On October 18, 2012, Rwanda was elected to the UN Security Council as one of the 10 non-permanent members. The seat meant that country would be the voice of the African continent in a room where key decisions on matters of world peace and security would be decided for the next two years.
However, either by sheer coincidence or design, the previous day, on October 17, a UN report had been leaked to Reuters news agency detailing how Rwanda was allegedly providing all kinds of support to rebels in DR Congo. Such documents had been published before, but this one was more damning and the timing didn’t help matters.
In the report, the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts claimed that Rwanda’s Defence Minister─at the time, Gen James Kaberebe─was personally relaying military orders to M23 rebel leaders who had been fighting DRC’s army since April of that year.
At the time, Congolese soldiers led by the flamboyant Gen Jean-Bosco Ntaganda had mutinied in the eastern part of the country and were engaged in fierce fighting with DR Congo army known by their acronym FARDC.
The fighting brought to an end what had been a period of quiet between Kigali and Kinshasa. There had been a three-year diplomatic truce between Congo and Rwanda seen as critical to maintaining fragile stability in the region after nearly two decades of conflict.
For all the weeks leading up to the UN General Assembly vote for new Security Council members, the Congolese government headed by President Joseph Kabila had publicly opposed Rwanda’s candidature. On the day of the vote, Congo’s diplomat voted against the country’s candidature.
But there was also something else in the equation: Congo’s usually noisy and extremist political opposition groups had been mobilizing demonstrations against Rwanda, and denouncing its leaders on social media.
However, the man considered by many as the father of the fight for democratization in Congo, Etienne Tshisekedi was nowhere to be seen. Tshisekedi had been carrying the banner of opposition politics against the 32-year Kleptocratic rule of President Mobutu Désire Sese Seko and after it ended in 1997.
On October 19, two days after the UN report was leaked, and a day after Rwanda was elected to the UN Security Council’s high table, Etienne Tshisekedi gave an interview to French broadcaster RFI.
He was asked directly: “Is Rwanda attacking DR Congo?”
He responded: “DRC has not been attacked, DRC has a leadership problem,” adding: “…when a country chooses to conduct itself like a spectacle, anyone treats it the way they like….so there is no other problem, it is a leadership problem. It is to tell you that the country has not been attacked, it is the man who was here, in fact a traitor, who had signed agreements that we did not know …”
In his statement “the man who was here, in fact a traitor”, Tshisekedi was referring to Laurent Désire Kabila who had been assassinated in January 2001.
Following this statement and made worse by others he had made previously, Tshisekedi was labelled all sorts of things. At the time, Congolese bloggers accused him of “protecting his allies” Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi that were “destroying” Congo.
In March 2012, Congolese media reported that Tshisekedi had been scheduled to visit Rwanda secretly but decided to send a delegation.
First forward, and it is December 2018. A long-awaited election is held. And, in contested outcome, Tshisekedi is controversially announced the winner on January 9th, 2019 with 38.57% in what his fellow opposition opponent, Martin Fayulu called an “electoral coup” instigated by outgoing President Joseph Kabila.
The Catholic Church or CENCO claimed that its vote tallies; which were shared with key foreign embassies in Kinshasa, showed that Fayulu had “won” the election.
There were claims that a back-door deal between Kabila junior and Tshisekedi junior supposedly gave the presidency to the latter’s coalition.
Although Tshisekedi’s camp first denied any pact existed with Kabila, emphasizing instead that what existed is a commitment to ensuring a peaceful transition of power; the two leaders have since jointly expressed “their common will to govern together as part of a coalition government”
Before his election, very few gave Tshisekedi the chance to win as most opinion polls showed opposition coalition candidate Martin Fayulu as the likely winner while other observers claimed the vote could be stolen for the incumbent’s selected candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
That aside, three months later, Tshisekedi the son, whose father fought for decades to lead Zaire─now the DR Congo, is at the helm.
When the presence of newly installed Tshisekedi was announced inside the conference hall of the African Union Summit in Ethiopia last month, there was applause from fellow leaders. The international community has gone with the music despite reservations immediately after announcing the electoral outcome in January.
In fact, in his maiden appearance at the AU summit, President Tshesekedi was also elected the second chair of the AU─sharing the same office with South African Cyril Ramaphosa as the first vice chairperson.
After the vote, the next day, a surprise meeting took place. Tshesekedi met with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame in the Ethiopian capital. It seems, perhaps due to some urgent matters, the two leaders could not wait to meet up later.
Since then, there has been a lot of diplomatic love notes exchanged between Kinshasa and Kigali with high-level delegations visiting each other’s capitals. And President Tshisekedi himself arrived Sunday night March 24 in Kigali.
Tshisekedi was received at the Kigali International Airport by Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Richard Sezibera. He immediately headed for meeting with President Kagame.
Before this visit, Tshisekedi’s Director of Cabinet, Vital Kamerhe─a former speaker of Congo’s parliament and ex-ally of Joseph Kabila was in Kigali.
While in Kigali on March 12, Kamerhe met with President Kagame to prepare for his boss’ visit, according to information shared by the President’s office. Kamerhe was a key partner in the coalition that won the election
The meeting was also attended by former Defense Minister Gen James Kabarebe, currently security advisor; Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, head of the National Intelligence and Security Service; and Col (Rtd) Anaclet Kalibata the Director General of External Security at NISS.
While here, Tshisekedi will attend the AFRICA CEO FORUM taking place on March 25-26.
Tshisekedi is expected to use the platform to outline his economic recovery plan to the community of international investors and business leaders,” according to the organisers.
Tshisekedi took over the leadership of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in 2018 after the death of his father in 2017.