“If Rwanda wants a war with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they will have a war.” That’s how blunt a Congolese high command was this Wednesday, when he spoke in front of thousands of compatriots who demonstrated against the occupation of the city of Bunagana at the hands of the rebels of the M23 group. His harangue caused such an effect that the crowd marched without hesitation towards the border with Rwanda to say four words and if it were not for the action of the police, who knows how the moment would have ended.
It was General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, who made the incendiary remarks. In his speech he assured that “Rwanda does not want us” but that “we are not scared and we will fight against them, we will not allow them to occupy a single centimeter of our territory.” The situation in the border area between Rwanda and the Congo has been suffering from serious instability for years, although these last few months have been the most agitated. There have been disparate clashes between the Congolese army and rebels belonging to the M23 group (according to the Congolese authorities, financed by Rwanda). Attacks, border bombardments and civilian casualties accumulate every week in the silence generated by the Ukrainian roar.
This Monday the Congolese city of Bunagana, located in the east of the country, was captured by armed men belonging to the M23 group. The Rwandan government has also accused the Congolese military of injuring several civilians in a bombardment on the border, while releasing a statement on Tuesday assuring that the Rwandan Armed Forces “will continue to seek guarantees to stop the attacks on their side. of the border”. At the beginning of June, the Congolese government also suspended flights with the neighboring country. The enmity between the two countries, which seems strange and is hardly known in the north of the Mediterranean, is, however, a recurring situation that has been going on since the mid-1990s.
DRC: the gold that escapes
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has maintained accusations linking Rwanda and Uganda to Congolese gold trafficking for years. According to the Central African country, the governments of both countries would facilitate the smuggling of the precious metal to their side of the borders, to later sell it to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. These accusations are significant since the Congo has a significant number of gold mines within its territory (it is the sixteenth largest producer of this metal in the world) but only “exports” a very meager official quantity that does not reach 22 million euros. While Uganda and Rwanda, two countries with discreet gold reserves without any of them being among the 45 largest gold producers, have based 60% and 70% of their total exports on this metal, respectively.
The accusations are baseless not so much because of the numbers, which are available here, but because of the unreliability of any number related to the Congo and how easy it is to refute them. There is knowledge of dozens of illegal mines scattered throughout its territory, some of them mined by traditional groups with the permission of the government and without proper monitoring of the gold they extract, if not none at all. The DRC has also accused Uganda and Rwanda for years of financing the rebel group M23, which has become strong in the eastern part of the country.accusations that both states have repeatedly denied. In Congolese rhetoric, Rwanda and Uganda seek to destabilize the region in order to facilitate gold trafficking across borders.
One of the most significant changes in Congolese foreign policy in recent months has been his admission in April to the East African Community, the organization that brings together Burundi, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. From Kinsasa they ask that the organization intervene in the conflict and appeal to the collaboration of its partners to guarantee the stability of the region: if there is an organization capable of stopping the inexorable march towards war, this would be, in the opinion of the Congolese, the East African Community.
Rwanda: the killers on the run
The accusations launched by Rwanda about the DRC are also notorious. The proximity between the two countries and the lack of border control have led to the inhabitants of both sides have crossed indiscriminately for generations. Already in the peasant uprising that took place in Rwanda in 1959, it was known that tens of thousands of Tutsis took refuge in the DRC, Tanzania and Uganda, tens of thousands of Tutsis who shortly after returned to Rwanda to regain power, until the events that occurred in the 1994 genocide.
After the Hutu population decided to exterminate almost a million Tutsis in 1994, many of the perpetrators of the massacres disappeared from the map. Taking advantage of this situation of poorly protected borders, the guilty Hutus slipped away from justice in the direction of neighboring countries. The official Rwandan position is that these Hutus hid in the DRC with the blessing of the Congolese government. In this way, accusations have continued over time that imply that both countries have financed rebel groups to destabilize the neighboring country, without any of the successive governments to date having sought any reconciliation plan that is effective.
The latest tensions are marked by clashes between DRC forces and M23 rebels in the province of Kivu (border with Rwanda) and the detention of the Rwandan military (which Rwanda has described as “kidnapping”) by Congolese soldiers pointing out the participation of Rwandan forces in the rebel attacks. Chaos added by dozens of rebel groups of lower category does not contribute to soften the situation.
An official from the UN peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUSCO, said Wednesday that it has not yet been confirmed whether the Rwandan or Ugandan armies have collaborated with the M23 group in taking over the town of Bunagana. The UN doesn’t seem to know where to look, it looks like a monkey dizzy from the noise of the jungle. On the border, they are all open secrets that barely survive muffled by the sound of gunfire, ideas about conspiracies that are never fully proven, handfuls of chaos, pinches of disinformation, decades-old quarrels whose wounds widen on the way to a possible catastrophe (more).