Rwanda braces for potential conflict as DRC and burundi bolster military capabilities

Sami Hegazi
4 Min Read

Tensions escalate in East Africa as Rwanda accuses its neighbors of harboring hostile intentions and preparing for invasion.

Rwanda has tightened its air defenses, citing threats from neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kigali accuses both nations of harboring rebel groups and employing Chinese attack drones, raising concerns of an impending conflict.

Earlier this year, the DRC and Burundi formed an alliance to combat two rebel groups: the M23 operating in eastern DRC and the RED Tabara, launching attacks into Burundi from eastern DRC. Despite Rwandan denials, numerous human rights reports link these groups to Kigali.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame views the threat of war from Burundi and the DRC as real. “The Congolese political and military leadership, including President Félix Tshisekedi, has repeatedly declared their intention to invade Rwanda and change its government by force,” a Rwandan government statement declared. “Rwanda takes them at their word and has adjusted our posture accordingly.”

These adjustments include bolstering air defense capabilities to counter the DRC’s acquisition of advanced Chinese CH-4 attack drones in 2023 and repeated airspace violations by Congolese fighter jets.

The United States has urged Kigali to cease using rockets, citing potential harm to civilians, aid workers, and UN personnel. However, Washington also blames Rwanda for supporting the M23 rebels and demands their withdrawal from the DRC.

“The United States condemns Rwanda’s support for the M23 armed group and calls on Rwanda to immediately withdraw all Rwanda Defense Force personnel from the DRC and remove its surface-to-air missile systems, which threaten the lives of civilians, UN and other regional peacekeepers, humanitarian actors, and commercial flights in the eastern DRC,” stated US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller.

Rwanda refutes the US’s ability to act as a “credible mediator” in the region, accusing Washington of distorting facts and undermining its own efforts to foster peace. The Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a statement on Sunday expressing strong opposition to the recent US condemnation.

Questioning US motives, the Rwandan foreign ministry announced it would “seek clarification” to determine if the statement signifies a policy shift or merely reflects “a lack of internal coordination.”

The US condemnation strongly criticized Rwanda for its alleged support of the M23, urging them to withdraw troops and missile systems from the DRC. Additionally, the statement called on the DRC government to cease cooperation with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), another armed group operating in the region.

Rwanda countered by labeling the FDLR a terrorist organization linked to the 1994 genocide and highlighted the US’s own designation of the group as a terrorist entity in 2001. They described the US’s characterization of the FDLR as “shocking and cynical,” accusing Washington of undermining its own credibility as a regional mediator.

The conflict in eastern DRC has displaced thousands and claimed numerous lives in recent weeks. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 15 civilian deaths and 29 injured since the beginning of February, with over 135,000 people fleeing the violence.

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