President Paul Kagame says Rwanda wouldn’t mind not being involved in the East African Community (EAC) joint force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), following comments by the country’s leader.
The Head of State, who was speaking during an interview on Rwanda Television (RTV) on Monday, said that would not be bothered by not being part of the regional joint force as long as those going commit to solve the matter holistically.
President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi recently said that his country cannot allow Rwanda to be part of the joint force, over claims that Kigali backs the M23 rebels who recently took up arms again against the DRC government.
The Head of State said that DRC has chosen to use Rwanda as a scapegoat for internal problems it has failed to solve, particularly the issues of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese who accuse the government of reneging on its commitments.
Asked what Rwanda has to say about the composition of the joint force, President Kagame said that, in fact, Rwanda not participating would save the country a lot of resources.
“We are all new if my memory serves me well but Rwanda was in the East African Community before DRC. But that’s okay. We are all members of East African Community,”
“So, when they are talking of East African Community Force, naturally that implies Rwanda as well, right?” President Kagame said, adding that if the concerned, the DRC in this case, claims it has problems with Rwanda participating, he has no problem with that.
“We are not begging anyone that we participate in the force. Alright. But what that also means, whoever goes there, whoever is liked or is invited by DRC as part of the East African Community Force, excluding Rwanda, must address these problems I was talking about,” President Kagame.
In the interview, President Kagame said the issues stem from long term internal problems, which the DRC has failed to act upon, mainly concerning the grievances of Kinyarwanda-speaking populations fighting for their rights.
He pointed out that if anybody’s coming from anywhere, excluding Rwanda but is coming to provide a solution that everyone is looking for, which is peace, Rwanda wouldn’t have a problem with that.
President Kagame said that he is in favour of whoever is going there resolving the issues right from the root cause and the same issues that continue to cause problems between Rwanda and DRC.
He said that would involve addressing the issues in Eastern DRC, more importantly absorbing Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese, who include M23 fighters, into the Congolese society and giving them their rights and assets as citizens of DRC.
President Kagame said that should be a normal thing for anybody to understand and do, as it is the only assured way to end the conflict but if the issue continues to be disregarded, then the problems will continue recurring.
“These people have no reason to keep fighting or causing any trouble,” President Kagame said, adding that the EAC intervention should focus on addressing the political issues inside DRC which are the main cause of conflict.
“I would want to have a problem with this if this force gives guarantees to Rwanda that no more shelling from Congo, of our territory by Congolese force or by FDLR,”
“Why would I be opposed to that? In fact, I’m very happy that this can be done without our involvement because getting involved is a cost to us also. Why would I incur the cost if I am having somebody saying ‘no, I’m happy to do it for you. I have no problem with that. Absolutely.” President Kagame said.
On the Nairobi Peace process
President Kagame also spoke about the Nairobi meetings and their outcomes, stating that while Rwanda supports the process but the challenge remains committing to what countries agree on.
“Things keep changing even after the meetings. What we have agreed in the meetings, when we are out of the meetings, things start changing. We have had three meetings in Nairobi, two of which I attended,”
“The second one, which I did not attend but in which I was represented by the Foreign Affairs minister, I think had reached a good way of dealing with the problem and that was ceasefire -those forces to stop fighting and secondly, the political process continuous in Nairobi,” President Kagame said.
Shifting goal posts
President Kagame said that during the first meeting, it was agreed that the third issue would be addressing the problem of FDLR but before the second meeting, DRC shifted goal posts and reneged on what had been agreed upon, all of a sudden saying that the DRC government will not talk to M23.
“The DRC government started saying ‘no, we are not going to talk to M23 because these are terrorists. So, all of a sudden, terrorists were born and as an excuse, to not continue the political process,”
“So, terrorists, if they are terrorists, why would you fight terrorists as you call them, and the same time go looking for an ethnic group that is related to these ‘terrorists. How can you brand an ethnic group a terrorist group? This sounds crazy. You can’t do that,” President Kagame said.
In the third meeting, the same things were discussed but this time they agree on an East African Force which will go to Congo to ensure that the ceasefire that was agreed upon holds and allows the political process to take place.
“The political processes are very important actually for me and I guess for everyone else. They come first. This is why I was saying you just don’t keep fighting and expect to find a solution for a political crisis or governance problems,” President Kagame said.
He pointed out that there is a need for people to understand that resolving the political issues is a precursor to resolving the conflict. The subsequent meetings focused on the deployment of the joint force, which DRC said it doesn’t want Rwanda to be part of.
President Kagame said that he made it clear that Rwanda has no problem not being part of the force if that is what it takes but the President of DRC went on to talk about it as if it is a victory.
“Victory will come when you have solved this crisis or these political problems, not just because you could not allow Rwanda. Rwanda is not asking for it, it is not complaining about it,”
“But this is a big catch here, if you don’t address security concerns of Rwanda you have a problem on your hands,” President Kagame said.
He pointed out that Rwanda wishes for peace in the region and DRC in particular but it cannot sit back and watch as it is continuously provoked or as the Congolese government continues to work with FDLR.
President Kagame added that his Congolese counterpart is well aware of these issues, which go way back before he came to power, because he has extensively discussed them with him to no avail.
He added that Rwanda has her own issues to deal with and cannot have time and resources to interfere in the affairs of another country.
“We need peace and we need peace for both of us. There needs to be peace in Rwanda, there needs to be peace in DRC. Therefore, we should we give each other peace.
He pointed out that it is not not acceptable for DRC to support FDLR to cross into Rwandan territory or to give them means to shell Rwanda and kill her citizens.
“I wish for the best for both of us, DR Congo and Rwanda. But if the best doesn’t come, it should always find me prepared for the worst,” President Kagame said.