By Staff Writer
Uganda AND Rwanda have been accused of interfering in the internal affairs of their neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During a rare news conference at the weekend, broadcast live on his country’s national television, DRC President Joseph Kabila blurted out that it was an ‘open secret’ that Rwandan President Paul Kagame was aiding rebels who were fighting DRC troops in the country’s eastern borderlands.
In the interview, largely quoted by Reuters news agency. Kabila says: “As for the involvement of Rwanda…It’s an open secret. You know, the whole world knows. There is a report that effectively establishes the presence and active backing from this country to the M23 and to other armed groups.”
On a visit to London recently, President Kagame vehemently denied any involvement in the fighting on the eastern borders of the DRC where hundreds of thousands of civilians are said to have been displaced and many forced to flee their homes to avoid clashes between the M23 movement and DRC solders.
Early this month, a United Nations experts’ report found that Rwanda was providing support to the M23 rebels who have fought government soldiers in North Kivu province since April, displacing some 470,000 civilians. Kigali has repeatedly rejected the allegations and accused the report’s authors of failing to verify their information or consult Rwandan authorities.
Mr Kabila, who came to office ten days after the assassination of his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was elected as President in 2006 and re-elected in 2011 for a second term. Both Rwanda and Uganda were instrumental in assisting his father depose Gen Mobutu Sese Seko and were also allegedly involved in his demise at the hands of a DRC army officer.
He told the news conference that his government had requested an explanation from another Uganda, of persistent rumours that its soldiers were involved in the fighting. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has specifically asked Ugandans what is going on and the response is that the Ugandans have nothing to do with it,” he said.
Only last month during a regional meeting of the African Union, the Ugandan leader offered to chair conciliatory talks between Rwanda and the DRC, an offer that many Great Lakes Region experts frowned upon. During the same month, the United States, one of the leading supporters of President Kagame led three other Western countries; the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany in announcing a curtailing of military aid to the country.
While Rwanda is often celebrated for its development gains during its long recovery from a 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, the country is still heavily dependent upon donor support. During a visit to Nairobi last week, Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo accused the West of treating Rwanda as a kid. She called for an end to what she described as a “child-to-parent relationship”.
Kabila, who has rarely spoken publicly since a controversial election victory last year, said Congo was continuing to seek diplomatic, political and military solutions to the crisis, which risks dragging the region back into conflict. As part of efforts to defuse tension between Kinshasa and Kigali, foes during years of conflict in Congo, regional leaders brokered a deal earlier this month for a “neutral force” to be set up to take on Congo-based rebel groups. No details of the plan have been made public but, in theory, the force would target all rebels, including the anti-Kinshasa M23 insurgents and Rwandan Hutu FDLR fighters Kigali says are a threat.
Kabila echoed earlier calls by his information minister for a new mandate for the country’s U.N. peacekeeping mission that would include stamping out the armed groups that have destabilised the east for nearly two decades. “How will this force be made up? We think we’ve already got a force in this country, the United Nations. Why can’t they be transformed, and then other countries could contribute to put this force in place as quickly as possible?” he asked.
This weekend, he London Evening Post will post an article on what award-winning investigative journalist Keith Harmon Snow says about who is behind the turmoil in the Great Lakes Region. Do not miss it this Saturday.