3 March 2018

East Africa: Tension and Drums of War in DR Congo

Photo: Sylvain Liechti /UN
UN peacekeeper in the Democratic Republic of Congo (file photo).

The geopolitical situations in the Great Lakes region, currently characterised by damaged relations between neighbouring countries and a political impasse inside the Democratic Republic of Congo could plunge the region into another conflict.

Last week, at least 72 people were killed in renewed fighting between ethnic groups in eastern Congo, days after clashes between the armies of DRC and Rwanda on their common border.

Radio Okapi, owned and run by the UN Observer Mission in DRC, Monusco, reported that the ethnic clashes in Rutshuru in North Kivu, where at least 23 people died, pitted Congolese tribes of the Hunde and Nande on one side and groups of Hutus of Rwandan origin, mainly members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

FDLR rebels have operated in eastern DRC for 23 years, with majority of the senior members accused of taking part in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. The rebels often clash with Congolese ethnic groups who want them out of Congo.

North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku, said; "We are still ascertaining the number of people killed but so far 23 people, including the members of the militia, have been confirmed dead. Calm has been restored since Wednesday."

According to international Catholic charity Caritas, another 49 people were killed in fresh in ethnic clashes between the Lendu and Hema in Ituri.

The violence in the eastern Ituri region has left over 100 people dead since mid-December.

Border security

Meanwhile, reports indicate that Rwanda has beefed up security at its border following clashes between the Rwandan army and DRC forces, that killed at least five Congolese soldiers. Both countries accused the other of aggression.

A source told The EastAfrican that Rwanda Defence Force has been on the alert since the incident which is currently being investigated by the Extended Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

"There is a lot of activity inside DRC, the situation is very fluid, with many groups reported to be assembling," the source told The EastAfrican.

Political observers fear that the current damaged relations between Rwanda and Uganda could play out in DRC, reminiscent of the early 2000's when their armies clashed inside DRC, in one of the worst conflicts in the Great Lakes Region.

Kigali accuses Uganda of supporting the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), made up of former allies of President Kagame. Kampala has denied the allegations.

Sources say that the recent incursion by Uganda inside DRC to destroy cells of Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan rebel group is closely being watched by Rwanda; and that former members of the defunct M23 group led by Sultani Makenga could be regrouping inside DRC to stage a rebellion.

With the tense political situation in DRC as President Joseph Kabila stays put, political observers say the region is headed towards major instability, involving Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Kabila has agreed to a request from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to visit his country ahead of elections scheduled for December this year.

Mr Guterres wrote to Kabila to propose a joint visit with African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat following a series of meetings he held on the sidelines of the AU summit in Addis Ababa in late January.

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