Antony Blinken in Africa: Here's what rights groups want him to address in Rwanda and DRC

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
PHOTO: US Embassy in Bangladesh, Andalou Agency/Ge
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit the DRC and Rwanda on his tour of Africa. 
  • Rights groups want Blinken to push DRC President Felix Tshisekedi to commit to electoral reforms ahead of 2023 polls.
  • They are also calling for a firmer approach towards Paul Kagame in Rwanda, particularly about the conflict in DRC.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken started his whirlwind three-nation tour of Africa in South Africa over the weekend.

After his visit to South Africa, he is expected to travel to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), two neighbouring countries with fractured relations.

Rights groups expect him to "publicly promote free and fair elections, respect for human rights, and anti-corruption efforts during his visit to the DRC".

Floribert Anzuluni of The Sentry and FILIMBI – pro-democracy and human rights groups in the DRC – told Human Rights Watch (HRW): 

Secretary Blinken should denounce the escalating repression against activists, protesters, and journalists and warn that growing intolerance toward critics risks free, credible, and timely elections in 2023.

Rights groups in the DRC say a repeat of the 2018 elections – which were marred by widespread irregularities, including voter and candidate suppression, and non-credible official results – were not in the best interests of one of Africa's resource-cursed nations.

Blinken will arrive in the DRC for his 9-10 August visit as the M23 rebel outfit is killing civilians in the east of the country. 

A recent United Nations report claimed that M23 rebels were backed by neighbours Rwanda, a claim that Rwanda last week denied once again.

The Rwanda problem in DRC

A prominent problem in eastern DRC's conflict is the M23, originally made up of soldiers who mutinied in early 2012. 

According to HRW, the rebels "went on to commit widespread war crimes, with support from Rwandan troops".

Rights groups say that for more than a decade, the DRC has failed to defuse the remnants of the rebel outfit.

This resulted in them regrouping last year amid poor political will for peace and stability.

"Since May, M23 forces have at times overrun UN-backed Congolese forces in eastern Congo. Throughout the renewed fighting, hate speech, in some cases by government officials, and stigmatisation of communities linked to neighbouring countries have been growing," HRW said.

Call Kagame to order

Rights groups expect Blinken to take a similar stance taken by former US president Barack Obama when he met Rwandan President Paul Kagame in 2012.

Father Rigobert Minani Bihuzo of the Center of Studies for Social Action said:

Secretary Blinken should inform Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, as President Barack Obama did in 2012, that the US will not tolerate any support for M23.

"Blinken should make clear that the US will impose targeted sanctions on government officials and others found to be supporting abusive armed groups," he said.

DRC president and corruption. 

DRC rights groups are of the view that President Félix Tshisekedi has not done enough to fight corruption, and want Blinken to focus on that.

"President Félix Tshisekedi has made very little progress in dismantling high-level corruption, which stymies security, development, and responsible investment. Unrestrained corruption in the lucrative mining sector denies the Congolese people the benefits of the country’s vast natural wealth and deters responsible businesses from making long-term investments in the country," HRW said.

Groups want Blinken to emphasise why the DRC government should reform the military, including improved anti-corruption mechanisms, the vetting and removal of abusive officers, and investigations of officers implicated in past war crimes.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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