Kagame rues SADC DRC force

..Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa send troops to fight

Rwandas President Paul Kagame. PHOTO | REUTERS

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, again, expressed his frustration about how Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states deployed troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) without first engaging Rwanda about the matter.

He said it bothered him that South Africa and other SADC countries never reached out to Rwanda which is currently in direct tension with the DRC over the conflict in eastern Congo.

Yet when Rwanda was asked to deploy troops in Mozambique, President Kagame himself sought out President Cyril Ramaphosa and SADC and engaged them about the plans before it deployed.

Rwanda, Kinshasa claims, has been propping up M23 rebels in eastern DRC, a charge Kigali denies but demands a say in how the conflict is resolved, seeing that some of the rebels there known as FDLR as a threat to Rwanda.

The M23 is largely composed of Congolese Tutsi who share ethnic relationship with many Rwandans. Apart from the political connotations, the conflict in eastern DRC is also a social link between the two countries.

And Kagame said he was frustrated SADC deployed troops in December without first reciprocating Kigali’s gesture in 2021 when it deployed troops to Mozambique, a member of SADC.

“Before we deployed in Mozambique, I found it important to one, tell Mozambicans that by the way you should also talk to your colleagues in SADC so that when we come there, there is no question around that… I could easily have said let’s go, but I found it important to engage SADC, I even discussed it with President Ramaphosa, I went to him, I sought him out particularly for that.”

In February, troops from SADC countries, South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania were deployed to fight alongside the DRC army, to help defeat the M23 rebels fighting in the eastern part of the country.

In February, troops from SADC countries, South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania were deployed to fight alongside the DRC army – Photo: Malawi Army Soldier in DRC

South Africa which holds commanding duties of the force, deployed up to 2,900 soldiers, as President Ramaphosa sought to “fulfil his country’s “international obligation” to the bloc.

Rwanda has been accused by the US and the UN of backing the M23 rebels, who are fighting the Kinshasa government.

It is this deployment that President Kagame would have wanted the SADC countries to engage him on before putting boots on ground, saying bypassing Rwanda was unreasonable.

“Why did it happen like there was rivalry and misunderstanding? Why would reasonable leaders behave like that? I say this publicly, painfully, to express my frustration about the issue,” said Kagame.

Adding that it will be difficult for leaders behaving like this to address the ongoing complicated issues, which involve countries blaming each other.

In a meeting between President Kagame and his South African counterpart this week in Kigali, the security issues in DRC featured among those both leaders discussed.

“We did speak about the challenges that are prevailing now caused by the situation in the Eastern part of DRC, how both countries, in fact SADC, can work together to install peace.

We all agreed that peace was an essential component in developing this part of the continent, and that in doing so we should bring the conflicts in DRC to an end” said Ramaphosa after the meeting.

Adding that they also talked about the ongoing actions meant to destabilise Rwanda through the incursions of the FDLR.

“There are a number of forces that operate in this area, and we agreed that a peaceful political solution is the best option” he said.

Speaking to the media after the meeting between the two leaders, President Kagame said he is “Satisfied” by the discussions, which also included normalising relations between the two countries.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who was also in Kigali to participate in the 30th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi challenged the DRC government to disarm FDLR, in line with the Sun City Agreement signed between Kigali and Kinshasa in April 2003.

Mbeki said the disarmament of FDLR, considered remnants of the Rwandan genocidal forces, can ensure peace and stability is achieved in eastern DR Congo.

The agreement was signed in April 2003 in South Africa’s casino resort, Sun City, presided over by the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. It was witnessed by Mbeki and leaders of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe although signatories were Congolese political stakeholders to ensure multiparty democracy and regular elections, starting with a coalition government.

Some groups, including then Rwanda-backed RCD-Goma did not sign it.

Critics had argued the agreement did not elaborate on how to unify the army, one of the biggest causes of conflict.

The SADC Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC) is supposed to target armed groups that refuse to lay down arms and has identified M23 among the biggest threats.

A few days ago, a Mortar fire in the Eastern DRC killed three Tanzanian soldiers who were part of the SADC mission, the bloc said in a statement. Two others had died earlier in February from another mortar fire.

This unfortunate incident happened after a hostile mortar round had fallen near the camp they were staying at,» the 16-member bloc said in a statement. Three other Tanzanian soldiers were wounded, it added.

The statement added that another South African soldier on the SADC mission had died while receiving treatment for unspecified health problems at a hospital in the provincial capital, Goma. It was not clear if that death was related to the mortar round.

The SADC mission suffered its first losses in mid-February, when two South African soldiers were killed and three wounded by a mortar bomb.



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