Tshisekedi’s Hostile with Kagame after M23 reemergence 

  • Dispute between Tshisekedi and Kagame regarding the emergence of rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 
  • Kagame denies Rwanda’s support of the M23 militia group 
  • The defeat of the M23 is far out of reach and requires third party interventions 
Tshisekedi and Kagame
President Kagame and President Tshisekedi in 74th UNGA / Creative license

Why is Tshisekedi in hostility with Kagame? 

Answer: Tshisekedi, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), accuses Rwanda’s president, Kagame, of supporting the M23 rebel group 

In the 1990s, Rwanda and its neighbour, Uganda, invaded the DRC with the aim of removing the remaining perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, which ultimately led to the emergence of wars involving several African nations. From 1998 to 2008, approximately 5.4 million people were killed in the eastern DRC as armed militias rose to power. Today, Rwanda is in conflict with the DRC under the guise of the March 23 Movement (M23). 

About 2’500 km from Kinshasa, close to the DRC’s border with Uganda and Rwanda, the M23, a Congolese rebel group that recently reemerged, has been fighting the Forces Armées de RDC (FARDC) – the Congolese army. The hostility between Tshisekedi and Kagame can very closely be linked to the recent activities of the M23 and their increase in military operations in the DRC, almost a decade after a peace deal was signed in 2013. 

The dispute between the two leaders arose when the DRC became convinced that the rebel group’s reemergence came with Rwanda’s support and military backing and that the Tutsi-led government of Rwanda was protecting the Tutsi minority in eastern DRC. 

However, Kagame denies any link to the rebel group. After accusing Rwanda of supporting the M23, Tshisekedi warned Kagame of the risk of war if they were to continue supporting the rebels, and threatened sanctions on Rwanda in the near future. In response, the Rwandan president stated “we wish peace to all the region’s inhabitants, but if someone wants a war from us, we will give it to him…” After three years of cooperating, the two presidents are now greeting each other with hostility after the reemergence of the M23 rebellion. 

What does Tshisekedi want? 

Answer: Tshisekedi wants national sovereignty, control over the Eastern DRC and the defeat of militias in the region 

In order to understand what Tshisekedi wants, one must uncover the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This area of the DRC holds much value to the nation and its neighbours, as it is home to several unique natural resources, including copper and cobalt. The area also offers a great source of hydropower, arable land, and biodiversity. 

The fighting and the emergence of more than 100 armed groups in the area is strongly linked to geopolitics and the competition over natural resources between ethnic and national rivalries in the east. So, whilst the DRC’s eastern region holds great potential in regards to natural resources, it has deeply complicated efforts for peace. 

Since Tshisekedi came to power in 2019, he has hoped to ensure the return of peace to the DRC. In order to work towards his goal, the president enforced many initiatives, including the promotion of zero tolerance for gender-based violence and banning guns in Africa, amongst several others – which have been relatively unsuccessful in the past. His primary aim now is to further develop the establishment of a regional force against armed rebels such as the M23, which means he also hopes to place an end to Kigali from arming the rebel movement. 

In essence, the dispute between the two leaders comes down to the fight for regional power over these valuable resources. With the rise of militias such as the M23, the mineral-rich eastern part of the country is once again under threat, a challenge Tshisekedi hopes to overcome. Ultimately, his primary goal is to establish national sovereignty and gain complete power over the East through the elimination of rebel groups. 

What does Kagame want? 

Answer: Kagame wants regional power and an increased value of the Tutsi minority 

Whilst it is unclear whether or not the Rwandan government is supporting the M23 today, Kagame’s interests in the DRC can be linked to ethnicity, the history of the genocide, and the aim to expand regional power. Rwanda’s president Kagame is an ethnic Tutsi and a former commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel force that played a role in ending the Rwandan genocide. 

The M23 in the DRC is made up primarily of Tutsis, opposing the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Kagame’s support for the Tutsi minority is one reason why he would support the M23 rebel group. Furthermore, Rwanda’s economy has skyrocketed in the last two decades and the country has the potential to dominate the region. Whilst Kagame possibly aims to expand his regional power, especially in the eastern DRC, he also deeply values the Tutsi ethnicity, which could be impacting the role he plays in the DRC. 

What is Kagame doing? 

Answer: Kagame denies Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC 

In response to the DRC’s accusations, Kagame has been defending Rwanda and denying its involvement in the East, as well as accusing the DRC’s army of firing into Rwandan territory. Furthermore, the president has heavily criticised the actions of the FDLR, the rebel group opposing his leadership and defending the interests of the Hutus, who have now taken refuge in the DRC. After the recent establishment of an agreement between the seven Eastern African Community member states with the aim to end violence in the eastern DRC, Tshisekedi and his government wished to exclude Rwanda from this operation. Kagame, in response, made it clear that he did “not mind” his country being excluded. 

During joint press conferences, Rwanda’s leader has, however, publicly stated that nobody is “interested in conflict” and that the two work together for security reasons. Moreover, in early July, the dispute between them seemed to de-escalate to some extent, when the presidents met in Angola following weeks of rising tensions. The one-day talks between Kagame and Tshisekedi hinted towards the possibility of the restoration of normal diplomatic relations in the future. 

Who is winning and what about you? 

Answer: Kagame takes the lead and the defeat of the M23 seems to be very difficult and would require strong involvements of third parties 

Whilst it seems as if Kagame is winning with some leverage over the narrative of this conflict, it is rather unclear which of the two African leaders will claim victory over the other – or whether or not we will even reach that point. Amidst diplomatic meetings and joint press conferences, the two presidents claim they wish to continue working closely together, including security aspects. 

However, whilst the DRC is accusing Rwanda of supporting the rebels, the well-armed M23 continues to grow as a threat to civilians. At least 29 civilian casualties have been reported in areas under M23 control, and approximately 200’000 people were forced to flee their homes. The UN has called on the group to disarm, and the DRC’s government demanded the international condemnation of Rwanda – though unsuccessfully. 

Moreover, the DRC has very few Western powers it could rely on. European states have limited interests in the Congo, as interfering in a diplomatic crisis over Rwanda and provoking Kagame could become a risk for them. With the Americans and the Chinese already deeply involved in the DRC’s mining sector, European nations have little to gain in the country. 

However, whilst Tshisekedi and his government have limited European support, they could be able to rely on Russia’s backing, as Moscow may provide the FARDC with the necessary equipment to defeat the M23 rebels. Ultimately, the situation is quite open-ended at the moment. Whether or not the world stage will be positively informed that the two leaders have come to a diplomatic agreement, the full defeat of the M23 seems to be quite difficult at the moment and will require strong involvements of third parties.