Burundi: Kagame Condemns 'Primitive Politics' Driving DR Congo, Burundi, FDLR Collabo

President Paul Kagame has condemned "primitive politics" driving the collaboration between Congolese and Burundian leaders and their alignment with the FDLR, a UN-sanctioned militia group linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

In an interview with French newspaper Jeune Afrique published on Monday, March 25, the President said the continued collaboration between Congolese leaders and FDLR posed a threat to Rwanda's security.

Kagame condemned the involvement of Burundian troops in the Kinshasa-M23 conflict in North Kivu Province, saying that he warned Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye about deploying soldiers to fight alongside a coalition that included FDLR, which is also accused of stoking the persecution of Congolese Tutsi communities.

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Even as Burundi had contributed a contingent to the now-defunct East African Community regional force (EACRF) which earlier facilitated and observed a ceasefire between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels, Kagame said he learned that the country was preparing to send another force to Goma, the capital of North Kivu, to fight alongside the Kinshasa-led coalition.

"I called, by phone, and I asked to talk to President Ndayishimiye and I did and I asked him, President, I have heard that you are sending a force, another force other than that one in the East African Community Regional Force to fight on behalf of the government of Kinshasa. I said, that is in contradiction with why the East African Regional force was formed, that you are participating in."

"So, you're going to participate in something else. And I told him, 'This is dangerous and you understand the implication. You are actually threatening us with your presence in support of the FDLR near our border,"' Kagame said, recalling his conversation with the Burundian leader.

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He noted that Ndayishimiye "swore" to him that the information was not true and that whoever had told him about Burundi sending another force to eastern DR Congo were telling lies.

"I said, I'm happy to be wrong. If I'm wrong we're good. I'm really happy to hear that," Kagame said.

"But two weeks after [that], they were in Goma - or even less than two weeks. So, you can see he even told me lies."

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'Primitive, ethnic politics'

The President said the region was still marred by politics based on ethnicism.

"I think of primitivity. We still have politics going on based on ethnic [groups] and this is exactly what brings together Tshisekedi, Ndayishimiye and the FDLR," Kagame said.

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Asked whether the current crisis could become an existential threat to Rwanda, Kagame said hate speech and "the preaching of hate ideology" in eastern DR Congo driven by not just FDLR but also other militia groups and Congolese leaders was not "a small thing."

"If a country's president or leadership is actually going to embrace this hate ideology, do you think that's a small thing? How does a combination of these factors not appear like existential to us?" he posed.

Do you take Tshisekedi's threats seriously?

During his campaign for re-election in 2023, President Tshisekedi said if he won, he would declare war on Rwanda. The remarks came about a year after he suggested a regime change in Rwanda, saying that "Rwandans need our support to liberate themselves."

Asked whether he took Tshisekedi's threats seriously, Kagame said, "Why wouldn't I take it seriously? I think he even has the incapacity to understand the implications of what he is saying as a leader of the country."

"For me, that in itself is a serious problem I need to prepare for and take care of. That means one night he can wake up and do something that you never thought normal people would do."

The way to peace

Under what is known as the Luanda process, Angola's President Joao Lourenço acts as the mediator between Rwanda and DR Congo. Reports say the Angolan leaders could host a meeting of the Rwandan and Congolese leaders in the near future as part of efforts to resolve the conflict.

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Asked about Tshisekedi's conditions for negotiations, including that Rwanda withdraws troops it, allegedly, has in DRC (Kigali dismisses the alleged presence of Rwandan forces in DR Congo), Kagame said setting preconditions was "the wrong way" to approach the problem.

"If you talk about the preconditions, that would suggest that maybe we come up with preconditions as well; I won't meet president Tshisekedi until he reverses his statements about attacking Rwanda and carrying out regime change in Rwanda, as he has publicly talked about," Kagame said.

"I would also say, well, unless FDLR is removed from Congo, I'm not going to talk to President Tshisekedi, and so on and on ... So, this does not serve the purpose of bringing about peace."

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The president called on the concerned parties to address the issue of FDLR, which has attacked Rwanda for more than two decades, and the issue of more than 100,000 Congolese refugees who are in Rwanda, some of whom have spent nearly three decades in camps.

"I'm asking those who are accusing Rwanda of being involved in DRC or forces of Rwanda being involved in DRC, I'm asking the same people; why do you think Rwanda would be involved in the DRC?" Kagame said.

"Would it be for fun? Is there fun that would put our forces on the ground in any situation, this time in eastern DRC?

"And I'm saying this so that they don't escape the responsibility they have for why Rwandan forces would be in DRC, if the forces were there."

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