The African Great Lakes region risks igniting in a short time. Indeed, after the declarations of President Félix TCHISEKEDI Chilombo during his electoral campaign which promised to attack Rwanda which supports the M23 in men and weapons and the declarations of President NDAYISHIMIYE Evariste victim of the RED Tabara rebellion, President KAGAME Paul during the Umushyikirano which was held from January 23 to 24, 2024 resorted in a speech which lasted an hour to the insults of the two presidents, accusing them of big ones who can easily be deflated and promising its population to calm down until underlining that “let them dare to invade the country, they cannot win the war.” Is he a God to confirm himself invincible? To what level of insurance can the population count on its security if this war finally takes place? This analysis discusses the political-legal implications of the situation prevailing in the sub-region.
The global community is once again gripped by anxiety over the looming possibility of a significant conflict erupting in the Great Lakes Region for the third time in decades. The fragile security situation in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) threatens to escalate into a major conflict, potentially drawing neighboring countries into the chaos. It has been two years since the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) initiated hostilities against the M23 rebel group, an alleged recipient of support from Rwanda. Despite the intervention of East African Community Forces aimed at mediating, their subsequent withdrawal, having failed to dismantle the M23 as anticipated by the DRC, underscores the persistent volatility in the region. Responding to the vacuum left by the departing forces, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has deployed a mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after a seven-month delay. SADC is collaborating with FARDC, alongside Burundian troops that commenced deployment in Northern Kivu, Eastern Congo, since September 2023, according to a recent report by the U.N. Group of Experts in Congo. President Felix Tshisekedi, declared the winner of last month’s elections amid allegations of irregularities, now embarks on a second term. Opposition figures call for the annulment of the presidential results, creating a political divide.While the government tightens its stance, the M23 rebels also seek an alliance with former Electoral Commission President Corneille Nangaa, forming the Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC) with the aim of toppling Tshisekedi. In an announcement on December 19, 2023, on the eve of the general elections, Nangaa declared, “The Congo River Alliance (AFC) is genuinely working towards delivering for the Congolese People. Starting from December 21, 2023, Tshisekedi will no longer be considered legitimate to lead the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Nangaa has relocated his headquarters to Rutshuru town in Northern Kivu, a territory captured by M23 rebels. Following a brief ceasefire requested by the U.S., hostilities have resumed, with heavy fighting reported in the vicinity of Goma, the largest city in Eastern Congo. Despite a congratulatory message from the United States to President Tshisekedi, concerns persist over irregularities during the elections and doubts about the final results, as noted in a statement on January 11, 2024. Prominent opposition figures such as Moise Katumbi and Martin Fayulu have rejected the election results, urging the population to protest.“My dear compatriots, there is no other solution than to cancel this sham of elections. The interest of the Republic depends on it”, emphasized Katumbi, who received 18% of the votes according to electoral commission results. Apprehensions intensify over potential internal divisions in Congo stemming from election disputes, compounding the security challenges faced by the country over the past 25 years. With various forces entering the scene alongside FARDC in the East against M23, following the failure of regional peace mechanisms such as Nairobi or Luanda Processes, fears mount of an impending larger conflict.President Tshisekedi’s campaign rhetoric, promising to invade Rwanda and remove President Paul Kagame from office, further heightens tensions. Tshisekedi accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebel group, a claim strongly denied by Rwanda.On the eve of 2023, President Kagame asserted Rwanda’s readiness to defend against any invasion.“Saying that someone will invade Rwanda and break it into pieces, what don’t we know? We have reached the last level of extinction before; extinction will be to those who think like that”, he said.Kagame emphasized that Rwanda would take Tshisekedi’s statements seriously until proven otherwise.The historical context of conflicts between Rwanda and Congo, including the removal of President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and the subsequent second Congo war that ended in 2003, adds complexity to the current situation. Marc Hoogsteyns, a veteran journalist with decades of experience covering Great Lakes region wars, stated, “2024 will become a crucial year for the DRC; the country might collapse on its foundations, and in a matter of months, we might have to confront a completely new reality of facts.”
The incendiary speeches that each president of the sub-region addressed to his audience do not bode well.
Arrogance without a diplomatic basis
The Rwandan president has always prided himself on being an invincible warrior and this arrogance has fooled the international community which has often resorted to his army in UN missions in Sudan; in South Sudan; Central African Republic; in Mozambique to cite just these examples. However, this invincibility is a simulacrum which hides other interests because the money obtained from it serves to boost the morale of the soldiers because the Rwandan soldiers are poorly paid. At most, the lie on which Rwanda relied to deny its involvement in the insecurity in the DRC to plunder the mineral resources no longer holds because not only the international observers on site report it but also those who are on the ground inside Rwandan territory testify it whereby the authorities do not hide the fact that Rwandan soldiers are the same as the M23 fighters; the soldiers who come from the battlefield deploring the loss of life; the medical staff who hospitalize the wounded; the families who bury theirs fallen on the battlefield; the declarations of the head of state who confirms that they have already been planning this war for long time.
The potential of the forces on the ground
Rwandan forces are in the DRC under the label of M23 and occupy several localities in this country. Under threat from Burundi, Rwandan troops are also deployed on the borders with this country. The DRC resorted to SADEC forces to support it after the EAC contingents had come without an offensive mission composed of a few traitors like the Ugandans and Kenyans. The DRC has the difficult task of getting rid of the M23 on its territory before being able to attack their rear base in Rwanda. It will probably succeed as long as the SADEC forces are equipped with a mission offensive and demonstrated it in 2012-2013 when they ousted these same M23 rebels. Burundian forces are in the DRC under the military cooperation agreement concluded between the two countries and to combat the rebellions which have established a rear base there. What’s more, these soldiers were active in the clashes alongside other EAC forces who were apparently on a tourist mission.
Is war against Rwanda likely?
This small country of 26 thousand km2 spreads terror with complete impunity and the genocide suffered in 1994 effectively covers them. As proof, the Kigali regime has to its credit the assassination of five presidents- Juvenal Habyarimana; Cyprien Ntaryamira; Melchior Ndadaye; Laurent Désiré Kabila and Pierre Nkurunziza- and eliminated the army or police chiefs who did not digest them in Uganda with the murder of General James Kazini and Andrew Felix Kaweesi, in Burundi with the attack which killed General Adolphe Nshimirimana; to name only the most famous and organize targeted assassinations anywhere worldwide where they suspect an opponent likely to annoy them in front of the international community. There are many Rwandans living abroad who have paid the price. Rwanda says it has been preparing for any offensive for a long time and reassures its population of the bravery of its army and an unrivaled arsenal. Soldiers assigned to the Gabiro military camp confirm this information on the daily transport of weapons of all kinds via the Nyagatare military airport. We do not know much about Burundi’s armaments but as for the intrepidity of its soldiers, they are no less tactician in war especially since they have experienced guerrilla warfare as the RDF boast. The FARDC and the Wazalendo began to demonstrate their firepower against the M23 as evidenced by the RDF elements who came from the front and who reported several daily losses suffered on the M23/RDF side. The SADEC forces that would support them constitute another advantage. As weapons are generally bought, this country with immense natural resources can get everything in terms of weapons more than even Rwanda which draws its budget from the theft of minerals from the DRC. All things considered, war is imminent; there remains a challenge concerning the fate of the population who will find themselves hostage between the belligerents who confront each other. The heavy toll of civilian victims of the Gaza crisis is a lesson that cannot be taken lightly.
Burundi and the DRC are right to blame Rwanda, this bad neighbor who has fueled rebellions that have destabilized their populations since 1994. It is high time for the international community to prevent the escalation of the large-scale violence that is taking shape. The United States has always been able to dissuade KAGAME and it is urgent that they do so now because, victor or defeated, he will not hesitate to martyr the population of the region. We cannot ignore the six million deaths that are attributed to him in his wars in Congo and the population of Ruhengeri and Gisenyi that he mercilessly massacred during the war of infiltrators in the years 1997-1998. Forewarned is forearmed!