The Democratic Republic of the Congo - Analysis, Initiatives and Recommendations to a Major Conflict in the Heart of Africa

Seminar Paper, 2003

22 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)


Table of Contents

A Introduction

B Root Causes of the Conflict
1. Colonial Heritage
2. Mobutu’s Kleptocracy
3. Import of the Rwanda-Uganda conflict
4. The Kabila Era
5. Congo’s Wealth
6. The Conflict System

C Undertaken Initiatives to solve the Conflict

D Recommendations and Future Prospects
1. Credible Peace Enforcement
2. International Pressure on Rwanda and Uganda
3. Stronger Control of Economic Involvement and cutting off the arms flow
4. Negotiations
5. Peacekeeping and Democratization
6. International Tribunal on War Crimes in the DRC
7. Serious and Neutral Journalism

E Conclusion

F References
Print Sources
Monographs and Books
Web Sources

G Appendix
1. Map
2. Key Statistics
3. Involved Parties

A Introduction

To call the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) one of the most complex ones in history is no hyperbole. The involvement of up to 20 different parties and the various interests that occur might else be found only in the complexity of the 30 Years’ War of 17th century Europe. Indeed many parallels exist between these two wars except maybe the fact that the former one can be regarded as war of state-building while the war in the DRC can be regarded as a state-collapsing war (van Crefeld 1999: 223-251)

Due to the number of African countries involved, the estimated loss of 2,000,000 lives (Tshiyembé 2003), the complex role of economy, and the mere size of the country, it seems sad but true that ‘peace on the African continent cannot become a reality until there is peace in the DRC’ (Guéhenno 2002: 78)

When considering such a conflict it is crucial to analyze the root causes of the conflict, even if they lie in the past, because these are necessary for understanding and addressing the conflict. Therefore a large part of this report will deal with historic, economic and systemic analysis

B Root Causes of the Conflict

1. Colonial Heritage

Between 2500 B.C. and 500 B.C. Bantu-speaking peasants migrated into the area of today’s DRC. They can be called the ancestors of the Lende and Bahutu, large ethnic groups still residing in the region. Since the 13th century A.C. pastoral Tutsi and Hema moved into the region, mostly from the Nile region and Ethiopia (Auswärtiges Amt 2003).

From the 16th century onwards the region suffered, like most parts of Africa, from slavery exploitation. About 5,000,000 Africans were exported mainly to the Americas. The slave traders, mainly Portuguese, regarded it as important that there should not be proper communication between the different ethnic groups. As a matter of fact, they deliberately pitted them against each other (Michigan State University 2003).

In addition to the slave trade the region was proselytized by predominantly catholic missioners. The missionaries fortified the differences between the various ethnic groups. The group members had to carry identity cards that stated to which clan they belonged. Some groups were regarded worthier than others. In the Congo region the missionaries mainly focused on educating the clans belonging to the Tutsi/Hema group. On the other hand those clans that belonged to ethnic group of Hutu/Lendu were neglected (International Crisis Group 2003 A: 2).

From 1879 - 1885 the Scottish explorer Sir Henry Stanley eventually bought the region for the Belgian king, Leopold II. After the Berlin Conference in 1885, when the colonial powers agreed about the colonial frontiers in Africa, the Congo Free State was founded. The exploitation of the natural resources in the region was started under Belgian rule. The indigenous population was subjected to repressive labour mobilization in the mines of the Belgian Crown. The Hema, due to their higher level of education, were normally put in charge of supervising the Lendu labour forces on plantations and in mines (International Crisis Group 2003 A: 2).

After Leopold’s death in 1908 the country was annexed as a Belgian colony, now named “Congo Belgique”. Under Belgian rule the tensions within eastern Congo, the main conflict region currently, increased. Following a Belgian immigration programme, the Banyamulenge (Batutsi) and Banyarwanda (Bahutu) migrated from Rwanda into the area of Kivu. According to Pottier (2002: 20, 25-26) ‘Belgium pursued its own brand of apartheid by having separate settlements for Banyarwanda and autochthones’, added to a growing scarcity in arable land that lead to the rise of ethnic consciousness in eastern Congo and Rwanda.

In 1958 major struggles broke out in the capital, Kinshasa. In 1960 Belgium granted the country its independence, large because they feared a decolonisation war similar to what occurred in other African countries ( 2003).

The first democratic elections saw Joseph Kasavubu elected as President and Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister. Shortly after the elections Katanga Province declared its independence - leading to a war of secession. A desperate Lumumba asked the Soviet Union for assistance - a move which discredited him as a communist in the western world. As a result, the US and Belgium supported General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu in his successful coup d’etat. Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by members of the Belgium Secret Service which led to the establishment of a pro-western government and the end of the war of secession (Kinder; Hilgemann 1978: 268).

In 1964 the Simba rebel movement of Lumumba’s most radical supporters, among them Laurent-Désiré Kabila, proclaimed the People ’ s Republic of Congo but this challenge was finally defeated bloodily with the help of US and Belgian troops. Meanwhile the new central government introduced a new constitution that granted nationality only to those residents whose ancestral tribes were established in the Congo territory before 1908. This arrangement excluded the Banyamulenge and the Banyarwanda in eastern Congo (Pottier 2002: 26-27). However, this government was replaced one year later, in November 1965, by a military coup led by General Mobutu and strongly supported by the CIA (University of San Diego 2002).

Due to a complex history with colonial rule driven by economic exploitation, cross-over migrations with Rwanda and Uganda and the implementation of an ethnic consciousness particularly in eastern Congo the country emerged as an independent state facing enormous challenges to become a working and peaceful society within the borders set at the 1885 Berlin conference.

2. Mobutu ’ s Kleptocracy

In his first years as president, Mobutu brought political stability to the country, the couple of revolts and student protests against his dictatorial rule aside. Some foreign-owned mining firms were nationalized, and from 1966 onward many European place names were replaced with African ones (Leopoldville became Kinshasa; Stanleyville became Kisangani; and Elizabethville became Lubumbashi; Joseph-Désiré Mobutu became Mobutu Sese Seko; and Congo became Zaire). In 1970 Mobutu’s political party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR), was declared the only legal party, and all people were compelled to join. Unopposed, Mobutu was elected to a seven-year period as president ( 2003).

Mobutu had a strategic plan regarding eastern Congo that ‘encouraged the political ascendancy of leaders whose ethnic groups could not possibly threaten central government, either because they were numerically insignificant on the national scale or because they had an ambiguous status’ (Pottier 2002: 27). Under this plan most of the Banyarwanda were granted citizenship in 1972, which in turn led to unrest among the autochthonous groups such as the Hunde and Nyanga who as a consequence had been turned into minority groups (Pottier 2002: 27).

Mobutu’s regime nationalized some 2,000 foreign-owned companies in 1973. Most of the newly nationalized businesses were “redistributed” amongst Mobutu and MPR loyalists. Many later failed because of inexperience, mismanagement, and corruption. Zaire remained dependent on income from copper, gold and other mineral exports. Due to a sharp decline in copper prices in the early 1970s Zaire’s economy suffered badly. Nevertheless, Western nations continued to back Mobutu’s regime as a fortification against the spread of Communism in Central Africa. The West provided military aid to Zaire, particularly in the late 1970s, to repel insurrections by Katangan secessionists backed by Communist forces from Angola, who were in turn backed by the USSR, East Germany and Cuba. Internally, Mobutu flattened any form of political dissent, using propaganda, executions, censorship, imprisonment, intimidation, and other forms of harassment to solidify his control. In 1982 opponents of Mobutu’s one-party rule created the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) whose leaders were frequently imprisoned throughout the 1980s (Facts on File 1997 A).

While the nation’s economy struggled, Mobutu’s personal wealth grew to an estimated $4 billion. He purchased hundreds of millions of dollars worth of real estate in Morocco, South Africa, and throughout Europe. Mobutu’s supporters in the administration and industry were regularly rewarded with large sums of money. This system, often described as a “Kleptocracy”, played a key role in strengthening Mobutu’s grip on power. Corruption prevailed at all levels of Zairian administration and business, choking the nation’s economy (Willame 1997: Chapter 1).

In 1990 the United States, which had supplied hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Mobutu since 1965, cut direct military and economic assistance to Zaire because of the regime’s corruption and human rights abuses and due to the new absence of a communist threat since 1989. Since the only reason for supporting Mobuto in the first place was to have a ‘line of defence’ against the communist threat, this threat was now over (Facts on File 1997 A)1.

Dissatisfaction with Mobutu increased in the early 1990s, as with the end of the Cold War a lot of democratization processes were launched in other African countries. Forced by the opposition and the international community Mobutu’s government launched several attempts to establish a multi-party system with democratic rights for all citizens. However, in 1991 and 1992 revolts and looting led the country to increasing instability. In the aftermath of this civilian uprising, more than three hundred parties registered and more than 2000 delegates tried to form a national assembly. The economic breakdown and the threat of impoverished units of the army led to a form of coalition between Mobutu and the premier Etienne Tshisekedi, nominated by the national conference. This coalition lasted until 1994 when Mobutu managed to impede elections again (Willame 1997: Chapter 1).

Mobutu’s reign of Kleptocracy and his tactics of divide et impera (divide and rule) greatly increased the country’s suffering. By utilizing ethnic differences and by selectively depriving various groups from their rights the country became what it is still today: a sick society without faith in any government and with a large deal of ethnic mistrust.

3. Import of the Rwanda-Uganda conflict

As described above great linkages always existed between eastern Congo and its neighbour states, Uganda and especially Rwanda. Therefore the 1994 genocide in Rwanda had a major impact on Congo. An estimated 1,070,000 Rwandans (mainly Bahutu) fled to refugee camps in eastern Congo. The militias among the refugees started to re-arm and raid back into Rwanda to overthrow the Kigali government. The French and US support for Mobutu hampered the ability of Zaire to manage the situation in the camps. In particular the Mobutu government was responsible for the reformation and rearmament of Bahutu troops by not preventing and by actively promoting it (Reliefweb 2000: E.S.54 ff.).

In the aftermath of the genocide, 1996, Laurent-Désiré Kabila led a revolt by ethnic Batutsi emerging from South Kivu. The rebellion was greatly supported by the Museveni government in Uganda and by the Rwandan military, led by General Paul Kagame. The rebels consisted mostly of Banyamulenge, who incidentally suffered most under Mobutu’s rule. Kabila managed to unite various resistance groups and various ethnicities under the banner of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) and finally marched into Kinshasa on 17 May 1997, to seize power in Zaire and shortly after rename it to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Facts on File 1997 B).

4. The Kabila Era

After his coup Kabila broke with his former ADFL allies during a creeping process of reinstating the former structures of the Mobutu rule. Since Bahutu and Batutsi were seen as foreigners among Kinshasa’s elites, Kabila had to exclude Bahutu and Batutsi from leading positions within the ADFL. He prohibited political activities outside the ADFL and started discrimination campaigns against Rwandan and Ugandan ADFL members. One of the opposition leaders in Kinshasa, Étienne Tshidekedi, was placed in preventive detention in an attempt by Kabila to get rid of all possible threats to his position (Stroux 1998: 834).

In August 1998 rebels in eastern Congo formed the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), strongly supported by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Kabila’s troops opposed the rebellion in an alliance with armies from Angola, Zimbabwe, Chad and Libya. Since then fighting in the Kivus, Ituri and Katanga has not stopped although it changed throughout the years. Many of the foreign troops have been withdrawn and the fighting remains on a ‘low intensity level’, as it is mainly localised (The Encyclopaedia of World History 2001).

In January 2001 Laurent-Désiré Kabila was killed, shortly after his son Joseph Kabila was instated as head of state. During the following years particularly Uganda used its tactics of divide et impera (divide and rule) to gain de facto control over parts of eastern Congo. The RCD, supported in turn by Uganda or Rwanda, eventually split up in different rebel groups fighting against each other. Weapons were provided by the Ugandan army, and whenever one rebel leader became too powerful the Ugandans switched to supporting another group. ‘For four years, every Congolese rebel in charge of Ituri was enthroned by Uganda, then replaced by another of its creatures’ (International Crisis Group 2003 A: 3). The Ugandan army even became directly involved in the killings in the DRC and parts of the territory were occupied by Ugandan military forces. As will be described next, Uganda’s main interest in “intervention” in eastern Congo had to do with the richness in mineral resources.

5. Congo ’ s Wealth

The DRC bears some of the world’s richest deposits of gold and coltan, the latter is used for the fabrication of mobile electronic devices. Particularly in the eastern DRC great deposits of oil, diamonds and copper are also found. These resources are continuously feeding the conflict in the entire region. As Montague points out, ‘International competition for scarce


1 France and the US supported many of those dictators in Africa, the CIA was also active within the whole continent to help non-communists fighting proxy wars against ‘communists’. This can maybe regarded as the most important factor that hindered the new states to build a functioning society and state.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo - Analysis, Initiatives and Recommendations to a Major Conflict in the Heart of Africa
Stellenbosch Universitiy  (Department of Political Science)
Peace and Conflict Studies
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
2637 KB
Democratic, Republic, Congo, Analysis, Initiatives, Recommendations, Major, Conflict, Heart, Africa, Peace, Conflict, Studies
Quote paper
Enno Dreier (Author), 2003, The Democratic Republic of the Congo - Analysis, Initiatives and Recommendations to a Major Conflict in the Heart of Africa, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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