Unlike his predecessors, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Félix Tshisekedi has taken a pro-active and unique interest in East Africa. In power less than three months, Tshisekedi has already visited three East African countries and has even requested to join the EAC.
So far, he has visited and held talks with Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. Considering the bad blood between some EAC members as well as the political impasse in Burundi, Tshisekedi’s visits are important for regional security.
Regardless of the policies he adopts, his presidency will affect security dynamics in the EAC and the broader Great Lakes region.
The reason for this is not only because his country is home to an estimated 120 rebels groups in South and North Kivu provinces alone according to Human Rights Watch, but these groups also include those fighting EAC members like Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.
That makes what Tshisekedi says or does as well as whom he works with key. The key question many are now asking is: What did Tshisekedi discuss and agree in private with Presidents Museveni and Paul Kagame?
Whose side is he likely to take in their on-going feud? Regardless of the policy he adopts and whom he supports, his presidency will shape security in the region either for better or worse.
This is because every president before him has had a direct effect on security in the EAC and Great Lakes region either by commission or omission.
For instance, Presi- dent Mobutu Sese Seko’s decision to welcome and support members of the regime that committed the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi led to an eight-month war between DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, which led to Mobutu’s over- throw in May 1997.
In 1998 his successor, Laurent Désire Kabila, decided to kick out Rwandans led to what is sometimes called the “Great War of Africa,” in which nine African countries and 25 rebel groups participated leading to the death of over five million people.
The ideologically inept policy of Joseph Kabila Jr., (who succeeded his father after his assassination in 2001) has seen Eastern DR Congo become home to rebels, and as you read this, new rebel groups like “P5” are setting up new bases according to a UN Expert report released on December 31, 2018.
Simply put, President Tshisekedi inherited a “failed state” where everyone does what they want and where there are many internal and external competing interests. It would be a miracle if he manages to secure the territorial integrity of his country.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to pacify his country; it won’t be easy. At the moment, Tshisekedi could take any of the following policy directions with differing consequences on regional security: He could make a security pact with Rwanda with the objective of working with it to fight and eradicate rebel groups in his country.
He could have a similar pact with other neighbours like Uganda and Angola. While such a pact would in practise help Tshisekedi probably defeat rebels, it would be unpopular among international players and would perhaps “pit Rwanda and Uganda into a bigger conflict” as was the case in 2000 in Kisangani, a friend tells me.
Tshisekedi could also decide to take Uganda’s side and therefore leave Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC and “P5” to have free rein to organise and operate in DR Congo.
This would not bring peace to either DR Congo, Rwanda or Uganda. The third would be to continue his predecessor’s policy of sometimes aligning with some rebels or some countries in the region, and not interfering with UN “peacekeepers.” This would keep DR Congo as a “failed state.”
The best policy that would give his country peace is the one he is unlikely to take! And that’s a multipronged approach that would include making a hardline commitment to fight and run all rebel groups out of his country and cloth this policy with pro-active diplomatic footwork and give political incentives to opponents to buy into the approach.
To succeed, this approach would need the active support of neighbours like Rwanda, Uganda and Angola. The reason I believe he is unlikely to take this path is because it’s the hardest and, secondly his observation at the Africa CEO Forum in Kigali did demonstrate a clear understanding of what it would take to defeat rebels.
He observed that “These [rebel] groups we see have no ideology, they are businessmen looking to benefit themselves as individuals.” Truth is that while many rebel groups are ideologically inept and in it for economic benefit, others like FDLR and “P5” are ideologically alert. FDLR habours genocide ideology and “P5” believes in ethnic politics.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail: ckayumba@ yahoo.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba