Although neither Presidents Paul Kagame nor Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) revealed what they discussed and agreed in their private meeting, we can report that Tshisekedi brought a message of peace, cooperation and collaboration.
This conclusion is discernible in what he said at the two-day Africa CEO Forum held last week in Kigali.
Appearing at the same podium with his host at the event, President Tshisekedi told his audience: “Our countries will be neighbors forever, as leaders, we are here temporarily but our countries will always be there”
Therefore, he went on: “Conflict with each other is a waste of time, time that could be used to build our countries”.
Indeed, a lot of time has been wasted fighting with colossal consequences─where, in Tshisekedi’s country, not only an estimated 5m civilians have been killed, but the government hasn’t been able to fully control the whole country since 1996 when war broke out.
Besides, conceiving war as folly and pitching for “building bridges”, DR Congo’s first President to be handed power peacefully also told his audience what he thinks of President Kagame and why he intends to work with him.
Of Kagame, Tshisekendi stated: “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”.
Clearly, this is a message of peace, reconciliation and pitching for cooperation and collaboration to solve problems rather than war and confrontation.
Will President Tshisekedi walk the talk and, like Kagame, turn “towards development”?
For its one thing to have noble intentions and aspirations and quite another to marshal the required political will, organizational acumen, discipline and strong leadership resolve to deal with obstacles that would stand in the way of achieving the desired end state.
And if there is any country that needs tough leadership to deal with touch challenges, it’s the DR Congo.
If Tshisekedi is to walk the talk, he will need to boldly confront the unfriendly internal and external environment that has made his country nearly ungovernable and a ‘failed state’─due to government’s lack of control over the whole territory of the country known as the DRC.
So what are the internal and external challenges Tshisekedi will have to confront to meaningfully contribute to peace in the region and secure the territorial integrity of his long bleeding country?
Internally, Tshisekedi faces five critical challenges, and externally, three.
Internally, the critical challenge is how to deal with and defeat over 120 rebel groups prevalent in North and South Kivu Provinces, according to some estimates.
The second problem is limited political legitimacy and support due to the questionable manner of his election, and lack of control over the legislative arm of government.
The third problem is institutional weaknesses and structural impossibilities─like lack of roads and the sheer size of the disunited country. The fourth is widespread corruption and organizational weakness.
Externally, there are many neighbors and foreign players with competing interests as well as an international community that has largely specialized in making reports whose recommendations are never implemented or implemented selectively─like the vigour with which M23 rebels were fought and defeated but others─like FDLR left to roam the country.
Thus, to walk the talk, Tshisekedi will have to effectively deal with the competing external interests, spoilers and numerous rebel groups─some of which are organizing to fight neighbouring countries─like FDLR and “P5” fighting Rwanda and ADF fighting Uganda.
To do that, Tshisekedi will have to establish an internal political consensus to support his agenda.
At the moment, there is indication he is trying to do that by forming a governing coalition with his predecessor but it won’t be easy especially that he is operating from a very weak political position with his own coalition having a minority in both houses of parliament.
As The Chronicles reported on March 6, Kabila and his successor, Felix Tshisekedi announced that they had formed a “coalition government” to reflect the “will of the people”. This happened because “FCC [Kabila’s party] holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly”.
Interestingly, the statement from the two unlikely allies added that “their common will to govern together as part of a coalition government”.
This state of affairs, which severely limits Tshisekedi’s political hand is because his Union for Democracy and Social Progress party has only 32 parliamentary while Kabila’s Common Front for Cong has 337 MPs out of 485, and has over two-thirds of senators in the 100-member Senate.
That means that to succeed, Tshisekedi will need the support of his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, who, as things stand, seem to be like a “co-president”!
For without internal political consensus, support and determination to do what it takes to fight and defeat all the rebels regardless of what external actors think, there is no way Tshisekedi will secure the territorial integrity of his country or deal with external spoilers nor unite his country around a common development agenda.
Externally, he will have to deal with a numbers of actors who have overlapping interests.
And as Tshisekedi recognized while in Kigali, the first major external actors are the neighbours. These include those that already have rebels fighting their governments with bases in the DRC.
As I have written elsewhere, the key neighbours Tshisekedi will have to strike deals with include Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, the Central African Republic, Burundi and South Sudan; among others.
Striking workable deals with these neighbours won’t be easy; especially that some─like Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are already at loggerheads and would probably prefer Tshisekedi to see regional security using their own opposed lenses.
Besides regional players, to succeed, Tshisekedi will have to resolutely deal with powerful countries’ competing interests and a UN peacekeeping force that, instead of securing peace, has made its stay permanent without keeping any peace.
This is where things get complicated because, due to powerful countries’ and actors’ interests, even securing regional support and security pacts doesn’t advance security because they are interfered with by these actors as we saw in the 2000s.
The trouble with Congo has been that, due to its abundant natural resources, and absence of strong patriotic leadership, each player has been comfortable in the areas they control, and none, including government, has been able and willing to move out of their comfort zone to pacify the country.
Government elites have been comfortable peeling off layers of the country’s wealth while in Kinshasa and other areas they control; just as rebels and merchants of fortune have been mining and milking other areas they control.
To succeed, Tshisekedi and his allies will have to grow an unshakable patriotic spirit and move from their comfort zones and take the war to the rebels, and diplomacy to the world, to explain why they need undivided support to pacify their country.
In that sense then, if, as a friend observed that former President Kabila acted as the “Messi of politics”─in pulling off an unexpected peaceful transfer of power and, at the same time secure his continued role in politics by installing a member of the opposition ‘fable” enough to allow him his leeway regardless of what the world thinks, to succeed, Tshisekedi will have to act like the “Ronald of Politics” and act in the interests of his country regardless of what the “international community” thinks.