Africa

Congolese ambassador returns to Kenya after seven-month recall over tensions

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The ambassador was officially welcomed back last week by a group of African ambassadors, including the Somali, Zimbabwean, and Zambian envoys, after almost seven months away.

The Congolese ambassador to Kenya, John Nyakeru Kalunga, has returned to his post in Nairobi after being recalled months ago amidst heightened tensions between Nairobi and Kinshasa.

The envoy was recalled last December in protest by Kinshasa over Nairobi’s perceived inaction when M23 rebel leader Bertrand Bisimwa alongside the former Congolese electoral body chief launched a political-military outfit aimed at overthrowing the Kinshasa government on Kenyan soil.

The ambassador was officially welcomed back last week by a group of African ambassadors, including the Somali, Zimbabwean, and Zambian envoys, after almost seven months away.

Nyakeru was appointed as the DRC's Ambassador to Kenya by President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo in May 2022 and presented his credentials to former President Uhuru Kenyatta that same month.

Kenya and the DRC have experienced strained relations since the departure of former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was highly regarded by Congolese authorities.

His successor, William Ruto, faces a challenging situation as he tries to balance relations between Nairobi, Kinshasa, and Kigali. Ruto has publicly aligned himself with Rwandan President Paul Kagame for the first time regarding the conflict in eastern Congo.

Kagame has consistently argued that the conflict stems from internal issues that President Tshisekedi’s administration has failed to address.

In a late May interview with Jeune Afrique, Ruto stated that during previous discussions with DRC officials, they agreed that the M23 rebels are Congolese and therefore a problem for Kinshasa.

“As heads of state, in a meeting, we asked, M23, the people in there, are they Rwandese or are they Congolese? And the DRC said these are Congolese. End of question.”

“So, if these are Congolese, how does it become a Rwanda problem? How does it become a Kagame problem?” Ruto said.

The M23 rebels have been designated a terrorist group by both the United Nations and the DRC.

Ruto said the suggestions put forth by the M23 resonated with all regional leaders, prompting them to urge the government in the DRC to initiate a dialogue with its citizens to address the issue at hand. He did not elaborate on when this happened.

“We in the EAC believe that the challenge in eastern DRC cannot be resolved solely through military force if those involved are open to dialogue,” Ruto stated.

These remarks were received unfavourably by DRC authorities, especially since President Ruto made them while in Kigali, a capital viewed as hostile by Kinshasa.

Despite these tensions, business continues to thrive between the two East African Community partner states.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has emerged as Kenya's fastest-growing export market within the East African Community (EAC) bloc, according to new data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

Kenya's exports to the DRC surged by 56.04 per cent to Sh8.62 billion in the first quarter of 2024, the highest year-on-year growth in over a decade.

This significant increase is attributed to the reduced import duty on wheat from 35 to 10 per cent, implemented in July last year.

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