DRC | The Region, A tangled web of ties
Angola, which has a 2,600km land border with the DRC, has been entwined in its neighbour’s politics since the 1970s. Having backed the rebel Katangese Gendarmes, Angola joined the military alliance that ousted Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. The following year, Angolan troops blocked a bid by Rwandan-backed rebels to march on Kinshasa. In recent years, relations have deteriorated over a maritime border dispute. The instability triggered by Kabila’s extended stay in power could spill over the border. In October, Angolan security forces expelled thousands of Congolese diamond miners.
Long-standing efforts to promote a Central African Copperbelt alliance between Zambia and the DRC have not gone beyond conference resolutions. However, Zambia’s governments have been far more reluctant to intervene in Congo’s politics than those of other neighbours. Presidents Joseph Kabila and Edgar Lungu, both under heavy political pressure, seem to have an informal cooperation agreement. That is why Lungu’s officials told exiled oppositionist Moïse Katumbi that his plan to cross from Zambia into Katanga to file his candidature in the elections was being blocked by the Congolese authorities.
Zimbabwe’s military has intervened in the DRC out of political solidarity with the regimes of President Joseph Kabila and his father Laurent-Désiré. Senior figures in Zimbabwe’s ruling party have built up commercial interests in the DRC through banks and the mining sector. In public, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has spoken about closer collaboration; in private, he is said to have urged Kabila to ensure the transition does not trigger regional instability.
As the region’s economic and political giant, South Africa has had a key role in the DRC, starting with President Nelson Mandela brokering talks between Mobutu and his usurper Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1997. President Thabo Mbeki led negotiations between rival forces in the DRC to create a power-sharing government in 2003. Having established a rapport with president Jacob Zuma, President Joseph Kabila is suspicious of reform-minded President Cyril Ramaphosa and has rebuffed South Africa’s special envoy, Mbeki.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni joined with Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame to oust Mobutu Sese Seko, but with Kabila’s son Joseph as president, the three-sided alliance fell apart. Congolese security accuses Museveni of backing Hema and Lendu militias in Ituri. Museveni backs the oppositionist Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi and accuses the Kabila government of failing to control its borders. The Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan militia based in the DRC, has been launching deadly attacks on civilians, government and UN soldiers.
Rwanda’s history is closely tied with the DRC’s. It was the sheltering of génocidaires and ex-government soldiers in eastern Congo that triggered Rwanda’s intervention in 1996, leading to the wider rebellion that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko. Since then, Rwanda’s tail has tried to wag Congo’s dog. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has backed several rebel movements in eastern Congo but has kept a seat at the negotiating table. Today, many of the militias and former rebels that make up Kinshasa’s Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo have historic ties to Kigali.
Successive Burundian governments have tried to distance themselves from direct involvement in Congo’s politics and security affairs. It was Pierre Nkurunziza’s running for a third presidential term in 2015 that triggered both an internal and a wider regional crisis with over 390,000 Burundian refugees seeking shelter in Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. Activists in the DRC’s Sud-Kivu province say local men are being recruited to join the Rwandan-backed Résistance pour un Etat de Droit au Burundi and the Forces Républicaines du Burundi militias. In response, Nkurunziza’s security services have sent fighters from the Imbonerakure militia into Congo to hunt down Burundian rebels.
This article first appeared in the November 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine