Beneath the canopy of the mountainous provinces of North and South Kivu in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) lies a mineral-rich layer containing large gold and coltan deposits that have long been at the center of conflict with neighboring Rwanda and Uganda .
In recent months, the resurgence of a long-simmering rivalry has sparked a crisis between Kinshasa and Kigali, with the DRC accusing Rwanda of supporting rebels taking advantage of the extraction of the area’s mineral wealth. There is no quick end in sight as it is in both sides’ interests to play for time, experts say.
Since May the DRC army has been locked in clashes with the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels, who have launched new attacks on strategic towns on the Ugandan border after capturing large swathes of territory in the 2012-13 uprising. The violence has killed more than 800 people and displaced more than 160,000 so far this year, according to the report United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“There is absolutely no doubt Rwanda supports the March 23 Movement,” Tshisekedi accused in an interview with Financial time on July 5th.
The conflict comes nearly a decade after the peace deal was sealed between the DRC and M23, and more than two decades after Rwanda and Uganda first intervened in the DRC in support of allied military groups, sparking a series of conflicts that have come to be known as the “African World Wars”. The war drew in several African countries and spawned various armed militias, each seeking access to resources.
Tshisekedi has warned that a new wave of conflict could lead to all-out war with Rwanda: “This possibility cannot be ruled out. If the Rwandan provocations continue, we will not sit and do nothing. We are not weak,” he said on July 5.
Time is of the essence – and so is politics
“Time is an important factor for both sides. Important for Félix Tshisekedi facing general election [in the DRC] next year,” said Jean Pierre Okenda, a Congolese lawyer and senior analyst at the Brussels-based advocacy group Resource Matters.
The DRC is unprepared for war with Rwanda, according to Okenda, and the president’s speech may be little more than a gesture ahead of his re-election.
“When you look at the budget of the Democratic Republic of Congo and how much money the government has allocated to the army, I don’t see any evidence of preparation for war,” Okenda said.
“I believe this statement [by Tshisekedi] is a political stance ahead of next year’s general election. This is a very nationalist speech that says to the Congolese, yes, we are ready and capable of dealing with Rwanda.”
Tshisekedi took office three years ago despite widespread fraud allegations, including FT analysis from two voting databases that show his opponent Martin Fayulu has won the presidential election. Tshisekedi is expected to run for re-election next year and may have to work hard to get votes.
“You can see on social media that people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are not happy with the president, the way he is handling the crisis and the country. Making a hostile speech against Rwanda allowed him to improve his image and he knows it,” Okenda said.
One of the challenges facing Tshisekedi is implementing a 2019 agreement with M23 and another in 2021 with Rwanda, the latter of which protects investment between the two countries, avoids double taxation and tax evasion, and addresses concerns over gold mining. The president is now struggling to implement these agreements.
“The president’s regional diplomacy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is objectively leading us towards prolongation and exacerbating instability,” says Congolese doctor and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege on July 20.
In fact, by design or not, Tshisekedi’s “diplomacy” contributed to “worsening instability,” he said.
Recent history suggests that Tshisekedi may be no stranger to political theatrics. Earlier this year, his government alleged that his rival had plotted a coup, but mysterious lack of information raise suspicions of foul play.
On the other hand, Rwanda has an interest in dragging its feet in an effort to improve relations with the DRC.
“From Rwanda’s point of view, normalizing relations would result in less profit for them. The longer the process is delayed, the longer the benefits,” said Okenda.
“Normalization” refers to the 2021 agreement between the DRC and Rwanda, which includes bringing more traceability to the mineral supply chain and revenue sharing between the two countries. The mineral-rich and traceability DRC takes aim at rampant resource smuggling, in which Rwanda has long been believed to play a role.
US Treasury he said in March that “more than 90% of DRC gold is smuggled into regional countries, including Uganda and Rwanda, where it is then frequently refined and exported to international markets, particularly the UAE.”
He added that in eastern DRC where “there are about 130 active armed groups, the gold trade is the main driver of the conflict”.
Similarly, the NGO Global Witness published a study in April found that as much as 90% of the coltan (the main source of tantalum), tin and tungsten – three minerals known as “3T minerals” – exported by Rwanda was imported illegally from the DRC.
Resource issues put a lot at stake for both DRC and Rwanda. The Kibali mine in the DRC was Africa’s second largest gold producer by volume last year. Its output of 191,000 ounces of gold has become increasingly valuable as the price of gold soars.
Another mineral is coltan, of which DRC is estimated to be the world’s largest producer with production 700 tons last year. Used in the production of tantalum capacitors which are in turn used in the manufacture of electronic devices such as telephones, it is another very valuable commodity.
Another less tangible resource is land and political influence. The conflict could give Rwanda strong bargaining power in negotiations with the DRC.
Going beyond limits and resources
The conflict reached beyond the provinces of Kivu and Congo, as countries around the developed world sought minerals such as gold and coltan into Africa.
The strong language used by Tshisekedi can be a signal to allies in developed countries, such as the US, and also to the people of DRC.
“It’s no secret that the US is a strong ally of President Tshisekedi and, of course, they have hopes for his regime,” said a source who asked not to be named. His strong language may be “in part to show that he is fulfilling his share of this mandate.” Statements from Tshisekedi such as “we are not weak” could also send a message to other African countries according to the source.
Despite the conflict, the DRC and Rwanda economies are expected to grow significantly this year. The IMF predicts GDP growth of 6.4% in both countries. Growth in the DRC is expected to continue to be underpinned by increasing international demand for minerals such as cobalt and copper.
With support from the IMF and the World Bank, Rwanda has undertaken economic reforms in recent years and now aspires to become a middle-income country by 2035.
In contrast, the DRC ranks among the world’s five poorest countries, according to the World Bank. However, the country has made several strides of its own, including joining the East African Community in March, which should open up significant economic opportunities for the vast eastern part of the country.
Reserves at the central bank jumped from $800 million in 2020 to $3.3 billion in October 2021, thanks to increased payments from Chinese buyers and the IMF’s $1.4 billion special drawing rights (SDR).
No end in sight for the Rwanda-DRC conflict in Kivu
Source link No end in sight for the Rwanda-DRC conflict in Kivu