Photograph — Japan Times

“The Rwandan shots were directed towards a Congolese aircraft flying within Congolese territory. This is a deliberate act of aggression that amounts to an act of war,” -The Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Tuesday, January 24, Rwandan forces fired at an air-bound fighter jet belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC or Congo). It said the plane had violated its airspace. Rwanda accused its neighbour of trespassing by flying across Rubavu, the western Rwandan district bordering the Congolese city of Goma- the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern. But Congo refuted the report, accusing Kigali of an act of war.

How it started

In March 2022, serious tensions erupted between Congo and Rwanda over the notorious M23 (March 23 Movement), a rebel group in the DRC that Congo and the United Nations have accused Rwanda of supporting. 

On the other hand, the Rwandan government and M23 have accused Congo of collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). FDLR is a racist Hutu paramilitary group active in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

Although both countries have denied support for FDLR and M23, the brewing tensions have resulted in several alleged attacks by DRC and Rwanda on each other’s soil. Last August, Rwandan troops were reportedly caught fighting alongside the M23 rebel group while attacking Congolese soldiers.

Expert Opinion

As tension mounts between the two countries, the public is speculating about a full-blown war. Speaking to Ventures Africa on the matter, Ovigwe Eguegu, Policy and Security Analyst at Development Reimagined states that the odds of a full-blown war are unlikely. 

“I do not think there is an appetite for war given the devastating impact it could cause on both countries. Rwanda is still a growing economy with a small GDP. So, investing its productive capacity in a war would not be a smart decision. On the other hand, Congo is already facing many internal problems and may not want to go to war. In the end, both parties will just have to resolve this via negotiation,” he says.

Congo is the world’s cobalt hub and Rwanda is regarded as one of Africa’s peaceful and fasters growing economies. How will this tension impact foreign direct investments in the countries?

I think Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) are going to play very little role in this conflict because the line of contact- Eastern Congo and Western Rwanda- are not really economic hubs. From my reading of the situation, FDIs will not be impacted in any significant way due to the kinds of investments both countries receive- agro-processing (Rwanda) and raw material exports(Congo). However, things may get out of hand if diplomacy is not well done, leading to further escalation and impacting investments. 

Looking at the geographical makeup of the two countries, do you think regional governments would take sides or remain neutral?

It is important to point out that because both countries are members of the East Africa Community (EAC), there is a framework that binds them as a region. The EAC framework will become very important in de-escalating tensions to resolve these conflicts. Already both countries are using diplomatic measures to resolve their differences, despite little progress. I think regional countries are more likely to work towards a negotiated solution because that would be in the best interest of the parties involved.

History check

Rwanda once had three major ethnic groups, The Hutus, the Tutsis and the Twas. While the Hutus make up about 85% of Rwanda’s population, the Tutsis are 14% and the Twas make up around 1% of its population. Despite being a minority, the Tutsis ruled Rwanda for centuries. Colonialism further entrenched that position as their Belgian colonial masters propagated the myth that Tutsis were the superior ethnicity, increasing already existing tensions between the group. 

Thus, the Rwandan genocide happened between April to July 1994. The war was a bloody battle against the Tutsi, Twa, and moderate Hutus, claiming between 500,000 to 1,000,000 lives. So, millions of Rwandan refugees flooded into the eastern DRC in the wake of the genocide. 

“The peace process in eastern Congo continues to be fragile with multiple armed groups operating throughout the region, terrorizing civilians and blocking the path to long-term peace,” – Eastern Congo Initiative.

The main perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide were the Interahamwe -a Hutu paramilitary organization currently active in DRC and Uganda. In July of 1994, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gained victory in the Rwandan Civil War and drove the insurgent out to DRC. When a new Tutsi government was established in Rwanda after the genocide, more than two million Hutus sought refuge in eastern Congo. “The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that only 7% of these refugees were perpetrators of the genocide,” the Eastern Congo initiative writes.

In 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the eastern DRC in an effort to root out the remaining perpetrators of the genocide. The two countries would later join forces with Congolese opposition leader Laurent Désiré Kabila, who eventually defeated DRC’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to become the President in 1997. But the fear of gaining control of Congo’s mineral resources made Kabila send the Rwandan and Ugandan forces out of DRC.

Kabila’s government received military support from Angola and Zimbabwe and other regional partners.

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