DR Congo, I love you, I love you not!

By Bernardin SEBAHIRE



The year 1997 sounded the death knell of the Mobutu regime and opened the breach to the expansionist ambitions of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s neighbors. If the Congolese state was meant to be a regional power, its weakening since the end of the last century has opened the way to all kinds of appetites, whether from distant actors such as China or from close neighbors who are primarily concerned with their own development (Colette Braeckman, 2022).

DRC: conflict and structural insecurity

The situation in the DRC, and in particular in the eastern provinces (North and South Kivu and Ituri), remains uncertain at the beginning of 2021. A few key elements paint a relatively bleak picture: politically, President Félix Tshisekedi’s speech openly announcing a break with Joseph Kabila. The decentralization process, which is a fundamental step in establishing institutions close to the people, seems to have reached a dead end. On the security front, a multitude of foreign and Congolese armed groups control large parts of the Kivus and the Turi and regularly clash with each other and/or with the Congolese army.

The Congolese army is not a unified and disciplined body, but is crisscrossed by mafia-style power networks that are unable to defend the country’s territorial integrity or protect the civilian population. MONUSCO is also limited in its mandate to protect civilians. In June 2022, the city of Bunagana fell to a rebel group supported by Rwanda and Uganda with disconcerting ease, contributing to a new regional escalation of violence reminiscent of the ghost of the “first African world war” that tore the Congo apart from 1998 to 2003 (International Alert, September 2021).

The consequences of this war on security and population movements are multiple. From the beginning of the 1990s, and in particular from 1994 onwards, waves of displacement of Congolese populations have mainly concerned the Tutsi populations of the provinces of North and South Kivu. From the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s, under the dual effect of the increased stigmatization of Congolese Tutsis and the rise of the Rwandan RPF rebellion in Uganda, many young Tutsis left Kivu to join the ranks of the RPF and bring down the Rwandan regime of Habyarimana. When the RPF ended the genocide in Rwanda and nearly two million Rwandan Hutu refugees entered the Congo, including many armed genocidaires, the anti-Tutsi ideology gained ground in Kivu and caused many more Congolese Tutsis to flee to Rwanda.

In 1996, with the entry of the Alliance des Forces De Libération (AFDL) and the destruction of the Hutu refugee camps in Kivu, it was this time members of the non-Rwandophone communities in Kivu who left Congo in large numbers for Tanzania and Burundi, perceiving the Rwandan support of the AFDL as a direct threat to their existence and interests.

In 1998, when the rebellion of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) broke out, it was again members of non-rwandophone communities who fled a Rwandan-led rebellion. With the rise of Mayi-Mayi groups opposing the RCD, members of Rwandophone communities also went into exile. From 1998 to 2003, all ethnic Congolese communities were affected by the violence and attempted to flee to neighbouring countries, with a predominance of Tanzania and Burundi for members of non-Rwandophone communities, and Rwanda and Burundi for members of Rwandophone communities.

In May 2004, when Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebusi, both linked to the RCD, took Bukavu, it was the Banyamulenge (Tutsi) from South Kivu who fled to Burundi for fear of reprisals against them. Three months later, these refugees from Gatumba, most of them Banyamulenge, were massacred by armed men.

In 2009-2012, people continued to flee the clashes between the national army and numerous armed groups, both Congolese and foreign. However, this was mainly internal displacement in the Congo, with the number of displaced people approaching 2 million in South and North Kivu during this period. The main clashes have been the operations initiated against the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR since 2009, as well as the clashes between the national army and the CNDP and then the M23 in the territories of Masisi and Rutshuru.

Behavior towards the CNDP and M23

Raymond Tshibanda Ntungamulongo (former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the DRC) signed the March 23, 2009 agreement with Laurent Nkundabatware’s CNDP. Several clauses of this agreement were clearly contrary to the interests of the DRC. Articles 1, 4, 8 and 17 are proof of this.

Article 1 establishes the CNDP as a Congolese political party whose members can compete for all votes. Article 4 grants the Rwandans the Congolese territories of Kasha, Minembwe and Bunyakiri, with the right to install their customary chiefs, their administration and their police there. Article 8 authorizes them to explore and exploit the mineral wealth of the Congo together with the Congolese and to share the fruits. Article 17 enjoins the Congolese government to compensate Rwandan military personnel or families of Rwandan military personnel killed or wounded in combat by Congolese military personnel.

Notwithstanding the indignation of UN and AU witnesses such as former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, Tshibanda quietly signed the agreement. In return, he will remain for many years at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He will not be worried at all for his mafia and his embezzlement of public funds through his son and his accountant and will be protected from the people’s anger by being sent as the representative of the DRC to the UN (Kalele-ka-Bila, 2017).

Proposing a “new vision of peace

Twenty years after the signing of the Sun City Peace Accords, which attempted to end seven years of armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the guns have still not stopped ringing in the east of the country. In North and South Kivu and Ituri provinces, military operations are struggling to dismantle armed groups, and despite the presence of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), security remains extremely problematic. Democratic reforms have barely materialized, and national institutions show little interest in the rights of Congolese citizens.

A positive approach to regional integration should focus on developing positive relations between the DRC and Rwanda. After a period of polite diplomacy between 2019 and 2021, relations between the two countries have become strained again since the emergence of the rebel group March 23 Movement (M23), which some accuse Kigali of supporting. In addition to improving relations between the two capitals, priority should also be given to strengthening ties between civil society groups in the DRC and Rwanda to encourage rapprochement, and even reconciliation, at the regional level.