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Why the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo is visiting France

President Félix Tshisekedi makes his first official visit to Paris.

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Why the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo is visiting France

President Félix Tshisekedi makes his first official visit to Paris. The head of state of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the second country in terms of French-speaking population after France, was to go to the Senate and the National Assembly this Monday, to meet with French elected officials, before to meet his counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée on Tuesday. This two-day visit aims to “return the favor” after the French president's trip to Kinshasa in March 2023, explained the Congolese presidency. This will involve “continuing on the points left unfinished after Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the DRC”.

Among these points, the most important and the most sensitive at the same time: the security situation in eastern DRC. The North Kivu province is in the grip of a conflict between militias which has lasted for 20 years and has displaced more than a million people. The Congolese armed forces have allied with several of these armed groups to fight the main militia, the M23, itself supported by neighboring Rwanda. Félix Tshisekedi accuses Rwanda of sending its soldiers to its territory to maintain the conflict, in order to plunder the mineral resources of Kivu.

By coming to Paris, the Head of State of the DRC therefore hopes that France, “permanent member of the United Nations Security Council which has the responsibility of proposing resolutions”, will make “statements relating to the situation in the DRC,” indicated the Congolese presidency ahead of the visit. Félix Tshisekedi wants sanctions against Rwanda at the United Nations level to force Rwandan troops to leave its territory.

But the French president has been deploying all his efforts for several years to restore and strengthen relations with Rwanda. Frigid and even broken relations for years since Kigali pointed out France's murky role in the 1994 genocide. France had supported the government of the time, but also helped and trained some of the forces which then perpetrated the genocide .

But Emmanuel Macron wants to make Kigali, a key Great Lakes country which has experienced spectacular development in 30 years, “one of our strategic partners in Africa”. Thus, after commissioning a report led by the French historian Vincent Duclert which established the “heavy and overwhelming responsibilities” of Paris in the genocide of 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis, the French president, traveling to Kigali in 2021, said to “recognize” French “responsibilities” in the massacres. But Paris has never formally apologized to the Rwandan people.

Today, France relies on the Rwandan army as part of military operations in the Central African Republic but especially in northern Mozambique. In the Cabo Delgado region, Rwandan soldiers managed to counter the advance of Al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to the Islamic State, whose attacks had forced TotalEnergies to temporarily suspend its activities.

This rapprochement between Paris and Kigali goes badly in the eyes of Kinshasa. Especially since numerous reports have highlighted the support of the Rwandan army for the M23. In 2023, the United Nations, but also Human Rights Watch, accused several high-ranking Rwandan officers of providing support to the armed group and thus being complicit in illegal homicides and rapes perpetrated by its militiamen among the populations. . In July, the European Union itself sanctioned several leaders of the conflict in Kivu, including... a Rwandan captain.

On the French side, in any case, the Quai d’Orsay has toughened its tone in its latest declarations. The ministry said in February that it was “concerned” about Rwandan involvement in the conflict in Kivu and called on “Rwanda to cease all support for the M23”. But at the same time he does not fail to point out the support provided by the Congolese armed forces to certain armed groups such as the FDLR. And continues to call for “de-escalation” and “peace”. “From the Élysée, no condemnation has ever come, and it is far from trivial,” underlines Antoine Glaser, former French journalist and writer, author of Macron’s African Trap (Fayard, 2021). “The Congolese are demanding the same condemnation from Emmanuel Macron, which he refused to do in Kinshasa.”

Also read: At the heart of the Rwandan “miracle”, 30 years after the genocide

In fact, on this point, Emmanuel Macron's last visit to the DRC left a bitter memory for the Congolese. The French president had put his foot in the diplomatic dish, declaring to his counterpart: “Since 1994 you have not been able to restore the sovereignty of your country, neither military, nor security, nor administrative. “It’s a reality, and we shouldn’t look for someone to blame outside.” Implied, in Rwanda. Words that were very poorly received by Congolese public opinion.

For Antoine Glaser, the official visit of the Congolese president to Paris is an opportunity to make up for this failure. The economic component of the official visit, with a round table on Tuesday which will bring together economic players, “instead of taking place at the Medef headquarters as is usual, will take place in Bercy, at the Ministry of the Economy and Finances!”, notes Antoine Glaser, who sees this as a clear sign of “political and diplomatic support”.

The writer also observes that France, which until now had not invested much in the ROC, is making a timely economic rapprochement. “With the energy and rare minerals necessary for new technologies, the DRC is becoming an essential partner of the future. No European power can neglect its importance, particularly in view of the Chinese presence in strategic mining affairs,” he notes.

However, will Emmanuel Macron emerge from the difficult diplomatic balance on the Rwandan issue? “France is trying to have it both ways. And it is all the more important since there are very important French interests in Rwanda on the political, diplomatic and security levels, and with the DRC on the business and minerals level. Without forgetting that it is the largest French-speaking country in the world!”, notes the author.

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