More than a month after the start of the diplomatic crisis between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, due in particular to Rwandan support for the M23 rebels, Presidents Félix Tshisekedi and Paul Kagame are meeting this Wednesday in Luanda, Angola.
On June 20, the East African Community (EAC) Summit was particularly tense for the Heads of State present. A meeting which was intended to stabilize the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But if the bloc agreed to deploy a military force in the region, Rwanda was, unsurprisingly, excluded.
Because, precisely, since May, the general staff of the DRC, followed by the government, accuses Rwanda of actively supporting the rebel movement M23. This group, in hibernation since 2013, resumed attacks in the Lake Kivu region a few months ago.
The President of Angola, João Lourenço, had been asked to mediate between his counterparts Félix Tshisekedi and Paul Kagame by the African Union. He had succeeded in convincing Kinshasa to release two Rwandan soldiers detained in the DRC. But since then, things have degenerated.
Indeed, if we are to believe the United Nations, the DRC and its armed forces (FARDC), as well as Congolese civil society, Rwanda is no longer content to provide logistical support to the M23. Rwandan special forces are said to have been deployed in eastern DRC. And the power of the M23 offensive, which literally occupies part of North Kivu, continues to grow.
On the diplomatic level, therefore, João Lourenço will try to reconcile Tshisekedi and Kagame before what is limited today to simple skirmishes turns into a real war between neighboring countries.
A puzzle for Tshisekedi
The bet is far from won. Not that João Lourenço lacks persuasion or means of pressure. But above all because Kagame and Tshisekedi – especially the latter by the way – are up against the wall vis-à-vis their own countries and the image they project.
For Paul Kagame, there is the issue of Rwandan military power, which supports his reign which has now lasted 22 years. This image of a "strong man" of Kagame has enabled him to gain the confidence of a large part of his fellow citizens and to take advantage of the peace in his country to strengthen his position. What was not won in advance, Kagame came to power after one of the worst genocides in history and had personally participated in the invasion of Zaire and the overthrow of Mobutu. A war from which he took advantage to persecute the Rwandan and Congolese Hutus, and establish an undeniable influence in the East of the DRC.
On the side of Tshisekedi, who has done absolutely everything to reconcile Kinshasa with Kigali, the Congolese president must come to terms with his own fellow citizens, who do not understand Rwanda's involvement in the M23 offensive. A nationalist impulse has seized the Congolese peoples: a dozen parties and movements have also warned Tshisekedi, urging him "not to engage the Republic in additional agreements which would further jeopardize economic sovereignty and territory of the country”. We can also believe that the Congolese army is of the same opinion.
But Félix Tshisekedi also knows very well that the escalation does not work in his favor. The Congolese government has already explicitly demanded international condemnation of Rwanda. Without much success: only the United States and the United Nations have done it, and very equivocally.
Russia eyeing Kinshasa
At the end of June, the UN Security Council renewed its arms embargo against the DRC, before partially lifting it the following day. An ambiguous position while France, the United States and London disagree on the issue.
Indeed, Russia pays particular attention to the situation in the DRC and does not hide its ambition to enter the breach. On June 21, Moscow received the new Congolese ambassador Ivan Vangu Ngimbi. And for the past few days, the Russian charge d'affaires in Kinshasa, Victor Tokmakov, has been increasing his meetings with Congolese officials.
Kinshasa knows full well that Russia is one of the rare world powers to have everything to gain from supplying the DRC with arms despite the embargo, and without risk of angering Kagame beyond measure — Rwanda and Russia work in perfect harmony in the CAR . The DRC has good reserves of Western currencies, and Moscow has the necessary infrastructure (from Angola, Mozambique, the Central African Republic or South Sudan) to export equipment to the FARDC.
On the other side, Westerners have very few arguments to convince Kinshasa. No Western power would risk provoking Kagame or interfering in a diplomatic crisis over Rwanda. But in addition, since the Chinese and American thrust into the mining sector in the DRC, the Europeans in particular have little interest in the Congo.
Lourenço as referee between Tshisekedi and Kagame
So, João Lourenço will have a lot to do to find a compromise between Kagame and Tshisekedi. For the two heads of state, this crisis will not prevent them from discussing. As we saw during the EAC Summit, tensions exist, but after more than three years of a mandate focused on diplomacy, Tshisekedi knows how to "dance in the rain". As for Kagame, his hostile approach is bolstered by his influence in the region. Moreover, despite their efforts, the FARDC are losing militarily. And the risk of seeing Kinshasa deprived of the support of the 20 blue helmets in the east of the country is increasingly credible.
Nevertheless, the AU mediator has a trick up his sleeve. João Lourenço and his Mozambican counterpart Filipe Nyusi, extremely close, could convince Kagame like Tshisekedi to make an unofficial agreement. This would allow the two neighbors to save face.
Indeed, Nyusi knows that Kagame greatly covets the mineral resources in northern Mozambique which he has granted Rwanda to exploit. As for João Lourenço, porous borders separate him from the DRC, and the migration crisis is a priority for the Kinshasa elite, even compared to the security threat in the East.
It will therefore be between backchanneling and strategic interests that Wednesday's meeting between Kagame and Tshisekedi will take place. João Lourenço, concerned about his own re-election in Angola next month, is likely to put the means into it.