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CWA # 748, 21 June 2022
NIAS Africa Team
Africa Weekly #16 & 17, Vol. 1, No. 16 & 17
21 June 2022
Africa Weekly #16 & 17, Vol. 1, No. 16 & 17
The Visit of Belgium King to the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Wasted Opportunity?
Belgium, along with other colonisers, has made some efforts to reconcile and rebuild the relationship with its former colonies. However, it has only expressed “regret”. The visit of King Philippe was an opportunity to apologize and acknowledge the crimes committed during the period of colonization. That opportunity has been wasted.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been in the news for the last few days. It has accused Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels who are operating in the Eastern DRC. As a result, DRC-Rwanda relations are under severe strain. Interestingly, in April, DRC joined the East African Community (EAC), of which Rwanda is also a member. Therefore, the tensions between the two neighbors have drawn in other regional players. Meanwhile, as the crisis was deepening, the King and Queen of Belgium embarked on a six-day visit to the DRC beginning on June 7. It was the first such visit by King Philippe. The visit was an opportunity to take a closer look at Belgium’s colonial past and policies in the DRC.
The DRC is one of the largest African countries and is rich in natural resources like gold, uranium, copper, and diamonds. Besides, it is rich in ivory and rubber as well. In the second half of the 19th century, as the European powers colonized Africa, Belgium, specifically King Leopold II, took control of the modern-day DRC. The Berlin Conference of 1885 formalized the Belgian control of the DRC.
King Leopold treated DRC as his personal property and unleashed the wrath of horror in the colony. Known as the “Congo Free State”, the colony served “solely to enrich the monarch. Congolese labor oiled this machine. Anyone who resisted or stood in their way was brutally punished — photographs and reports of hands chopped off bear testimony to the stories”. It was widely believed that millions of Congolese perished under the brutal rule of Leopold.
In 1908, amidst the international outcry about the brutal policies, he was forced to hand over the colony to the Belgian state. Belgium ruled the DRC till 1960. The transfer of power from the King to the Belgian state did not change the fortunes of DRC in any meaningful way. The Belgian state and private companies engaged in mining continued to exploit the Congo. The colonial conquest of DRC by Belgium is immortalized in the “Heart of Darkness”, a novel written by Joseph Conrad in 1899. 80 years later, the novel became a basis for a Hollywood film, Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Coppola.
In 1960, the African continent was swept by the “winds of change” and decolonization. In that single year, 16 French African colonies attained independence. British colonies such as Ghana had already become free and Nigeria was on the verge of independence. Sensing the mood, Belgium too decided to grant independence to Congo Free State. The independence was granted without any prior and adequate preparations. Moreover, Belgium hoped to continue its hold over the mineral riches of the country.
Soon, the newly-independent state was engulfed by chaos and conflicts. The Congolese army, led by the Belgian officers, revolted and the resource-rich region of Katanga seceded. Patrice Lumumba, the country’s young prime minister, was probably the only person who aspired to unite the Congo and “embodied the hope for a peaceful, self-determined future”. However, his left-leaning politics and ideas were seen as dangerous for western interests. As a result, he was soon ousted and assassinated in 1961 by the Belgium-backed separatists of Katanga province.
The Cold War rivalries played a key role in the destabilization of the DRC. The United States (US) was worried that the Soviet influence in DRC would help it to project its influence across the continent. Therefore, the government led by Lumumba was ousted. The Americans considered the army chief Joseph-Désiré Mobutu as a man they could trust. Mobutu took over power in 1966 and ruled DRC till 1997. Despite the widespread corruption and abuse of human rights, he was backed by the US throughout the Cold War ostensibly to contain communism in Africa. In the late 1990s, the conflicts in DRC and the regional instability drew in other powers like Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Sudan.
A quick look at the political history of DRC since 1960 demonstrates that no ruler has been able to stabilize the country and use the resource base for the purpose of economic development. The Eastern DRC is one of the most unstable, dangerous, and conflict-prone regions of the world. The United Nations Peacekeeping forces are deployed in the DRC. The Nobel Peace prize awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege in 2018 for his work to treat rape victims in the Eastern DRC and bring an end to rape as a weapon of war highlighted the plight of people in the region.
In the last few years, former colonial powers have been taking baby steps to acknowledge their past behaviour in Africa. In 2021, Germany tendered an apology for its crimes in Namibia whereas France sought forgiveness for the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Belgium too has made some efforts to reconcile and rebuild the relationship with its former colony. It has decided to return artifacts stolen from DRC. However, it has not tendered an “apology” to the Congo. It has only expressed “regret”. The visit of King Philippe was an opportunity to apologize and acknowledge the crimes committed during the period of colonization. That opportunity has been wasted.
DRC-Rwanda tensions: Latest developments and issues
The DRC and Rwanda are in undergoing diplomatic tensions over the resurgence of the M23. However, the friction over the M23 is only a part of the larger problem between the two countries.
On 17 June, Democratic Republic of the Congo closed its border with Rwanda after Rwanda’s police shot dead a Congolese soldier who had crossed into the latter and started shooting at civilians and security forces.
The border closure is one among the many instances of tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, as the two countries have plunged into a broil, barely a year after hopes of strengthening the ties were raised.
Latest DRC-Rwanda tensions: A brief timeline
First, the armed violence. Since late May, a series of attacks by the M23 rebels claimed dozens of lives, including those of the DRC’s soldiers. The UN said the attacks and the DRC’s response to quell the rebels had led to the displacement of over 72,000 people, several of whom fled to Uganda. On 13 June, M23 rebels captured a town in North Kivu province and the DRC accused Rwanda of supporting the rebels.
Second, diplomatic measures. On 28 May, Kinshasa summoned Rwanda’s ambassador and suspended RwandAir flights for Kigali’s alleged support to the M23. On the same day, The New Times reported Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Vincent Biruta had responded to the allegations at the African Union’s Extraordinary Summit. Biruta termed the allegations baseless and said if there is a lack of political will, the DRC and Rwanda “will remain in a vicious cycle of undesirable and destructive conflicts.” Following this, despite the DRC president Felix Tshisekedi and Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame holding a telephonic conversation to discuss solutions; Biruta said Kigali will respond if they are subject to more attacks, allegedly from the DRC. On 15 June, the DRC High Council of Defence requested the DRC government to suspend trade agreements with Rwanda.
Third, the popular sentiments. On 1 June, hundreds of people protested outside the Rwandan embassy in Kinshasa. AFP quoted a rights group activist who said the protesters were demanding the expulsion of Rwanda’s diplomat. On 15 June, thousands gathered at the border with Rwanda to protest against Kagame. Later, people looted Rwandan-owned shops In Goma and searched for Rwandan people; several Rwandans had fled before the violence.
The DRC-Rwanda tensions: Three issues
First, a brief background of the M23 and its resurgence. Members of a former militia group in the DRC, the National Congress for Defense of the People (CNDP) - supported by Uganda and Rwanda - formed the M23 in 2012. Previously, on 23 March 2009, the DRC and Rwanda signed an agreement to integrate the CNDP rebels into the DRC’s army. In 2012, a group of the former CNDP members mutinied and formed the M23 rebel group, deriving the name from agreement signed on 23 March. After the M23’s capture of large areas in eastern DRC, tremendous international pressure and assistance of UN peacekeepers forced the rebels to flee to Rwanda and Uganda by 2013.
In November 2021, the DRC announced the re-emergence of the M23 after it captured two towns near DRC’s border with Uganda; the towns were recaptured by the army. A series of attacks since March 2022, including targeting two army positions near Rwanda and Uganda, have been linked to the M23. In the most recent attack, the UN said the M23 had attacked peacekeepers and called for an end to hostilities. However, the M23 rebels accused the UN of targeting their positions and of supporting other militias. The M23 accused the DRC government of not adhering to existing peace agreements.
Second, the roots of instability in eastern DRC. The instability and violence dates back to 1994 when several Rwandan Hutu rebels, accused of carrying out a genocide against Rwandan Tutsis, fled to eastern DRC. Rwanda accused the DRC army of assisting the Hutu armed groups. In 1996, Rwanda invaded the eastern borders of the DRC to attack several Hutu groups, thereby sparking the First Congo War. In 1998, the Second Congo War was fought between forces and rebels from nine African countries. Despite several peace agreements signed and since 2002 and numerous counter militia operations, rebel groups continue operating in eastern DRC. As of February 2022, the UN said an estimated 120 armed groups exist in the DRC’s east.
Third, setbacks for regional integration. In 2019, Tshisekedi was elected as president of the DRC and he initiated several initiatives to improve relations with Rwanda, including signing agreements for bilateral cooperation in various sectors. Similarly, in November 2021, Tshisekedi proposed joint military operations with several east African countries would help tackle the militia in the east. Uganda welcomed the idea; Rwanda, however, termed it a threat. Further, the escalation of tensions developed barely months after the DRC was integrated into the East African Community in April 2022. When the M23 resurfaced, Rwanda and Uganda accused each other of supporting the rebel group. Rwanda and Burundi too experience frayed relations. Therefore, despite the DRC being a significant market for the EAC, the ongoing instability and lack of security may offset the same.
In conclusion, the resurgence of the M23 has renewed the tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. The M23’s resurgence indicates failure of the DRC government and regional efforts to implement peace agreements, hold full-fledged joint military operations and reconcile with rebel forces, despite decades having gone by. Meanwhile, the friction over the M23 is only one part of the larger problem between the DRC and Rwanda; the relations between the two countries cannot be improved unless there is a solution to historical issues. Lastly, the spillover from the violence in eastern DRC to Uganda, along with the accusations from Rwanda, could disturb the regional dynamics of East Africa.
(Note: Parts of this commentary were previously published as a short note in the NIAS-IPRI-KAS Conflict Weekly)
AFRICA IN BRIEF
08 June – 21 June
By Apoorva Sudhakar
UGTT organises countrywide strike as talks with IMF close in
On 16 June, the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) held a countrywide strike of public sector employees to protest against president Kais Saeid's proposed wage cuts and rollback of subsidies. The strike by an estimated three million employees led to the cancellation of flights and restrictions on public transport. The strike was held against Tunisia's upcoming talks with the IMF wherein the government aims to secure a bailout plan. The government's proposal to the IMF includes a wage freeze on public sector workers, cuts on subsidies and restructuring of public companies. (“Tunisian labour union holds massive strike in challenge for President Saied,” France24, 16 June 2022)
Tunis witnesses protests against constitutional reforms
On 19 June, hundreds of Tunisians protested in capital city Tunis against Saeid’s proposed constitutional referendum scheduled for July. The protests were led by the coalition, Salvation Front. The development came after a similar demonstration was held the Free Constitutional Party on 18 June against the proposed economic reforms after the head of constitution committee said the new draft of a “democratic” constitution will be submitted to Saied on 20 June. On the same day, judges extended their strike against the president’s decision to sack 57 judges, for the third week. (“Hundreds protest in Tunis against Saied's constitutional referendum plan,” France24, 19 June 2022)
Over 200 Amhara-origin people killed in Oromo region
On 19 June, The Guardian quoted witnesses in the Oromia region who said over 200 people of Amhara ethnicity had been killed on 18 June. The witnesses and the Oromia regional government accused the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebels of carrying out the attack, alleging that the rebel group failed to resist security forces’ operations. However, the OLA spokesperson dismissed these claims and accused the Ethiopian military and local militia of the offensive. On 20 June, prime minister Abiy Ahmed condemned the ethnic killings across Ethiopia, saying his government was committed to peace and security. (“Ethiopia: more than 200 Amhara people killed in attack blamed on rebels,” The Guardian, 19 June 2022; Kalkidan Yibeltal, “Ethiopia PM denounces 'horrific' ethnic killings,” BBC, 20 June 2022)
WFP warns of increasing food insecurity
On 16 June, the WFP’s Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment (CFSVA) revealed that 15 million people in Sudan are subjected to food insecurity. The CFSVA links the situation to the prevalence of “conflict and displacement; climate shocks; and a poor harvest in the past agricultural season.” The war in Ukraine has also affected the situation as over half of Sudan’s wheat imports come from the Black Sea region. The CFSVA also predicts that the situation will deteriorate during the lean season and therefore, as previously warned by the WFP and FAO, the number of people facing insecurity would rise to 18 million. (“Sudan: One-third of population faces acute food insecurity,” UN News, 16 June 2022)
Funding crises forces WFP to cut down food aid
On 14 June, the WFP acting country director in South Sudan said owing to a funding shortage, the agency was suspending part of its food aid for the country. The WFP official said an estimated USD 426 million was required to sustain its operations for six months. The development comes despite the WFP’s decision to reduce the rations by half in 2021. On 17 June, BBC published remarks by several school students and teachers who said the aid cut would affect the WFP feeding programme. Students said they would be forced to drop out because WFP’s aid is the only source of food for some. (“WFP suspends part of its food aid in South Sudan as funds dry up,” Al Jazeera, 14 June 2022; Nichola Mandil, “S Sudan students' aid cut plea: 'No food, no school',” BBC, 17 June 2022)
UN peacekeeper killed in attack on convoy
On 19 June, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned an IED attack in northern Mali wherein a UN peacekeeper was killed. The attack took place during a UN convoy’s mine detection operation in Kidal city. Guterres said targeting UN peacekeepers could amount to war crimes and called on Mali to “spare no efforts” to bring the attackers to justice. Similarly, the UN Special Representative for Mali, who is also the head of the UN’s Mali mission, said the development “illustrates, once again, the complexity of the environment in which the Mission operates and of the security challenges it faces on a daily basis.” (“Mali: Latest attack against UN peacekeepers leaves Guinean 'blue helmet' dead,” UN News, 19 June 2022)
Several killed in two different attacks in the north
On 13 June, Al Jazeera reported a government spokesperson’s statement that several people had been killed in an attack spanning between 11 June and 12 June in a village in northern Burkina Faso. On 18 June, Al Jazeera’s news report pinned the death toll AT 89. The UN and the EU condemned the attack and the latter called for an investigation to understand the circumstances of the killing. The latest attack comes after gunmen killed 11 military policemen in the same region on 9 June. (“At least 50 killed in Burkina Faso rebel attack: Government,” Al Jazeera, 13 June 2022; “Eleven military policemen killed in northern Burkina Faso,” Al Jazeera, 10 June 2022)
Only 40 per cent of territory under state control, says ECOWAS mediator
On 18 June, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediator met with the military government leaders, including Lt Col Paul Henri Damiba to discuss a transition period. The mediator to Burkina Faso and former president of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou said 40 per cent of the country’s territory was not in the state’s control. Issoufou referred to recent instances of killings and said they prove the security challenges. Further, Issoufou termed Burkina Faso’s crisis multidimensional, in terms of security, humanitarian, political and socioeconomic issues. (“State controls just 60 percent of Burkina Faso: ECOWAS mediator,” Al Jazeera, 18 June 2022)
European Court prevents the first batch of asylum seekers to be flown to Rwanda
On 14 June, the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction minutes before the take-off of the UK’s first flight carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda and stopped the deportation. A complaint by an Iraqi man outlined that deportations cannot take place unless three weeks expire after the final decision of a judicial review by the High Court in London, scheduled in July. The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government should not be discouraged and maintained that she had always known the policy would face challenges Patel expressed disappointment that the ECHR intervened despite successful decisions in domestic courts. Previously, on 13 June, the UK’s Court of Appeal approved the High Court’s decision to commence the deportation of the first batch of asylum seekers to Rwanda. On 17 June, The Guardian reported Rwanda's disappointment over the media's portrayal of the country. The government spokesperson said: "Much of the narrative about Rwanda that we are hearing in the media is frankly insulting" and mentioned Rwanda's achievements. (Andrew Macaskill and Michael Holden, “UK migrant flight to Rwanda grounded as European Court steps in,” Reuters, 14 June 2022; “UK court says flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda can go ahead,” Al Jazeera, 13 June 2022)
First China-Horn of Africa Peace Conference held in Ethiopia
On 20 June, the first China-Horn of Africa Peace, Governance and Development Conference began in Addis Ababa. China's first special envoy to the region said China was looking forward to helping the countries achieve peace and stability. This is the first time that China is aiming "to play a role in the area of security." Officials from the foreign ministries from Ethiopia, Kenya Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, Uganda and Somalia attended the conference. (Jevans Nyabiage, "China’s Horn of Africa envoy tells regional peace conference he is ready to mediate disputes," South China Morning Post, 21 June 2022)
Russia's war on Ukraine is holding Africa hostage, says Zelenskyy
On 20 June, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the African Union, wherein he said that Russia is trying to use Africa to pressurise on countries that have placed sanctions on Russia. BBC quoted Zelenskyy: "Africa is actually a hostage... of those who unleashed war against our state." Zelenskyy said the increasing food prices due to the war had brought the war to the home of millions of Africans. The AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat responded to the address, emphasising that Africa was committed to an urgent need for dialogue. The address comes after several African leaders met with Russia's president Vladimir Putin where Kremlin dismissed claims that Russia was responsible for the food crsis amid the war in Ukraine. (Cara Anna, "Africa ‘taken hostage’ by Russia’s invasion, Zelenskyy says," AP News, 21 June 2022; "Africa is a hostage of Russia's war on Ukraine, Zelensky says," BBC, 21 June 2022)
Carcasses of 11 rhinos raise concerns of poaching in Namibia
On 14 June, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism said since June, 11 rhino carcasses have been found in Etosha National Park. Investigations indicate that the carcasses could be three weeks old or more and imply that poaching remains a challenge. The Ministry said since the beginning of 2022, as many as 22 rhinos have been poached. (“Poachers kill 11 rhinos in two weeks at Namibian park,” BBC, 14 June 2022)
Online platforms for football become ground for homophobic and racist slurs
On 18 June, FIFA president Gianni Infantino condemned hate and abuse towards football players, especially through social media posts. Infantino’s statement came after an independent study by FIFA revealed that majority of abuse against football players during the European Championship and the Africa Cup of Nations were homophobic and racist. Of more than 400,000 posts tracked by AI, 40 per cent were homophobic and 32 per cent racist. Infantino said there is no place for any form of discrimination in football and said FIFA would chart a plan for protection of teams, players and officials during the FIFA world cup in November. (“Euros, AFCON players faced racist, homophobic abuse online: Study,” Al Jazeera, 18 June 2022)
About the authors
Dr Sankalp Gurjar is a Research Fellow with the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi. Apoorva Sudhakar is a Project Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.
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NIAS Africa Team
NIAS Africa Team
NIAS Africa Team
Emmanuel Selva Royan