Amani Itakuya #4: …when a West Bank-like separation barrier will be built along the DRC-Rwanda border

…when a West Bank-like separation barrier will be built along the DRC-Rwanda border

Alex Engwete

Watching the Congolese soukous music star Papa Wemba being interviewed on TV one Sunday morning in mid-June 2004 in Kinshasa – shortly after pro-Rwandan rogue troops of renegade Col. Jules Mutebusi had left Bukavu, the provincial capital of South-Kivu Province – I was struck to hear him say something along the following lines.

The physical border between Rwanda and the DRC is almost nonexistent – at some spots only the middle of a stretch of the road marking the frontier between the two countries, Wemba said.

And as long as a physical, artificial boundary is not built to demarcate the two countries, the Kivus would forever be besieged by Rwanda.

Papa Wemba then concluded: “After all, Israel’s building a security barrier along its borders – why can’t we do it too?”

The Israeli West Bank barrier is indeed being built and, upon its completion, will stretch for the staggering distance of 700 kilometres. And the United States has long fences along its southern border with Mexico. Some Republican lawmakers are even tying their support for any upcoming comprehensive immigration reform legislation to more length added to that border fence.

Papa Wemba’s wall may, in my view, stem the recurrent Rwandan proxy wars in the Kivus for good – in both understandings of the expression “for good,” that is, for the lasting benefit of both the Congolese and the Rwandan peoples.

This wall wouldn’t be hermetically sealed like the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and trade would still be possible between the two countries. Just as in Israel and in the US, checkpoints or border crossings would be put in place. And surveillance drones would be deployed and rolls of concertina barbed wires would be rolled out to reinforce the security wall.

To be sure, this project would draw the flak from many quarters – from environmentalists and from the Rwandan government, who’d be objecting to the security wall.

But the DRC could allay the fear of environmentalists by showcasing for example the Korean demilitarised zone, a strip of land that has become, as someone argued, an “environmental treasure trove” due to the sparsity of human activity in the area.

As for Rwanda, the DRC would ask its leaders to either own their direct role in the chronic instability in the Kivus – in which case, meaningful peace talks could ensue between the two countries and the construction of the wall called off – or step out of the way and let the project proceed.

By the way, I wonder whether those now calling for a “political solution” in the recurring conflict in the Kivus really know that it is just humanly impossible to meaningfully negotiate with Rwanda right now.

In a post published last year on my blog, I rehearsed an essay by Angelo M. Codevilla titled “Tools of Statecraft”: “Diplomacy and War” published in 2008 on the website of Foreign Policy Research 
Institute (FPRI) that provides a reading of the seminal insight of Fred Ikle’s book entitled “How Nations Negotiate” (1968).

I wrote that Ikle’s book “may give one an inkling of the current diplomatic quandary of the DRC” when it comes to negotiating with Rwanda.

According to Ikle, Codevilla says, there ought to be an initial agreement in a negotiation on the “available terms” before proceeding to the next step, that of the “rules of accommodation” where parties make “sincere agreements, honoring partial agreements, etc.”

Some parties may opt instead “’to negotiate for side effects’ — to use the negotiations to undermine the other side’s government, sow dissention among its allies, deceive it, pocket partial agreements and renege on commitments, buy time, gather intelligence, etc.”

“Disaster looms,” says Codevilla, “when one side follows the rules of accommodation while the other negotiates for side effects.”

It’s obvious that during the long years of crisis in the Kivus, the DRC has been negotiating with Rwanda according to the rules of accommodation, whereas Rwanda has been negotiating for side effects.

Hence, the imperative necessity of building Papa Wemba’s wall along the DRC-Rwanda border.

Alex Engwete is a Congolese journalist and writer. He blogs at and tweets at

4 Responses to “Amani Itakuya #4: …when a West Bank-like separation barrier will be built along the DRC-Rwanda border”
  1. MrCongoo says:

    Anand –

    I can see your point and to me the two issues (legitimacy of DRC Gov & why rooting FDLR failed) are separate. In the same way, to me not being “legitimate” & having Congolese interests at heart are not mutually exclusive since one would not necessarily prevent the other. That being said, it is my belief that if things are not improving in EDRC is mainly because of a destabilisation campaign led by the Rwandan & Ugandan regimes. In this respect, if we are to talk about sincerity, these two regimes lack it more than the DRC government. That sends us back to the FDLR question which in my opinion is used by the rwandan regime as an excuse to maintain its actions in EDRC. How many times have we seen reports of ex FDLR fighters being recycled by the Kigali regime in armed conflicts in EDRC? Many have been sent back to rwanda only to return in EDRC a few months or years later through one armed group or another.

    My position is rwanda should be more transparent about FDLR and get rid of the genocide melting pot where any critic to the regime are cooked.

  2. Anand Upadhyaya says:

    Sorry for the late reply, Richard. I am not trying to imply that Rwanda has negotiated in good faith. But I question the DRC’s gov’t’s sincerity as well. The current regime doesn’t seem to have the legitimacy of the people. I feel that political games are always being played, and none of the parties at the negotiating table have the Congolese people’s interests at heart. I am forced to ask why the operations you mentioned didn’t result in the rooting out of FDLR. It seems that political stake holders have agendas of their own, both in the DRC and in Rwanda.

  3. MrCongoo says:

    Anand –

    Not too sure about the wall but I feel the DRC govt has been negotiating in good faith and I can point you to a few examples to support my claim. Since 1996, the rwandan army has been allowed on DRC soil to deal with so called threats by remnant genocidairs and FDLR. the more recent ones were Amani leo and Umoja Wetu operations which saw a joint effort by both the FARDC & RDF to deal with the same threats. However, the conflict started when DRC wanted to end parallel chains of command within FARDC. These chains of command were maintained by officers (B Ntaganda, S Makenga et al.) who are sympathetic to the regime in kigali. Many reports have shown the link between EDRC rebellions and the regime in Kigali so in my opinion and based on proven facts, the regime in kigali did not negotiate in all sincerity and worse it acted to further destabilise DRC when this nation was most vulnerable.


  4. Anand Upadhyaya says:

    I appreciate the idea in terms of trying for actual and effectual border control. But who would set up, fund, and maintain such an endeavor? Also, I can totally agree that many of the negotiations over the years have been colored with insincerity, but can we say for certain that the DRC government has been negotiating in good faith and it is only Rwanda who is negotiating for “side effects?” Very interesting piece all around! Thank you for writing, Alex.

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