US Secretary of State Antony Blinken set the tone for his talks with President Paul Kagame on Thursday in neighboring Rwanda – the last stop on his trip – during his visit to Kinshasa: he hopes that violence in eastern Congo will end stop, Blinken said on Tuesday after a meeting with his Congolese counterpart, Christophe Lutundula, and President Félix Tshisekedi.
Blinken concerned about fighting in eastern Congo
In his call for peace, Blinken is referring primarily to the rebel group M23, which had already caused an uproar in 2012 when it briefly conquered the eastern Congolese provincial capital Goma. His key statement regarding the fragile security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: “We are very concerned by credible reports that Rwanda has supported the M23. We call on all parties in the region to stop all support for the M23,” reminded Blinken.
Jean-Jacques Wondo Omanyundu from the Research and Information Group on Peace and Security in Brussels reads a certain reluctance in this statement: The US Secretary of State is only showing concern, but not condemning the fighting in eastern Congo, Omanyundu stressed in a DW interview.
Mediation for more peace and security is the aim of Blinken’s visits to the two countries. The Foreign Minister bases his criticism of those in power on a previously unpublished new situation report prepared by experts on behalf of the United Nations. According to the AP news agency, it contains “solid evidence” that members of the Rwandan armed forces are deployed in eastern Congo to strengthen the fighting of the M23 rebel group.
Rwanda: protecting the population
However, both Rwanda and DR Congo deny allegations of support for rebel groups. Rwandan authorities have accused its major neighbor of harboring Hutu militants involved in the 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus. Tensions between the two countries are deeply entrenched, and recent fighting in eastern Congo has further deepened the rifts.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta defended his country’s stance at the joint press conference with Blinken: “Whatever the Rwandan government would do in Congo or in our region, it’s always about protecting our people, our territorial integrity and sovereignty.” It’s not about support for the M23. “If you want to find a lasting solution to the problems in eastern Congo and our region, you have to deal with the causes,” said Biruta, and directly delivered what that means for him: One such cause is the Hutu militia FDLR and their cooperation with the Congolese army. The government in Kinshasa, in turn, denies these allegations.
To what extent was the chief diplomat of the United States able to help defuse the explosive situation? According to peace researcher Wondo Omanyundu, don’t expect too much.
Geopolitical tensions radiate as far as Africa
But Rwanda is unlikely to risk a complete break with the United States, says Wondo Omanyundu. After the M23 rebels temporarily took over the city of Goma in eastern Congo in 2012, the USA imposed sanctions on Rwanda. “It’s not that far this time: Rwanda needs the USA, but Washington also needs Kigali in the regional power game against Russia and China,” emphasizes Wondo Omanyundu. So there is a mutual dependency: “In the current situation, Rwanda will try to behave defensively.”
Race to Africa: Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen welcomes Russia’s Sergey Lavrov at the end of July
Blinken’s second visit to Africa as Foreign Minister was marked by the geopolitical conflict between Russia and the West: It’s about securing influence in Africa. Just a few days earlier, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had visited several African capitals. Blinken then began his journey in a country that was unable to bring itself to condemn Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine in the UN General Assembly in March: Blinken initially campaigned for government representatives in South Africa to form a closer alliance with the USA.
Rwanda remains a key country for the US, according to peace researcher Jean-Jacques Wondo Omanyundu: “a country that the US is relying on in the region to establish its policies in this context of some kind of unspoken Cold War. Blinking is still on the diplomatic savvy Rwanda, which is of great use to him, especially on peacekeeping missions in Africa,” says Wondo Omanyundu.
Concerns: Human rights not respected
The talks with President Paul Kagame in Kigali also dealt with an obligatory topic for the Foreign Minister: the human rights situation. A prominent case is that of Paul Rusesabagina, a fierce Kagame critic who was sentenced to 25 years in prison last year in Rwanda for supporting terrorism. During the genocide, as a hotel manager, he had accommodated many people and saved them from death; Hollywood later made him the title hero of the film “Hotel Rwanda”. Blinken said the US remains of the view “that the process was not fair” – which his counterpart Biruta, in turn, denied.
At the end of Blinken’s Africa trip, the problems in the Great Lakes region remain enormous. As a small success, Blinken was able to report that the governments in Kinshasa and Kigali want to resume direct dialogue.
Cooperation: Philipp Sandner