The Re­gion A tan­gled web of ties

The DRC’S neigh­bours are all keenly fol­low­ing the planned De­cem­ber 2018 elec­tions to see how they can ben­e­fit from a change of lead­er­ship and out of fear at the in­sta­bil­ity that a chaotic vote could bring

The Africa Report - - FRONTLINE -


An­gola, which has a 2,600km land border with the DRC, has been en­twined in its neigh­bour’s pol­i­tics since the 1970s. Hav­ing backed the rebel Katangese Gen­darmes, An­gola joined the mil­i­tary al­liance that ousted Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. The fol­low­ing year, An­golan troops blocked a bid by Rwan­dan-backed rebels to march on Kin­shasa. In re­cent years, re­la­tions have de­te­ri­o­rated over a mar­itime border dis­pute. The in­sta­bil­ity trig­gered by Ka­bila’s ex­tended stay in power could spill over the border. In Oc­to­ber, An­golan se­cu­rity forces ex­pelled thou­sands of Con­golese di­a­mond min­ers.


Long-stand­ing ef­forts to pro­mote a Cen­tral African Cop­per­belt al­liance be­tween Zam­bia and the DRC have not gone be­yond con­fer­ence res­o­lu­tions. How­ever, Zam­bia’s gov­ern­ments have been far more re­luc­tant to in­ter­vene in Congo’s pol­i­tics than those of other neigh­bours. Pres­i­dents Joseph Ka­bila and Edgar Lungu, both un­der heavy po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, seem to have an in­for­mal co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment. That is why Lungu’s of­fi­cials told ex­iled op­po­si­tion­ist Moïse Ka­tumbi that his plan to cross from Zam­bia into Katanga to file his can­di­da­ture in the elec­tions was be­ing blocked by the Con­golese au­thor­i­ties.


Zim­babwe’s mil­i­tary has in­ter­vened in the DRC out of po­lit­i­cal sol­i­dar­ity with the regimes of Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila and his fa­ther Lau­rent-désiré. Se­nior fig­ures in Zim­babwe’s rul­ing party have built up com­mer­cial in­ter­ests in the DRC through banks and the min­ing sec­tor. In pub­lic, Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa has spo­ken about closer col­lab­o­ra­tion; in pri­vate, he is said to have urged Ka­bila to en­sure the tran­si­tion does not trig­ger re­gional in­sta­bil­ity.


As the re­gion’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal gi­ant, South Africa has had a key role in the DRC, start­ing with Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela bro­ker­ing talks be­tween Mobutu and his usurper Lau­rent-désiré Ka­bila in 1997. Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki led ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween ri­val forces in the DRC to create a power-shar­ing gov­ern­ment in 2003. Hav­ing es­tab­lished a rap­port with pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila is sus­pi­cious of re­form-minded Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa and has re­buffed South Africa’s spe­cial en­voy, Mbeki.


Uganda’s Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni joined with Lau­rent-désiré Ka­bila and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame to oust Mobutu Sese Seko, but with Ka­bila’s son Joseph as pres­i­dent, the three-sided al­liance fell apart. Con­golese se­cu­rity ac­cuses Mu­sev­eni of back­ing Hema and Lendu mili­tias in Ituri. Mu­sev­eni backs the op­po­si­tion­ist An­tipas Mbusa Nyamwisi and ac­cuses the Ka­bila gov­ern­ment of fail­ing to con­trol its borders. The Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces, a Ugan­dan mili­tia based in the DRC, has been launch­ing deadly at­tacks on civil­ians, gov­ern­ment and UN sol­diers.


Rwanda’s his­tory is closely tied with the DRC’S. It was the shel­ter­ing of géno­cidaires and ex-gov­ern­ment sol­diers in eastern Congo that trig­gered Rwanda’s in­ter­ven­tion in 1996, lead­ing to the wider re­bel­lion that over­threw Mobutu Sese Seko. Since then, Rwanda’s tail has tried to wag Congo’s dog. Rwanda’s Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame has backed sev­eral rebel move­ments in eastern Congo but has kept a seat at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. To­day, many of the mili­tias and for­mer rebels that make up Kin­shasa’s Forces Ar­mées de la République Démocra­tique du Congo have his­toric ties to Ki­gali.


Suc­ces­sive Bu­run­dian gov­ern­ments have tried to dis­tance them­selves from di­rect in­volve­ment in Congo’s pol­i­tics and se­cu­rity af­fairs. It was Pierre Nku­run­z­iza’s run­ning for a third pres­i­den­tial term in 2015 that trig­gered both an in­ter­nal and a wider re­gional cri­sis with over 390,000 Bu­run­dian refugees seek­ing shel­ter in Congo, Rwanda and Tan­za­nia. Ac­tivists in the DRC’S Sud-kivu prov­ince say lo­cal men are be­ing re­cruited to join the Rwan­dan-backed Ré­sis­tance pour un Etat de Droit au Bu­rundi and the Forces Répub­li­caines du Bu­rundi

mili­tias. In re­sponse, Nku­run­z­iza’s se­cu­rity ser­vices have sent fighters from the Im­bon­er­akure mili­tia into Congo to hunt down Bu­run­dian rebels.

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