Kagame, Tshisekedi exchange hot words as America issues sternest warning to Kigali

DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi (left) and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame at a past event. PHOTO | PSU

The Congolese President has upped the ante in the belligerent rhetoric with Kigali, telling his citizens to treat Rwandans as “our brothers and sisters” but regarding “the regime headed by President Paul Kagame … an enemy”.

In an address to 250 youth delegates from across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), President Felix Tshisekedi, speaking at the presidential palace in Kinshasa on Saturday last week, said:  “It’s pointless to see Rwandans as enemies. It’s the Rwandan regime headed by Paul Kagame, which is an enemy to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwandans are our brothers and sisters. In fact, they need our help to liberate themselves. It has nothing to do with what their leader has imposed on them.”

The verbal onslaught, the harshest from Kinshasa, follows President Kagame’s stern warning last week that Rwanda would invade DRC if Congo shelled its territory again.

“This year’s first half and mid, you remember what went on – the bombings that took place, being fired across [from DRC] with heavy artillery in that place. That is very attractive for us to cross the border. There is no doubt about it,” he said last Wednesday in Kigali during the swearing-in ceremony for Rwanda’s new Health minister.

In May, artillery fired by the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (Fardc), as Congo’s military is formally called, fell on Rwandan territory in an incident that Kinshasa described as accidental.

In the Wednesday address, President Kagame, who has said his country does not support M23 rebels as alleged by Tshisekedi’s government, said Congo had spurned attempts to work together to sort out subversive elements.

“Little did I know that they wanted to preserve them,” he said in reference to the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda or FDLR, a genocidaire group hibernating in DRC’s South Kivu province.

Mr Kagame also said the Congolese leader did not win the presidential elections and he was using the insecurity in eastern DRC to blackmail Rwanda so that he could postpone next year’s vote.

In a rejoinder three days later, President Tshisekedi slammed the Kigali leadership as “retrograde … proud to be specialists of war”.

“In their shoes”, he told the youth in Kinshasa, “I would hide myself. I would be ashamed. It is shameful, even diabolical to sow death and desolation.”

Rwanda had by yesterday not formally responded to the sabre-rattling, but Mr Kagame mid-last week laughed off President Tshisekedi’s claims to a Western media outlet that he wouldn’t rule out war with Rwanda.

War, the Rwandan leader said, was more costly and a better way out is for Congo to make peace with the eastern neighbour.

He, however, drew a redline, warning that any additional shelling of Rwandan territory would be an invitation for Rwanda’s Defence Forces to march into Congo, an incursion likely to resurrect memories of the 1996-2003 multi-nation war in Zaire, as Congo was then called, after Rwandan and Ugandan militaries invaded it to oust Mobutu Sese Seko before turning guns on each other.

“I told the president of Congo [that] while initially I was seeking an invitation to work with them to deal with the problem. [But now] actually firing artillery across the border into our territory is a sufficient invitation. That statement still stands if there is ever any [repeat of territorial violation],” President Kagame said.


The East African Community is deploying a regional force led by Kenya to eastern Congo to stop M23 rebels from advancing deep into DRC, or capturing the regional capital of Goma, and also to obliterate other rebel and militia groups.

The rebels, which both the Congolese government and the international community alleges are backed by Rwanda, have made blistering battlefield gains over the past couple of months. Kigali said it is not behind the insurgency, advising its Kinshasa counterparts to talk to M23 to end the mayhem in which hundreds of ordinary Congolese citizens have been killed and thousands displaced.

President Kagame compared the situation between DRC and Rwanda to a banana plantation where farmers cut leaves of the short plantation because it is reachable, but leave those of a tall one that are high up.

“Some people think we are short stems because of our geography. We are a small country with no resources, no minerals etc. Others have many things that we don’t,” he said, “But they are so mistaken in our shortness. We have no means, but we have ways and we are so strong. They have no idea. Actually, they can’t comprehend how strong we are.”

The volley of verbal artillery has caught the attention of world leaders, including that of President Joe Biden’s administration across the Atlantic.

In a statement issued yesterday, the United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he discussed the importance of of peace and stability in eastern DRC with President Kagame and “made clear that any external support to non-state armed groups in the DRC must end, including Rwanda’s assistance to M23,  an armed group that has been designated by the United States and the United Nations”.

In the transcript of the conversation made available by Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price, Mr Blinken condemned the nascent hate speech and its dangerous potential and shared his deep concern about the killings and displacement of Congolese during the spreading insecurity.

Washington tasked the parties to make “concrete” progress on commitments made during, among others, the November 23 Luanda Mini-Summit on Peace and Security in Angola, and expressed its support for mediation efforts championed by President João Manuel Lourenço and former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on behalf of the East African Community.

By Andrew Bagala

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