Minister Membe’s remarks on DRCongo Conflict Were Imprudent

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On the eve of last week’s summit of leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in Kampala, Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Membe, made outrageous comments regarding the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

During an interview conducted by Catherine Byaruhanga and broadcasted on BBC’s Focus on Africa programme last Thursday, Minister Membe unequivocally accused Rwanda of “exporting” a civil war to the DRC.

According to Membe, “what is happening in DRC is that you have two protagonists in Rwanda fighting in the DRC. If you use the economic jargon, you export a civil war in another country. You’ve exported the civil war because there are two main groups of Rwanda fighting in the DRC.”

Membe simplified the DRC conflict as a war between the FDLR militia and M23 rebels, both Rwandan in nature.

He added: “This is a unique situation in the continent where two groups of a foreign country are fighting in another country and then that country has got the sovereign right to protect itself.”

As a Minister of Foreign Affairs of a country that is involved in finding a solution to the conflict, one is left to wonder the rationale behind these unfortunate and misleading comments.

Firstly, I highly doubt he made the comments out of ignorance. His country has put its soldiers on the frontline, so it makes no sense that he would not be well conversant with the nature of the conflict.

Tanzania is one of the countries contributing to the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) and in fact, the commander of the brigade is himself Tanzanian.

And, if he claims that the conflict in the DRC is a war between two foreign troops, who then are the Tanzanians soldiers fighting? Both of them? – I doubt it. May be he should have gone on to specify which of the “foreign” warring factions they are fighting as clearly it’s not  both of them.

The Honourable Minister adds “And so when we deploy, in the name of the United Nations FIB, if South Africa deploys, if Malawi deploys to assist the MONUSCO, it’s because it’s a unique sort of a situation that we must arrest.”

It would indeed have been unique if it were true that the fighting was an “export of civil war” but it definitely is not. And, Membe knows that M23 are legitimately Congolese citizens, actually most of them, especially their commanders were part of the national army (FARDC) before they mutinied. Surely the top diplomat is not oblivious to this?

These kinds of claims from a respectable politician are a dangerous if not irresponsible, especially when regional leaders are burning the midnight candle to end the conflict.

The ICGLR summit that convened last week, attended by five presidents from the Great Lakes region called for Congo to restart the stalled talks with the M23 insurgents within three days.

The ICGLR Heads of State directed that; “the Kampala dialogue resumes within three days after this extra ordinary summit and conclude within a maximum period of 14 days during which maximum restraint must be exercised on the ground to allow for talks to resume.”

The ICGLR peace process should be allowed to take its course without such interferences.

Tanzania remains a key player in the quest for lasting peaceful solution to the conflict in eastern DRC and it has contributed troops to the UN Force Intervention Brigade. If the country’s Foreign Minister openly fuels the conflict, as was demonstrated in his narrative with the BBC, it not only questions the credibility of their contribution but also risks deterring the ongoing processes and high level search for a political solution.

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