The chimaera of the DRC’s Balkanisation
The old Balkanisation refrain has been revived since the election of Félix Tshisekedi, brandished by a Congolese opposition that has no interest in peace in the DRC and which wishes to stir up hatred against Rwandans and Rwandan-speaking Congolese. A pure and simple sham.
It’s like a documentary on the Balkan wars of the 20th century showing the geographical crumbling into myriad states of this peninsula once unified by the Ottoman Empire. The difference is the scene takes place on the streets of Kinshasa in 2020 and the demonstrators are neither Hungarians nor Turks but Congolese, chanting, “No to the Balkanisation of the DRC!”
The term “Balkanisation” appeared in the late 1990s, in the Great Lakes region at the time of the invasions of former Zaire by Rwanda and Uganda. The Zairians feared their two neighbours would take back the territories that had once belonged to them before the division of Africa. This did not happen.
The concept resurfaced after Joseph Kabila came to power in 2001. Critics accused him of concealing his Rwandan origins and of being part of a major international conspiracy to break up the continental state while dispossessing it of its mineral-rich eastern provinces for the benefit of Rwanda.
The recent accession to power of Felix Tshisekedi has not helped. The old story is being repeated, this time fuelled by the Lamuka coalition of the presidential candidate Martin Fayulu and the Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (Cenco). Neither Lamuka nor Cenco accepted that Fayulu came second in the presidential election.
Stirring up hatred
For his part, President Félix Tshisekedi, tried to normalise relations with Rwanda as soon as he was elected but ended up deploying Congolese armed forces to the east of the DRC to fight the armed groups active there. The armed forces have had some success, regaining control of territories previously under the control of these militias. As a result, the risks of Balkanisation, if there was ever a plan for it, are now almost zero.
The opposition, however, has no interest in peace returning to the DRC. Over the past 25 years, the climate of insecurity in the east of the country has allowed warlords to enrich themselves and make a career in politics or the army. The ADF-Nalu, for example, believed to be a Ugandan militia, turned out to be a Nande indigenous group funded by a deposed Kabila-era politician Mbusa Nyamwisi, who now lives in Uganda.
The DRC is emerging from more than two decades of chaos, thanks in part to good cooperation with its eastern neighbours. The opposition prefers to stir up hatred against Rwandans — by implication Tutsis — and Rwandan-speaking Congolese, to undermine efforts to bring Rwanda and the DRC closer.
The tragedy is that the Balkanisation theory is a hypocritical accusation. The current coordinator of the Lamuka opposition platform and former prime minister Adolphe Muzito openly declares his intention to attack Rwanda and annex it if possible, while at the same accusing Rwanda of having Balkanisation ambitions. While accusing Joseph Kabila and now Felix Tshisekedi of cooperating with Rwanda, they collaborated with Kigali in the past.
In an era of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, and while the DRC has asked to join the East African Community (EAC), the prospect of annexing foreign territories is simply a sham.
Rather than of proposing solutions to the real problems facing the Congolese people — such as unemployment, lack of industrialisation and deteriorating infrastructure, and which may lead idle youth to fall into delinquency or join armed militias — the Congolese opposition prefers to enflame its citizens with an old chimaera.
Challenging Rwanda, or any other country in the region does not improve productivity, nor does it create jobs or bring prosperity. Those who talk about Balkanisation have never been to the border between Rwanda and the DRC, one of the busiest in the world, nor have they listened to the testimony of the saleswomen who cross it several times a day to earn a living.
The real wealth of the Congo is its people. Throughout Africa, natural resources benefit only the multinationals that exploit them and those few leaders who receive crumbs and guarantees of protection for their regimes. With Félix Tshisekedi, the DRC has a chance to become a peaceful nation that is moving forward. But this must be done through the inclusion of the various communities that constitute its true wealth.
Designating Rwanda as the common enemy is a unifying but ultimately futile and ephemeral whim.