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DR Congo - Foreign Relations

The DRC's large size and strategic location in the center of Africa, as well as its vast mineral wealth, have made the country a key regional player since even before independence. The DRC's relations with its neighbors have often been driven by security concerns, leading to intricate, interlocking, and shifting alliances. The complexities and dangers of these relations were never clearer than in the 1997-2003 period described in the “From Dictatorship to Disintegration” section above. In addition, internal conflicts in Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda have at various times created bilateral and regional tensions.

Through the mid-1980s, Mobutu had characterized Zaire as surrounded by a "red belt" of radical states supported by the Soviet Union and Libya. Except for Angola, however, these countries lacked either the motivation or the militarily means to threaten Zaire seriously. In the early 1990s, Zaire's relations with even its most hostile neighbors had improved. As a consequence, Zaire did not face any serious external threats, although border flare-ups, cross-border smuggling, refugees, and mutual support of insurgent groups have caused strains between Zaire and many of its neighbors. Militarily, the most serious strains occurred in Zaire's relations with Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola.

The DRC's relations with its neighbours were very poor between 1994 and 2005, particularly with Rwanda and Uganda. This was due to allegations of Congolese support for Rwandan and Ugandan rebel groups based on Congolese territory and to Rwandan and Ugandan military interventions into the DRC in 1996 and 1998.

Angola presented the gravest potential threat to Zaire's national security. This threat has its roots in the support each country gave to the other's insurgent groups. Zaire supported the Angolan insurgent group, the FNLA, against the communist-backed MPLA, and after the FNLA's demise, Kinshasa transferred its support to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola—UNITA). Angola, on the other hand, supported the FLNC and its invasions of Zaire's Shaba Region in 1977 and 1978. Zaire's concern was based on the size and strength of Angola's armed forces. Angola had the largest military (more than 100,000 personnel) of all of Zaire's neighbors. Its services were also the best equipped, possessing large quantities of sophisticated Soviet weapons.

Uganda and Rwanda helped Laurent Kabila come to power in 1997 and the two neighbouring countries have considerable economic interests in the resource-rich but poorly administered DR Congo.

There have been improvements in regional tensions in recent years. In mid-to-late 2002 the DRC signed peace agreements with both Rwanda and Uganda, after which both countries withdrew their troops from the Congo. The US led Tripartite Commission between the Great Lakes countries also aims to resolve regional peace and security issues by fostering dialogue between regional governments. This has led to some normalisation in relations between the DRC and both Uganda and Rwanda, though tensions remain, largely due to the continued presence of rebel groups on DRC territory. The DRC’s relations with its other neighbours, particularly Angola, are generally cordial.

The EU and member states imposed an arms embargo on the DRC (then Zaire) by means of Declaration of 7 April 1993 and adopted Council Regulation (EC) No 1727/2003 on 29 September 2003. The United Nations imposed an arms embargo in July 2003 – Security Council Resolution 1493 (2003), extended by SC Resolution 1552 (2004), 1596 (2005), 1649 (2005) and 1698 (2006). No licences will be issued for the export to the DRC of goods and technology on the Military List which forms Part II of the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1994, as amended. UN sanctions (UNSCRs 918, 997 and 1011) also impose restrictions on the sale or supply of arms and related material to persons in States neighbouring Rwanda, including DRC, when the goods in question were intended for use in Rwanda.

The DRC Government has signed agreements with its neighbors to improve the security of the DRC and the wider region. In October 2004, with significant U.S. involvement and facilitation, the DRC joined with Rwanda and Uganda in signing a Great Lakes regional security agreement that established a “Tripartite Commission” to address issues peacefully rather than militarily. (Burundi joined a year later and the expanded agreement is now known as “Tripartite Plus.”) In September 2007, the DRC and Uganda signed the so-called “Ngurdoto Agreement” committing to strong bilateral efforts to eliminate all illegal armed groups operating in and between the two countries.

In November 2007, with significant assistance from the UN, United States, and European Union, the DRC reached a similar agreement with Rwanda. Known as the “Nairobi Communique,” this accord was designed to lay the groundwork for DRC-Rwandan cooperation to disarm, demobilize, reintegrate and/or repatriate all foreign armed groups operating in the DRC, particularly the ex-FAR/Interahamwe (later the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR).

Following up on enhanced military cooperation with Rwanda and Uganda, the DRC re-established full diplomatic relations with Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda in 2009. President Kabila held bilateral talks with Rwandan President Kagame in January 2009, August 2009, and September 2010. The 2009 meetings were the first heads-of-state meetings between the DRC and Rwanda in over 10 years. Relations with Angola had been tense, but a recent visit by President Kabila has eased tensions and given hopes of a lasting rapprochement. The DRC also established diplomatic relations with its newest neighbor, the Republic of South Sudan, after the latter gained its independence on July 9, 2011.

The term "balkanization" has its own special meaning in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it refers to a conspiracy theory that foreign interests seek to divide the DRC into smaller client states in order to facilitate access to the country's vast mineral reserves. Many prominent Congolese are quick to assert that United States is among the foreign powers poised to "balkanize" the DRC, just as many Congolese appear to believe that the U.S. favors alleged Rwandan designs vis-a-vis the DRC. It is not clear how broad-based such views are or if they result primarily from government manipulation of public opinion. Many blame the conflict that killed millions of Congolese between 1997 and 2003 on the Rwandans, with support from the USG, turning the DRC into a vassal state of Rwanda, which it is claimed it remains today. They see efforts to integrate former rebels into the FARDC as a plot for Rwandan take-over of the Congolese military.

While radical intellectuals express a hardline version, moderate variations of the theory are regularly articulated by the pro-government press, political figures, and private citizens. Some Congolese suspect, to one degree or another, that USG assistance (and all international aid, for that matter) is provided in order to weaken the country and advance private business interests. This view is particularly prevalent in the Kivus, as audiences continue to believe US interests supported Rwanda's alleged efforts to annex the Kivus and monopolize the region's resources.

When a UN-sponsored study questioned the estimate of 5.4 million Congolese dead from recent conflicts, an association of Congolese civil society groups accused unnamed "Western nations" of using the study to downplay "their responsibility in the DRC massacres."





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Page last modified: 05-03-2019 18:36:12 ZULU