The Shadow of Rwanda Looms Over the Phone Call Between Tshisekedi and the Polish President

On Friday, May 24, 2024, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Félix Tshisekedi had a telephone conversation with Polish President Andrzej Duda, according to the X account of the DRC Presidency. The discussion focused on shared interests, bilateral relations, and the situation in eastern DRC.

President Duda condemned the attempt to destabilize DRC institutions that occurred on Sunday, May 19, in Kinshasa. He expressed his commitment to peace, security, and the preservation of the DRC’s territorial integrity. Duda also criticized the manipulation by agitators on social media regarding his recent visit to Rwanda. He reiterated his intention to enhance and develop relations between the DRC and Poland, announcing the forthcoming dispatch of a special envoy to Kinshasa to prepare for a Polish economic mission.

In February 2024, President Duda visited Rwanda on a state visit, declaring that Warsaw would provide defensive support to Kigali in the event of an attack. The DRC strongly condemned this military support. The Congolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced Poland’s actions as “hypocritical,” stating that Kinshasa reserved the right to respond appropriately to this deliberate and inconsiderate behavior.

Kinshasa asserted that the Polish president’s visit to Rwanda indicated an alignment with Kigali, despite Poland’s previous support for the DRC at the United Nations General Assembly in condemning Rwanda’s support for rebels in eastern DRC. Duda’s visit to Kigali included closed-door discussions with President Paul Kagame, focusing on defense cooperation, which had angered Kinshasa. Poland committed to providing defensive support to Kigali in case of an attack.

Poland is considered an “indispensable” ally of the United States in Europe, with both countries being NATO members. However, criticisms of the Polish president emerged amid anti-Western protests in Kinshasa. Congolese citizens protested the Western governments’ failure to condemn Rwanda’s involvement in the crisis.

Western capitals, notably Washington and Paris, had urged Rwandan authorities to withdraw their defense forces from Congolese territories to prevent further destabilization. Washington severed all military ties with Kigali, while Poland appeared to adopt a different stance.

Human Rights Watch warned that diplomatic engagements with Rwanda should not overlook the situation of M23 victims, advocating for the prosecution of alleged war criminals. Polish defense groups and other entities have established a significant presence in the Rwandan market, securing contracts for the sale of rifles, anti-drone radars, and helicopter maintenance services.

Facing the threat of a military offensive from Kinshasa, Kigali acquired anti-aircraft missile systems. The M23 rebels, whom Kinshasa claims are supported by Kigali, took seriously the threat posed by Chinese CH-4 combat drones deployed by the Congolese army. Kigali considered purchasing anti-drone systems to detect and intercept hostile drones.

President Paul Kagame remains under fire for his role in the DRC conflict. Experts note that Kigali has adjusted its military positioning in response to Kinshasa’s measures, including the acquisition of surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down drones used by Kinshasa.