Diplomatic dance, military advance

The M23 rebellion took control of Rutshuru town for the second time in three weeks yesterday, sending Congolese soldiers running. While the army ran out of supplies, allegations immediately also began trickling in of Rwandan – and even Ugandan – support to the rebels, which had allowed them to break through the MONUSCO and army defenses after a morning of heavy fighting.

Which begs the question: What has happened after on the international stage since the publication of the UN Group of Experts report, implicating Rwanda in support to the M23?

The main shift was initially led by the United States, a longtime friend of Rwanda. Following the publication of the UN report, the US denounced Rwandan involvement and, on July 21st, announced it was cutting $200,000 in military aid to Kigali, and would consider other cuts in aid, as well. Other reprimands have been less public: the canceling of a visit to Kigali by Gen. Hamm, the commander of Africom, as well as a visit by a delegation led by Deputy National Security Advisor, Michael Froman. In addition, the US government had put in several phone calls to Kigali, including one by an Undersecretary of State to President Kagame (it was supposed to be Secretary of State Clinton, but it didn’t work out due to scheduling issues.) In early July, Special Advisor on the Great Lakes Barry Walkley visited Kigali himself and met with Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, denouncing Rwandan support to the M23.

While Bill Clinton was effusive in praise for Rwanda last week during a visit, as was Tony Blair, very few western embassies in the Rwandan capital still doubt that their hosts are supporting the M23. This week, there were reports from diplomats that the United Kingdom, which in general has been much less aggressive that the US, has delayed the disbursement of development funds for two months, while the African Development Bank is doing the same with $38.9 million in budgetary aid, and the Dutch government with $6.1 million. This is more than symbolic; while the funds may eventually be disbursed, the delays will seriously mess up budget flows.

Almost more important than aid is Rwanda’s upcoming seat on the UN Security Council, which will give the country substantial diplomatic leverage. According to diplomats present at the African Union summit in Addis a few weeks ago, Kabila – who almost never attends these summits – had gone to the meeting planning to rally member states to strip Rwanda of this seat. He would have had to convince eastern and southern African states, but South Africa was apparently ready to back him, as were countries like Angola and Zimbabwe. However, at the summit, Kagame was able to convince Kabila to back away from such drastic measures and leave time for diplomacy. The two are scheduled to meet again in Kampala on August 6 and 7 to discuss the possibility of a neutral military force. Most diplomats I have spoken to, however, think such a force would take a long time to muster, giving time for a further escalation of the conflict. Rwanda will officially be elected to the Security Council during the UN General Assembly in September.

So a lot has happened on the diplomatic circuit. And yet, the pressure on Rwanda has not been able to stem the fighting. Besides the M23 advances, other armed groups are also stirring, including in the foothills of the Ruwenzori mountains (Beni territory), as well as in Ituri.