Rwanda–DRC: a win-win agreement?

For the first time since June 2012, Rwandan and DR Congolese officials have recently decided to launch a new round of security talks, after their defence ministers secretly met. This September 24 meeting constitutes a clear rapprochement between both countries, which were in bad terms following the M23 rebellion in the eastern DRC. The meeting aims therefore to show the strong desire shared by the leaders to engage in a renewed cooperation.

The cooperation is supposed to embed two high strategic concerns that lie at the core of DRC-Rwanda relations: the eradication of FDLR Rwandan rebels and the repatriation of M23 ex-fighters cantoned in Rwanda. The two sides agreed on the establishment of a joint bilateral team in order to repatriate ex-M23 and FDLR combatants in their respective countries. Praised statements have emanated from Congolese defence minister Aimé Ngoi Mukena, who described Rwandan President Paul Kagamé as a “providential man”. The word could be surprising, unless considering it for what it is, namely a political act: during 2012, Kinshasa and the United Nations accused Kigali of playing an active role in destabilizing the eastern DRC.

But things seem to have changed. On September 24, the countries show the willingness to move on. “A new chapter has been opened”, said Aimé Ngoi Mukena. He also emphasized on the ability of both countries to get closer: “We do not refuse support {from the international community}. But we also want to say that as sovereign countries, friendly countries, fraternal countries, we are able to resolve our own problems[1]. Rwandan defence minister James Kabarebe agreed with his counterpart by describing the meeting as an “historical moment”, adding that “our countries have an obligation to our citizens, to ensure peace and security as a foundation for development {…}[2]”.

The two rebel groups mentioned above have been at the center of the mutual distrust Rwanda and DRC displayed. As a matter of fact, the FDLR, inter alia composed of elements linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi having crossed over the border after the event, has regularly been targeted by Kagamé’s regime, which even accused Kinshasa not to fight enough this group. Kigali estimates the strength of FDLR to be around 3,600 fighters. The militia is accused of fostering practices of looting, raping and killing against civilians, mainly in the North and South Kivu provinces. It has also defied several UN ultimatums to disarm voluntarily. Rwanda and the DRC have by the past led operations against the group, the latest having prematurely ended in 2012 after the outbreak of the M23 rebellion.

For its part, the M23 has emerged in 2012 from previous CNDP members (another rebel group which fought against the FDLR and which was assumed to be supported by Rwanda) disgruntled with Joseph Kabila’s politics. Indeed, they feared massive arrests after Kabila’s intention to arrest and judge Bosco Ntaganda, the former CNDP leader, in spite of the amnesty deal that had been made. Kagamé supported the M23 movement, even in their assault on the city of Goma on November 2012, which constituted a major strategic failure: since then, the international community publicly condemned Kagamé’s position and put pressure on him to stop supporting rebel groups. Cooperation seemed necessary to avoid public dishonour and other accusations of interference; the President had no choice but to show willingness and decided then not to protect Ntaganda anymore by constraining him to surrender to the American embassy. Ntaganda is now facing a trial at the International Criminal Court (ICP)[3].

We will see in the future how this commitment will materialise. For sure, the numerous rebel groups spreading across the region tend to add complexity and civil population continues to suffer crimes of all kinds. The rapprochement led has raised many issues, especially considering the bad relations both countries have developed. Let’s hope the seemingly “win-win agreement” will contribute to decrease the degree of violence the eastern DRC and its population are facing for some decades.

Déborah Guidez

[1] RFI, “Un nouveau chapitre” dans les relations entre le Rwanda et la RDC, 25/09/2015.

[2] AllAfrica, Congo-Kinshasa: FDLR at Heart of Fresh Talks between Rwanda and DRC, 25/09/2015.

[3] See more on Jeune Afrique, RDC-Rwanda: Bosco Ntaganda face à la CPI, “un procès unique”, 02/09/2015.

Déborah Guidez

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