DRC: How Tshisekedi-Kagame tug of war over M23 has been exported to Washington

By Romain Gras
Posted on Wednesday, 14 December 2022 10:39

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart, Felix Tshisekedi, at the UN headquarters in New York on 24 September 2019. © Village Urugwiro

Arriving on the evening of 11 December in the US, where he is due to take part in the US-Africa Leaders Summit 2022, DRC’s President Félix Tshisekedi plans to continue his diplomatic battle with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, whom he accuses of supporting the M23 rebels.

Félix Tshisekedi used his last trip to the US in September, when he attended the UN General Assembly, to continue to advocate against Rwanda’s involvement with the M23 – an accusation that Kigali denies.

On this occasion, a tripartite meeting, organised at France’s initiative, took place between Presidents Emmanuel Macron, Tshisekedi and Paul Kagame.

This meeting notably addressed the issue of withdrawing the rebels who, at the time, mostly controlled the town of Bunagana.

Two and a half months later, Tshisekedi is back in the US and the M23 is situated about 20km from Goma.

Rwanda denounces ‘external interference’

The Congolese president arrived in Washington on 11 December.

He is already scheduled to speak at two round tables organised as part of the summit: one devoted to the energy transition on 13 December and the other to the African Union’s Agenda 2063 on 15 December.

Tshisekedi has also planned to be active behind the scenes on the M23 issue, which the US is closely monitoring.

A meeting with Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, will also take place.

On two occasions since the conflict began, in June and October 2022, the committee headed by the New Jersey politician has accused Kigali of helping the rebels and called on Washington and Rwanda to reconsider the aid they are providing.

The US is one of the few countries that have publicly addressed the issue of Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23.

On 4 December, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – who visited DRC and Rwanda in August – said he had spoken to Kagame, saying he had “indicated to him that all external support for non-state armed groups in DRC must end, including Rwanda’s assistance to the M23”.

Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta hit back, criticising “external interference in regional and continental efforts that serve to absolve DRC of its responsibility and encourage it to not respect the commitments made in the ongoing processes”.

Tshisekedi seeks new allies

In recent weeks, several attempts have been made to revive the Luanda and Nairobi mediation processes.

On 23 November, a mini-summit organised in Luanda under the auspices of João Lourenço, the mediator of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), led to the adoption of a new roadmap.

A ceasefire was ordered, as well as the M23’s withdrawal from the conquered localities, on pain of intervention by the regional force.

Nearly three weeks later, this withdrawal is still not effective, despite the M23’s announcement that it was disengaging on 6 December.

The Angolan president, who is also in Washington, will meet with Blinken on 13 December.

According to our information, discussions are underway to organise a new summit, which is expected to be held in Washington on the sidelines of the official programme.

The meeting, which has not yet been formally confirmed, is being organised by the East African Community, chaired by Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye, and Angola, which is leading the Luanda process.

Plans are underway to have it be bigger than the one held at the end of November in Luanda.

In addition to the EAC member countries and Angola’s Lourenço, several other participants are expected to attend, including Bintou Keïta, the head of Monusco.

Both France and the US are expected to have an observer seat, while the Southern African Development Community (SADC) troika will also have a seat.

Tshisekedi, who currently chairs the organisation and is looking for other allies on an issue where he is currently struggling to gain real diplomatic support in the sub-region, invited the latter to be involved.

‘Blacklisting’

The other diplomatic issue on which Tshisekedi intends to insist during his stay is the UN-imposed notification regime.

There has been no arms embargo in DRC since 2008, except for armed groups. This notification regime is only required for suppliers and certain calibres of weapons.

But DRC has been denouncing for several months the maintenance of these constraints which, according to its Foreign Affairs Minister Christophe Lutundula, amount to placing DRC on a “black list” and preventing it from defending itself against the M23.

Their renewal at the beginning of July, although slightly relaxed, has caused frustration among Tshisekedi’s entourage and is still the subject of heated discussions in New York.

The initial proposal, formulated by Paris, aimed to entirely lift restrictive measures.

France, which has signed all the UN resolutions on DRC, was responding to a request from Kinshasa, but came up against the US and UK, who believe maintaining measures would allow arms to be traced and avoid the risks associated with trafficking between the Congolese army and armed groups.

Lifting restrictions

On a visit to New York before joining the Congolese president in Washington, Lutundula met with Nicolas de Rivière, the French ambassador to the UN.

The subject of the notification regime, as well as the renewal of Monusco’s mandate, which will soon be voted on by the Security Council, were notably brought to the table.

According to an Elysée source, France proposed again at the end of November that they be lifted completely.

Paris wants to respond to the Russian diplomatic offensive in DRC by bringing the subject back into the news.

This comes at a time when the European Council has adopted a €20m budgetary envelope, through the European Peace Facility, for Rwanda’s deployment in Mozambique.

France had been at the origin of this proposal, which was discussed well before the M23’s resurgence.

According to corroborating sources, this envelope was first mentioned following Macron’s visit to Kigali in May 2021.

Although the Congolese side had been informed about this European aid before the vote, it nevertheless caused some tension in Kinshasa.

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