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INVESTIGATING THE CAUSES OF CONFLICT IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC)
Location of the D R Congo
The Congo is situated at the heart of the west-central portion of sub-Saharan Africa. DR Congo borders the Central African Republic and Sudan on the North; Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi on the East; Zambia and Angola on the South; the Republic of the Congo on the West; and is separated from Tanzania by Lake Tanganyika on the East. The country enjoys access to the ocean through a 40-kilometre (25 mile) stretch of Atlantic coastline at Muanda and the roughly nine-kilometer wide mouth of the Congo river which opens into the Gulf of Guinea. The country straddles the Equator, with one-third to the North and two-thirds to the South. The size of Congo, 2,345,408square kilometers (905,567sqmi), is slightly greater than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. It is the third largest country (by area) in Africa.
In order to distinguish it from the neighboring Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is often referred to as DR Congo, DRC, or RDC, or is called Congo-Kinshasa after the capital Kinshasa (in contrast to Congo-Brazzaville for its neighbour). The name “Congo” refers to the river Congo, also known as the river Zaire. (The river name Congo is related to the name of the Bakongo ethnic group). As many as 250 ethnic groups have been identified and named. The most numerous people are the Kongo, Luba, and Mongo. Although seven hundred local languages and dialects are spoken, the linguistic variety is bridged both by widespread use of French and intermediary languages such as Kongo, Tshiluba, Swahili, and Lingala.
The Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt ore, and a major producer of copper and industrial diamonds. It has significant deposits of tantalum, which is used in the fabrication of electronic components in computers and mobile phones. In 2002, tin was discovered in the east of the country, but, to date, mining has been on a small scale. Katanga Mining Limited, a London-based company, owns the Luilu Metallurgical Plant, which has a capacity of 175,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of cobalt per year, making it the largest cobalt refinery in the world. After a major rehabilitation program, the company restarted copper production in December 2007 and cobalt production in May 2008.
The United Nations 2007 estimated the population at 62.6 million people, having increased rapidly despite the war from 46.7 million in 1997. Currently the Head of State is President Joseph Kabila (October 2006-) and Head of government is Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga (December 2006-).
Provinces and territories
Formerly the country was divided into eleven provinces, Kinshasa, Province Orientale, Kasaï Oriental, Kasaï Occidental, Maniema, Katanga, Sud-Kivu, Nord-Kivu, Bas-Congo, Équateur and Bandundu. However, the constitution approved in 2005 divided the country into 26 fairly autonomous provinces, including the capital, Kinshasa to be formed by 18 February 2009. These are subdivided into 192 territories.
Provinces and their Capital Cities
History of the DR Congo Conflict
The state of DR Congo emerged from brutal colonial history. From 1880s, Belgian King Leopold II used territory as personal kingdom, exploiting vast natural resources through indigenous forced labour. Leopold transferred control of “Congo Free State” to Belgian government 1908. After upsurge of nationalist sentiment and parliamentary elections May 1960, Belgium accepted independence June 1960. Within two weeks, country faced nationwide army mutiny and secessionist movements in Katanga and southern Kasai. Cold War interests fuelled tensions, with U.S. fearing Congo’s break-up and Soviet inroads.
Power struggle between President Joseph Kasavubu and PM Patrice Lumumba intensified when Lumumba used army to brutally (but unsuccessfully) suppress Kasaian rebellion and appealed for Soviet support. Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba, who was later arrested and 1961 assassinated with Belgian complicity. UN troops began disarming Katangan rebels August 1961 but situation deteriorated into sporadic conflict between UN and Katangan forces. Head of breakaway Katanga Moise Tshombe forced out 1963, returning as Congo’s prime minister 1964.
Colonel Joseph Desire Mobutu ousted Kasavubu and Tshombe in 1965 and began thirty-two year rule. In 1971-2 he changed the country’s name to Zaire. Mobutu systematically used country’s mineral wealth to consolidate power, co-opt rivals and enrich himself and allies through patronage. Following the end of Cold War, cessation of international aid and internal pressure to democratise pushed him to reinstate multiparty politics in 1991, but Mobutu manipulated agreement to retain power. Mobutu was finally ousted in May 1997 by rebellion under Laurent Kabila’s leadership, backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
The Second Congo War, also known as Africa’s World War and the Great War of Africa, began in August 1998 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly called Zaire), and officially ended in July 2003 when the Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took power (though hostilities continue to this day). The largest war in modern African history, it directly involved eight African nations, as well as about 25armed groups. By 2008 the war and its aftermath had killed 5.4million people, mostly from disease and starvation, making the Second Congo War the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II. Millions more were displaced from their homes or sought asylum in neighboring countries.
War sparked again in August 1998 when Kabila moved to purge Rwandans from government. Rwandan troops backing Congolese Tutsi rebels invaded. Kabila called on Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia for help. It is estimated that 4 million people died in during this conflict between 1998-2004, mostly from war-related diseases and starvation. A Lusaka ceasefire signed July 1999 and UN Security Council peacekeeping mission (MONUC) was authorised in 2000. Laurent Kabila was assassinated January 2001 and replaced by son Joseph. Peace negotiations resulted in Rwandan and Ugandan withdrawal in late 2002, but proxies remained. In December 2002, all Congolese belligerents and political groups signed peace deal in Sun City, South Africa, ushering in transitional government June 2003 in which Kabila shared power with four vice-presidents.
However, conflict in Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Katanga provinces continued. Rebel groups, including former Rwandan-backed Tutsi and Hutu militias (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) being largest), continued to fight for land and resources. Violence in north eastern Ituri halted 2003 after three-month French-led emergency mission under EU authority, after UN failed to contain clashes. Deaths and displacements led UN to describe Eastern Congo as “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” March 2005. Following DRC government request International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate crimes from June 2002 throughout DRC, ICC Prosecutor opened investigation into crimes in Ituri June 2004.
Government and MONUC security efforts, undermined by lack of progress in establishing integrated national army, reinvigorated September 2004 by force expansion from 10,800 to 16,700 and more aggressive mandate. From March 2005, MONUC often participated in joint operations with integrated national army. But despite significant demobilisation, many rebel groups still active 2006. Uganda rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) settled in north east late 2005, reigniting tensions: Kampala threatened to pursue LRA into Congo, while Kinshasa suspected Uganda sought access to resources in east. International Court of Justice 2005 found Ugandan army committed human rights abuses and illegally exploited Congolese natural resources.
New constitution introducing president/prime minister power sharing and two-term presidential limit was adopted 13 May 2005 and approved by referendum 18 December. After delays, national assembly and first-round presidential elections held 30 July 2006. Violent clashes erupted in Kinshasa between Kabila and opposition MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba supporters when neither gained majority in first-round votes. Kabila took presidency in 29 October second round (58 per cent of vote), and his alliance won majority in national and provincial assemblies. Elections considered by outside observers to be relatively free and fair, ushering in first truly democratic government 40 years.
Kabila government faces substantial challenges, including an abusive and ill-disciplined national army (FARDC), corrupt public administration, and lack of infrastructure and basic services. Advances in Ituri remain precarious, with slow progress on militia disarmament and reintegration and lack of transparent natural resource management. Security further deteriorated in North Kivu, where the national army and dissidents under command of General Laurent Nkunda (CNDP, National Congress for the Defence of the People – Nkunda’s political movement, unveiled July 2006) resumed fighting from late November 2006, displacing up to 400,000 in years since.
Signing of Nairobi Agreement November 2007 and Goma “Actes d’Engagement” January 2008 were welcomed. The Former provided for repatriation of FDLR and latter for ceasefire and voluntary demobilisation of combatants in east, to be implemented through “Amani” peace program. Success depends on will of militias to disengage, continued funding for the Amani program and improved relations between Kigali and Kinshasa over handling of FDLR. But despite some initial signs of Nkunda’s readiness to disengage, serious clashes between CNDP and FARDC continued, while June 2008 brought heavy FDLR attacks on civilian camps in North Kivu.
Political pluralism has shrunk, with opposition virtually excluded from governorships despite performance in 2006 elections, recurrent use of force against Bemba’s supporters, and death of over 100 civilians in March 2008 brutal police crackdown on political-cultural movement Bundu dia Kongo in Bas-Congo. The ICC has issued five arrest warrants for DRC leaders and four are in ICC custody – three militia leaders charged with crimes in Ituri, and Bemba who was arrested May 2008 for atrocity crimes committed 2002-2003 in neighbouring CAR’s civil war and transferred to The Hague 4 June 2008. Nkunda resisted hand over of fifth suspect, CNDP chief of staff Bosco Ntaganda, wanted for Ituri crimes. But credibility and future of ICC investigations under question after judges suspended first trial, of UPC militia leader Thomas Lubanga in June 2008 over prosecution’s non-disclosure of potentially exculpatory evidence.
Recent-Current situation in Congo
A deal concluded between Kabila and rebel commander Laurent Nkunda providing for the integration of Nkunda’s troops into the armed forces – known as mixage – collapsed in 2007 amid opposition from hardliners on both sides. Kabila’s aides attacked him over perceived preferential treatment given to Tutsis in army integration, drawing on public outcry over massive human rights violations caused in Nkunda’s operations against the FDLR to undermine the deal’s legitimacy. Nkunda’s Goma-based Tutsi backers, afraid of losing everything acquired during the war, threatened to pull their support. The mixage process and it’s collapse left Nkunda militarily strengthened and removed a viable alternative to continued struggle.
After frequent clashes in the first half of 2008, violence again engulfed the region from late August, when Nkunda’s CNDP rebels launched a fresh offensive on army bases and areas under the formal protection of UN troops. After significant advances and the collapse of the FARDC in the region, the CNDP took control of Rutshuru town in late October, moved to the outskirts of the regional capital Goma and consolidated their hold over the surrounding region. For a short time, UN peacekeeping troops (MONUC) found themselves the last protection against Nkunda’s advances on Goma. A 29 October ceasefire soon faltered, and clashes continued throughout November (2008). Partially due to an intense diplomatic effort, Nkunda put on hold his offensive on the city, while still continuing and consolidating advances in other areas.
International and regional diplomatic efforts commenced from late October, 2008. An EU mission led by the French and British foreign ministers arrived in Congo and Rwanda on 31 October, while African leaders joined by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met at an emergency summit of the African Union, calling for immediate adherence to the 29 October ceasefire. The UN Security Council’s decision to appoint a special envoy – former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo – added welcome focus and commitment to mediation. International leaders met in Nairobi on 7 November (2008) and called for the immediate implementation of the Goma and Nairobi agreements, establishing a facilitation team composed of Obasanjo and former Tanzanian President Mkapa. The new mediators met with key players over November, securing Nkunda’s commitment to a ceasefire in the middle of the month, although clashes erupted again shortly afterwards. In February 2009, Rwanda arrested Nkunda though it has not yet handed him over.
Recent developments also underscored the fragility of the situation in Ituri. October 2008 saw fresh clashes between government and rebel forces as well as a series of brutal attacks and abductions reportedly by Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.
Causes of the Congo conflict
Leopold and Belgium colonial occupation
Like most African nations, the problems in Congo in the recent past have their tap root in the colonial activities by mainly European nations. The Congo possessed an uncharacteristic wealth that made it the desire of many European countries (Lusignan: 2004). It had an abundance of natural resources such as cooper, gold, diamonds, rubber, cobalt, among others that made it the desire of many trading corporations and companies. At the Berlin Conference in 1885, King Leopold was granted to the exclusive right to privately exploit the Congo. Once in the Congo, Leopold devised an economic system in which the Congo was sectioned into different areas leased to different European corporations that paid Leopold 50 percent of the extracted wealth. Lusigan (2004) writes that Leopold entered the Congo under the cloak and façade of a humanitarian by making hollow promises detailing his intentions to improve the quality of life in the Congo.
He promised to build schools, homes, and to liberate the Congolese people from Arab slave traders. But under the rule of Leopold, very little was done to improve the well being of the citizens, and instead a regime was instituted that operated solely through force of might. People were tortured and forced to sign treaties that according to Leopold “…must grant us everything” (Hochschild 71), which included the rights to all land and resources therein. Thus for a 20 year period, Leopold was able to operate with impunity, and in the process 10 million people were murdered. During his reign, women and children were brutally raped and murdered and treated like animals. “They were fed-and slept-in the royal stables.”(Hochschild 176) They were even hunted like animals for fun and for sport. Limb amputation was a joy of many Belgium soldiers; hands, heads, and other body were severed for not only proof of kill, but for the cannibalistic needs of these Belgium soldier. Even the homes of some Belgium officers were lined with the skulls of the Congolese people for decoration. Many more died from starvation and exhaustion resulting from the inhumane living conditions present in the Congo.
After King Leopold relinquished his position in the Congo, the Belgium parliament assumed legal control of the country, but the trading corporations and companies of Belgium and other European countries continued to dominate the course of events in the Congo. “The one major goal not achieved, he (Morel) acknowledged, was African ownership of land.” (Hochschild 273) The Congo’s wealth of natural resources had always been the main attraction of Belgium, and with Leopold removed, the corporations were given more control and influence over the economy in the Congo. The United Mines of Upper Katanga (UMHK) was founded shortly after Leopold’s reign ended and for the next fifty years, this corporation exercised the greatest influence and control over the economy and the resources with the Congo. It “controlled about 70 percent of the economy of the Belgian Congo…and controlled the exploitation of cobalt, copper, tin uranium and zinc in mines which were among the richest in the world.”( Hochschild 31) During this time period, the Congo was one the world’s largest copper-producing countries and the “cobalt extraction in Katanga represented 75 percent of the entire world production.” (Hochschild 31)
In June of 1960, the Congo was granted independence, which threatened the future of European economic control of this profitable source of revenue. The United Nations granted independence to the Congo because of pressure from the worldwide anti-colonial movement that touched Africa in the 1950s. But shortly after the Congo’s independence, Belgium immediately sent troops to the country in order to protect Katanga, the city in the Congo that possessed a wealth of resources and was the primary export site for these corporations. With this military presence, the corporations continued their production in the city, and surprisingly, production even increased in the year of independence. This military presence remained in the Congo for years, thus showing the Congolese people were never truly granted “independence”.
The entitlement complex of Belgium is further revealed here because Belgium believed that they possessed personal ownership of the land in the Congo, and that the citizens of the Congo did not warrant independence. Belgium regarded the citizens of the Congo as an inferior people who lacked civilization; they believed that the occupation was justified. This denial of own land and resources, injustice, brutal acts and all other in human acts by Leopold and the Belgians groomed anger, resentment, feelings of discontent among the citizens of Congo that was later to be manifested in counter resistances and civil wars against any one who seemed to portray similar acts and policies, hence, conflicts in the Congo.
The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba
The emergence of an independent Congo on June 30, 1960 marked the beginning of a new era of colonialism by the Western powers. On this day, Patrice Lumumba became Prime Minister of the Congo, and in six months he would be assassinated. He was an extraordinary politician, motivator, and visionary, and one of the most influential figures throughout Africa during his term. He is now enshrined as an historical figure against the fight of injustice because of his outspokenness against the colonization of Africa by European powers (Lusigan: 2004). Lumumba came to power at a time in which the anti-colonial movement was most intense worldwide; this propelled his general regard as a worldwide leader of this movement. The period “…from 1960 to 1965, was the West’s ultimate attempt to destroy the continent’s authentic independent development.” (Kanza xxv)
Before serving as Prime Minister, Lumumba was the president of the National Congolese Movement, a party formally constituted in 1958. He was an ambitious man and envisioned a promising future for the Congo; a future void of European involvement and one in which the Congolese people had absolute power. He was already a prominent figure in the political scene within the Congo, having amassed a following through his writings and speeches advocating sovereignty and the fight against European injustice. Lumumba eventually became prime minister through democratic elections, but his government only lasted for a very difficult period of two months during which time Belgium launched many attempts to reoccupy and subvert the independence movement.
Patrice Lumumba represented a formidable opponent against the colonization forces in Africa. By advocating sovereignty and de-colonization in Africa, he represented everything that the Western powers feared. He was a man capable of affecting change throughout not only the Congo, but across Africa by promoting a self-sustained economy that was entirely independent from the European nations. He opposed the forces of colonialism throughout Africa. The riches of the Congo and the presence of Lumumba’s movement could not be allowed to co-exist in the view of the United States and European political and business interests. Lumumba eventually became the victim of a coup funded primarily by the United States and Belgium, under the protection of the United Nations. Although the United States and Belgium were the primary opponents of Lumumba, they were acting on behalf of European countries throughout the world because Lumumba personified the anti-colonial movement that everyone feared.
They feared Lumumba not simply because he was a man that represented the anti-colonial movement, but because he was an African man that had become too powerful and had the potential to gain the loyalty and attention of his people and focus their goals on true independence and real control of their own resources. “The Congo crisis is due to just one man, Patrice Lumumba” (Hochschild 49) He had the potential to change the entire social structure of Africa and possessed the ability to affect change throughout the world by promoting democracy and equality. Probably if Lumumba had lived a little longer, he would have organized and united the nation to avoid the conflicts that have characterized the country ever since time memorial.
Poor Centralized governance of mobutu (dictatorship and exploitation of resources)
For the next thirty years following the death of Lumumba, the Congo was the victim of a centralized government with the majority of the power concentrated in one man, General Mobutu, who was an instrumental Congolese collaborator with the Western interests in promoting the coup leading to the assassination of Lumumba. Kaplan (1979) notes that Mobutu created a rigidly centralized administration reminiscent of Belgian rule, topped by a single authority figure that he claimed to be in the African political tradition. Governing by decree, his words literally were law. His power was absolute, anchored in a constitution of his own inspiration that made him head of the legislative, executive, and judiciary
This was not the type of free democratic society that Lumumba had envisioned, but instead one that still allowed many European nations to exercise the authority and influence that Lumumba vehemently opposed. The United States gave him well over a billion dollars in civilian and military aid during the three decades of his rule; European powers- especially France-contributed more (Hochschild 303)/ Mobutu did little to improve the quality of life of his citizens, and instead exploited his own citizens for his material and economic gain. Even after independence, the Congo was still the economic colony of Europe that existed under the control of Belgium. The European and American corporations and investments were still intact with Mobutu in control. The Congo was now operating as a puppet government in which the United States used Mobutu to affect both economic and political decisions in an effort to stabilize its investments and operations in the country. It estimated that at the end of his reign, he was of the world’s wealthiest men; “his personal peak was estimated at $4 billion.” (Hochschild 303) And very little of his fortune went to the people of the Congo.
One will therefore be short sighted not to blame Mobutu for the conflicted Congo. He did his best to disorganize and disintegrate the country’s internal economic and political structures and systems that laid ground for what was termed as the “Africa’s World War”. His puppetism to western countries only resurrected and reminded the Congolese of the harsh, brutal and inhuman rule of Leopold and the Belgians which escalated the anger among the citizens. Mobutu can further be solely held responsible for the greed and mismanagement of natural resources for selfish needs among the Congolese today, he set a bad example.
One of the most sensitive areas of social life in Africa is the problem of cultural pluralism, which usually rears its ugly face in inter-ethnic relations International conflicts and civil wars, these are not simply products of failed diplomacy or policies of aggression. Virtually they all have roots in endemic cultural features of nations (Aluko: 2003). Patterns of languages, religious beliefs and legal institutions form as much a part of the environment enveloping nations have been tales of woes, anguish, sorrows, deprivations, sadness in most of the member states. Many nations of the continent such as Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and even many nations of the great lakes region of the central Africa have been in turmoil due to ethnic related reasons.
Political instability, economic and social disequilibrium became rampant in countries like Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the two Congo’s. Most ethnic conflicts have a background of domination, injustice or oppression by one ethnic group or another. The tremendous psychological pressure on human populations from political change creates a sense of anxiety that frequently makes people seek refuge in belief systems that involve definitions of membership and belonging. In Sudan, Garang charged that civil war erupted largely because Hassan Turabi, the power behind Khartoum’s government, wanted to impose Sharia, or Islamic law throughout Sudan.
The other factor relates to resources and economics. At the simplest level, the struggle to survive can spawn or deepen ethnic problem. The more limited the resources the greater the danger of ethnic problem. For a range of reasons not necessarily bad or intentionally divisive, ethnic groups are also often positioned differently in an economy. Again, change can accentuate differences, triggering hostility or drastic action. The legacy of Colonialism did not do any better. The problems of most colonial nations of Africa are direct products of their colonial experience. The problems had been created by colonialism in different ways, especially by the indiscriminate merger of various ethnic groups to become monolithic entities, and at the same time treated the units as separate entities and allowed each to develop in whatever direction it chose in isolation from others (Nnoli, 1980. Dare 1986 and Young, 1998). This was the trend in virtually all the Anglophone countries of the sub-Saharan Africa and some Francophone countries too.
Colonialism also created structural imbalances within the colonies in terms of socioeconomic projects, social development and establishment of administrative centres. This imbalance deepened antipathies between ethnic groups. In Nigeria, the South achieved a higher level of social development than the North. Similarly, the Baganda advanced farther than the other Uganda ethnic groups, the Chagga and Haya were ahead of the other Tanzanian groups, the Kikuyu, Ashanti and Bemba made more rapid “progress” than the other Kenyan, Ghanaian and Zambian ethnic groups respectively. In fact, inter-ethnic relations in Kenya have been characterized by the hostility of all the other groups to the Kikuyu.
Today, many nations of the sub-Saharan Africa are in one turmoil, violence or civil disorder of one kind or the other largely originating from the ethnic problem. Such countries include Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Angola, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Congolese people are made up of around 200 separate ethnic groups. These ethnic groups generally are concentrated regionally and speak distinct languages. There is no majority ethnic group – some of the largest ethnic groups are the Luba, Kongo and Anamongo. The various ethnic groups speak many different languages but only four indigenous languages have official status – Kiswahili, Lingala, Kikongo and Tshiluba. French is the language of government, commerce and education. Societal discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is widely practiced by members of virtually all ethnic groups and is evident in private hiring and buying patterns and in patterns of de facto ethnic segregation in some cities (GS: 2000-9).
The ongoing conflict in the Eastern part of DR Congo has often been explained as be
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