DRC – Rwanda: Relations are cold, but not frozen, says Vincent Karega

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala

Posted on Friday, 4 November 2022 16:12, updated on Thursday, 10 November 2022 11:14
Vincent Karega. © Twitter Vincent Karega

Vincent Karega, Rwanda’s former ambassador to DRC, speaks about the critical situation between the two neighbours after his expulsion from Kinshasa.

Although he arrived by plane in Ndjili in July 2020, Karega left Kinshasa 27 months later on a small boat bound for Kigali via Brazzaville.

The latest act in a series of political and diplomatic escalations between the two neighbours, the dismissal of Rwanda’s ambassador to DRC on 31 October does not mark a “break in diplomatic relations“, says Karega.

While DRC has been accusing Kigali of supporting the M23 since November and the rebel group’s latest offensive is underway, Karega agreed to answer our questions.

How did you react when you were informed that you had to leave DRC? 

Vincent Karega: Unfortunately, I knew this would happen at some point. For several months now, anti-Rwandan sentiment has been spreading in DRC. I had hateful messages directed at me.

There have been demonstrations demanding your dismissal. Did they scare you?

I am never afraid when I know I am not guilty of anything.

Following your expulsion, is Rwanda considering any retaliatory measures?

No, not at all. We don’t feel DRC behaved well, but we are not planning to retaliate.

Does your dismissal signal a breakdown in relations between DRC and Rwanda?

I don’t know what message DRC is sending. The term “complete breakdown” in relations has not been uttered by either country. Relations are very cold but not completely frozen.

How were your last days in Kinshasa?

They were difficult because Rwanda is accused of all evils in DRC. And in Kinshasa, I represented Rwanda. So it was not easy to work in this climate, to seal business partnerships, to go to cultural activities or to any event, even though these contributed to bringing Congolese and Rwandans together.

Why does Rwanda persist in denying its support for the M23, when a UN panel report and some of your allies like the US have proven it does? 

Just because a UN expert said something doesn’t mean it’s the truth. People live on both sides of the border and the problems are also cross-border. Ever since the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda [FDLR] was created in DRC, the Tutsis have been hated and ostracised in DRC.

The FDLR have divided the Congolese and Rwandan people, looted property, and forced some people to leave their homes. These refugees have themselves created resistance movements mostly based in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

Given this context, although one cannot say that Rwanda has nothing to do with these movements, it is unfair to say that Rwanda founded the M23.

So you support the M23 somewhat? 

No, I don’t support them politically or militarily. I am simply describing the situation: that of the people and cross-border problems that can only be resolved if all the countries cooperate.

Despite Rwanda’s denials, the evidence seems to be accumulating… How do you think the UN panel of experts reached its conclusions? 

I don’t know if the evidence is accumulating or if the same supposed evidence is simply being recycled. I don’t know how these experts can distinguish between a Rwandan soldier and an M23 member since most of the M23 members are Rwandan-speaking.

It is also worth noting that the same expert reports prove that the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo [FARDC] collaborate, organise and help the FDLR fight. So if we want to solve this problem, we have to take it as a whole.

Do you know what the M23’s demands are?

Yes, but I am not their spokesperson. The M23 regularly expresses its demands. In general, the M23, like Rwandophones in DRC, denounce the discrimination they suffer.

When some politicians say that a Tutsi cannot be Congolese, when Tutsi soldiers are viewed as infiltrators, and some people are chased because they are Tutsis, it is a big problem. These threats have become recurrent, so the Tutsi population no longer feels at home.

Is Rwanda aware that Kinshasa and the M23 signed an agreement when Félix Tshisekedi came to power in 2019? 

A so-called “Nairobi agreement” was signed in 2012, then in 2013 the Addis Ababa agreement, which advocates the reintegration of M23 soldiers. It provides for a process of repatriation for refugees from various camps in Rwanda and Uganda.

Rwanda also knows that President Tshisekedi’s new government created a mechanism in 2019 to follow up on these agreements. On several occasions, missions were organised, both in Kigali and Kampala, and direct negotiations were held with the M23 branch in Rwanda and Uganda. It is even said that some of the M23 representatives spent 14 months in Kinshasa under the auspices of the Congolese government.

How can the Luanda and Nairobi processes be revived?

Both processes are active. Recently, Téte António, President João Lourenço’s envoy, visited Kinshasa and Kigali. Very soon, the heads of state of the East African Community (EAC) will meet to discuss this issue.

The joint force military mechanism is also being deployed to carry out operations as provided for in these agreements.

Belgium has just asked Rwanda to help resolve this crisis by persuading the M23 to withdraw from DRC. Is Kigali isolating itself diplomatically? 

Rwanda is not M23’s boss. It has always helped by adhering to the various roadmaps and agreements, but it is not the only actor.

DRC wants certain things, but so does the M23, so we have to listen to all sides. The M23 must withdraw but to where? Rwanda? But its members are not Rwandan. The question is complex and all the East African nations must try to find an answer.

What are Rwanda’s claims in this crisis?

Rwanda is not claiming anything: it must ensure its borders are secure and not threatened by anyone, especially those who continue to present a permanent danger.

In your opinion, DRC is using Rwanda as a scapegoat? 

Yes, and the report written by the UN group of experts that Kinshasa is using against us does not only talk about the M23 but also about the FDLR. Everyone must sit down for an honest discussion with the political will to move forward.

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