DR Congo’s President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi has dismissed claims of a purported plan to balkanise his country as a “distraction”.
He was addressing a gathering of Congolese Diaspora community in the United Kingdom on Sunday.
Balkanisation is the process of division of a region or country into smaller parts.
The Congolese leader was in London for UK-Africa Investment Summit that took place on Monday.
Tshisekedi’s remarks follow allegations, by among others, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, Archbishop of Kinshasa, who recently said that the climate in the east of the neighbouring country – characterised by insecurity – was fueled by a desire and goal “to balkanise our country.”
But President Tshisekedi dismissed these claims, saying they are “a distraction”.
“I want to solemnly swear to you that as long as I am the President, no single square centimetre of this country will be yielded to anyone whatsoever,” he said.
He added: “this subject of balkanisation is a distraction. We fought in the opposition to establish democracy and to ensure that the Congolese regain their rights. No, no and no; this Congo that I lead will never be balkanised.”
Claims of a ploy to balkanise the Congo have largely been peddled by members of the country’s opposition and Catholic clerics, which observers have blamed on an attempt to under the new president and fuel resentment against regional countries.
The sensational claims surfaced in the wake of successive battlefield victories by the Congolese army, FARDC, against a myriad of militia groups in eastern DR Congo – some from neighbouring countries, including Rwanda – some of which had occupied swathes of territories for decades.
Tshisekedi has vowed to deal with the problem of insecurity in his country, especially in the east where militias have wreaked havoc.
For about a year now, Congolese army has sustained offensive against Rwandan and other armed groups in the east – many, including senior commanders, losing their lives in the process, while hundreds others have been captured and repatriated.
One of the main armed groups operating in the region is FDLR, an offshoot of extremist groups and army that crossed into DR Congo from Rwanda after executing the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. More than a million people lost their lives in the killings.
Other Rwandan armed groups include RNC and FLN, led by fugitives and exiled politicians namely Kayumba Nyamwasa (South Africa), and Paul Rusesabagina and Faustin Twagiramungu (both in Belgium), respectively.
The latest such repatriations came late last year when the Congolese government handed over to Rwanda hundreds of militia fighters from one of the anti-Kigali terror groups operating from eastern DR Congo.
More than 1,000 children as well as hundreds of women – dependants of the militia fighters – were also repatriated, and are now attending a rehabilitation programme before their reintegration into the community.
Experts have also dismissed claims of attempted “balkanisation” of DR Congo and welcomed Kinshasa’s ongoing operations against negative groups on Congolese territory.
According to Eric Ndushabandi, professor of political science at the University of Rwanda, the issue is bigger than a mere distraction.
The don stressed that Tshisekedi adopted a very realistic approach “based on multilateralism and collaboration” to solving problems.
In political theory, he noted, what is happening in DR Congo is that there is a leader who is doing positive things that were “not expected” by many.
The don said: “People were not expecting such an official stance by President Tshisekedi, for example, on the East African Community and on Rwanda. This is beyond the expectations of people, to have this bilateralism approach.”
Last year, Tshisekedi wrote to the EAC Chairman, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, expressing his country’s wish to be a member of the regional bloc comprising Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania. The application will be considered by regional leaders when they convene for their next Ordinary Summit in the first quarter of this year.
Ndushabandi noted that the Congolese leader knew he could not find a solution to the insecurity in his country’s east without working with neighbouring countries.
“Insecurity in the Kivus was among the top issues in his election campaign. And this [insecurity] has been, for many years, a big issue for many Congolese.”
Ndushabandi, who is also the Director of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), an independent think tank, explained how, for a long time, the theory of scapegoating – the tendency to blame someone else for one’s own problems – has caused more harm than good.
This, he said, has always been used to explain the source of these problems as being external.
Those pushing the balkanisation narrative, he said, come from a tradition of populist politics.
Ndushabandi said: “It is not just a distraction but it is very serious because now, balkanisation can even move from Rwanda, if they don’t find it, to ethnic divisions [in eastern DR Congo] instrumentalised by politicians. The politicians are using public opinion for their own private interests.”Follow https://twitter.com/KarhangaJames