, not forgetting the possibility of a military coup.
Then after, it should also be noted that the Ugandan 1986 revolution will remain isolated as well, only left at the mercy of Western powers with the lags vulnerable to any winds.
However, even if the crisis does not result into an open warfare between Rwanda and the DRC in the short term, it will leave tragic consequences for the people of eastern DR Congo, which should never be underestimated, and these will create real possibilities for a subsequent escalation.
Byamukama Richard Bard is a Lawyer and a Master’s Student in Security and Strategic Studies. Trained from Kabalye National Police Training School and also attended the Great Lakes Institute of Security and Strategic Studies