Towards a Regional War in Central Africa : Rwandan and Ugandan Troops in the Congo (DRC)

Part I: UN Security Council Responds to African Great Lakes Regional Flashpoints

By Ann Garrison

M23 commander Sultani Makenga, during M23’s occupation of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, 2013.

KPFA Weekend News, 05.02.2015

Rwandan and Ugandan troops have been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during the past two weeks, but reporting is scant and neither the US, the UN Security Council, nor any other members of the international community have spoken to this, the latest Rwandan and Ugadnan violation of Congo’s sovereignty. The international community has instead been focused on the constitutional crisis in Congo’s neighbor, Burundi.


KPFA Evening News Anchor: Unrest and political oppression in the African Great Lakes Region continue to cause fears of a regional war. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s government accuses both Uganda and Rwanda of sending troops across the borders they share in Congo’s resource rich east. At the same time Burundi’s constitutional crisis threatens to engage its neighbors, Rwanda and Congo. KPFA’s Ann Garrison spoke to international criminal defense attorney and former law professor Peter Erlinder about the UN Security Council’s response.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Peter Erlinder, the UN Security Council has not responded to credible reports of Ugandan and Rwandan troops in DR Congo, even though this is a clear violation of the UN’s founding principle, the equal sovereignty of member states.

Peter Erlinder: Yes, of course it is, but there’s been a long history of that. We know that, as early as 1997, Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Congo and set up their own puppet government and have repeatedly invaded and occupied large portions of the Congo because of the desire to control the wealth in the eastern part of the Congo. That is the goal of Rwandan and Ugandan elites, if not the governments themselves.

KPFA: OK, the UN Force Intervention Brigade drove Rwanda and Uganda’s M23 proxy militia back into Rwanda and Uganda in 2013. Isn’t the UNSC legally or theoretically obliged to respond to these cross border incursions again?

Peter Erlinder: Well it would seem logically that the UN Security Council would be obligated to follow through on the obligation that they took up to remove M23. But M23 was, as you know, essentially under the control of the Rwandan government, and the United States and the United Kingdom support Rwanda and Uganda, so it remains to be seen whether the US and UK will have the Security Council follow out on that mandate.

KPFA: On Friday, Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution to censure Burundian President Pierre Nkurunzia for seeking a third term, which his supporters claim he’s constitutionally entitled to do. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, “it’s not the business of the Security Council and the U.N. Charter to get involved in constitutional matters of sovereign states.” Could you comment on that?

Peter Erlinder: Yeah, this is one of the things that the Security Council has had to contend with, now that Russia and China have begun to actively use the veto again, which they weren’t able to do for about 20 years. The UN Security Council should not involve itself in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. At least at this point, the question of whether the Burundian president can properly run for a third term or M23 commander Sultani Makenga, during M23’s occupation of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, 2013. not is an internal question for the Burundians. That’s different than the situation of the M23 proxy militia in the Congo, because that of course is an invading force that was in Congo and the UN was there to help drive them out. So Russia and China are quite correct.

KPFA: Today Burundi’s Defense Minister suggested that he might intervene in Burundi’s constitutional crisis. That would no doubt violate Burundi’s Constitution but it would still be Burundi’s issue, wouldn’t it?

Peter Erlinder: Well, it might lead to some sort of a conflict within Burundi, but whether it violates Burundi’s constitution more or less than the decision to run for a third term again gets us back to this being a Burundian question and a struggle for the Burundian people to resolve. This isn’t an international question unless, of course, someone decides to make it so.

KPFA: OK, the US hasn’t remarked on the Rwandan and Ugandan troops in Congo, but it has called on Burundi’s Nkurunziza to step down and not seek a third term. And sent a special envoy rushing off to Bujumbura. Legalities aside, what do you think the USA’s primary interests are?

Peter Erlinder: Well what we can see since 1990, when the Ugandan military made up of Rwandan troops invaded Rwanda, is that the US has played a major role, through proxies, in influencing the politics and the reality of life in Central Africa. Whether that role has been one that’s been approved by the Security Council or not has varied from time to time, whether it’s been legal or not has varied from time to time, but the US has been constant in attempting to influence affairs in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and certainly in the Congo. So I think US primary interests are to remain a player in influencing the outcome of who controls power in all of the Great Lakes states. I think this is consistent with that.

KPFA: OK, Peter Erlinder, thank you for speaking to KPFA.

Peter Erlinder: OK, thanks Ann.

Part II: Increasing instability and political repression in African Great Lakes Region

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame

Instability and political repression are increasing in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, as the presidents of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda seek to remain in power beyond constitutional term limits, and as Rwandan and Ugandan troops cross into Congo yet again.


KPFA Evening News Anchor: Rwandan and Ugandan troops crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week, sparking fears of another catastrophic regional war. Burundi, a neighbor of both Burundii’s President Pierre Nkurunziza accepts his party’s nomination for a third term, 04.25.2015. Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is another pressure point further destabilizing the region. Ten to fifteen thousand refugees have fled from Burundi to Rwanda, fearing violence caused by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to ignore Constitutional term limits and seek a third term in power. KPFA’s Ann Garrison has more.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Political repression is escalating in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where all three presidents have made moves to remain in power past term limits, as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has for almost 30 years. Yesterday Burundi’s Nkurunziza formally announced that he’s running again, and today police were reported to be firing live ammunition into street protests called in response. This young man spoke to the BBC in the streets of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.

Street Protestor: Three hours ago, a young man has been killed. The youth doesn’t have jobs. We don’t have jobs. We don’t have anything. So, the reason why we are here is to protest this third mandate for the president. That’s why we’re here.

KPFA: Yesterday, at his party’s nominating convention, President Pierre Nkurunziza warned his opponents against resisting.

Nkurunziza: The ruling party is like a wall. If you throw a ball at it, it will bounce back and hit you in the face.

KPFA: It was also reported this week that both Rwandan and Ugandan troops had crossed the border into DR Congo, where they have a long history of plundering mineral resources and even timber reserves. This stirred fear of another catastrophic regional war like the First and Second Congo Wars of 1996 to 2003, which drew in all nine countries bordering DR Congo. Those wars began when

Burundian police disperse protestors with tear gas in Bujumbura, Burundi, on 04.26.2015, the day after President Nkurunziza’s party nominated him for a third term. Rwandan, Ugandan, and Burundian troops invaded DR Congo in 1996, and, after a peace treaty was signed in 2003, proxy militias for Uganda and Rwanda continued the conflict in Congo’s mineral rich East. Ugandan and Rwandan troops were also, at times, allowed to cross the border with US and UN blessing. Rwandan troops crossed into Congo in the disastrous and unsuccessful 2009 operation to wipe out the Rwandan refugee militia known as the FDLR. Ugandan troops crossed into Congo in the equally disastrous and unsuccessful 2009-2010 operation to hunt down warlord Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Another regional war could make it easier for Rwanda’s President Kagame, Burundi’s President Nkurunziza, DR Congo’s President Kabila, and Uganda’s President Museveni to cling to power.

The US is the dominant military power in the region, as it is everywhere, and it has great strategic interest in DR Congo’s mineral reserves. US responses will therefore be closely watched by all concerned.

KPFA: For Pacifica, KPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I’m Ann Garrison.