IN Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), tensions escalated on Monday as police deployed tear gas to disperse protesters who ignited tyres and set fire to US and Belgian flags near Western embassies and United Nations offices. The demonstrators voiced their frustrations over the persistent insecurity plaguing eastern Congo.
Seizing on a new tactic, the protesters aimed their ire at embassies, alleging Western support for neighbouring Rwanda, accused of backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebellion. This rebellion’s encroachment toward the strategic city of Goma in the east has exacerbated fears among Congolese citizens.
Rwanda vehemently denied the accusations of supporting rebel groups. However, Congo, along with Western governments including the United States and Belgium, and a United Nations expert group, maintain that the rebel factions benefit from Rwandan assistance.
Despite heightened security measures following attacks on United Nations staff and vehicles on Saturday, groups of protesters converged at the US and French embassies, as well as the offices of the United Nations mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO.
Some demonstrators resorted to violence, hurling stones and attempting to damage surveillance cameras at the United States embassy offices. Chants of ‘Leave our country, we don’t want your hypocrisy’ echoed through the streets, reflecting widespread anger and disillusionment.
Pepin Mbindu, a participant in the protest, accused Western powers of complicity in the country’s woes, stating, ‘The Westerners are behind the looting of our country, Rwanda doesn’t work alone, so they must leave our country.’
Videos circulated on social media purportedly showing one demonstrator removing the European Union flag from the entrance of a prominent hotel in central Kinshasa, although Reuters has not authenticated the footage.
Fabrice Malumba, a motorcycle driver joining the demonstration, condemned the international community’s silence on Congolese suffering, alleging financial support to Rwanda. Meanwhile, police responded to the escalating tensions by firing tear gas and dispersing protesters.
In response to the unrest, Congo’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Christophe Lutundula, convened with ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions in Kinshasa on Sunday. Assurances were made regarding the implementation of security measures to safeguard diplomatic representations.
General Blaise Mbula Kilimba Limba, Kinshasa’s police chief, affirmed the commitment to uphold security protocols in accordance with the Vienna Convention. However, the underlying tensions persist amid decades of conflicts in eastern Congo, fuelled by rival armed groups vying for land and resources, resulting in widespread violence and displacement.
As Congo grapples with internal strife, exacerbated by external pressures and resource exploitation, the nation’s significance as the world’s leading supplier of cobalt and Africa’s top copper producer remains undiminished.