Rwanda response to the expulsion of Ambassador Karega Vincent: a groundless alibi

Vincent Karega

Ugandan officials claim that Rwanda became more determined to revive M23 after its economic ventures in the DRC were thrown into disarray. During the M23 raid in Bunagana on March 23, 2022, Ugandan soldiers intervened to protect Dott Services’ assets and staff. The narrative in Kampala is that the attack was carried out by the “Rwandan wing” of M23 as part of a plot by Rwanda to disrupt Uganda’s economic ventures in the DRC. The narrative in Kigali is that the attack was carried out by M23 elements controlled by Uganda as a ploy to seize the border town, which is an important staging area for Dott Services’ operations. These counteraccusations underscore the role that financial and economic interests play in the resurfacing of M23 which feeds off the Uganda-Rwanda rivalry. The recent expulsion is a sign that DRC is fed up by the lying diplomacy of Kigali who claims to be a friend while maliciously invading the country in full view of everyone. What should we expect from this escalation? the following lines attempt to discuss these hotspots in the great lakes region

1.Facts: ins and out of the M23’s resurgence

Most of M23’s top commanders once served in the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), notes Claude Gatebuke. The RPF leadership—including President Paul Kagame and his former Army Chief of Staff, James Kabarebe—once served in Uganda’s military and were part of the rebellion that brought Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986. They then occupied top positions in Rwanda’s military and government after seizing power there with Uganda’s support in 1994. When both countries invaded the DRC in 1996 to remove Mobutu Sese Seko and install Laurent Kabila, a similar pattern transpired with James Kabarebe becoming Chief of Staff of the DRC’s military. However, when Kabila fell out with Uganda and Rwanda, the two countries sponsored another rebellion in the DRC. Over time, Uganda and Rwanda fell out and started supporting proxy forces against each other.This history of recycling officers among Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC—and the use of proxies—has implications for the current crisis. Kabarebe was identified by the UN in 2012 as the chief mastermind of M23. In addition to Rwanda, the UN has implicated Uganda with aiding M23. Following the capture of Bunagana in June 2022, the Speaker of the DRC National Assembly and key ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, Christophe Mboso, condemned Uganda and moved a motion to suspend all military and economic agreements between the two countries. While Ugandan security officials have accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 attack in Bunagana to frustrate UPDF operations against the ADF, Rwanda alleges Uganda is using M23 elements to threaten Rwanda. In response to the rapid deterioration in the eastern DRC, the East African Community decided in June 2022 to deploy a regional force under Kenyan command to restore stability.The longstanding rivalry between Uganda and Rwanda in the DRC and the Great Lakes region is a key driver of the current crisis. There are immediate and longer-term reasons for this. With regard to the latter, there is a profound level of mistrust at all levels—between the DRC and its neighbors, particularly Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi—as well as between all of these neighbors. Furthermore, unless the underlying problems between Rwanda and Uganda in particular are addressed, we are unlikely to see the M23 problem resolved in a satisfactory way even if a regional force is deployed. This is a lesson we have learned from previous Ugandan and Rwandan interventions in Congo.

2. Analysis

The precipitous escalation of the security crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) risks reigniting interstate conflict in the Great Lakes region. The myriad actors and interests involved, however, often defy easy analysis

1) Declaration of hostilities

The expulsion of the Rwandan ambassador to the DRC is a long overdue request from the Congolese population. This population had long since asked the government to expel him, especially since tangible proofs have shown that it is Rwanda that is aggressing the Democratic Republic of Congo in the territory of Rutshuru. Even if the Congolese state does not exclude the possible negotiations to cease hostilities, it has always declared that M23 is just a battalion of Rwanda Defence Forces so that it is useless to discuss with those terrorists while the real aggressor is there and that all proofs charging Rwanda of being active part of the battles are there and undoubted given that Rwandan contingents daily cross the frontiers
in full view of everyone  and satellite intercepted their movements and military orders from the general staff of the Kigali army. The DRC minister of foreign affairs Christophe Lutundura reiterated it on France 24. 

2) Groundless reactions

Facing the expulsion of its ambassador in Kinshasa, Rwandan government accuses the DRC of working with the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) or FDLR. The rebel group’s stated aim is to overthrow the Rwandan government. For its part, the DRC accuses Rwanda of violating its sovereignty by supporting the Movement du 23 Mars (March 23 Movement, M23). The rebel group, along with multiple others, is active in the DRC. Instead, rejecting the charges of arming and being active parts of the aggression, Rwanda seems recognizing the facts by justifying its involvement by the reason of suspecting FDLR in the forces supporting FARDC. Legally and even politically speaking, this argumentation is baseless given that any international nor regional instruments did not authorize this country to violate the sovereignty of another country on the sole cause of suspecting there some opponents. This is what its henchmen did and continue to do worldwide killing ones, abducting others, to cite a few from those multifaceted atrocities.

3) What role do economic and commercial interests play?

M23’s sudden resurgence is also tied to overlapping economic and business interests. “Rwanda and Uganda can claim to have legitimate security interests in Congo, instead, they also have huge financial interests there—particularly extractives—which contributes to their rivalry.” The arc extending from Bunagana on the Uganda border, through Kanyabayonga, to Goma on the Rwanda border, covers a lucrative mining belt containing some of the world’s largest deposits of coltan, which is used in almost every electronic device. The DRC is also the world’s leading producer of cobalt, a key ingredient in electric car batteries which are currently in high demand.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Ugandan- and Rwandan-backed rebel factions—including M23—control strategic but informal supply chains running from mines in the Kivus into the two countries. Insurgents use proceeds from the trafficking of gold, diamonds, and coltan to buy weapons, recruit and control artisanal miners, and pay corrupt Congolese customs and border officials as well as soldiers and police. Significant violence is also involved in these illicit operations as various rebel factions often fight one another for control of the mines and transport routes.

4)  Risks of interstate conflict

The recent expulsion of the Rwandan ambassador Vincent Karega is a declaration of hostility which may entail an open war against Rwanda accused of backing the M23 rebels or just invading this country disguised as rebels. Indeed, none ignores that the eastern DRC is a tinderbox because Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi each face armed rebellions all based in this region. This amplifies the risk of interstate conflicts. Rwanda has been more explicit in its threat to intervene militarily in the DRC than it has been in recent years. It accuses the FARDC of fighting alongside the FDLR and being indifferent to Kigali’s security fears. However, these threats have been levied before. What make them more pronounced this time around is the presence of Ugandan troops in North Kivu, the closeness among Uganda, Burundi, and the DRC, and the breakdown of the rapprochement between Presidents Kagame and Tshisekedi.

The risk of interstate conflict is also increased by failed disarmament efforts. In October of 2017, the 13 signatory countries and 4 guarantor institutions (UN, AU, ICGLR and SADC) to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement for the DRC and the region decided to repatriate ex-combatants from the FDLR and M23 by October 2018. This deadline came and went without any significant action or just a failure whose consequences are now evident. Notably, very few of the M23 cohorts that fled to Uganda and Rwanda in 2013 have been repatriated to the DRC.

Under the terms of the 2013 peace deal between the DRC government and M23, blanket amnesties were given to those who renounced rebellion unless they are indicted for war crimes. M23 leaders often accuse the DRC government of reneging on this agreement. Many believe that M23’s recent attacks might also be aimed at applying pressure on the Tshisekedi government to press their case. We also have to question the rationale of hot pursuit by Congo’s neighbors; indeed, Uganda and Rwanda have operated in the DRC before with Congolese permission but have failed to dislodge their respective armed groups. One wonders if this is not merely a pretext to continue plundering the country and carving out areas of influence.

The resurgence of M23 has also brought the region’s complex and explosive ethnic dynamics to the fore. Its leaders and fighters are predominantly Tutsi; a community whose citizenship status remains contentious. The uprising against the late dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, was triggered in part by his decision to strip the Banyamulenge—Congolese of Rwandan extraction—of their citizenship. They constituted the bulk of the force that overthrew Mobutu and installed Laurent Kabila in 1998 with Ugandan and Rwanda backing. When Uganda and Rwanda fell out with Kabila in 1999, they again formed the bulk of the rebellion put together to remove him, under the banner of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD). When Uganda and Rwanda fell out with each other, the RCD split into two factions supported by either side. This trend has continued and is evident in M23’s internal dynamics.

Conclusion

Future times bode good news for the DRC because if the mission of the regional forces proves successful, the rebels will have to withdraw as it happened to them in 2012. But generally Rwanda loses diplomatically because it cannot convince the world that he does not support the M23 even though he had offered him asylum in the east of the country during the last defeat and the Rwandan president declares that he is behind this movement in his various internal speeches as if no one hears him. Summing up, the Kigali authorities should know that the policy of lies does not last long.

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