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Blinken Arrives in DRC; Regional Stability Tops Agenda

Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, left, welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Cite de l’OUA, in Kinshasa, DRC, Aug. 9, 2022.
Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, left, welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Cite de l’OUA, in Kinshasa, DRC, Aug. 9, 2022.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday to raise concerns that tensions with neighboring Rwanda could spread instability in the region. Political analysts say the United States is also concerned about Russia and China's access to rare earth minerals in the DRC.

The top priority during Blinken's two-day stay to Congo is pushing for peace between the DRC and Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of backing militia groups.

Blinken is visiting the DRC as part of his second trip to Africa as the U.S. top diplomat. The trip follows a visit by his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, his first to Congo.

Analysts say the Cold War rivals are vying for influence in the DRC, which is marred with violence and conflict in its east because of the region’s rare minerals. Macharia Munene, an expert on international relations, said its part of a power play.

"The strategic resources, minerals and other critical ones that are used for industrial development as well as weaponry and technology, and Congo is extremely rich in these things so whoever can deny those things to other people becomes very powerful," he said.

Munene said the conflicts in Congo are destabilizing the country along with neighboring Rwanda and by extension other nearby nations. He said the issue is one of concern to the United States.

"You never know who is going to come up and take advantage of the situation, to the detriment of the U.S. interest," he said. "Now as [a] destabilizing force not just in eastern Congo but in Rwanda, maybe a bit of Burundi."

Another top issue amid the long-standing rivalry between DRC and Rwanda is the re-emergence of M23 rebels. Kinshasa says Kigali is backing the rebels, but Rwanda has repeatedly denied the allegations. Congo’s army, along with a United Nations mission in Congo known as MONUSCO, defeated the M23 in 2013. In November of last year, its forces began to reappear.

Their reappearance is threatening human rights in Congo, according to the United Nations. Separately, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for Africa, Kate Hixon, said the U.S. should remain focused on rights issues.

"Blinken's visit is a welcome engagement but only a few raise human rights issues with Congolese and Rwanda counterparts; the fact that it is Blinken's second visit to the continent two years into his tenure demonstrates the importance of [the] DRC to the U.S. human rights policy," she said.

Congolese officials say such high-profile visits to the DRC are raising hope that their country is beginning to attract developed nations. Congo's presidential adviser, Jean Jacques Elaka, told VOA that such renewed interest could help Kinshasa get back on its feet.

"His coming shows Congo is beginning to be attractive; I can't begin to mention leaders from nations all over the world who have visited Congo this year and last year. There were many," Elaka said.

As part of hios Africa tour, Blinken is scheduled to visit Rwanda on Thursday. He has already visited South Africa on his trip.

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.