We should expect three developments when French President Nicholas Sarkozy visits Kinshasa next week. One is an announcement of more French aid to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second is a call to revive the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL), which brings together Burundi, Rwanda and DRC, and the third are demonstrations against the sharing of resources between the DRC and Rwanda, which the French President has been advocating.
Congolese nationalists staged a protest in front of the French Embassy this week in Kinshasa and threatened more during Sarkozy’s upcoming visit. They are opposed to the normalization of economic relations between Rwanda and the DRC in the eastern provinces, fearful that Rwanda’s long record of just taking what it wants in the region belies the country’s willingness to cooperate in a transparent economy based on a rule of law. Recent peace overtures between the governments of DRC President Joseph Kabila and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, especially the joint military operation against the FDLR in North Kivu, have thrown fuel on the fires of opposition.
Sarkozy’s official state visit will include an address to the national parliament and visits with Congolese officials. He has already sworn to support the economic reconstruction of the eastern provinces now that there appears to be some glimmer of hope that the insurgents who ravaged the countryside are slowly being brought under control. I would not be surprised to hear an announcement of a significant aid package with an emphasis on infrastructure reconstruction.
The most controversial aspect of his visit will be the call to revitalize CEPGL, the organization founded in 1976 to promote regional development and economic cooperation. The First and Second Congo Wars and subsequent dissolution of the region into a quagmire of violence pretty much destroyed any progress that had been made by the group. Now may be the time to revive the organization–or something like it–as an important step in bringing peace to the region.