Congo Balkanisation: Fact, Theory or Fantasy?

Updated: Jan 15

This article was posted on my previous blog before on the 25th January 2020, so I have moved it over. I wanted to share my thoughts about the Balkanisation talks amid Congo for decades, but have recently been stirring back up as of recent.

The reason I decided to open discourse about this topic is because my initial reaction to hearing it was very coating, what I mean by that? I jumped to a general conclusion, like a lot of people who get defensive about the sensitive issues that Congo DR is facing. But upon hearing the conflicting views around Congo Balkanisation, I decided to look into it more; with a personalised lens of course.

Balkanisation is the process of division of a region or country into smaller parts. Some may wonder, why Congo DR? Well, Congo is strategically placed, sharing borders with nine subsaharan countries, “controlling DRC is the key to controlling Africa” (Chinuweizu, 2009)

Origins of the Congo Balkanisation Concept

Many people in Congo have feared the idea of Balkanisation, or at least anticipated it due to the rise in ‘Rwandophones‘ – which is a population of both Congolese Hutu and Congolese Tutsi. Today, they are better known as the Tutsi who arrived in Eastern Congo, and are labelled ‘Banyamulenge‘.

People believe that an increase in the Banyamulenge population in Congo will usher in Congo’s Balkanisation. But for this group, there are fears of being further marginalised. We won’t go into the horrific events of the Rwandan genocide, and the way it has also seen the lives of many Congolese people taken in cases of not only mis-identity but also cold blooded violence and betrayal over the past few decades. Particularly in the hands of Laurent Désiré Kabila – we will touch on why that’s relevant a bit more later.

Today, (well, earlier this month) Congolese community leaders have spoken out about their fear of Balkanisation including the President of the Church of Christ in Congo, named Andre Bokindoa-no-Likabe stated that Congolese people need to be attentive to military operations in Eastern DRC, because it could well be the initial stages in a plot to annex parts of the country. This, coupled with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) who are based in DRC and responsible for Tutsi refugees held in Congo, speaking out in concern for invaders who were keen to occupy parts of the country.

I have been accustomed to not really trust the words of Rwandan entities, especially when they’re speaking on Congo. My first thoughts when I read that were, is this a front? But it does suggest that there is genuine unease for the Banyamulenge, who worry that invasion… or annexation… or Balkanisation (or whatever you want to label it) could also put their lives in danger. If I look at this situation impartially, and in light of recent debates about Banyamulenge and their claim to being Congolese, I can see why there has been a ‘Kivutien Identity Crisis’ (Huening, 2013) for many years. They are victims, at the hands of Congolese nationalists and to their own Rwandan people.

The Rwandan ‘Threat’

So why did I say I don’t trust the words of Rwandan entities, well let’s look at historical *facts* ; Rwanda has invaded Congo 4 times in the last 30 years. In 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2008 (Chinweizu, 2009). 1996 is particularly important, as this is the year in October to be precise when the Rwandan President who went by the name ‘Pasteur Bizimungu‘, called for the organisation of a new Berlin Conference to discuss allowing Rwanda to take possession of part of Eastern Congo (Garrison, 2018). If you check out my first eBook The Dark Tales of Congo DR in chapter 3 you can read about the Berlin Conference that took place in 1884, and how the fate of Congo was disastrously determined by support of King Leopold II.

At that time, Rwanda also had the backing of NATO particularly from the USA. A man named Walter Kansteiner, who was Bill Clinton’s advisor African Affairs in the National Security Council, later became the spokesperson for the council in 2002 and was largely involved with mergers, acquisitions and privatisations all over Africa. He began to advocate for the Balkanisation of Congo in October 1996 too; so around the exact same time that Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Congo and formed a coalition with Laurent Désiré Kabila, driving incumbent President Mobutu Sese Seko into exile (Garrison, 2018).

It’s certainly questionable why Bill Clinton’s advisors were in support of Rwanda annexing parts of Congo. In my own view, it may have been a plot to eventually invade Rwanda once they’d taken control of the most mineral-rich part of DRC.

Where does Congo stand? – The ‘Coffee Theory

The Balkanisation talks rose to prevalence again more recently due to something that’s been labelled ‘The Coffee Theory’. Two Congolese women were photographed holding a pack of Rwandan coffee in a supermarket in Kampala, on the Gorilla’s Coffee pack, they pointed to a map of Rwanda, that appeared to have already annexed parts of Congo including North and South Kivu, Maniema and Katanga – of course, this caused an uproar and circulated among thousands on social media (Kagire, 2020). Congolese people saw this as a clear indication of Rwanda’s mission to annex parts of Congo.

The minister of state for Foreign Affairs for the East African community Olivier Nduhungirehe, blamed Congolese leaders and politicians for adding smoke to the fire (Kagire, 2020) when it comes to Balkanisation theories particularly Muzito Fumutshi, who suggested that Congo should annex parts of Rwanda instead. His approach was to end the disturbance in the east once and for all. Nduhungirehe said that it was only a matter of time before genocidal forces such as FDLR jumped on the bandwagon of the Balkanisation of Congo (Kagire, 2020) as the pressure mounts on them to keep their people safe. This is going back to my point earlier about which way the Banyamulenge will go, or what their fate would look like. Thus, the Balkanisation project is a decades long talk, and there’s about a dozen theories to prove that it’s happening. The coffee theory is one of them, but… is it actually happening?

Felix Tshisekedi, the incumbent president of DRC made these claims at an African investment summit in London just last week; “I solemnly swear that, as long as I am president of the Republic, no single square centimetre of this country will be yielded to anyone whatsoever” (Karuhanga, 2020). He dismissed Balkanisation claims as a distraction from what the DRC needs to focus on.

If his statement were 100% truthful, I’d be in full support of, I would respect Tshisekedi more as a leader if avoiding annexation of any part of Congo was the only achievement he obtains during his entire reign. The link between Balkanisation and Tshisekedi runs very deep, his father was betrayed by the man who actually initiated invasion of Congo, alongside Rwandan people (Lauren Désiré Kabila). Still I maintain the view that former President Kabila has always had this on his agenda for Congo DR but from the sounds of things, Tshisekedi wants no parts.

There’s so much more to say, and after discussing all the above I am actually still left questioning, is the Balkanisation theory actually REAL? Is it propaganda? I have mentioned it to older family members who have a blank fearful look in their eyes at the sound of the word, we can’t dismiss their stance on it either. Clearly there is more than what meets the eye, ear, or social media, that Congolese people should be ready for.

As the story unfolds, I will add to this discussion again. Until then thank you for reading, please like, share and feel free to leave a comment!


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