Regional integration is premised on the assumption of the coming together of the nations to attain a common goal through cooperation. Regional economic and political integration allowing the free movement of goods, services, people, and capital between national markets as well as forming federations have been on Africa’s agenda since independence in the 1960s.
Whatever the size of the country, big or small, they need integration because as economists say, isolationism is the enemy of development. The East African Community (EAC), which comprises Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan since 2006, and DRC since 3 April 2022, wants to improve its trade relations.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame said that the entry of DRC into the bloc will boost markets, enable further cooperation and strengthen integration.
“With the accession of the DRC, our community’s population now stands at about 300 million. Our combined GDP will now stand at $250 billion,” President Kenyatta said.
The admission of DRC as a member was widely regarded as the answer to the trade union’s population of about 300 million, but the rebirth of the M23 rebels backed by Rwanda has raised questions about the future of the EAC.
Congolese and President Felix Tshisekedi’s immediate concerns revolve around the reemergence of the M23 rebel movement, which attacked government troops the same week Kinshasa was admitted into the EAC.
Art 6 of the EAC Treaty provides that the fundamental principle of mutual trust, political will, sovereign equality, and peaceful settlement of disputes must govern the community to achieve its goals.
Rwanda, with an area of 26,338 km², is the smallest country in the East African Community but many still see it as an obstacle to many projects because of its attempts to dominate the region through Kagame’s imperialistic policies.
Rwanda’s ongoing wars in the region, especially in eastern DRC (North and South Kivu), and the tensions with Burundi, are major concerns that will continue to weaken the development of the EAC.
Rwanda was accused by neighbor Burundi to have participated in a failed coup d’état in 2015.
Burundi keeps accusing Rwanda of not having taken steps to resume relations when the latter refused to extradite to Burundi those involved in the 2015 coup, including the leader of the operation, General Godfrey Niyombare.
Gen Niyombare, the initiator of a failed putsch in 2015, is still supporting the Burundian rebel group RED TABARA in eastern Congo (Rusizi basin). It has been reported that the group is backed by Rwanda.
The theory and practice of regional integration in the East African Community are unrelated. The borders between Rwanda and Uganda remained closed for 3 years from February 28, 2019, until the beginning of 2022. The borders between Rwanda and Burundi are still closed.
In 2018 during the Ingando program, the political indoctrination every Rwandan must undergo to become” a good citizen”, Kagame’s senior Military adviser and former minister of defense General James Kabarebe expressed his disappointment that Rwandans continue “Guhunahuna” (Scavenging) in neighboring countries.
Guhunahuna is a Kinyarwanda verb used to describe the activity of a dog searching for leftovers.
Kabarebe told Ingando participants that the neighboring countries of DRC, Burundi, and Uganda don’t wish Rwanda well.
“They are always jealous of Rwanda’s future and how well our people are progressing, you keep scavenging there looking for what? build your country instead of scavenging in these countries because they are not better than us”, he said.
‘Kigali accused of fueling troubles in the region. As a result, Uganda’s and Burundi’s trade with Rwanda has shrunken down to a trickle due to political hostility between the three EAC states.
For instance, the heads of state as a supreme organ of the East African Community which gives strategic direction towards the realizations of the goals and objectives of the community, spent 3 years without a face à face meeting.
They have waited till the 8th of April 2022 to meet in a ceremony to confirm the DRC membership.
The political hostility hindered the projects of the EAC Monetary union protocol signed in 2023. This protocol proposed the use of common currency from 2024. It has also delayed the railway projects between Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania.
As any integration needs political will, peace and security, and stability to be developed in EAC it is a fiasco, this integration could be ruined by constant wars and tensions between President Paul Kagame and most of EAC’s state members.
In February 2022, Kagame warned DRC of the biggest invasion.
In his speech before the Rwandan Parliament on February 8, 2022, President Paul Kagame Threatened to invade the Democratic Republic of Congo.
See Kagame’s Speech here:
“All our eyes are on Congo. We are focused there because of the armed groups based there that threaten us, including the ADF [that the joint DRC-Uganda armed forces are attempting to dismantle.] We are keeping an eye on this matter. But rest assured we will ultimately sort this out. We will use all available means including persuasion and agreement for solutions. But when anyone crosses a red line, we don’t ask anybody for permission to intervene. We simply move in and sort the problem out. We are still at the stage of assessing the situation and weighing our options. But if we decide that Rwanda will be impacted by these developments, we will directly intervene with or without the consent of the concerned parties…Anyone who wishes us war, we give it to them. We have professionals capable of executing it. Our doctrine is to fight the war on enemy territory because of Rwanda’s small size.”
One month after Kagame’s speech in parliament on March 28, a day before the DRC officially joined the EAC, warriors from the M23 rebel armies attacked FARDC military positions close to the nation’s boundary with Uganda and Rwanda.
Furthermore, the next day, eight (8) peacekeepers passed on when a United Nations helicopter crashed in eastern DRC. Rather than a coincidence, this is a warning message KAGAME is giving to the DRC Congo army and the UN Peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO.
Defeated in 2013, the M23 has revived again in October 2021, when it was accused of attacking several military positions. The movement blames the Kinshasa authorities for not respecting commitments made for the demobilization and reintegration of its fighters.
27 and 28 March 2022, Several FARDC positions have been attacked during incursions launched by M23 rebels since March.
According to General Sylvain Ekenge, FARDC regional spokesperson, the arrested soldiers were caught with Rwanda defense force uniform, food, and ammunitions marked in the Rwanda defense forces nametag.
At a press briefing, General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the North Kivu governor, confirmed that soldiers of the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) were arrested during the attacks several times, according to him those soldiers who were caught with RDF uniforms confessed to the role of RDF in supporting M23 Rebels and shilling civilians in northern Kivu. Not only but also the spokesman of the Congolese government, Patrick Muyaya accuse Rwanda to support M23 fighters.
“It is established according to the elements that we received from the field, that in any case, suspicions crystallize on a support that would have received the M23 from Rwanda”, affirmed during a press conference, after a long meeting with Prime Minister Sama Lukonde, military leaders and the police.
“In this regard, we have activated the monitoring mechanism. And moreover, the head of this mechanism is currently in Kigali to attest to these facts”, he indicated.
“We think that the M23 cannot have a military arsenal like the one we find at home on the ground of operations.
He called for mobilization “so that no attempt in any way, from any group or from any country whatsoever, tries to take a single centimeter of our territory”.
Kigali has not yet reacted officially. The Congolese army has been fighting for several months the M23, positioned near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders.
On Wednesday 25th, 2022, The DR Congo government told the African Union Executive Council at a meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, that it was sure Rwanda was behind attacks by the rebel group, M23, in North Kivu province.
Christophe Lutundula, DR Congo’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday, May 25, during the meeting of the African Union Executive Council held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, that Rwanda was supporting the M23 rebel group.
“Rwanda is advancing. Ten minutes ago, I said without hesitation that Rwanda has attacked the Rumangabo camp in DR Congo,”.
“How come today that we are celebrating the birth of our alma mater, when we should reflect on our future, people can behave as if nothing is happening? I say clearly, that the M23 supported by Rwanda has attacked MONUSCO international troops and my country. We cannot remain indifferent. We cannot remain without saying anything.”
“Let us not treat the problem from the surface. We must attack the roots. We should look at ourselves in the mirror of governance, in the mirror of the hopes of our people.”
Kagame’s backed rebels M23 advance on a major FARDC military base in Eastern Congo, and Goma is set to fall into their hands.
Fighters from the M23 rebel group advanced in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and were locked in heavy fighting with the army outside the region’s largest military base of Rumangabo, the M23 used the Rumangabo base as its headquarters during a 2012-2013 insurgency.
During that conflict, the M23 briefly captured eastern Congo’s main city of Goma, home to more than 1 million people. Rumangabo is about 35 km (22 miles) north of Goma.
In a statement, Congo’s army says that about 20 shells and bombs had exploded on Wednesday and Thursday and that Congolese forces were battling M23 rebels around Kibumba, about 20 km northeast of Goma.
The movement blames the Kinshasa authorities for not respecting commitments made for the demobilization and reintegration of its fighters.
Relations have eased with the accession to power in early 2019 of Félix Tshisekedi, who has met several times with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame. But the renewed activity of the M23 has revived suspicion. M23’s rebirth after the admission of DRC as a new EAC member is adding fuel to the fire. It is not easy to reach the goals and success in EAC integration as president Kagame continues to give ammunitions and offer training to M23 rebels.
The country’s insecurity with the M23 reorganization is a matter of concern regarding the future progress and development of the East African Community as collaboration with other neighboring countries will be affected by Rwanda-backed M23 rebels’ rebirth.
Kagame ordered troops into the DRC in 1996 to pursue Hutu ethnic refugees who fled to Congo. Rwandan troops backed a rebel group known as the AFDL which overthrew Congolese Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and seized power. Around 3 million Congolese and Hutu civilians were allegedly killed.
Rwandan troops invaded the DRC again in 1998, which resulted in the country splitting between rebel-controlled areas in the east and north and a government-controlled area in the west, The vast central African country, one of the poorest in the world despite its immense mineral wealth, has been dogged by chronic instability, violence, and insurgencies ever since. Kagame is also accused of remaining several years in eastern DRC to plunder the country’s natural resources.
A good neighbor is a friend in need and hence a friend indeed. Sustainable security in the region and a good diplomatic relationship between Rwanda and its neighbors is critical to reaching the goal of regional integration of the East African Community and sustainable peace and security since the rise in power of President Paul Kagame and his party RPF Inkotanyi.