NAIROBI, Kenya (NYA) —Rwanda is getting ready to host the British prime minister and other world leaders for the Commonwealth conference next week. However, tensions with the neighbouring Republic of Congo are boiling under the surface of Kigali, the capital.
An area only a few hours from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali has seen a rise in tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s biggest and most unstable country. Kenya’s president has asked for a newly formed regional army to be sent to the eastern Congo right away so that peace can be kept there.
Invasion claims have been made by both sides. A new push is underway in Congo to terminate all agreements with Rwanda. A military spokesperson in Congo’s North Kivu region warned hundreds of protestors on Wednesday that if Rwanda wanted war, “it will have war.”
Listed below are the stakes.
With hundreds of armed factions jostling for a slice of the region’s enormous mineral riches, the people of Eastern Congo are under constant danger from war. The M23, one of the most infamous rebel factions, resurfaced earlier this year.
A decade after signing a peace agreement that promised to incorporate the M23’s fighters into the Congolese military, the government has failed, according to the M23, to do so. After the M23 took over the important commercial town of Bunagana, more than 5,000 people ran away to Uganda and other places.
As soon as the rebels in Bunagana took over, the Congolese military accused Rwanda’s soldiers of “nothing less than an invasion,” saying that Rwanda helped the rebels take over.
Despite Rwanda’s denial, Congo’s authorities have been accusing Rwanda of assisting the M23. Recent weeks have seen a resurgence in the charges. In contrast to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, a large number of M23 militants are ethnic Tutsis.
Rwanda, on the other hand, has said that Congolese soldiers fired across the border and killed a lot of civilians.
What’s the background of the tensions?
For decades, tensions have existed between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An ethnic Hutu group responsible for the 1994 genocide that murdered at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus is said to have sought asylum in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwanda launched troops into the Congo twice in the late 1990s, teaming up with Laurent Kabila, the Congolese rebel leader, to overthrow longstanding tyrant Mobutu Sese Seko. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwandan soldiers often went after and killed Hutus, even civilians.
According to human rights organisations, millions of Congolese people were killed throughout the years of violence, and the repercussions are being felt today. Rape has left a mark on the lives of many women.
There are still ethnic tensions in the eastern Congo. As a result of its long distance from Kinshasa (more than 1,600 miles) and its history of instability, the area is in need of basic infrastructure, including roads that are damaged or nonexistent.
It has long been claimed that Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have supported different armed factions in eastern Congo, a turbulent area and a significant centre for humanitarian supplies. More than 17,000 members of the United Nations peacemaking force are stationed in Goma, but a senior official made it plain this week that the country’s job does not include mediating disputes with Rwanda and Uganda.
Lieutenant Colonel Frederic Harvey, the UN mission’s contact with the Congolese military, said: “That’s not the reason why we’re here.” In order to fulfil our mission, which is to protect the civilian population and maintain national integrity, we have arrived at this location.
One of the region’s most important cities, Goma, was temporarily controlled by M23 rebels a decade ago. Many people in Goma are now appealing to the international community to step in and assist in restoring order. At a demonstration on Wednesday, one placard read: “Kagame, enough is enough.”
Because of his knee difficulties, Pope Francis postponed a trip to Goma next month that he had intended to make to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. The goal of the trip was to bring attention to the plight of places where violence has been going on for a long time, even as a new fight broke out.
What Next, My Friend?
The six East African Community nations—Burundi, Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, South, and Tanzania—formed a regional force early this year in response to rising tensions. Uhuru Kenyatta, who is in charge of the group right now, wants the force to be activated quickly and sent to eastern Congo, where there are “open conflicts.”
North and South Kivu, as well as Ituri, in eastern Congo, should be proclaimed a “weapons-free zone” so that everyone not part of the government-mandated military may be disarmed. Within a few hours, the Burundi president, whose country shares a border with both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, greeted his call “warmly.”
In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Sunday, regional chiefs of the member defence forces will gather.
Both Congo, a new member of the EAC, and Rwanda, the biggest African donor to U.N. peacekeeping operations globally, decided to join the regional force.
A summit of regional military chiefs held in Goma earlier this month saw all but Rwanda absent. Rwanda, too, did not immediately respond to Kenyatta’s call to action on Thursday.
Patrick Muyaya, a government spokesman, said that he agreed with the Kenyan president’s call for a ceasefire and areas without weapons, but he didn’t say anything right away about the demand to send in the regional force.