Last week on Sunday morning, a makeshift bomb went off in a Catholic church in the city, injuring two women, followed just hours later by a suicide bombing outside a bar.
A day earlier, a bomb exploded next to a petrol station on the outskirts of Beni without causing any damage.
Beni is in the North Kivu province, one of two regions President Felix Tshisekedi placed under a “state of siege” on May 6 in a bid to clamp down on rebel violence in the region.
The violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been growing, escalating in the recent years, and keeps attracting neighbours to intervene in the affairs of Kinshasa.
In a meeting between President Yoweri Museveni and members of the committee of experts consulting on the East African Confederation recently, the Ugandan leader argued that integrating more volatile neighbours into the bloc is mainly for strategic security and to secure a bigger regional market.
Mr Museveni’s thinking is that by bringing on board volatile and weak neighbours to form a bigger economic and political bloc shields those states from both internal and external threats.
It is under this basis that Museveni personally advocated for inclusion of Rwanda and Burundi into the East African Community. It is under the same reasoning that Museveni accepted South Sudan and now wants DRC to join the bloc.
Museveni’s theory has however remained redundant as conflicts continue to manifest in EAC member states without the regional bloc able to prevail over those disputes.
For instance, to date Burundi has fundamental differences with Rwanda with pockets of violence amongst them whereas the border between Rwanda and Uganda remains closed, three years on.
Even South Sudan, the newest member of EAC, is just recovering from fresh wounds of a bitter rivalry between different armed factions that want state power.
Yet in all these cases, the EAC remains either non-committal to addressing the disputes or powerless in resolving those conflicts.
It’s for this reason that Hon Mukasa Mbidde, Uganda’s representative to the East African Legislative Assembly, is questioning the urgent need to admit the DRC, a market with about 90 million people.
Hon Mbidde says that although DRC could bring with it an additional huge economic market into the EAC but with it comes along a baggage of violence in eastern part of the country.
On 8 June 2019, in a letter addressed to Paul Kagame, the DRC requested its integration into the EAC, which so far comprises Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Southern Sudan.
On Friday last week, the verification process was launched by EAC Secretary-General Peter Mathuki alongside Congolese President Felix Tshishekedi in the eastern DR Congo town of Goma.
The team, led by Christophe Bazivamo, has been in the DR Congo from June 25 to July 4 to assess the country’s suitability for admission into the EAC.
The team consists of three experts from each partner state funded by the EAC Secretariat and an additional maximum of two experts to be funded by the nominating Partner State to carry out the mission.
It is expected to review the current status of the DR Congo in international law and establish the country’s level of conformity with the criteria for admission of foreign countries, among other criteria.
Following the verification, a report will then be compiled and presented to the EAC Council of Ministers who will then table it before the Summit of EAC Heads of State. The heads of state will then consider whether to admit the DR Congo into the bloc.
Speck in the eye
But DRC should worry of a court case rotating around Kinshasa’s human rights record. Mr Adam Kyomuhendo, an advocate of the High Court of Uganda has filed a suit with the East African Court of Justice seeking to block the admission of DR Congo into the bloc.
Mr Kyomuhendo wants the admission of DRC stayed until hearing and determination of the case. The main case is seeking court orders to permanently stop the EAC Summit from admitting the country into the bloc because DR Congo has allegedly been illegally and without due trial or process holding Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party activist Sam Mugumya and more than 35 other Ugandans.
Mr Kyomuhendo alleges that the Ugandans have been held in the DR Congo for more than six years now contrary to human rights laws and the EAC Treaty.
However, of the six members of the bloc Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have already publicly expressed themselves in favour of DRC’s admission into EAC after Kinshasa offering juicy deals to the three countries.
Since April, the DRC leader has sealed trade, infrastructure and security deals with the three partner states that want DRC to join EAC.
On June 16, President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi and his Ugandan counterpart President Museveni commissioned the construction of 223kms of roads that will connect the two countries.
The two leaders, who met at Mpondwe, a border point between DRC and Uganda, said the projects will “cause a tremendous change in socio-economic transformation of the lives of the two people.”
Uganda will contribute 20 per cent of the total cost of the project as a measure to boost trade between the two countries. The roads to be built are Nebbi-Goli Mahagi-Bunia (190kms), Bunia-Bogoro-Kasenyi (55km) and Rwebisengo-Budiba-Buguma-Nyiyapandam, including Budiaba Bridge across River Semuliki (49km).
“I am very happy for His Excellency Felix who brought DRC in the East African Community, now you cannot talk about East Africa without talking about DRC,” Mr Museveni said during the commissioning.
A few days later, on June 25, the DRC leader visited Rwanda and met with President Paul Kagame. Discussions mainly centred on the security situation in eastern DRC and the signing of trade agreements.
The two leaders then toured the City of Rubavu to assess the damages caused by the recent earthquakes which followed Nyiragongo volcanic eruption.
Then the next day, Saturday, President Kagame reciprocated the working visit by traveling to DRC’s City of Goma where he was received by President Tshisekedi.
The bilateral visits were apparently planned in Paris in May when President Macron invited African leaders to France.
President Kagame promised to support his counterpart for his decision to put in place a state of emergency in the eastern DRC.
“A state of emergency clearly in itself is a message that this is a serious matter that has to be dealt with. Rwanda is ready to provide or associate ourselves with DRC, in whatever form, within our means, towards addressing this challenge,” said President Kagame.
DRC has equally made deals with Kenya. On April 21 this year, Tshisekedi and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement in Kinshasa that paves way for deployment of Kenyan troops there and a new deal to handle cargo from the port of Mombasa that grants the DRC certain privileges for using Kenyan facilities.
Kenya also offered to open diplomatic outposts in Goma and Lubumbashi in eastern DRC in what President Kenyatta said would ease consular services for traders.
DRC proxy frontline
With these economic and security deals appear easy to chew but may be hard to swallow because of worries that eastern DRC will again become a frontline of a likely armed conflict between Uganda and Rwanda.
During the 1998-2003 inter-Congolese war, the two countries backed competing rebel factions in the eastern DRC and deployed their own forces into the country, with Rwandan and Ugandan troops battling for the city of Kisangani in 2000.
Thereafter, the insurgency in eastern DRC became a result of Rwanda and Uganda’s military expeditions.
Uganda has cautiously decided to follow up her road construction ventures in DRC with some troop deployment to protect her interests.
On the other hand, Rwanda says it has deployed intelligence personnel in DRC to help Tshisekedi fight unrest there.
But analysts claim the two are warming up for a full-fledged confrontation in DRC after three years of tension.
To punish Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are finalising plans to build a new road to promote trade and commerce and circumvent a barrier presented by Rwanda’s closure of Gatuna border in early 2019.
The new infrastructure to pass through northern Tanzania will fork out from Uganda in two fangs; Kitagate in Isingiro to Karagwe and Myotera-Mutukula to Karagwe, then merge into one thoroughfare to roll over Ngara in north-western Tanzania and link to Burundi’s Kobero Border Crossing Point.
These two routes are 360Km and 274Km, respectively, according to Google map computations, and would take anywhere between four to six-and-half hours to drive, comparable to seven-and-half hours drive on the 348 kilometres from Gatuna to Bujumbura.
However, the drive from Kobero to Burundi’s Bujumbura capital could take an additional 4 hours.
Although the Uganda-Burundi route is a safe way to bypass Rwanda it is likely that Kigali will continue to see this as provocation. And this could spark off an armed conflicts between these countries using DRC as a frontline, again.
Rwanda and Uganda forces fought bitter battles in the eastern DRC, conflicts that were code-named Kisangai 1 and 2.
The rivalry between Mr Kagame and Mr Museveni, has long been among the gravest contributors to instability in the Great Lakes region. Animosity between the two men has sharpened dramatically in the last two years.
Competition between Rwanda and Uganda traditionally has played out mostly in the DRC, where both have sought to win influence and control turf.
DRC’s problem may not only be the tension between Uganda and Rwanda but also remnants of former President Joseph Kabila — and in particular certain generals who have remained loyal to the former president — seem to be looking more towards the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Therefore, Tshisekedi might have to do a lot of convincing that by joining EAC his country remains a key partner of SADC.
However, so far Tshisekedi has proved that he is a superb diplomat that has ably utilized his skills to bring together Rwanda and Uganda even though the two have not completely warmed upto to Tshisekedi’s political games.
Tshisekedi and his Angolan counterpart facilitated discussions in July 2019 between the Rwandan and Ugandan presidents in Luanda. Tshisekedi has also worked to improve DRC’s relations with Rwanda. At the same time, however, he has pursued a plan under which Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda would conduct military operations, under the DRC army’s authority, against insurgencies sheltering in his country.
Therefore, by joining EAC, Tshisekedi not only brings on board a lucrative market for Kagame and Museveni but also something that could entice the two warring leaders to abandon their petty differences and focus on consolidating Africa’s biggest market for the benefit of their people.
“DRC has enormous economic and financial potential which is good for EAC, but the political situation in DRC is fluid and fragile. One hopes that membership of EAC will help to stabilise the political situation in DRC,” said Harold Acemah, a retired Ugandan diplomat.
DRC’s eastern region has interacted with East Africa through trade and commerce in addition to utilising the Dar es Salaam and Mombasa ports for its export and import business.