Hostile Rhetoric Continues Between DRC and Rwanda

What’s Happening

Despite recent public declarations from both Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi of intentions to meet for diplomatic talks, rhetoric from both leaders signals that a potential meeting may still be far off.

The two leaders have agreed to meet together with Angolan President Joao Lourenco, the AU’s envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region and an established mediator for tensions between Rwanda and the DRC.

However, on March 25th President Tshisekedi accused President Kagame’s “regime” of “attacking the DRC,” meanwhile President Kagame denounced what he said was President Tshisekedi’s “primitive” politics, and accused the DRC of “the preaching of hate ideology.”

No date has been set up for the meeting between the two, although it is to take place “soon.”

The Source of Tensions

The source of tensions between Rwanda and the DRC is the conflict within the eastern DRC. The DRC has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, the DRC’s most prominent armed group, whereas Rwanda accuses the DRC of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militant group in the eastern DRC that was formed primarily out of former genocidaires from the 1994 Rwandan genocide that had escaped to the DRC.

Both governments have routinely denied the allegations from the other, however the UN, and several other international entities (namely the US and France) have claimed that both, Rwandan support of the M23 and Congolese support of the FDLR, are true.

The two have held talks before, and agreed to different peace processes in order to diffuse tensions and contribute towards a general peace in the eastern DRC, however these processes have since fallen apart.

As such, over the past several months rhetoric between the two nations has grown increasingly hostile, jointly with the conflict in the eastern DRC that has escalated drastically since mid-January.

A photo of refugees created by the present combat between the DRC’s government and the M23 rebels (Photo from Moses Sawasawa).

When President Tshisekedi was campaigning for re-election in the DRC’s December 20th election, he promised to declare war on Rwanda if re-elected.

“I’ve had enough of invasions and M23 rebels backed by Kigali. If you re-elect me and Rwanda persists … I will request parliament and Congress to authorise a declaration of war. We will march on Kigali. Tell Kagame those days of playing games with Congolese leaders are over” – President Felix Tshisekedi, prior to his victory in the December 20th election

President Tshisekedi has since walked back on these threats, stating he wants to “give peace a chance.”

“The context in which we find ourselves does not allow us to put into practice what I had said. Not because I can’t or don’t want to, but because there are enough initiatives that make observing peace a wiser attitude” -President Tshisekedi, February 22nd, 2024

The conflict in the eastern DRC has again escalated since mid-January after the DRC launched an attack against the M23, breaking a ceasefire that had been established by the US in December, with their new allies of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The attack was aimed at pushing the M23 out of a number of key areas, however has seemingly backfired. The M23 launched waves of counter attacks, and has successfully captured a number of key locations with combat ongoing in several more.

Photo of troops of the Southern African Development Community (Photo from

The M23’s offensive has reportedly been carried out with extensive Rwandan support, with the UN claiming to have spotted a Rwandan surface to air missile system within the M23’s territory after it fired upon a UN observation drone.

The DRC’s Rhetoric

On March 25th, at the tail end of East African Community (EAC) Chairman and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s visit to the nation as a part of a wider regional peace tour, President Tshisekedi again renewed accusations against Rwanda of supporting the M23.

While a joint statement from President’s Kiir and Tshisekedi called for “the urgent relaunch of the Nairobi and Luanda peace processes initiated respectively by the EAC and the AU,” and some DRC authorities welcomed “progress” made in the pursuit of peace processes, President Tshisekedi spoke against President Kagame, faulting him for the tensions between the two nations.

“The crisis with Rwanda has nothing to do with the people. The Rwandan people have not come to invade DRC. It is a regime led by an individual who has become fond of these kinds of crimes. And it is this regime that is attacking the DRC. There is no problem with the people of either country. It is the regime, and as you know, the regime is not eternal. One day it will all come to an end, one way or another, and we will once again be able to live happily together as neighbours” -DRC President Felix Tshisekedi

President Tshisekedi made these comments during a joint press conference with President Kiir.

These statements add to previous statements by Tshisekedi and other DRC officials which have accused Rwanda, and more specifically President Kagame, of destabilizing the region.

Rwanda’s Rhetoric

Also on March 25th in an interview with French newspaper Jeune Afrique, Rwandan President Paul Kagame made a number of statements against both Tshisekedi and the DRC, as well as Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye. He accused President’s Tshisekedi and Ndayishimiye, as well as the ethnic Hutu FDLR (who has been known for attacks against Tutsi civilians), of “primitive” politics based on “ethnic groups.”

“I think of primitivity. We still have politics going on based on ethnic [groups] and this is exactly what brings together Tshisekedi, Ndayishimiye and the FDLR” -President Kagame

Rwanda accused the DRC of fighting alongside the FDLR, including in recent combat against the M23. The FDLR has been one of the M23’s primary enemies since their initial rebellion in 2012. In recent clashes, the M23 successfully captured a number of FDLR strongholds in the North Kivu province.

A photo showing M23 rebels in the DRC town of Kibumba on December 23rd, 2022 (Photo from Moses Sawasawa).

Rwanda has accused the DRC of spreading “hate ideology” after anti-Rwandan sentiment has grown amongst the Congolese populace in recent years.

One of the M23’s claimed reasons for operations is DRC government action against ethnic Tutsi’s in the region, of which the M23 is primarily composed of.

President Kagame again denied the DRC’s allegations of Rwandan support of the M23, which includes accusations of the deployment of Rwandan troops fighting alongside the M23.

“I’m asking those who are accusing Rwanda of being involved in DRC or forces of Rwanda being involved in DRC, I’m asking the same people; why do you think Rwanda would be involved in the DRC? Would it be for fun? Is there fun that would put our forces on the ground in any situation, this time in eastern DRC? And I’m saying this so that they don’t escape the responsibility they have for why Rwandan forces would be in DRC, if the forces were there” -President Kagame

Amidst Rwanda’s denials of support for the M23 has been their claim that the DRC is attempting to use Rwanda as a scapegoat for its inability to solve the security crisis in the eastern DRC on their own. There has been armed conflict in the eastern DRC, primarily the North and South Kivu provinces as well as the Ituri province, for approximately 30 years, of which Rwanda has had routine involvement in (namely, in the first and second Congo wars).

Rwandan Peacekeepers pictured in Mozambique (Photo from Jean Bizimana/Reuters).

President Kagame further denounced any attempt by President Tshisekedi to set preconditions for the meeting between the two, claiming any preconditions would be contrary to peace efforts.

“If you talk about the preconditions, that would suggest that maybe we come up with preconditions as well; I won’t meet president Tshisekedi until he reverses his statements about attacking Rwanda and carrying out regime change in Rwanda, as he has publicly talked about. I would also say, well, unless FDLR is removed from Congo, I’m not going to talk to President Tshisekedi, and so on and on … So, this does not serve the purpose of bringing about peace” -President Kagame

The withdrawal of Rwandan support for the M23, as well as the withdrawal of their troops from the DRC, has been put forward by President Tshisekedi as a potential precondition for meeting with President Kagame.

The Backdrop of Violence

As both nations made statements against the other, clashes continued between the DRC’s military around the town of Sake. Clashes have been ongoing around Sake for almost two months, with clashes beginning there in early February between the M23 and the DRC and SADC defenders.

Sake is of extreme strategic importance as it sits on the last remaining road to Goma that is still held by the DRC. Goma is the provincial capital of North Kivu, and is a city of two million people. The loss of Sake would not only isolate Goma, but also threaten its capture, particularly with Sake sitting only approximately 25km away from Goma.

The M23 has claimed they do not intend to capture Goma, as they did in 2012 and almost did again in 2022, instead only saying they wish to “silence” the DRC’s heavy weaponry that the M23 claims is being used in attacks against civilians.

Congolese soldiers escorting a convoy of Kenyan troops deployed as part of the East African Community Regional Force, in Goma, in eastern Congo, Nov. 16, 2022 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).

The renewed fighting since January has displaced tens of thousands of people, with Goma becoming host to massive internally displaced persons camps. The DRC in total has several million people internally displaced, the overwhelming majority of which from conflicts in the east.

The Path to Peace

Despite hostile rhetoric continuing between the two nations, on March 21st high level officials from both Rwanda and the DRC met in Luanda, Angola, in order to start to pave the path forward to President Tshisekedi and President Kagame’s meeting. Despite this, however, no date has been set for the meeting.

The future meeting is to build on previous peace processes, the Luanda process and the Nairobi process, which were established in 2022. The two processes were parallel peace processes with the primary purpose of the Luanda process to de-escalate tensions between Rwanda and the DRC (which had been threatening to boil over into war with Rwanda accusing the DRC of shelling their territory on several occasions), and the Nairobi process seeking to establish peace processes regarding the DRC’s armed groups.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Angolan President Joao Lourenço during a 2019 meeting (Photo from KTPress).

The processes established a roadmap for co-operation between Rwanda and the DRC and several means to de-escalate tensions, as well as called for armed groups in the eastern DRC, including the M23 and the FDLR, to disarm.

The two processes were the basis for the EAC Regional Force (EACRF) deployment in 2023. The EACRF deployment was meant to oversee the withdrawal of the M23 from a number of different areas according to peace processes established in their roadmaps, as well as for the EACRF to assist the DRC in combatting a number of different armed groups, including the M23 if necessary.

However, the DRC refused to renew the EACRF’s mandate into 2024 as the EACRF took a more passive role than the DRC was hoping for. The EACRF primarily ended up merely occupying areas that the M23 withdrew from rather than directly combatting them as the DRC demanded. The EACRF’s mandate was not renewed, and now the SADC has taken their place.

Similar to the EACRF, the UN’s mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, is on their way out of the country after the DRC demanded they leave by the end of the year  due to the DRC’s claims that the UN has failed to meaningfully assist in ending the conflict in the DRC in the approximately 25 years that they have been there.

Regardless of what is established at the soon to be held peace talks, there are over 120 different armed groups within the eastern DRC, groups which will be difficult to pacify.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.


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