US intelligence chief Avril Haines visits DRC and Rwanda amid rising tensions

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The White House has confirmed that US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines embarked on a diplomatic mission to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 19 and 20 November, along with a team of senior government officials, with escalating tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) high on the agenda.

Accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and Special Assistant to President Joseph Biden and National Security Council Senior Director for African Affairs Judd Devermont, the delegation aimed to address and de-escalate tensions in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The high-level talks involved meetings with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi. While the specific outcomes of the delegation’s visit were yet fully disclosed at the time of publication, it was revealed that both leaders committed to taking concrete steps to reduce existing tensions by addressing the security concerns of their respective countries. These steps were derived from previous agreements made under the Luanda and Nairobi processes with the support of neighbouring countries.

The US government expressed its support for and intention to closely monitor these measures, emphasizing its commitment to fostering security and prosperity for the people of Congo and Rwanda. The diplomatic and intelligence engagements between the two countries are expected to receive backing from the US.

This visit comes against a backdrop of heightened tensions in the region, with the UN Group of Experts previously uncovering evidence of direct interventions by the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) in DRC territory. These interventions were allegedly aimed at reinforcing M23 combatants or conducting military operations against the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and local armed groups. The Rwandan government has consistently denied these allegations.

Despite concerns expressed by Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders in early November, no confirmed troop deployment was publicly announced, and the UN previously said that a SADC Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC) force deployment was expected by 30 September this year. Meanwhile, the ceasefire with the M23 has not held, adding complexity to the situation.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe