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Paul Kagame, Rwanda President left and Congolese president Félix Tshisekedi right
At the recent session of the AU Peace and Security Council, the DRC president adopted an aggressive stance as he urged his peers to unreservedly condemn Rwanda’s interference in the east of his country and its support for the M23 rebel group, but his tone and language were not universally welcomed.
The atmosphere was tense when the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union convened behind closed doors on 17 February to discuss the situation in eastern DRC, the threat from the M23 rebel group, and the diplomatic crisis involving Rwanda. Following a consensual speech by the South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa, who opened the discussions as PSC chair for February, the current head of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, recalled the resolutions of the two previous gatherings on the subject and praised the efforts of the pan-African organisation’s designated mediator, the Angolan president João Lourenço.
Tshisekedi slams Rwanda
The Congolese president Félix Tshisekedi then took the floor to strongly criticise what he called the inaction of the AU and the United Nations in the face of the Rwandan “aggression”. He also deplored the lack of solidarity among his continental peers, pointing out that the United States and a handful of European countries were alone in having publicly condemned Kigali’s actions. His speech provoked a certain malaise among his audience, some of whom were evidently uncomfortable with the virulence of his tone.
When it was Paul Kagame’s turn to speak, the Rwandan leader was interrupted after a minute by Lourenço, who wished to report back on a five-hour meeting of the East African Community (EAC) that had taken place earlier that day and had concluded with a call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties in eastern DRC and the operational deployment of the EAC’s regional force.
Kagame then picked up where he had left off, asserting that the DRC should put its own house in order given documented evidence of joint operations between the Congolese army – the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) – and elements of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), some of whose Hutu members are alleged to have participated in the 1994 genocide. He also demanded that his Congolese opposite number stop accusing him of interference in DRC affairs and of Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) support for the M23 (despite this having been documented by a UN group of experts). Concerned at the proliferation of hate speech against Tutsis in the DRC, Kagame concluded by reminding the council that tens of thousands of Congolese refugees are currently present on both Rwandan and Ugandan soil and that there was an urgent need to resolve this situation.
The Burundian president Evariste Ndayishimiye, who has been EAC chair since last July, then called for the Nairobi and Luanda peace processes to be supported, and his recently elected Kenyan counterpart William Ruto seconded this (his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been very active in mediation efforts, was not present in the room). Directly targeted by Tshisekedi, the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres restricted himself to general remarks and did not mention additional resources for peacekeeping operations – a subject raised by the Nigerian foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama and the president of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso.
Nandi-Ndaitwah seeks to defuse tensions
The public session of the PSC thereupon concluded and only the representatives of the fifteen member states remained in the room to discuss and draft their final press statement, which was made public that same evening. Namibia’s deputy prime minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who is also her country’s minister of international relations as well as the ruling SWAPO party’s designated candidate for the 2024 presidential election, then took the floor in an effort to defuse tensions.
Of the fifteen PSC members, only Congo, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and South Africa were represented by their president. Tunisia, Morocco, Djibouti, Nigeria, Namibia, Cameroon had dispatched their foreign ministers instead, while Uganda and Ghana were represented by their vice presidents.