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Minister Lahbib asked President Tshisekedi to do everything possible to implement the 'Luanda script' (© FPS Foreign Affairs/ Eric Herchaft).
While visiting Angola and the DR Congo, Foreign Minister Lahbib called for the immediate cessation of violence in the eastern Congo. She supports the proposal that an EU observer mission should closely monitor the elections in the Congo this December.
For more than 25 years, the eastern Congo has lived in a veritable hell. An inextricable tangle of armed groups fight each other there, and the population suffers as a result. Not only are there many deaths and injuries, people regularly have to flee en masse, women are victims of horrific rapes ... The suffering is enormous.
Recently, the violence has flared up again. The rebel group M23, which had disappeared from the radar for a time, has resurfaced and visibly gained strength. The fighting is taking place around Goma, a city with a population of millions on the border with Rwanda.
A report by UN experts shows that Rwanda is involved with the advance of M23. The Congolese army is also said to be cooperating with armed groups which could threaten Rwanda's security. So the violence could escalate even more and lead to open conflict between Rwanda and the DR Congo.
During his visit to the Congo last year, HM the King already made it clear that Belgium will continue to work for peace in the eastern Congo. Belgium will therefore continue to assist the affected population there.
Minister Lahbib meets Angolan President Lourenço, an active mediator in the conflict in Eastern Congo (© FPS Foreign Affairs/ Eric Herchaft).
In order to strengthen our peace efforts, the Foreign Minister, Hadja Lahbib, travelled to Angola and the DR Congo in early February 2023. In Angola, she met with President João Lourenço and the Angolan foreign minister, among others. Angola is not only a solid and credible partner for Belgium (see box), the President is also very actively mediating the conflict in the eastern Congo. His efforts are known as the 'Luanda Process'. Belgium supports this process, therefore, Minister Lahbib encouraged the president to continue his role as mediator.
In the Congo, our minister asked President Tshisekedi to do everything possible to implement the 'Luanda Roadmap'. That roadmap - mediated by the Angolan president and approved by both the Congo and Rwanda - sets out a number of action points. Accordingly, M23 should withdraw and any support to all the armed groups should cease immediately and permanently, both on the part of Rwanda and the Congo.
Moreover, the hate discourse should stop and each other's territory should be respected. The roadmap also encourages the resumption of dialogue in order to restore broken trust.
In addition, before she left, Minister Lahbib had a telephone conversation with the Rwandan foreign minister in which she also urged him to implement the roadmap and accordingly end all its support for M23.
The Nairobi Process
Following Minister Lahbib's visit, Burundi hosted a mini summit of the East African Community (EAC), a community of East African countries of which both the Congo and Rwanda, but not Angola, are members. The EAC is also working for peace in the eastern Congo, including through a joint peacekeeping force in the eastern Congo.
It also demands a demobilisation of all the armed groups operating in the eastern Congo and their reintegration into the community. The EAC's peace efforts are known as the Nairobi Process because Kenya initiated it.
The mini summit has resulted in a meeting between the Congolese President Tshisekedi and the Rwandan President Kagame. Shortly thereafter, President Tshisekedi travelled to Angola.
Minister Lahbib visits the Belgian Centre Européen des Visas where Congolese submit their visa applications (© FPS Foreign Affairs/ Eric Herchaft).
A second major focus of Minister Lahbib's visit involved the elections scheduled for 20 December in the Congo. But a country at war cannot hold perfectly democratic elections. After all, the residents in the areas ravaged by violence cannot participate. Accordingly, stability is indispensable for any successful elections.
Minister Lahbib not only talked to the authorities organising the elections, but also met with a number of NGOs and some of the main opposition presidential candidates. She also visited a centre where voters can register.
The Congolese president had indicated that electoral observation missions would be welcome. Belgium also supports that idea and thinks an EU observation mission should be sent to the Congo. So the minister pleaded with the Congo to submit an application for that purpose.
Minister Lahbib in conversation with representatives of civil society (© FPS Foreign Affairs/ Eric Herchaft).
Continued strong engagement
In addition to these strong diplomatic efforts, we should not lose sight of the fact that Belgium is already strongly engaged in the region. As such, military cooperation with the Congo has been resumed. Some 30 Belgian instructors are active in Kindu while 4 Congolese officers are undergoing training in Belgium.
Belgium has also worked to develop a holistic vision of the security sector with European partners: police – army – justice – prisons. Within that framework, the Belgian development agency, Enabel, will support the reform of the Congolese police in cooperation with the federal police.
Belgium has also launched a new, 5-year programme of development cooperation. This includes supporting the fiscal policy and budget management of the Congolese Ministry of Finance. Through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), we are seeking to promote the sustainable management of natural resources.
In addition, at the request of the Congolese authorities, Belgium is supporting the possibilities for a "transitional justice system" which can contribute to reconciliation and the fight against impunity. Belgium is also supporting various projects which raise public awareness about the elections and strengthen civil society.
Belgium is strongly pushing the idea that the EU must become more engaged in the Congo, and that is bearing fruit. On 20 February 2023, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted a new strategy for the Great Lakes (= Central Africa).
The minister's various talks echoed the demand that Belgium should continue to do everything possible in order to keep the Congo high on the agenda, on a European as well as an international level. As such, we are building on the renewed momentum of our cooperation with the Congo which began with the royal visit last year.
Angola, a solid partner
Minister Lahbib's visit to Angola was framed within her efforts for peace in the eastern Congo, but the country is also a solid and reliable partner for Belgium, with ever-increasing trade in both directions. We maintain historical relationships with Angola and have long-standing collaborations in various sectors such as ports, railroads, diamonds, climate, environment and water. The visit therefore provided an opportunity for strengthening further these close ties.
Because many areas of Angola still have many landmines - a remnant of years of civil war - Belgium is also active in landmine clearance there through the Norwegian People's Aid and APOPO. APOPO is a Belgian NGO which uses rats to detect landmines very effectively. Consequently, a visit by the minister to the Angolan landmine clearance agency, ANAM, could not be missed.