DRC: The “rebels” are progressing in the east, a dialogue with Kinshasa seems illusory

The forces of the Congo River Alliance are establishing themselves permanently in the Congolese landscape.

The M23 rebels and Corneille Nangaa’s Congo River Alliance (AFC) are at the gates of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province. In recent days, they have succeeded in cutting off the main access routes to the north, west and south of the city. A pincer grip which threatens the supply of this city of more than 2 million inhabitants.

Repeated failures

For more than two years, Kinshasa has shown itself incapable of curbing the advance of the rebels on the eastern front. All attempts to stop this movement have failed. From the establishment of a state of siege in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, through negotiations in Luanda (Angola) or Nairobi (Kenya) or the mobilization of a regional force from the East African community (EAC).

At the same time, Kinshasa, still associated with the troops of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Hutu refugees in the DRC and hostile to the power of President Paul Kagame, contracted bilateral alliances with Uganda and Burundi, hired mercenaries Westerners and again turned towards the wazalendo (patriots), a heterogeneous nebula which brings together Congolese wishing to defend their country as well as militias who found in this new alliance a form of exoneration from the misdeeds committed for years against the civilian populations of the region.

DRC: UN experts point out Kinshasa’s dangerous connections

From now on, after the divorce with the EAC troops, the power of President Tshisekedi also counts on the action of the SADC (Southern African Community) troops against the rebels. Once again, Kinshasa claims that these troops, the number of which is unknown, must engage in an offensive mission alongside the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) against the M23-AFC rebels. A mission denied in recent days by the Tanzanian president, whose country is part of both the EAC and the SADC, who declared that the non-offensive mission of her troops was identical to that which had been devolved to the soldiers of the EAC.

To negotiate or not?

Triumphantly elected with more than 73% of the votes during a presidential election on December 20 (and the following days), described as chaotic by many observers, Félix Tshisekedi has so far refused any negotiation with the M23, presented as the armed wing from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In recent days, the United States has asked Kigali to withdraw its troops from the DRC. Rwanda, until now, despite the assertions of several observers including United Nations experts, denies any effective presence of its military in its big neighbor. At the same time, Anthony Blinken, the American Secretary of State, requested the help of Angolan President Lourenço, during his visit to Angola at the start of the year, so that he could resume his role as facilitator and try to bring back Tshisekedi and Kagame at the negotiating table. A very complicated scenario given the latest statements by the Congolese president.

DRC: The birth of the Nangaa movement proves the isolation of Félix Tshisekedi

A dialogue seems very unlikely to me, explains Bob Kabamba, professor of political science at the University of Liège (ULg). Congo went very far in its narrative against Rwanda, notably by comparing Kagame to Hitler. For the Rwandan president, whose people were victims of genocide, this comparison is unacceptable, it almost amounts to a declaration of war.”

An excellent expert on the region, Bob Kabamba insists on the different levels of this war. “We have, at the same time, a provincial level with community relations between North Kivu, Ituri and South Kivu. There is then the national level between the east, center and west of the DRC, on which is added the regional level with the complex relationships between countries such as Burundi, Rwanda or Tanzania, without forgetting the almost continental level with the EAC, SADC and Central African blocks. At each level, we have different, almost irreconcilable agendas”.

Despite this observation, Bob Kabamba only sees negotiation to get out of this war in the east. “ The DRC does not have the means to fulfill its sovereign missions and therefore to protect the Congolese. She must therefore negotiate. She has so far refused to take Corneille Nangaa and his Congo River Alliance into consideration, yet on the ground, he continues to advance. Despite the narrative from Kinshasa, we will have to resolve to negotiate.”

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