By Haggai Matsiko
Museveni’s diplomatic coup as Kikwete, Kagame meet
South African President Jacob Zuma has a chance to finally deal more directly with other leaders to resolve the decade-old DR Congo conflict, thanks to an unexpected outcome of a heads of state summit hosted by President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala last week.
Optimists buoyed by the successful summit of the heads of state of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) hope the interaction will quell divisions between some of them and South Africa Development Community (SADC) leaders.
The Kampala summit accepted a proposal by the (SADC) recommendation to hold a joint SADC-ICGLR Summit on the Great Lakes Region. The decision was agreed by SADC at its Aug.18 heads of state summit in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe.
A joint SADC-ICGLR Summit will give Zuma a chance to finally deal more directly with ICGLR leaders like Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. President Zuma has been the missing link during direct talks on the DR Congo conflict between regional leaders.
The sharp divisions between some SADC and ICGLR leaders were obvious going into the 7th Extra-ordinary Heads of State of the ICGLR Summit in Kampala on Sept.5 as a stand-off between President Paul Kagame and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete threatened to scuttle any meaningful discussions. Insiders told The Independent that they feared the fall-out was at the cusp of causing a regional war.
A lot was at stake. The tension between Rwanda and Tanzania had effectively divided the ICGLR bloc and the East African Community (EAC) into two camps and Rwanda was amassing troops on its border with DR Congo in readiness for war.
President Museveni, who chairs the 11-member ICGLR, was seen to be in camp with Kagame and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta who was not at the Munyonyo summit. Kikwete, although outflanked in the EAC, was seen to have Kabila is his corner.
Their camp also had the support of the SADC to which Tanzania is a member while Kinshasa enjoys cordial relationships with Angola, an ICGLR member, and South Africa. Indeed, it is SADC members; South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, that recommended and deployed a 3,000-strong UN Intervention Brigade in the DR Congo.
The divisions were darkly similar to March last year, when Presidents Kabila, Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola and Jacob Zuma, met in Luanda and agreed to send forces into DR Congo on the government side.
During that meeting, Zuma, who had bought into the claim that the M23 rebels fighting Kabila are a disguised hand of Rwanda, proposed that SADC moves its forces to fight on the side of the DR Congo government.
It is alleged that Zuma has commercial interests in DR Congo through his nephew, Khulubuse Zuma and his lawyer, Michael Hulley. The Independent could not independently verify those claims. However, the South African state oil company, PetroSA, has commercial oil interests in the DR Congo in the area where the M23 rebels operate.
Angola’s Dos Santos was possibly aware of this when he opposed Zuma on SADC deploying forces in DR Congo. Dos Santos reportedly told their meeting that the problem of DRC is more than Rwanda and M23 and involved internal issues.
“Comrades,” Dos Santos reportedly told his colleagues, “even us [Angola] have many problems emanating from DRC. Many guns are being trafficked from DRC into our country. Criminals and potential terrorists are crossing as well. So it would be wrong to say that the M23 problem is caused by Rwanda. Kigali may have contributed to it but it is not the source of the problem. The root cause is the inability of Kinshasa to govern most of its territory.”
Dos Santos advised that rather than send forces to fight rebels inside DRC, SADC should help Kinshasa find a negotiated settlement with them – “in order to achieve internal social integration.”
However, SADC went ahead to recommend deployment of troops inside DRC to fight “wrong elements” and South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi are the contributors to this force. This upset Rwanda.
Kagame is also unhappy that Zuma hosts Rwandan dissident generals – Kayumba Nyamwasa and Patrick Kalegyeya – and Kikwete is close to Kalegyeya.
The problem for the host, President Yoweri Museveni, was that the rift between Kagame and Kikwete was not on the agenda of the summit called to de-escalate tension in the eastern DR Congo region of Kivu. The tension had escalated since mid-August when a newly-deployed UN Intervention force launched an offensive in support of government forces battling the rebel M23 forces.
Just days before the Kampala meeting, a Tanzanian officer on the UN force had been killed at the frontline, further escalating tension between Rwanda and Tanzania. The situation was made worse by the recent expulsion of suspected Rwandan illegal immigrants by Tanzania. As Kagame travelled to Kampala, his country was still grappling with the influx of the alleged immigrants. Their expulsion was interpreted as a pointer to Tanzania’s gung-ho attitude.
As the tension bubbled below the surface, the man who should have been in the eye of the storm; the DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, appeared instead to have been pushed to the side-lines.
He was no longer the man on the ledge and appeared to enjoy it.
Indeed, at the summit, Kabila looked different from the man that rushed to Uganda last November to seek help against M23 rebels, who the following day seized Goma—DR Congo’s strategic capital of North Kivu.
This time, Kabila appeared more relaxed and could be seen freely sharing jokes with a clique of his close confidants as they strolled through the lush gardens of Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo from the Commonwealth Hall to Victoria Hall to join other presidents. The other presidents travelled by car for the distance of a few metres.
Museveni had his own problems with Kabila. A few weeks to the summit, Kabila had expelled from its territory a top Ugandan army officer who had been posted there as part of a regional UN-backed effort to police the peace between Kinshasa and its myriad rebel armies. Gen. Geoffrey Muheesi had been the chairman of the region-appointed Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) charged with monitoring any breach of the peace.
Although some observers expected the Gen. Muheesi issue to create tension, President Museveni appears to have deliberately downplayed it. Museveni also downplayed another Kabila problem he was grappling with – the humanitarian crisis caused by over 60,000 Congolese fleeing fighting around the north Kivu city of Goma and crossing into Uganda.
Part of the reason for Museveni’s caution could have been his main concern to ensure that the summit ended with a communiqué detailing tangible steps to ease the fighting there. This involved ensuring that all major players there – Kabila, Kagame and M23 – felt they had emerged winners from the summit.
Sources told The Independent that although he favoured it, Museveni could also not initiate talks between Kagame and Kikwete. He was encumbered because, in his role as chair of the summit, it was diplomatically untenable for him to arrange the meeting although sources said he mooted the idea to Kikwete while at a Japanese conference in June.
In Kampala, Museveni as host instead met each of the presidents individually. First he met with Kabila, then Kagame and then Kikwete, who arrived last at about 11:00 am on Sept.05. The Independent has not established what was discussed but such meetings are a diplomatic ritual.
Meanwhile, officials from Tanzania and Uganda were frantically working behind the scenes to ensure that Kagame and Kikwete had a tête-à-tête.
Fortunately, Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister, Louis Mushikiwabo had hinted at the possibility of them meeting at the Summit. Kikwete had also briefed his cabinet about it. A sticking point was that although Tanzania’s Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda had told his parliament that President Kikwete had contacted Museveni to mediate for relations to normalise with Rwanda, Dar es Salaam later said that Kikwete had not made such a move.
It emerged that indeed Kikwete had not reached out to Museveni. It was Museveni, who had suggested the talks. Setting the record straight was important for Kikwete because reaching out would have implied that he was the only one responsible for the diplomatic impasse. Yet, he and several in Tanzania were also faulting Rwanda.
So a day before the two presidents met, the atmosphere at the venue remained tense after Tanzania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Bernard Membe, told reporters that the two rebels groups in DR Congo – the M23 and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – were Rwandan “problems exported into DR Congo”.
As security chiefs of the various states compiled recommendations on how to address the DR Congo crisis, Kabila’s security officials also refused to join a ceasefire and insisted that M23 “end all military activities” for the Kampala talks to restart.
Despite these set-backs, the forces behind the talks could not afford to give up. They managed to calm down Membe and got him to work hard on restoring the confidence into the talks. Mushikiwabo, sources said, was very supportive of the efforts behind the meeting.
Arrangement for the talks went a notch higher when feelers from both the Kikwete and Kagame entourage indicated they were willing to engage.
There was one hurdle still. In diplomacy in such situations during summits, one head of state often invites the other to their hotel or suite. Usually, sending out such an invitation is an indication of acknowledgement of desire to correct a wrong. In this case, Kagame and Kikwete each expected the other to make the first move.
To overcome that, their different delegations agreed on what would be the turning point; getting a neutral venue with the organisers as hosts. But even after a neutral presidential suite was procured, President Kagame suggested that Museveni joins them. Kikwete insisted that it wasn’t necessary. In the end, the two presidents met alone and spoke for less than an hour.
After the talks, one of their handlers told The Independent in separate interviews that the distrust between Kagame and Kikwete appeared to have dissipated.
“All signs are promising,” the official said, “both Presidents have exhibited extraordinary flexibility and understanding.”
Other sources close to the talks say the presidents talked about Kikwete’s remarks in Addis, Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23, the shelling of Rwanda by DR Congo elements, and alleged cordiality between some FDLR elements and the DR Congo army.
“Each one of them had misgivings before the meeting but they found each other very cordial, willing to listen and explain a few things,” sources told The Independent, “the Presidents exhibited extreme leadership maturity, they were able to immediately reach an understanding on almost all the issues they discussed.”
Following the meeting, in his debrief to his officials, Kagame said that he had found Kikwete calm, flexible and willing to listen. Kikwete also told his officials that he found Kagame ready to discuss the issues in similar fashion.
Going into the meeting, Kagame was upset that Kikwete had suggested that Rwanda talks to the FDLR in the same way that Kabila was being asked to talk to M23.
During the meeting, Kigali’s labeling of Kikwete as an ‘FDLR sympathiser’ came up. Apparently, sources say, officials in Kigali had picked on a 2005 U.S. leaked cable that indicated that Kikwete’s wife was a cousin to the late president of Rwanda Juvénal Habyarimana, to suggest that Kikwete had a soft spot for the FDLR. Kikwete, during the meeting, sought to correct the record. He reportedly told Kagame that he had never had any contact with FDLR.
He also reportedly told Kagame that he suggested talks between Kigali and the FDLR in Addis as advice to a colleague. Sources say, if this was the case Kagame, felt that Kikwete should have at least reached him by phone and not told the whole world at a summit. To this, Kikwete told Kagame that at the time he did not think about it that way.
Kagame explained that it was impossible for Rwanda to talk to the FDLR because, unlike the M23, which is a breakaway force from the DR Congo army, the FDLR are a group linked to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide.
He suggested that the FDLR is outlawed by the international community and Kigali could not talk to such a group. Although most of the actual participants in the genocide could be either dead or too old to fight, the current crop of FDLR are the successors of its anti-Tutsi agenda.
Kagame reportedly told Kikwete that Rwanda has internal mechanisms for those who denounce the anti-Tutsi agenda to return home, get rehabilitated, and integrate into society and the government even in top positions.
Brig. Gen. Jerome Ngendahimana, is an ex-FDLR commander who now heads the country’s Reserve Force, while Gen. Paul Rwarakabije, another former commander of FDLR, is now the Commissioner of Prisons. Many returnees are re-integrated into the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF).
These ex-rebels returned to Rwanda only ten years ago. In total, reports indicate that over 45,000 ex-FDLR and thousands of other ex-combatants belonging to different groups, together with their families, have returned to Rwanda in the past two decades. Most of these have been assisted financially to successfully resettle back into their communities.
Kikwete reportedly accepted Kagame’s explanation that it would not be prudent to bring FDLR to the table as Kigali’s equals, as that would legitimise them.
When the meeting ended, the organizers said it was very successful. Kagame’s press team tweeted photos of the meeting and the following morning it made headlines in Dar es Salaam.
After the meeting, which organizers described as very successful, Kagame’s press team tweeted photos of the meeting that made headlines in both countries and entire region. All the presidents went for lunch and met with all the representatives to agree and sign off recommendations on how to address the DR Congo crisis.