Congo Rebels Strengthen Hand as Summit Fails to End Conflict
The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda failed to resolve a border-region dispute at a meeting yesterday, strengthening the position held by rebels whose insurgency has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.
After Congo accused Rwanda of supporting an ethnic Tutsi- led rebellion in the east of the country, President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame held a three-day summit with five other African leaders in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, which borders both countries.
They considered sanctions against the rebels, at least one of whom is wanted for alleged war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and a neutral peacekeeping force as ways to restore stability to the region. Another meeting is planned in four weeks, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told reporters yesterday in Kampala.
“They’ve kicked the can down the road again,” said Jason Stearns, who researches armed groups for the Nairobi-based Rift Valley Institute and has written a book on Congo’s war called Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. “There is a significant risk that the initiative will not lead to any change on the ground and that would allow for the rebels to make advances on the ground to strengthen their negotiating position,” he said in an interview yesterday.
Fighting resumed in Congo’s two eastern Kivu provinces in April when M23, a group of former rebels headed by General Bosco Ntaganda, abandoned the army. Ntaganda is wanted by The Hague- based ICC for allegedly recruiting child soldiers.
The insurrection poses a risk to the minerals trade in eastern Congo, Barclays Plc said in a report today. Congo’s largest tin-ore mine is located in North Kivu, and the province has deposits of gold, coltan, a mineral used in laptops and mobile phones, and tungsten.
“The DRC’s tin-mining sector in the Kivus is located in the heart of the M23 insurgency; thus, there are clear risks to the regional trade flows in minerals,” Barclays analysts said.
The U.S., Germany and the U.K. suspended some aid to Rwanda after United Nations researchers said Kagame’s administration is backing rebel groups in violation of an arms embargo. Rwanda’s economy doubled in size in the decade after Kagame came to power in 2000. Foreign direct investment into the country jumped 57 percent to $626 million last year from 2010, according to the Rwanda Development Board.
Pressure on Rwanda is “starting to move in the right direction, but it’s still not enough,” Guillaume Lacaille, who has worked on Congo as a diplomat, a political adviser to the UN and a researcher, since 2005. “Kagame’s partners are becoming more and more frustrated with him so there is some pressure on him now. If it goes on he could face much more international condemnation,” he said in an Aug. 7 interview from New York.
Rwanda denies it’s backing the rebels. Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a submission to the Security Council last month that the UN report is “made of fabricated lies.” Rwanda has previously argued that Congo’s state is too weak to protect it from ethnic Hutu fighters Rwanda says were involved in the 1994 genocide that hide in the Kivu forests. At least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the genocide.
Kagame and Kabila are “on talking terms” and want the crisis resolved, Uganda’s acting foreign minister, Henry Oryem Okello, told reporters after the summit ended yesterday.
The clashes have displaced about half a million people in the region, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996 and helped Kabila’s father topple former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. The UN has since repeatedly accused Rwanda of supporting Congolese ethnic Tutsi rebels.
The rebellion is “a serious threat to regional security and stability,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Aug. 7 in Pretoria, South Africa. “It is imperative that we move quickly to act on whatever decisions come out of the summit in Kampala. There has been a steady trail of rampaging violence, rape, killing and terrible human rights abuses over the last several years by renegade criminal bands.”
The Congolese rebellion began after the government discussed moving Tutsi army leaders out of the Kivus, a move which threatened a parallel administration that helped Rwanda maintain influence in the area, Stearns and Lacaille said.
“Rwanda is after maintaining a sphere of influence in eastern Congo to protect is various interests,” Stearns said. “What exactly those interests are, is hard to tell,” though they range from security issues to economic interests, he said.
Rwanda relies on tea and coffee to generate most of its foreign-exchange earnings.