Congo-Kinshasa: Analysis – Blinken’s Visits and U.S.’s Crucial Role in Angola, DRC

To bolster alliances and nurture stability, Secretary Blinken’s Angola visit aims to chart a course for a US-DRC diplomatic renaissance.

Following the inauguration for a second term of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Angola, seeking to shore up regional diplomacy critical to easing tensions in eastern Congo.

The visit holds the promise of strengthening US-DRC relations and addressing critical concerns in the region, with a spotlight on Angola’s pivotal role in mitigating tensions in the eastern DRC.

“Angola has played a really important role in trying to address and reduce the tensions in the eastern Congo,” said State Department’s Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee ahead of Mr Blinken’s trip.

Speaking in Washington on Thursday, Ms Phee shed light on the significant role Angola has played in addressing and reducing tensions in the eastern Congo. Reflecting on recent developments, she highlighted a diplomatic mission to Kinshasa and Kigali, expressing concern about the spike in tensions between the Rwandans and the Congolese. The diplomatic efforts, including weekly check-ins, were instrumental in ensuring that the withdrawal of the East African Community Regional troop presence did not disrupt the DRC’s elections. Yet last month, the DRC pulled off relatively peaceful elections–thanks in no small part to unsung efforts by Angola to calm inflamed relations between Kinshasa and Kigali, believed to back opposing armed groups.

Specifically, Angolan leadership of the so-called Luanda peace process over the past two years helped avoid potential bloodshed around the recent vote, Ms Phee explained. Both Congolese parties and nervous US officials feared overt external interference.

Now with Mr Tshisekedi’s position strengthened, Mr Blinken will meet Angolan foreign minister Téte António and President João Lourenço to discuss ensuring local dialogues can bear fruit.

Ms Phee says Washington aims “to complement what we have invested in and what [Angola’s] invested in”–including sending its forces as part of a regional coalition, now withdrawn–so lasting solutions may emerge to end Congo’s long-running misery.

With Luanda proving its mettle as a quiet crisis manager, and Kinshasa and Kigali showing willingness to talk, Mr Blinken’s visit signals Washington believes peace – however fragile – may no longer be fleeting.

To the swearing into office of President Félix Tshisekedi, President Joseph Biden sent a high-ranking delegation. The US team was led by International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) CEO Scott Nathan, signalling Washington’s desire to expand its strategic partnership with Kinshasa. The American delegation included US Ambassador to the DRC Lucy Tamlyn, top diplomats and development officials.

The appointment of senior-level individuals who are overseeing Africa policy, and are leaders of major development agencies, underscores Washington’s commitment to expanding strategic ties with the Congolese people. While lacking the economic brand of influence of China, now the DRC’s largest trading partner, Washington wields unrivalled political influence..

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based White House Correspondent, and media commentator with expertise in US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe

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