Border Clashes: No Significant Long-Term Risk

BMI View: Border clashes between Rwandan and Congolese forces pose little risk to regional security. Occasional clashes will continue, but an escalation to a broader military conflict is highly unlikely.

A series of armed skirmishes along the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has killed at least one Congolese soldier, increasing tensions in the volatile region. Even so, BMI doubts that the violence poses a systemic risk to regional security. Neither Rwanda nor the DRC has an incentive to further escalate the situation; we expect that relatively low-level clashes will continue but not lead to a larger-scale conflict.

Poor Border Demarcation Facilitates Clashes

Bloody Borders
Great Lakes - Eastern DRC & Rwanda

Border Clashes: No Significant Long-Term Risk

BMI View: Border clashes between Rwandan and Congolese forces pose little risk to regional security. Occasional clashes will continue, but an escalation to a broader military conflict is highly unlikely.

A series of armed skirmishes along the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has killed at least one Congolese soldier, increasing tensions in the volatile region. Even so, BMI doubts that the violence poses a systemic risk to regional security. Neither Rwanda nor the DRC has an incentive to further escalate the situation; we expect that relatively low-level clashes will continue but not lead to a larger-scale conflict.

Poor Border Demarcation Facilitates Clashes

Officials in Kigali claim that the fighting began when Congolese forces crossed the border early on the morning of June 11 and fired at a Rwandan patrol vehicle. Rwandan forces confronted them, killing one soldier. A second Congolese attack later that day left four more DRC troops dead. Both sides used heavier weapons to fire across the border on June 12.

Congolese officials claim that the fighting started when Rwandan troops crossed the border into the DRC in an attempt to occupy the Kanyesheja Hill, kidnapping a Congolese soldier whom they later killed. Kinshasa denies claims that four Congolese troops died, asserting that Rwandan-published photographs show villagers wearing stolen Congolese uniforms.

It is impossible to independently verify either claim. Given that the DRC-Rwandan border is poorly demarcated, it is very possible that a routine patrol accidentally crossed the frontier, precipitating the violence by accident.

Bloody Borders
Great Lakes - Eastern DRC & Rwanda

Mutual Accusations Exacerbate Tensions

Border clashes between the two countries are common. Rwanda blames Kinshasa's corruption and mismanagement for turning the Congolese province of North Kivu into a perennial conflict zone that provides a refuge for the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Officials in Kigali describe the Congolese army as a patchwork of ill-disciplined former rebels who harass Rwandan citizens and do not respect the countries' border. One pro-government Rwandan journalist claims that Congolese soldiers captured in Rwanda on June 11 admit that they crossed the border hoping to find 'food, beer, and women'.

Congolese officials say that violence in North Kivu is largely the result of Rwandan meddling, noting that Kigali has fought two wars in the DRC since 1994 and frequently supports rebel groups in the country. Far from wanting stability, they claim that Rwanda benefits from an anarchic situation that allows it to steal Congolese resources and justify self-serving invasions of the DRC as efforts to preserve regional stability.

Violence Will Continue, But Poses Little Systemic Risk

The recent fire-fights must be seen in the context of this ongoing dispute. Although they were on a slightly larger scale than most border clashes - which seldom result in military casualties - we do not believe that the June 11-12 incidents represent a serious escalation of the conflict. Rwandan and Congolese forces will gather at the two countries' border over the coming weeks, and intermittent low-level fighting may continue but not escalate.

Congolese forces would lose any large-scale conflict with their Rwandan counterparts, who are better trained and better armed. Rwanda, heavily dependent on Western aid, will seek to avoid a conflict that could result in the deaths of UN peacekeepers posted to North Kivu.

Both states have claimed the current fighting as a propaganda coup, using it as evidence of their neighbour's duplicity. Both, however, would suffer from an escalation to open conflict. Given the deployment of UN troops and aerial drones, the first party to escalate the situation would suffer a significant blow to its reputation with key foreign allies, making a larger-scale move by either party unlikely.

Risks To Outlook

It remains possible that a series of accidents could result in larger-scale violence along the border. This result would have dire humanitarian consequences, but would present a relatively minimal economic risk to the DRC.

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