Why Kampala, Kigali, Luanda pulled the plug on DR Congo protagonists

Joseph Kabila
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila arrives for the Great Lakes Summit on August 7, 2012, at the Munyonyo Resort in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.   PETER BUSOMOKE| AFP

The reining of all lead protagonists in the nine-month conflict in eastern DR Congo by key principals in Kampala, Kigali and Luanda points to an emerging realism in the Great Lakes Region that favours economic progress over military adventurism.

The EastAfrican has learnt that President Museveni’s stern order to M23 rebels to get out of Goma, the capital of North Kivu, which they captured on November 20, and Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s acceptance of a negotiated settlement with his former soldiers and allies had everything to do with Angola’s reluctance to jump into the fray and cold economic calculations in Kampala and Kigali.

Luanda’s acceptance that the conflict is less a consequence of foreign aggression than a domestic problem that needs to be settled internally, resulted from sustained diplomatic engagement orchestrated out of Kampala.

Angola is a pivotal power broker in the Southern African Development Community, of which Kinshasa is a member, in much the same way Uganda calls the shots in the East African Community.

Kampala’s role in returning normalcy to Somalia has reinforced its dominant position in the Great Lakes Region even as it has gained influence in the Horn of Africa.

Uganda and Angola have been key factors in the events that have played out in DR Congo over the past 15 years and still maintain leverage in this richly endowed but perpetually troubled country, the second largest in Africa.

Luanda, for instance, played a key role in installing Kabila in the presidency after his father Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated in 2001.

Its economic footprint has increased as a key mineral trader and it has remained a key Kabila ally in spite of intermittent disagreements.

SADC’s Mutual Defence Pact

For instance, Kinshasa got Angola in August this year to prevail upon the SADC to do what the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, which has headlined efforts to resolve the conflict ever since it broke out in April, had failed to do in its extraordinary heads of state meetings: That is, to condemn Rwanda for assisting M23 rebels and to order its to immediately cease its interference in eastern Congo.

SADC, at its 32nd Summit in Maputo, warned that Rwanda’s actions constituted a threat to peace and stability for both the DR Congo and the whole Southern African region, implicitly making a case for military intervention in line with SADC’s Mutual Defence Pact.

Angola’s change in attitude, however, was carefully managed by President Museveni, who first visited with President Eduardo Dos Santos and thereafter continually engaged him through envoys and sometimes directly on the phone until the two tacitly agreed the conflict would be resolved more quickly and amicably if they kept the military option out of it and encouraged dialogue.

This is the reason why, The EastAfrican has been told, President Kabila was left with little choice when M23 rebels overran Goma but to seek out President Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame to help get the rebels off his back, in spite of having accused the two of backing the rebellion.

President Museveni, sources say, is increasingly interested in economic integration with DR Congo, especially after the discovery of huge oil deposits in border regions with Congo that Uganda first tried to explore jointly with Kinshasa in the early 1990s, though emerging armed conflicts at the time made those plans untenable.

Legitimate grievances

Congo has also emerged as one of Uganda’s regional trading partners, accounting for $264 million’s worth of exports in 2011.

Kampala has tried again to revive the joint exploration and production agreement it signed with the late President Mobutu in 1993 because of the realisation that the success of its petroleum programmes is directly dependent on the progress of Kinshasa’s, or at the very least on stability across the border.

Interestingly, even in Rwanda, economic imperatives have overtaken concerns about the security of people and property and the survival of the state, which shaped the thinking in Kigali and informed the terms of engagement with DR Congo throughout the 1990s.

Assured of its stability, Rwanda has turned its focus on transforming itself into a high-end tourism destination as well as a regional services hub.

Both these big money initiatives are directly dependent for their success on stability and the presence of an effective government in DR Congo. A new and potentially protracted armed conflict would set back Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plans.

As such, in spite of recognising that M23 had legitimate grievances, Kampala and Kigali have cast their lot with Kinshasa and ordered the rebels to stop expanding hostilities, to stop talk of overthrowing the elected government, and, more importantly, to give up their military gains.

According to timelines agreed to between M23 and the chiefs of defence forces from the DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, the rebels were expected to have completely withdrawn from Goma by Friday, November 30, to allow the restoration of state authority.

Only then would the government begin to listen to, evaluate and resolve their legitimate grievances, the only decision, out of the 12 the heads of State passed on November 24, that President Kabila is bound to.

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