Restoration of DRC-Uganda Ties Shows New Regional Cooperation

31 August 2009

The reinstatement of full diplomatic ties last week between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo is the latest development signaling a new era in the region's politics, following the DRC's recent willingness to cooperate militarily with its easterly neighbors.  Rwanda and the DRC similarly restored full relations in July.  

In December last year the DRC permitted Ugandan forces to enter its northeastern territory to try to root out the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

The exchange of ambassadors between the two countries is the first in nearly 12 years.  During this time the two countries maintained their embassies, but had rejected full relations.

Ties between the two countries were seriously strained by the excursion of Ugandan forces into the largely lawless eastern Congo territory to fight rebel groups that were using the area as a safe haven.

Ugandan State Minister for International Affairs Henry Oryem Okello, address a media conference at the government Media Centre in Kampala (File Photo - 13 Jul 2009)<br />
Ugandan State Minister for International Affairs Henry Oryem Okello, addresses a media conference in Kampala (File Photo - 13 Jul 2009)
Ugandan Minister for International Affairs Okello Oryem told VOA the military cooperation late last year against the LRA was the turning point in two country's volatile relationship.

"These are significant developments by any standard in the relationship we are having with the DRC, which had degenerated to a very low level," said Oryem.

The recent course of events bringing fresh links between the two countries closely mirrors the renewal of relations between the DRC and Rwanda.

Soon after the Congolese military cooperated with Ugandan forces against the LRA, the DRC and Rwanda engaged in joint military operations against the Hutu rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.

In July Rwanda and DRC formally appointed ambassadors for the first time in more than a decade.

Oryem said that the improvement in bilateral ties with the DRC took much longer than should have been the case, but said that a variety of factors finally led to the new mindset among the region's players.

"I think that the change in attitude in the leadership, the change in the environment around them, the change in the international diplomacy, all contributed to the timing now for finally around last year for things to start to take a new course and new developments," he added.

The improved ties between the countries are good news for the region's inhabitants, where sour relations between the DRC and its eastern neighbors had driven instability in the mineral-rich region for more than a decade.

Foreign armed rebel groups have used unstable eastern Congo as their bases of operations, and both Rwanda and Uganda have supported rebel movements to topple the DRC's government.

In July 2002 Rwanda and the DRC signed a peace agreement that called for the withdrawal of 20,000 Rwandan troops from Congolese territory.  A couple of months later, the DRC completed negotiations with Uganda to end their respective hostilities.

According to Oryem, the renewed relations with the DRC has eased cross-border movement by the region's locals.  He says business and trade between the two neighbors has been steadily rising the past few months. 

Earlier this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met Congolese President Joseph Kabila on the border to signal a new page in DRC-Uganda relations.