Belgium Considers Targeted Sanctions Against Rwanda Amidst DRC Conflict

On February 28, 2024, in Brussels, a meeting took place between Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. President Tshisekedi urged for pressure on Rwanda to halt its support for the M23 rebellion, which has been exacerbating the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In response, Prime Minister De Croo expressed Belgium’s readiness to contemplate individual sanctions within a European framework, signaling a potentially new phase in international responses to the region’s turmoil.

The resurgence of violence in the DRC’s east, particularly in the mineral-rich territory of North Kivu, has been a focal point of concern since 2021. The M23 group, controlling significant areas, is at the center of accusations against Rwanda for fueling the conflict by supporting the rebels. These developments have prompted repeated calls from Kinshasa for Western countries to impose sanctions on Kigali, a stance reiterated by President Tshisekedi during his Brussels visit.

President Tshisekedi emphasized that sanctions are essential to curb the influence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whom he accused of dictatorial tendencies. On his part, Prime Minister De Croo mentioned Belgium’s willingness to discuss and collaborate with the European Union (EU) to establish a list of targeted sanctions. He highlighted the need for Rwanda to cease its support for the M23 and its presence in the DRC, while also noting the importance of the DRC proving its non-support for other militias.

The conversation also touched on the broader implications of the conflict, including the humanitarian toll and the urgency of halting hostilities. President Tshisekedi’s visit, marking his first official trip outside Africa since his reelection in December, also broached the controversial memorandum of understanding signed between the EU and Rwanda on sustainable and resilient value chains for critical raw materials.

This agreement has sparked accusations from Kinshasa of complicity in the plundering of the DRC’s resources, given the abundance of these minerals in the eastern DRC and their scarcity in Rwanda. President Tshisekedi reiterated these concerns, highlighting the timing and content of the EU-Rwanda agreement as problematic. Meanwhile, Prime Minister De Croo suggested using the agreement to push Rwanda towards transparency in its mineral trade, a stance that received cautious approval from President Tshisekedi.