President Paul Kagame has for the first time spoken out extensively about the simmering tensions between Rwanda and DRC, stemming from the ongoing conflict involving M23, FDLR and other armed groups in the Eastern part of the country.
The Head of State, appearing on Rwanda Television (RTV) on Liberation Day, said that the issue in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) goes back into history and the recent renewed fighting is a result of the Congolese Government failing to address the issues that caused it in the first place.
President Kagame pointed out that Rwanda is being used as a scapegoat for a political problem which the DRC government has failed to address over the years, which mainly concerns addressing the issues of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese and eliminating FDRL on its territory.
President Kagame said that failure to address those issues by the DRC and the United Nations is the reason the situation keeps recurring.
“We have been in these kinds of situations. We have had to say things that we think need to be addressed but they were never addressed properly and that is how these matters keep recurring,”
“Let me give an example, the so-called M23. There was a crisis in 2012 and this crisis drew in all kinds of countries, regions and institutions, including international institutions like the UN, powers that decide on many things and they made one mistake, which we pointed out at that time. But such as much as not resolved by force of arms. They don’t require military solutions. They require more political solutions. They ignore what we were telling them,”
President Kagame said that the time they went ahead and fought M23 without even knowing why it was born and how it came to be. The rebel group was defeated by the Interventional Brigade and the remnants fled to mainly Uganda and Rwanda.
He said that they kept reminding the involved parties that there was a political solution that they needed to apply, which they didn’t pay attention to, perhaps because they had defeated M23 militarily.
He said that without addressing the issues of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese, the problem was meant to recur. He pointed out that though they speak Kinyarwanda, they are Congolese citizens.
However, for decades, the Congolese government has failed to address the issues of the said populations which found themselves on the Congolese side of the border in the colonial era.
As a result, Rwanda hosts a bigger number of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese who fled their country because of the conflict in the Eastern part of DRC. Several solutions have been floated but they were never applied.
He pointed out that when the M23 remnants fled into Rwanda, they were disarmed and the process to repatriate was started by the two countries. Several commitments were made by DRC but they never followed through.
President Kagame said that saying that Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese belong to Rwanda is a big mistake because these are Congolese citizens and they know DRC as their own country.
“These are Congolese citizens. They have been in Congo for years. They know Congo as their own country. They are only Rwandan by heritage but they are Congolese,” President Kagame said, adding that they have existed in DRC for centuries, way before the borders were drawn.
President Kagame said that he has himself talked to the President of DRC on the matter and they agreed to do so but nothing was done, until recently when the conflict flared up again and Rwanda was drawn in again, disregarding what was agreed upon before.
He added that before the recent fighting started, the DRC government had been informed that trouble was building up again because they failed to work on the political issues and the advice was disregarded.
On the other hand, President Kagame said Rwanda has discussed with DRC on the issue of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which has existed in DRC for decades and continues to threaten Rwanda’s security but nothing has been done to eliminate it.
He pointed out that over the years, the international community has disregarded these two issues- the issue of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese and the existence of FDLR, which has led to wrong decisions being made and then Rwanda used as a scapegoat.
President Kagame said that the DRC government reneged on the provisions of the agreement which was signed in Nairobi in 2013, which would see M23 elements repatriated and reintegrated in the army or society but it was also not done and the rebels regrouped.
He said that the international community has also ignored these issues which if not addressed they continue to undermine regional security and stability.
President Kagame also pointed out that the DRC has failed to distance itself from supporting FDLR, which they continue to support to attack Rwanda. He added that Rwanda was not surprised to see FDLR fighting alongside Congolese Government forces- FARDC.
“DRC is supporting FDLR and unfortunately, with the knowledge of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force on the ground,” President Kagame said, adding that since 2019, the militia has shelled Rwandan territory three time, killing scores of people and damaging property.
“We have had shelling from DRC territory into Rwanda which killed people and damaged property several times. All along we need peace for both of us; there needs to be peace in Rwanda and there needs to be peace in DRC,”
He said that the group, which is armed by DRC, still harbours the genocide ideology and fights to restore a Rwanda for one group of people and not others.
President Kagame said that all these issues have been discussed with DRC before but nothing was done, adding that Rwanda has no business involving itself in DRC.
“They have done everything to try and involve us in their problems. We have been resisting that. But I don’t know how long if they continue doing what they have been doing,” the Head of State said, highlighting cases of provocation.
Reacting to recent remarks by President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi on Rwanda, President Kagame said that DRC is acting like a spoiled child who causes problems but blames others.
“They [DRC] have been behaving like spoiled children. They cause trouble and then in the end, they start crying or shouting and saying somebody is doing something wrong to them,” he said, adding that it is surprising that ‘some parts of the world’ have taken the side of DRC even when it is the one in the wrong.
He said that Rwanda has pointed out these issues to the international community but it has not been heard and the world has chosen to support DRC against its own people -the Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese.
President Kagame said that over the years, DRC has failed to handle its own internal issues, creating a war within and later blaming it on someone else, something he said is a blatant mistake.
“It’s like they will never accept taking their problems as their own problems. They always want to say their problems originate from somewhere else and it seems the word had come to accept that,”
He said however that perhaps the way of seeing things is changing also across the world because he hasn’t seen anybody buy into the lies the DRC government has been airing on different occasions.
President Kagame said that what he finds awkward is that the UN is supporting the DRC against its own people. He said the issue has gone beyond fighting M23 but also attacking their relatives and families solely on the grounds that they are of Rwandan origin.
He pointed out that currently, M23 and other armed groups are fighting on grounds of persecution, because their people are being targeted because of their ethnicity and this is what DRC should be addressing.
“The M23 we are talking about are Congolese,” President Kagame said, adding that whatever is happening touches on persecution and this is an internal issue that DRC needs to deal with.
“What is happening there is an internal crisis which touches on persecution of the people of Congo,” President Kagame said, adding that when the DRC government failed to defeat M23, they took it to their kin and kith and the issue became ethnic.
“The fact of the matter is, these are Congolese. They are not Rwandans. They are only of Rwandese heritage of culture, but they are Congolese by nationality,”
“How that happened, you can’t ask me because I was not there. I’m not responsible. Rwanda is not responsible of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese in Congo,”
“Of course, the other fact is when they have fought M23 and have not defeated them, then it must be somebody else. So, for them, the Congolese, the problem is somebody else, it is coming from somewhere else,” he said.
He said that until they learn to take their problems and find a solution, the region shall remain in this kind of mess.
“But who needs a mess? And why would Rwanda, anyway, need to be involved in the Congo? When we were building peace and security between the two countries from the beginning, how things changed or of a sudden, I think the Congolese have a lot to explain themselves, not me, not Rwanda,” President Kagame said.