DRC: Raw Material Diplomacy

The DRC and Rwanda signed three agreements on bilateral cooperation, including a memorandum on gold mining cooperation, that mark the beginning of good neighborly relations after two decades of conflict that led to the loss of millions of lives. For years, Rwanda has been accused of invading, destabilizing, and looting Congo’s mineral and natural resources, such as gold and coltan. Since the new Congolese President took office in 2019, the Congo’s relations with Rwanda have changed significantly. The DRC’s President is attempting to turn the page on rocky relations with Rwanda by applying raw material diplomacy. He hopes to bring peace and fraternal economic exchanges between the two countries. Despite this, the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) continue to violate the sovereignty of eastern DRC territory. On October 18th, just a month after the two countries signed the agreements, an unknown number of Rwanda soldiers temporarily took control of six villages, looted villagers’ properties, and withdrew on their terms.

Based on the Kivu Security Tracker, eastern DRC continues to experience violence perpetrated by more than 100 active armed groups, including the RDF. For decades, Rwanda has continued to face allegations of interference in the DRC by supporting armed groups in the eastern part of the country. On the October 18th incident, according to the press statement of the North Kivu Civil Society, the RDF temporarily took control of six villages in Nyiragongo territory, looted properties, and withdrew on their terms. Each year, A UN Panel of Experts reports mentions Rwanda’s interference in the DRC. Notably, the latest report submitted to UN Security Council on December 23 revealed that the RDF was operating in Nyiragongo territory, violating the Rwanda-DRC border. The presence of the RDF in Nyiragongo territory during the last incursion has also been confirmed by the Congolese Armed forces (FARDC), researchers on the ground, and Rwanda’s Ambassador in DRC. Faced with critics and horrific scenes of displaced population, the Rwandan Ambassador to the DRC, Vincent Karega, contented to minimize the incident, admitting that it resulted from the ignorance of the border limits by the RDF soldiers.

According to the International Crisis Group, it has become increasingly common for critics of Rwanda’s interventionism to identify the continued violations of the DRC territory as a desire to access its mineral resources. As raw material diplomacy fails to produce the intended result, the Congolese President must change his approach. President Tshisekedi’s approach of turning the page without a reconciliation mechanism, or a sense of transitional justice, will continue to thwart attempts at all reestablishing cooperation with Rwanda.

Thus, for the two countries to make peace, the Congolese president must address what happened in the past before implementing raw material diplomacy. According to the BBC, 1996, Rwanda’s troops invaded the eastern DRC to root out the perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide as they were posing a continued threat to the Rwanda government. Since then, as indicated in the Crisis Group report, Rwanda’s military has been continuously involved in DRC through the deployment of its army and clandestine support of the Tutsi rebel groups. As of today, the UN experts report suggests that these patterns continue to persist even under Tshisekedi’s administration, despite Kagame’s denials.

In short, the framework of the three agreements signed between Rwanda and the DRC did not address or engage the two countries in any relational aspects of reconciliation: the central component of peace-building. Jumping to trade cooperation or applying a quick solution to a quarter-century conflict does not have much chance to change eastern DRC’s condition in any significant way. Hence, whatever the approach taken by the Congolese President, diplomacy or fraternal, the road to peace is not a distinctive engagement. Regardless of the hope and determination of the DRC, realization of regional peace requires reconciliation and a commitment from Rwanda as well.