Investigating the French Factor in the Latest Phase of the Congolese Conflict

Security dilemma, resource, and ethnic reasons in that order are indeed largely responsible for the latest phase of the Congolese Conflict, but the unseen complex relationship between France and Rwanda might actually have played the most important role in catalyzing recent events.

The latest phase of the long-running and still-unresolved Congolese Conflict threatens to escalate into another “African World War” in the worst-case scenario after the latest dynamics suggest that regional actors are once again militarily aligning against Rwanda just like in the run-up to the Second Congo War. Preexisting security dilemma, resource, and ethnic reasons in that order largely explain the latest tensions, but there might also be a French factor behind the latest events that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Congo Research Group (CRG), which is an independent non-profit research project based at the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University, published a report in June that touched upon this. Before proceeding, it’s important to inform the reader that the CIC cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as connected to so-called “anti-Western propaganda” since it’s partially funded by some European governments, the Open Society Foundation, and the UN.

Having preemptively discredited the predictable knee-jerk reaction among some of the audience to the present analysis, it’s now time to turn to the CRG’s report itself. Titled “Uganda’s Operation Shujaa in the DRC: Fighting the ADF or Securing Economic Interests?”, it focuses on that neighboring country’s military intervention into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that Kampala coordinated with Kinshasa. The experts argue that it’s mostly driven by connectivity, resource, and security motives.

All three, however, inadvertently exacerbated regional military powerhouse Rwanda’s threat perceptions that might have thus influenced it into reviving the faction of the M23 rebel movement that’s considered to have remained under Kigali’s control. These dynamics are part of the self-sustaining cycle of suspicion between all primary stakeholders in the resource-rich and largely lawless eastern DRC that don’t require any foreign meddling to occasionally erupt into hot conflict by miscalculation.

What differentiates the CRG’s examined report from other research on the latest phase of the Congolese Conflict is that it meticulously cites nearly 40 credible news items in its final chapter to highlight France’s interest in events via TotalEnergies’ regional investments. According to the authors, Paris wants to preemptively avert the Mozambican scenario in Uganda wherein non-state actors (NSA) disrupted its national energy champion’s multibillion-dollar project in the first-mentioned.

To that end, this Western European hegemon sought to ensure the security of its Tilenga and East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in Uganda’s Lake Albert region straddling the DRC border by training both countries’ security forces. This adds a foreign energy-security dimension to Kampala’s Operation Shujaa in that neighboring war-torn country, which to remind the reader, inadvertently exacerbated Kigali’s threat perceptions of its on-and-off partner-rival to the north and likely influenced it to revive M23.

The preceding insight suggests that France unwittingly worsened Rwanda’s security dilemma with Uganda in the DRC and thus unintentionally set the latest phase of the Congolese Conflict into motion, but one of the last details in the CRG’s adds a twist to that impression. Its experts reminded everyone how French President Macron met with his Rwandan counterpart Kagame prior to Rwanda’s July 2021 military intervention in Mozambique at Maputo’s request that secured Total’s investment there.

Moreover, the report cited credible suspicions that France is indirectly subsidizing Rwanda’s operation through increased development aid to the latter despite Kigali denying this. It also added that France has been trying to get the EU as a whole to finance that selfsame operation. This information hints that Paris has sought to partner with Kigali to some extent on certain regional affairs, which if true would imply that a complex relationship exists between them that could be threatened by recent events.

France likely forecast that its reportedly informal military cooperation with Rwanda on securing Total’s energy investments in Mozambique from NSA threats would reassure Kigali of Paris’ non-hostile intentions in closely cooperating with the DRC and Uganda on related energy-military issues. Paris probably never expected that Kigali would react to the second-mentioned development by reviving M23 and thus risking the security of Total’s investments there despite securing them in Mozambique.

In fact, it actually appears as though Rwanda could have some strategic leverage over France with respect to potentially threatening to pull out of its military operation in Mozambique under whatever pretext as punishment for Paris inadvertently worsening its security in the DRC. In that scenario, two major French energy investments could be threatened in a single swoop: Mozambique’s for self-evident reasons while Uganda’s could be destabilized by DRC-emanating NSA threats.

Expanding upon the latter, M23 in and of itself doesn’t threaten France’s project in Uganda, but the resultant destabilization of the eastern DRC throughout the course of the rebel group’s return to regional prominence could create an opportunity for the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) to rise too. This reportedly ISIS-connected anti-Ugandan group is considered to be among that neighboring country’s top security threats and could thus become emboldened enough to attack its enemy’s energy project.  

The reason behind this prediction is implied in the CRG’s report when its experts noted the disproportionate importance of that project’s success to the ruling party’s future electoral prospects. In the event that it risks failing like Mozambique’s was about to do prior to Rwanda’s game-changing and allegedly French-facilitated military intervention, then Uganda’s political stability might once again become questionable, which could widely reverberate throughout the entire East African region.

With all this in mind, an intriguing impression of contemporary Central-East African security dynamics begins to emerge. While the prior insight into security dilemma, resource, and ethnic reasons in that order being responsible for the latest phase of the Congolese Conflict remains accurate, it now appears as though the unseen complex relationship between France and Rwanda might actually have played the most important role in this respect.

After all, if Uganda’s DRC-approved military intervention that inadvertently worsened Rwanda’s regional threat perceptions was largely driven by Kampala’s interests in securing its joint energy investments with Paris in the Lake Albert border region, then it therefore follows that France set events into motion. Paris probably calculated that Kigali wouldn’t react the way that it did after reportedly partnering with it in secret when it came to Rwanda’s game-changing military intervention in nearby Mozambique.

Nevertheless, it certainly seems as though France miscalculated and thus accidentally destabilized the Central-East African region in which its national energy champion has a self-evident stake in stability. It wouldn’t make sense for Paris to want to divide and rule this part of the continent like it traditionally has done in its historical “sphere of influence” in “Françafrique” since stability on this opposite side of Africa is imperative for the success of its multibillion-dollar strategic energy investments.

Should that be the case, then it would make the latest phase of the Congolese Conflict even more tragic since everything that’s unfolding would thus largely be the result of a foreign party’s miscalculation. That’s not to downplay the preexisting security dilemma, resource, and ethnic reasons that are responsible in that order for the DRC’s perpetual instability, but just to draw attention to how an extra-regional player’s energy-related stakes exacerbated them and thus risks sparking a wider war.

By Andrew Korybko
Source: One World

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