Tensions between Kigali and Kinshasa have increased as both countries exchange blame over the backing of rebels.
A meeting in Qatar between leaders from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Monday was postponed as Doha and Washington attempt to facilitate mediation between both sides.
According to Africa Intelligence, the Gulf state has been rallying efforts to mediate between Kigali and Kinshasa “for weeks” in an attempt to bring together Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame and DRC’s leader Felix Tshisekedi amid soaring tensions.
The meeting aims to return to the Luanda agreement, signed between both countries last year following mediation by Angolan President Joao Lourenco.
Officials from Angola, Burundi, and Kenya have also been reportedly invited to the meeting in Doha. Despite the delegation from Rwanda and the African Union currently in the Gulf state, Tshisekedi’s absence has forced the meeting to be postponed, Radio France Internationale correspondent Pascal Mulegwa said on Sunday.
Tensions between Rwanda and the DRC have been on the rise since last year, with both countries throwing tit-for-tat accusations of support for rebels on both sides.
Seeking to restore calm, heavyweight mediator Qatar and ally the US held discussions to step towards peace in DRC.
The matter was discussed on Sunday between Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Qatar wants to make itself indispensable as a convener of different actors across the Global South and beyond – it provides Qatar with leverage in Europe and especially in the United States,” Dr. Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, told Doha News.
On Saturday, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Kenya’s leader William Ruto also held a phone call.
According to an Amiri Diwan statement, the call focused on bilateral relations and issues of common concern, though no mediation efforts were mentioned in the statement.
Though it has yet to be publicly announced by authorities in Doha, the latest mediation attempt would add to the Gulf state’s record of conflict resolution across different parts of the world.
“This is another example of Qatar offering its good offices to bring parties together to position itself as an important node in international crisis management and international diplomacy,” Dr. Krieg said.
Qatar played a pivotal role in the signing of the Chad Peace Agreement in Doha in August last year following months of talks between more than 50 sides. The agreement was seen as a key step in facilitating long-delayed elections following a period of political unrest.
Commenting on Qatar’s potential mediation role between Rwanda and DRC, Dr. Krieg pointed to the Gulf state’s “interest in stability in central and East Africa which has become a growth area” for its network building and diplomacy.
“Qatar is Rwanda’s most important partner in the Gulf with the Qatari amir having a very good personal relationship with Rwanda’s president. This in itself seems to cause some unease in the DRC as they see Qatar as potentially being too close to Rwanda to make them an impartial player on the issue,” Dr. Krieg added.
The eastern side of the DRC has witnessed increased violence since last year after clashes erupted between troops and rebels from the M23, which captured the strategic town of Kiwanja.
Both Washington and Kinshasa said the M23 are backed by Kagame, though he has denied those claims.
The intense fighting in the DRC has forced tens of thousands of Congolese to flee to neighbouring countries including Rwanda, which saw 72,000 cross the country by November, per figures shared by the United Nations.
The same month saw a massacre in which at least 131 civilians were killed following the re-sparking of violence in October. The UN blamed the M23 rebels for the killings following a preliminary investigation by its peacekeeping mission.
On the other hand, Rwanda blamed DRC for allegedly backing the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Several mediation attempts took place to reach a lull in fighting, most notably the Luanda agreement, though tensions continued to simmer between the neighbouring countries.