Lines through the lake: Why the Congo-Rwanda border can’t be redrawn – by Gillian Mathys (African Arguments – May 2, 2023)

Long-standing cultural affinities of Rwandophones in the Great Lakes may appear to bolster Kigali’s historical claims to parts of eastern Congo, but it’s more complicated than it seems.

Two weeks ago, Rwandan President Paul Kagame gave his historical take on the border that separates Rwanda from Congo, prompted by the resurgent M23 rebellion. “The borders that were drawn during colonial times had our countries divided,” he said.

“A big part of Rwanda was left outside, in eastern Congo, in southwestern Uganda and so forth and so forth. You have populations in these parts of other countries who have a Rwandese background. But they are not Rwandans, they are citizens of those countries that have absorbed those parts of Rwanda in the colonial times. So this is a fact. It is a fact of history…And these people have been denied their rights.”

While there was no explicit territorial claim in his proposition, it was interpreted in Congolese circles as a desire to redraw the borders of Rwanda and to annex part of the Congo. This interpretation is not wholly unsurprising given a longer history of such territorial claims in Rwandan public discourses going back to at least the First Congo War in 1996-1998.

Moreover, it feeds into Congolese fears of ‘balkanisation’: the idea that Rwanda (and sometimes Uganda) are out to annex a part of Congolese territory in order to benefit from its natural resources to the detriment of the Congolese. The battle on the ground in North Kivu is thus extended as a battle of words, in which history has become a weapon in power struggles over identity and geopolitics.

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