On 25 June new DRC visa requirements came into force which greatly disturb small-scale cross-border movements with Rwanda – not just Rwanda, but no other Congolese border region is so densely populated.
Students now pay $30 per year, traders $50 per quarter, foreign employees $250 per month. Previously, visa-free travel was allowed; only cheaper laissez-passer papers were needed.
On the face of it the new measure appears normal, but it has led to long queues at the two border crossings between Goma in DRC and Gisenyi in Rwanda.
Rwandan students enrolled at Goma’s universities now have to find $30; Rwandan small farmers who sell tomatoes on Goma’s markets have to shell out $50; East African lorry drivers bringing import goods to DRC trading companies have to advance $250 hoping they will be reimbursed.
All this contradicts the principle of freedom of movement between the member states of the economic community CEPGL (Communauté Économique des Pays des Grands Lacs), although this remains guaranteed, according to the Congolese government.
But the measure was not discussed and agreed through the relevant CEPGL channels. It isn’t the first time: In April the DRC authorities imposed a passport requirement on Congolese citizens crossing between South Kivu and Burundi, just as some months previously in Kinshasa on travellers across the Congo River to Brazzaville.
Many regard the latest measure as illegal. The problems caused by this measure were one of the main themes brought up at the visit of a delegation of Special Envoy Mary Robinson’s office in Goma recently.
Rwanda has protested but not yet announced specific counter-measures. Given that a large part of Eastern Congo’s long-distance trade with the rest of world passes through Rwanda and then East Africa, there are many possibilities for retorsion which could hit Eastern Congolese traders badly.
A Congolese official reports he was recently required to pay a $50 trasit visa in Uganda when crossing from Bunagana (DRC) to Kisoro (Uganda) in order to continue via Rwanda to Goma (DRC) – a favourite short cut, as the inner-Congolese road from Bunagana to Goma takes much longer.
The result? Heightened separation and the revival of economic-social tension between Rwanda and DRC. The regional organisation CEPGL has been unable to defuse this conflict
DRC promoting FDLR
On 24 June the interim president of the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) stationed in Eastern DRC, Rumuli (Victor Byiringiro or Gaston Iyamuremye) was flown from Goma to Kinshasa by the UN mission Monusco.
He was supposed to travel on to Rome the next day to participate in a high-level meeting between the FDLR and international special representatives arranged by the Catholic community Sant’Egidio.
He did not fly to Rome in the end because he is subject to UN sanctions including a travel ban.
The relevant sanctions committee refused an exemption request submitted by the (French) head of the UN peacekeeping department, Hervé Ladsous.
Rwanda’s government was furious and made this public. In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the Rwandan mission to the UN said that the exemption request alone was a breach of UN resolutions and MONUSCO had not even waited for an answer “before starting the process of airlifting a UN sanctioned individual, as well as other FDLR leaders, including individuals wanted by the Government of Rwanda for their responsibility in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi“.
So now UN representatives are talking to the FDLR – Monusco head Martin Kobler participated in the Rome meeting as well as representatives of the DRC government.
While everyone says that „the military option remains on the table“, the Congolese government as well as several SADC member states has consistently rejected military strikes against the FDLR, while Rwanda insists the UN intervention brigade FIB is mandated to fight FDLR. Monusco will not enter into action without green lightfrom the DRC government.
A SADC-ICGLR summit in Angola’s capital Luanda on 3 July gave the FDLR six months to voluntarily lay down its arms – Angola and Rwanda argued in vain for two months, but the DRC rejected this.
The result? Heightened mistrust and the revival of a generalised, multi-dimensional political-military conflict between Rwanda and the DRC. The UN has been unable to defuse this conflict.