In light of mounting evidence that Rwanda is supporting armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in particular the so-called M23 movement in the east, the United States (US) announced that it has cut this year’s planned Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance of some US$200 000 to the country.
While the actual amount being withheld remains small, the US’s decision is nevertheless a significant diplomatic snub. Since the 1994 genocide, the two countries have enjoyed a strong partnership which has focused not only on humanitarian and security efforts but also on sustainable development initiatives as well. Rwanda’s meddling in the affairs of eastern DRC may therefore come with severe consequences.
The US move follows an announcement by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) condemning all outside support to armed groups in the DRC. In this regard, the global watchdog recently released its own findings on the conflict that points to high level support for the M23 movement within Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s government. Not only has the Rwandan army been providing military equipment, weapons, ammunition and general supplies to the rebels but Defence Minister James Kararebe, Chief of Defence Staff Charles Kayonga, and military advisor to Kagame himself, Charles Kayonga, are said to be directly involved as well.
Almost more important than the cancelling of military aid, is the threat these accusations pose to Rwanda’s upcoming seat at the UN Security Council. According to diplomats who attended the African Union summit in July, President Joseph Kabila of the DRC – who almost never attends such summits – went to the meeting to try and convince states to strip Rwanda of this seat. To achieve this end, the DRC would have to convince eastern and southern African states, although South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe have already allegedly indicated that they would back Kabila. Rwanda is supposed to be elected to the Security Council in September, suggesting Kabila will most likely fail in this mission.
Responding to the allegations, Kagame lashed out at Western nations and international organizations declaring them the cause of the ongoing crisis. Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo also said that the US is free to dispense or withhold its support but that the premise is ill-informed.
In a show of good faith, Rwanda has now partnered up with countries in the Great Lakes region, the UN and the African Union (AU) to create a neutral force “to eradicate M23, the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and other negative forces in eastern DRC.” According to various reports, it apparently took much convincing to force the Rwandan government to accept the fact that the M23 is no different to the FDLR: a Hutu powered rebel group whose members helped carry out the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and had to be dealt with accordingly. Uganda allegedly pressured Rwanda to concede on this matter.
Analysts are highly skeptical of this proposed neutral force as deploying such a mission will require political will and deep pockets: two factors that have been in relatively short supply in other intervention missions. Some Congolese diplomats have therefore declared that the Great Lakes countries have set themselves up for failure particularly given growing rumours that M23 is partnering up with Mai-Mai rebels in the region.