President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a golden opportunity to help contribute to peace and stability in the Great Lakes region and even defeat different rebels groups that have been operating in his country for more than 20 years.
Will he take it?
That will depend on the choices he makes and how he deals with different competing interests from international and regional players─including Rwanda and Uganda─countries that have rebel groups based in his country and fighting their respective countries.
So far, there is evidence to suggest that not only is President Tshisekedi keen to improve relations with his neighbours, but his neighbours are also interested in his presidency─a factor demonstrated by recent meeting with regional heads of state only a few weeks after swearing in as president.
At the moment, Tshisekedi is on a two-day state visit in Rwanda and held talks with President Paul Kagame on Sunday. Earlier in the week, he had met President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. And he also met President Uhuru Kenyatta on February 7, 2019─barely two weeks after swearing in as the first democratically elected president to be handed power peacefully.
While details of these meetings are sketchy, the truth is that the DRC hasn’t been at peace since the arrival of remnants of the genocidal regime from Rwanda in 1994 and the decision by the then President Mubutu to give them a sanctuary to re-launch the armed return to Rwanda to complete the genocide against the Tutsis.
If President Mobutu had disarmed these genocidaires and separated them from genuine refugees, and cooperated with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Rwandan courts, it’s possible that DRC would be peaceful today.
For 25 years, successive DRC presidents have failed to pacify their country─now home to many rebel groups freely killing civilians and in the presence of a UN Peacekeeping forces that has been in the country for 20 years without bringing any semblance of peace despite being the largest and most expensive UN force ever.
Now, President Tshisekedi has a chance to be different and act different to pacify his country.
The best way to do that is to strengthen his military as well as closely collaborate with the international community and regional players─like Rwanda to confront and defeat marauding rebels groups killing his countrymen and women without anyone raising a figure.
Although this isn’t easy─especially that collaborating with Rwanda or any regional country would be criticized by some members of the international community, Tshisekedi, as the president has an obligation and a constitutional duty to secure the territorial integrity of his country. The best way to do it is to prepare to fight and defeat all the rebel groups in his country. This can’t be achieved without the support and collaboration with neighbours that also directly affected.
That commitment to fight and defeat all the rebels should also include intolerance to all rebel groups fighting neighbouring countries and denying them a sanctuary.
For it’s only after the pacification of the DRC that the country can embark on sustainable development and fully exploit its abundant natural resources for the benefit of all its people.