To the excitement of many East Africans, Presidents Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda met in Angola’s capital Luanda last Friday and agreed to continue talking about how to resolve their differences, and give their citizens the peace they deserve to continue doing business with each other.
The two presidents met at the invitation of, and under the auspices of Angola’s President João Lourenço and DR Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi.
After the meeting, a joint communique was issued saying that while Kagame and Museveni had agreed to “continued dialogue”, their hosts thanked them for expressing “political will” to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Interestingly, the communique added: “In this regard, the Summit charged the Republic of Angola with assistance from [the] Democratic Republic of Congo to facilitate this process.”
The question many are now asking is whether Presidents Lourenço of Angola and Tshisekedi of DRC are capable of successfully mediating the conflict between the two countries, or between Kagame and Museveni.
This question is based on the fact that both Lourenço and Tshisekedi aren’t only new entrants in the “presidential club” but both seem to lack the clout and experience to “compel” the two experienced protagonists to commit to peace.
Plus, some ask, how can Tshisekedi who hasn’t yet stamped his authority on his own government, and is presiding over a country infested with rebel groups numbering in their tens, mediate between two military Generals who have been fighting different wars and leading their countries for decades?
So, we also ask: are presidents Lourenço and Tshisekedi capable of getting Presidents Kagame and Museveni to re-embrace peace and abandon the path of conflict for the good of their countries and regional integration?
The short answer is NO!
The long answer is that for any mediator to get Museveni and Kagame to abandon the conflict, he or she must have a peacemaking toolbox with disinvites to continued conflict higher than incentives, and the cost of continued conflict higher on the two principal protagonists.
Before we explain further, let me state that this particular meeting didn’t come as a surprise especially coming after the tripartite meeting of May 31, 2019 where Rwanda, DRC and Angola committed to defeat all rebel based in the DRC.
Analytically, we could even say that the move from the “tripartite summit” to the “quadripartite Summit” is well intended and Pan-African in nature – intended to get “Africans to solve their own problems”, as the mantra goes.
What surprised therefore was the announced mediator/s.
And the reason Presidents Lourenço and Tshisekedi surprised as mediators or might not succeed in getting Kagame and Museveni to hug for peace isn’t their assumed lack of clout to seat-down the two Generals nor is it based on the fact that, currently, there is no framework under which the two will mediate the conflict.
It’s not even due to the fact that neither the African Union nor the United Nations is bankrolling this process. That can be secured.
The major problem is that historically, for peacemaking between countries to bear fruits, not only must the process be led by credible, neutral and well respected mediators but must also have, in their back-pocket, incentives that will compel protagonists to embrace peace or face the consequences of doing otherwise.
Traditionally, such consequences have included sanctions of different types─including being “scolded” by peers, economic sanctions, withholding or cutting aid, etc.
At the moment, it’s unclear what Lourenco and Tshisekedi would do if Presidents Kagame and Museveni didn’t sue for peace or do as requested.
And as experience shows, where they have attempted mediation in the recent past─like in Burundi─Africa’s leaders have not only shown themselves to have limited determination to speak truth to their own, but lack the spine to sanction those who reject the cause for peace.
In addition, protagonists in the Rwanda and Uganda standoff have defined the conflict differently and sought to deal with it differently.
For example, while President Museveni has claimed there is “No fundamental problem” between his country and Rwanda, President Kagame has forcefully said a major problem exists and proactively pushed for its resolution.
To President Kagame, the problem is Uganda’s support for Rwandan dissidents and armed groups like “P5” of Kayumba Nyamwasa; economic sabotage and harassing Rwandans in Uganda.
But President Museveni denies he supports any rebel groups or economic sabotage and perceives the harassment of Rwandans in Uganda as a “small matter” that is “being handled” by the two countries, according to the Letter he sent to president Kagame in March 2019.
Telling, Museveni hasn’t named a single issue he has against Rwanda despite claims by some of his officials that the latter sends spies to destabilize their country.
So, how will mediators mediate a conflict one party says exists and the other says doesn’t?
It seems then, that, unfortunately, and despite the desire for “Africans to find solutions to their problems”, this conflict can only be resolved if donors intervene─since both countries normally fear sanctions and losing aid from Europeans and Americans, as experience shows!
That’s how the two countries made peace after their armies crushed in the DRC’s City of Kisangani in 2000s─it was the UK’s intervention that “forced” peace!
Unfortunately, donors rarely intervene where the conflict is still “cold”!
In many ways therefore, the continued conflict between the two countries and failure to resolve this unnecessary standoff, illustrate unfinished liberation─liberation from the mindset of wishing to control others and low belief in Africans solving their problems─despite the rhetoric.