DRC-Rwanda: Kigali’s discreet diplomatic response

By Romain Gras, Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Thursday, 16 June 2022 11:09, updated on Friday, 17 June 2022 02:27

Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali , 2021 © Paul Kagame/FLICKR

Three days before the capture of the strategic town of Bunagana by M23 rebels, Kigali summoned the Congolese chargé d'affaires in Rwanda to denounce “aggression” and “provocations” on the part of the DRC.

The tension between Kinshasa and Kigali has not let up. While the M23 rebels seized the town of Bunagana, an important crossroads for cross-border trade between the DRC and Uganda on 13 June, Kinshasa has continued to accuse Rwanda of being behind the “invasion” of its territory.

On the diplomatic front, negotiations for a peaceful solution seem to have stalled. Several attempts at dialogue have taken place over the past two weeks. The UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Huang Xia, has visited Goma and Kigali. Angolan President João Lourenço, the African Union’s (AU) appointed mediator, hopes to organise a meeting between Paul Kagame and Félix Tshisekedi. But “things are at a standstill,” said a member of the Congolese president’s inner circle.

During his 13 June visit to Brazzaville, Huang Xia was received by President Denis Sassou Nguesso, saying that dialogue between the DRC and the armed groups would soon resume, with a third meeting scheduled for “17 or 20 June”. He also mentioned the organisation “very soon” of a summit between Félix Tshisekedi, Paul Kagame and João Lourenço.

‘Hateful propaganda’

It was amid this tense backdrop, on 10 June, that Kigali summoned the chargé d’affaires at DRC’s embassy in Rwanda, Alice Kimpembe Bamba. She was received by Nshuti Manasseh, Secretary of State at Rwanda’s ministry of foreign affairs.

In a letter sent to DRC’s Foreign Affairs Minister Christophe Lutundula obtained by Jeune Afrique, Alice Kimpembe Bamba explained that the Rwandan diplomat “expressed the disapproval of his government following, according to him, the bombing of Rwandan territory twice [on the same day], by the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC), DRC’s national army.

According to our information, Kigali also sent a note to Kinshasa. In this document, written in French and English, the Rwandan foreign ministry denounces “the constant provocative and aggressive actions of the DRC against Rwanda. Today, 10 June, at around 11:55am, two 122mm BM21 rockets launched by the FARDC targeted the village of Gasizi, in the northern province,” the letter said.

Recounting the “aggressions” of which Rwanda claims to have been the victim and the “abduction” of two of its soldiers recently released thanks to Angolan mediation, Kigali also refers to the “acts of senior government officials and members of the security organs in the DRC inciting the population to commit acts of violence against Rwanda and Kinyarwanda speakers in general”. According to Kigali, “this has already led to widespread hate propaganda on social networks and recurrent demonstrations against Rwanda”.

What is Uganda’s role?

On 31 May, Rwanda’s ambassador to the DRC, Vincent Karega, was summoned by the Congolese foreign affairs ministry, which had claimed to have evidence of the involvement of the Rwandan army alongside the M23, now considered a terrorist movement by Kinshasa.

According to our information, faced with M23 firepower, Congolese soldiers have been forced to withdraw, some of them to Uganda. Within DRC President Tshisekedi’s entourage, questions have multiplied in recent hours as to Kampala’s position in this crisis. A close associate of the president who is closely following the issue has accused Ugandan special forces of having played a role in the fall of Bunagana.

A Congolese security source familiar with the situation added more nuance to the previous accusation. According to this source, Ugandan troops have withdrawn from the border with the DRC, “where they had been present for several weeks in the framework of cross-border security, thus allowing the intensification of the Rwandan military intervention”.

Circumspect since the outset of the conflict, Uganda committed itself in November 2021 to a joint operation with the Congolese army against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in North Kivu and Ituri. At the same time, after a long diplomatic crisis, in recent months Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni have begun – at the impetus of Museveni’s son Muhoozi Kainerugaba – a rapprochement.

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