Kenya and Rwanda are backing a political solution fronted by the East African region, which will give a front seat to people with a “direct stake” in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to help end perennial conflict in the area.
The public endorsements came last week as Kenyan President William Ruto made an official trip to Kigali, a move political observers interpreted as an embrace of Rwanda’s contribution to ending the conflict.
Speaking to journalists in Kigali, both President Ruto and host Paul Kagame said Congo’s conflict had been incorrectly handled in the past, with President Kagame suggesting the solutions had been imposed not just on the country but on other African crises as well.
“There is very little learning in our world and that is why you find crisis after crisis happening everywhere,” he said, indicating Africans should be given front seats in proposing solutions instead of the international community “getting into the mix themselves with what they think should be the solution.”
For eastern DRC, Ruto’s trip was significant in two ways: It offered Kigali a chance to publicly state how a long-term solution should be mooted for eastern DRC. It also gave Ruto a chance to impress upon Kigali the proposals by the East African Community to pursue both military and political tracks.
For Rwanda, eastern DRC is both a concern and a burden: Rwanda hosts thousands of refugees from the region. And with close ethnic compositions between the two, Kigali may well know how to end the blood bath.
“This is a collective concern for both of us. The heads of state of the EAC made a decision after the DRC joined the bloc that we must take it upon ourselves to help secure eastern DRC,” Ruto said, thanking Kagame for his “understanding of the issues in eastern DRC.”
Stabilise eastern DRC
“The past one month has seen a lot of positive developments around the challenge of security in eastern DRC. Because of the build-up of forces from different countries, there has also been movement by armed groups to respect the cessation of hostilities, and also abide by the cantonment.
“We are confident that with this greater understanding and coming together, we are working together to see to it that we stabilise eastern DRC so that Congo can have peaceful elections and so that the people can continue to enjoy their country.”
Kinshasa has often accused Rwanda of propping M23 rebel group, accusations Kigali rejects while it blames Kinshasa of fanning the threat of FDLR group, armed remnants of the genocidaires from the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi.
“Maybe for many years, people have concentrated on apportioning blame on all parties, on who is right, who is wrong. It has gone on forever. So that means there is something wrong with that approach to dealing with the issues,” Kagame said on Tuesday.
“I think the best way to deal with the issues is study, understand and deal with the root causes of that problem or any other problem anywhere. If you don’t look at the root causes, then you tend to give a partial solution and then problems keep coming back every other time.”
Kagame’s proposal is that a permanent political solution must involve those hurt most from the war as they know where the shoes pinches.
The trip came as the EAC’s facilitator for the Nairobi Process, former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, indicated dialogue with communities in eastern DRC will continue from this month, running alongside the Luanda Process, the first time the two processes are seeking one solution.
The Nairobi Process is the bid to have armed groups lay down arms and hold dialogue with the Congolese government. The Luanda Process led by Angolan leader Joao Lourenço seeks to end animosity between Kinshasa and Kigali. Ultimately, the entire problem is about fighting in eastern DRC.
In a statement, Kenyatta said the dialogue will take place in eastern DRC on yet-to-be disclosed dates. Previous dialogue sessions excluded members of the M23.
“Steady progress is being made including delivery of humanitarian assistance to affected populations and further deployments to secure key areas and towns,” Kenyatta noted.
“The major armed group M23 has withdrawn from the following locations in North Kivu on the Western front; Sake-Mshaki-Neenero and Kilolirwe. Kitchanga is scheduled to be vacated by Tuesday this week,” said Kenyatta.
The main supply route of Bunagana-Rutshuru-Kibumba-Goma that will allow free movement of goods and people and delivery of humanitarian assistance will also be secured.
This week, the EAC Regional Force (EACRF) completed its full deployment, with Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan settling in their areas of operations, six months after the project began. The EACRF is, however, initially going to be a buffer force, meant to entice local folks into political dialogue by securing their regions.
Sequenced M23 withdrawal
Kenyatta says the deployment will enhance the sequenced withdrawal of M23 to the designated cantonment area as well as protection of civilians.
Meanwhile, the chiefs of General Staff of the Congolese and Ugandan armies are evaluating a joint operation against the Ugandan ADF rebels in North Kivu and Ituri, a parallel military move under a bilateral arrangement.
Wilson Mbadi, Chief of Defence Forces of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, said they were reviewing the progress of Operation Shujaa, which was commissioned on November 30, 2021 to bring peace and security in eastern DRC.
The Congolese government says the capacity of the ADF has been significantly reduced. “They operate in small, highly mobile groups”.
But the ADF continues to target civilians in reprisal attacks. Early in March, they killed at least 35 people over three days in four villages in Beni.