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International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was preoccupied this week with the distant crisis in Gaza. But much closer to home, another crisis was rapidly spinning out of control, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, demanding much greater attention from her.
The ethnic-Tutsi “M23” rebels captured the eastern town of Goma, posing a potential risk to hundreds of South African soldiers attached to the UN peacekeeping mission there. The M23 rebels have now vowed to keep marching west until they have taken the whole country.
That is not an idle threat. Remember that another ethnic-Tutsi rebel group, the AFDL, marched from the east to topple Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, replacing with him Laurent Kabila, father of the DRC’s current President Joseph Kabila. The AFDL was heavily supported by Tutsi-run Rwanda and so is the M23. The UN Group of Experts confirmed in its final report this week that both Kigali and Kampala have provided decisive support to the M23.
These rapid developments demand faster and more incisive responses than our government is evidently giving. One is that we should surely stop supplying lethal weapons to Rwanda and Uganda as we were doing, at least as recently as the second quarter of 2012. Another decision is whether should we contribute to a new regional force to be established, with a robust mandate to “eliminate negative forces” like the M23, as Monusco has been unable to stop them even taking Goma.
This will be a very tough decision as there will be casualties. Yet, at this rate, by the time such decisions are made, it might be too late as the M23 rebels could already be in Kinshasa. Or another international war could have broken out, again sucking in countries like Zimbabwe and Angola, who came to Laurent Kabila’s defence when the RCD-Goma rebels, once more backed by Rwanda, tried to topple him in 1998.
South Africa needs to apply its mind more keenly to this crisis, using whatever influence it has to persuade Rwanda and Uganda to disconnect their life support from the M23.