M23 and Rwanda-DR Congo clash

M23 fighters aboard a truck (NET PHOTO)

Set rules for foreign intervention in your country, DRC President Tshisekedi has advised as tensions erupt again

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | The latest flare-up of tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was quickly followed by attempts at mediation and diplomatic maneuvers to stem the escalation of a recurring problem. At the heart of the outbreak is a familiar group, the M23, which now hangs over the Great Lakes region like a curse.

Fighting has taken place between the M23 and Congolese government forces, displacing thousands of people and creating instability in the delicate border area involving Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and Uganda.

The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23, a militia that has roamed the jungles of eastern DRC for years, causing chaos and destruction. The DRC, a newcomer to the East African Community (EAC), has initiated a series of actions against its neighbour; he suspended RwandAir from its airspace and summoned the Rwandan envoy to the M23. Meanwhile, protests have also taken place in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, against Rwanda.

Accusations of Rwanda’s support for M23 have dragged on for a decade and the country is still in a difficult position when the accusations are made. After a few years of bromance since taking office in 2019, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has seen the relationship with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame put to the test.

Analysts say Tshisekedi is under pressure to act tough since M23 has been a problem for some time and the president‘s actions to suspend RwandAir operations in the vast country have been hailed by his compatriots as bold.

Rwanda denies supporting the M23 and is also making its demands amid the crisis, including asking the DRC to release two Rwandan soldiers allegedly kidnapped by the FDLR, a rebel group opposed to the government in Kigali.

Macky Sall, President of Senegal, has already resumed mediation efforts between Tshisekedi and Kagame and called for dialogue between the two neighbors. Sall is the chairman of the African Union.

Tshisekedi in the spotlight

As a new member of the EAC bloc, Tshisekedi is playing his cards carefully as he navigates a conflict that predates his tenure. And the optimism has been there since he showed diplomacy as a mediator in the Rwandan-Ugandan negotiations held in Angola in 2019.

A new report from the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, has some advice for President Tshisekedi: Establish rules for foreign intervention. The report published on May 25 and titled “Alleviating unrest in eastern DR Congo and the Great Lakes” says Kinshasa should step up its diplomacy or the country will once again become a regional battleground. The report adds that Tshisekedi may have opened a “Pandora’s box” by inviting troops from neighboring countries to fight rebels based in his country.

“The Congolese president could set rules for any foreign intervention, clarifying the objectives, the duration and possibly the area of ​​operation of those he has given the green light to, in particular that of Uganda,” it says. -he.

“He could try to persuade Kagame not to send troops to the DRC. Transparency on the Ugandan operation could help appease Kagame, but to bolster his case, Tshisekedi can also expose the reputational costs of a Rwandan intervention for Kigali,” the report points out.

The DRC has urged Ugandan troops to pursue ADF militants on Congolese territory after the rebel group was blamed for a series of terror attacks in Uganda. On November 30, the Ugandan army launched attacks against ADF camps in the territory of North Kivu in the DRC. The Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) operation, codenamed Shujaa, is now in its seventh month with no clear signs of ending.

In April, President Yoweri Museveni, while hosting his Mozambican counterpart Filipe Nyusi on a state visit, said 4,000 UPDF troops were taking part in Operation Shujaa.

What has baffled observers is the lack of reports of direct combat between the UPDF and ADF in what increasingly looks like an asymmetric war. It has raised new questions about the true nature of Uganda’s mission in its vast neighbor where it has a long and contested history. Ugandan troops were in the DRC between 1996 and 2003 during a series of proxy wars.

“Relying on Kenya for support, it should hold further discussions with neighboring countries to rethink further military action and develop a comprehensive plan for negotiations with armed groups,” advises the ICG.

Reports of the presence of Burundian troops in the DRC have also raised concerns in the region. “In late December, presumably with Tshisekedi’s blessing, Burundian troops entered the DRC to target the RED-Tabara insurgency, a Tutsi-led group that opposes the Hutu-dominated government in Bujumbura.” The report added citing the potential escalation of fighting in DRC territory.

Meanwhile, Rwanda is reportedly unhappy with the deployment of Ugandan troops in eastern Congo. The argument made by Rwanda over the years has been that it is a small, landlocked country that is wary of troop movements near its border. The addition of Burundian troops to the matrix would have put Rwanda on edge saying it could not sit comfortably with the Burundian troops which are multiplying in territory not far from its capital.

However, Uganda argued that the deployment of the UPDF to pursue the ADF could not wait any longer and according to people familiar with the high-level meetings preceding the deployment, Uganda had obtained the support of the Security Council from the UN for deployment after the ADF was allegedly responsible for the bombings in Kampala on November 16, 2021 near the Parliament building.

Rwanda has traditionally not had good relations with Burundi. While tensions had eased considerably since the election in 2020 of a new president, Evariste Ndayishimiye, the passage of Burundian troops in December 2021 to pursue the rebel group Rouge-Tabara would be a new source of concern in Kigali.

Meanwhile, diplomats were overdrive. Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s permanent representative to the UN, tweeted on May 31: “Speaking at the UN Security Council meeting ‘The situation concerning the DRC’. Foreign armed groups condemned ADF, FDRL and Red Tabara for killings and massive population displacements. I also condemned the hate speech promoted by some actors.

Ayebare has been an interlocutor between Uganda and Rwanda and President Museveni’s envoy to Kigali in recent years when relations began to sour. His omission of M23 from the list of dirty players was hard to miss.

President Tshisekedi

M23 Puzzle

The M23 has become a symbol of behind-the-scenes movements in the Great Lakes region. It’s hard to say how many fighters are in his ranks, but how he continues to rise up to shake up the region has been the subject of debate for years.

In numerous reports, the UN has already implicated Rwanda and Uganda in the group’s activities. Sustained pressure from the United States and the UN is what led suspected M23 supporters to cut off their support for the militia which led to its defeat in 2013. However, due to the weak Congolese state in its eastern territory where around 120 rebel groups operate with impunity, the M23 has been able to organize and mobilize combatants when called upon.

In a rare statement released by the Rwanda Defense Forces last year in November, Rwanda said the M23 group was operating from Uganda after an M23 attack in Congo. Rwanda was reacting to reports after the M23 attacked the military positions of Chanzu and Runyonyi, in the province of North Kivu in the DRC.

The statement stopped short of saying that Uganda is supporting the group in what was a shift in tactics from disavowing the militia to naming who is behind it.

This was at a time before Uganda and Rwanda came close to the visit of Uganda’s first son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to President Kagame, a meeting that would lead to the reopening of the common border between the two. country.

The M23 is a group of former rebels of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). The name comes from the March 23, 2009 agreement between the CNDP and the Congolese government, which M23 leaders claimed the government had reneged on.

In 2013, the M23 was defeated by a UN intervention brigade made up of Tanzanian and South African troops. At the height of its power, the M23 captured the strategic town of Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo before it was retaken by government troops.

President Museveni opted out of the latest M23 outbreak, perhaps out of a desire not to further alienate Rwanda. The last time the M23 became a headache for regional heads of state, Museveni called a summit in Kampala between the M23 and the DRC government to iron out a deal. He was President of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). He also convened a heads of state meeting in Kampala which included presidents; Joseph Kabila, Paul Kagame and Jakaya Kikwete.

However, Museven’s silence is now being undermined by tweets from his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, commander of the UPDF ground forces.

Museveni’s inability to contain Muhoozi’s comments on sensitive topics has left others in the DRC rebel arena at an impasse. For most of them, the latest flare-up in tensions between Rwanda and the DRC is trying enough without dragging on in Uganda.



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