In the east of the DRC, the shadow of war hangs over the presidential election

A calm as rare as it is precarious reigns in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

In the east of the DRC, the shadow of war hangs over the presidential election

A calm as rare as it is precarious reigns in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). For more than a week, no major clashes have opposed the rebels of the March 23 Movement (M23) to the Congolese army or the militias that support it. A truce obtained under pressure from the United States, a few days before the general elections – including the presidential one – scheduled for December 20.

It was the White House which, on December 11, was responsible for announcing this ceasefire that neither the Congolese government nor the M23 officially mentioned. The measure, with an initial duration of 72 hours, “was extended by two weeks,” a Congolese government source confirmed to Le Monde.

For three months, tensions have been growing in the province of North Kivu, aggravating the risk of the outbreak of an open conflict between the DRC and Rwanda, which supports the rebellion according to several expert reports, including those of the United Nations. At the beginning of October, fighting resumed in the territories of Nyiragongo and Masisi. A surge that the offensive launched by the Congolese army and its auxiliaries, called “wazalendo” (patriots in Kiswahili, the regional language), was not enough to stem.

“Reach Kigali”

To try to repel them, according to several sources, the Kinshasa authorities, for the first time on the night of December 9 to 10, had at least one drone fired at their enemy in Masisi. Three attack and reconnaissance aircraft, CH-4Bs, purchased by the DRC from a Chinese company and received in May, are today positioned at Kavumu, an airfield in the province of South Kivu, bordering Rwanda. In principle, these drones could hit the neighboring capital.

“Today we do not need to send ground troops to Rwanda. From home, we can reach Kigali,” President Félix Tshisekedi threatened on December 18, on Top Congo, a national radio station. Rwandan leader “Paul Kagame is laughing at us. Someone needs to stop him and I am that someone,” continued the Congolese head of state, candidate for his succession.

Can the ceasefire hold in such a flammable context? The question is all the more pressing as the international forces deployed in the east of the country are withdrawing one after the other. On Tuesday, December 19, the UN Security Council confirmed that the early but gradual withdrawal of peacekeepers deployed since 1999 would be initiated by the end of 2023, as requested by Kinshasa. At the beginning of December, it was the Kenyan, Burundian, Ugandan and South Sudanese soldiers, sent by the East African Community (EAC, in English), who packed up.

New political-military movement

After a rapprochement in 2022, relations between Kenya and the DRC continued to worsen throughout the year. The launch, Friday, December 15, from the Kenyan capital, of the Congo River Alliance (AFC), a new political-military movement, deteriorated them further. “What Félix Tshisekedi is preparing are ingredients for chaos in Congo. From December 20, he is no longer considered President of the Republic,” Corneille Nangaa threatened from Nairobi. This close friend of former President Joseph Kabila also denounces the “preparation of an electoral coup d’état” by the team in power in the DRC.

The return of this personality to the forefront is all the more notable as it took place alongside Bertrand Bisimwa, the president of the political wing of the M23. Corneille Nangaa, however, is not a warlord. From 2015 to 2021, he was president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). In January 2019, he was the one who proclaimed Félix Tshisekedi the winner of the presidential election. In recent months, he has returned to the conditions of this proclamation, contesting the victory of the current head of state and denouncing the power-sharing agreement between Félix Tshisekedi and Joseph Kabila before the announcement of the results.

Since the creation of this unexpected “platform”, Kinshasa has recalled its ambassador to Nairobi, John Nyakeru – who is also the brother of first lady Denise Tshisekedi – and asked the Kenyan authorities for the arrest of those responsible for the AFC. “It’s their right,” replied William Ruto, the Kenyan head of state, in an interview with national media. “I can’t arrest a person just because they made a statement. It’s undemocratic,” he concluded.