Following failed attempts to win the war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa has decided to part company with the East African Community (EAC) forces and to bet on the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The objective of the recent SADC deployments, if Kinshasa is to be believed, is to defeat the M23 rebellion. If this turns out to be true, then the involvement by SADC and South Africa raises some moral and legal questions, not to mention concerns about the viability of the Nairobi peace process.
Departing from the Nairobi peace process
The EAC regional force had played an instrumental role in implementing the Nairobi peace process. Notably, for several months, the EAC had effectively enforced a ceasefire and facilitated the withdrawal of M23 from 80% of the territories it previously controlled. According to Kinshasa, EAC’s wrongdoing was its refusal to contravene the terms of its mandate by actively assisting Kinshasa in launching military onslaughts against the M23.
For this reason, the East African forces were dismissed by Congolese authorities, who are determined to exclude the M23 from regional peace initiatives. In the tense lead-up to the general elections in the DRC last December, the word in Kinshasa was that stronger, more decisive action was needed to strike a decisive blow in the eastern frontline. To achieve this objective, Kinshasa decided to look southwards for a fresh influx of fighting forces under SADC’s new mission dubbed SAMIDRC.
In all such missions, some countries carry a heavier load than others. While Kenya took the lead in terms of resources and manpower for the EAC regional force, South Africa appears to be at the forefront for SAMIDRC.
On the surface, South Africa’s active involvement in the DRC mission aligns with its ambition to wield influence in regional politics. But upon closer inspection, its seemingly straightforward involvement in this conflict reveals a web of paradoxes and hypocrisy.
From fighting apartheid to supporting ethnic cleansing
South Africa’s positioning as an international advocate for human rights is paradoxical. Arising from the era of apartheid as an advocate for the vulnerable, South Africa has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause since before the onset of the Gaza crisis. Recently, the country even took legal action by suing Israel in the International Court of Justice for committing Genocide in Palestine.
However, South Africa’s stance becomes enigmatic, even shocking, considering its conspicuous silence on the ongoing killings of Congolese Tutsi in the eastern DRC. Over the last three decades, the Congolese Tutsi community has faced violent hate acts and pervasive hate speech. Congolese Tutsis are falsely portrayed as foreign invaders from Rwanda and accused of land theft and resource exploitation – a narrative reminiscent of the incisive campaigns that led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Adding to the South African paradox is the fact that by providing troops to support the DRC, South Africa is in essence, backing a government responsible for over 36% of all human rights violations on its territory, according to the UN Joint Human Rights Office.
The militias allied with the Kinshasa government, which include Mai-Mai (now rebranded as ‘Patriots’ – Wazalendo in Kiswahili), together with the genocidal militia FDLR which comprises remnants of the planners and executors of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and their descendants, are responsible for the massacre of Tutsis and the burning of numerous villages in Nturo, Shangi, Masisi, Rutshuru and Burungu.
Videos are circulating on social media showing innocent Tutsis being beaten to death while thousands more are flocking to neighbouring countries in fear of being the next victims. All these constitute evidence of a deliberate ethnic cleansing policy by Kinshasa.
This “double face” involving aiding and abetting the DRC government while denouncing injustices elsewhere creates a contradictory position for South Africa. Worse still, if South African troops were to assist the government coalition in the genocidal project, the country should consider the legal implications of such a decision. In other words, from being an accuser in the Palestinian case, South Africa could stand as the accused in potential legal actions brought before international courts by the victims of Kinshasa’s ongoing genocidal campaign.
South Africa cannot allow itself to become complicit in Kinshasa’s decades-long standing crimes against the Tutsi community. Doing so will further cement the African National Congress (ANC) as a morally bankrupt and corrupt party whose stance on the Palestinian cause is a matter of posturing rather than conviction. If nothing changes, the ANC will come from being a party which, following its toppling of apartheid, came to be seen across Africa as symbolising moral courage, to one whose hands are tainted by the blood of innocent Congolese civilians.