In perhaps the first in recent history of the two countries, Rwanda’s President and his DR Congo counterpart today shared a rare public platform seated side-by-side at the just concluded Africa CEO Forum.
The two leaders were fielding and answering questions from business leaders from across the continent.
It was at the closing ceremony of the two-day Forum. The two leaders were invited to the podium this Tuesday evening. The business leaders in the conference room could be seen taking phone pictures – an indication of the excitement the two leaders generating by appearing together on the podium.
Rwanda and DR Congo have been entangled together since the 1994 genocide against Tutsi after tens of thousands of Rwandan civilians, remnants of the genocidal regime and militia crossed to Zaire’s cities and jungles.
The civilian refugees came back, but the men with guns still reside there. This has, in the past prompted Rwanda to cross over and hunt for them and today, still maintains an open eye on the vast neighbor littered with rebel groups of all types.
Congo’s previous leaders Laurent Desire Kabila, and then his son Joseph Kabila─who just handed over power to Tshisekedi, were never given the the kind of reception in Kigali as the current Congolese leader has or they were never comfortable enough in their visit to enjoy it. Laurent Kabila did not come to Rwanda officially as President.
Joseph Kabila came for national events, along with other international guests, or when there was emergency crisis in his country’s eastern parts that needed fixing – and such meetings took place in border towns.
President Tshisekedi for his part, just less than three months in office, and has met Kagame twice. Going by the pleasantries witnessed today at the CEO forum, Tshisekedi got enthusiastic welcome.
Speaking in the Q&A session with Kagame, he addressed the issue of armed groups in his country. In his responses, he used a new language, different from his predecessors who often gave deadlines to finish of the armed groups.
“These groups we see have no ideology, they are businessmen looking to benefit themselves as individuals,” he said in French, adding that there was need for comprehensive demobilization and reintegration program to return them to their communities.
Rwanda is specifically targeted by the so called democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda or FDLR, whose foot soldiers and leaders took part in the genocide in Rwanda.
There is another breakaway faction of the FDLR. And most recently, there is a coalition force calling itself “P5” whose leader is reported to be Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, who lives in South African.
He is also the subject of the current fallout with Uganda.
“Our countries will be neighbors forever, as leaders, we are here temporarily but our countries will always be there,” said Tshisekedi, as he emphasized the need for regional cooperation because it benefits ordinary people.
He added: “Conflict with each other is a waste of time, time that could be used to build our countries.”
“Our strategy is to build bridges, not walls! Making war is a waste of time” added President Felix Tshisekedi amid loud applause from the audience of African business leaders.
On President Kagame, Tshisekedi called him “grand champion of free trade” in recognition of the Rwandan leader’s push for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA).
Asked whether he saw Kagame as a partner, President Tshisekedi said: “Talking to him, I felt sincere willingness to move forward…by looking at what is happening in Rwanda shows he turned towards development, away from unnecessary conflicts”
On his part, Kagame repeated his push against Uganda, saying the issues in Congo have a small part in the current conflict with Uganda.
Kagame said if summits were able to solve anything, the current conflict with Uganda would have been settled long time ago.
“It must come to a point where the family must sit and realistically resolve this issue. Continuing to talk about our problems, we come to a point where the best thing is to cooperate and accept each other”
Without naming names, the Rwandan head of stated added that Uganda’s leaders cannot try to impose their will on Rwandans even if they did not like him as a person.
“To imagine that because you don’t like Kagame you will change him and put someone else, it is impossible,” Kagame said.
“Whether you like me or not, President Kagame is here as President of Rwanda, it is the business of the people of Rwanda. If they want Kagame they will have him and if they don’t they will remove him”, he emphasized.
As both Kagame and his guest Tshisekedi spoke, they received several applauses from the high-level audience.
This year’s Africa CEO Forum brought together four African Heads of State, 700 CEOs, and 1,800 participants from 70 countries.