Second Congo War

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The Second Congo War was a conflict that took place largely in the territory of Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). The war began in 1998 and officially ended in 2002. However, a true peace has been elusive and there are continuing concerns that the conflict will flare up again.

The widest interstate war in modern African history, it directly involved nine African nations, as well as about twenty armed groups, and earned the epithet of "Africa's World War". According to the International Rescue Committee, 3.8 million people have died, mostly from starvation and disease brought about by the deadliest conflict since World War II. Millions more have been displaced from their homes or have sought asylum in neighboring countries.

Despite several partially successful peace initiatives and agreements that led to an official end to the war in 2002, many of the armed groups have not disbanded and a reduced level of fighting continues as of August 20051.


Origin of the Second Congo War

Mobutu's crumbling hold on power

Congo has had a troubled history since it was ruled as a colonial possession till 1908 by King Léopold II of Belgium as the Congo Free State and afterwards by Belgium (see Belgian Congo). Even by the standards of late 19th-century colonialism, the rule by King Léopold II is generally regarded as being arbitrary and capricious. Because of its mineral wealth, and the ongoing effects of the colonial period, Congo has been a state that has had tremendous trouble since transitioning to self-rule in 1960.

In the mid-1960s Mobutu Sese Seko took power in a coup, and established himself as the dictator of the nation, backed by Western powers intent on preventing the spread of Soviet-backed states after civil war broke out in Angola. In the early 1990s the economy of Zaire was under tremendous pressure because of the long commodities depression, and Mobutu's efforts to retain power. While he advanced the sense of nationalism, he also created a cult of personality and a nation which was described by international agencies as a "basket case". In 1991 Mobutu was forced to make concessions to some of the opposition leaders, but the state of finances remained precarious and the army continued to deteriorate. By 1995, his hold on power was tenuous: salaries were not being paid to public officials and members of the army, violence was endemic, and corruption was routine.

With the end of the Cold War, outside powers disengaged from sub-Saharan Africa. They left nations to deal with the after effects of the conflict between the superpowers and colonialism, as well as the internal conflicts between local groups. When the United States withdrew their backing of Mobutu, rebels and rival nations correctly felt that he would be easier to overthrow while deprived of outside support.

The 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and related violence in Burundi, precipitated a crisis in the eastern part of the nation: hundreds of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group fled both countries into Zaire in the Great Lakes refugee crisis. The resulting refugee camps quickly became dominated by the Interahamwe Hutu militias that had carried out much of the genocide, supported by Hutu members of the former Rwandan military.

The Rwandans and Ugandans began to funnel weapons and money to the anti-Sese Seko Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) under Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

The First Congo War began in 1996 as Rwanda grew increasingly concerned that members of these militias, who were carrying out cross-border raids, were planning an invasion. The new Tutsi-dominated government of Rwanda protested this violation of their territorial integrity and began to give arms to the ethnically Tutsi Banyamulenge of eastern Zaire. This intervention was vigorously denounced by the government of Zaire under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, but he did not have any military capability of opposing it, and little political capital to spend.

Kabila's March to Kinshasa

Second Congo War
Date: 19982002
Place: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Outcome: Withdrawal of Uganda and Rwanda, Peace deal with internal combatants
Government-aligned forces, Hutu-aligned forces Uganda-aligned forces, Tutsi-aligned forces
Government: Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Joseph Kabila Rwanda: Paul Kagame, Uganda: Yoweri Museveni, others
 ?  ?
 ?  ?

With aid from outside of Zaire, and due to a crumbling regime based in Kinshasa, Kabila's forces moved methodically down the river, encountering only light resistance. The bulk of his fighters were Tutsis and many were veterans from conflicts in the Lakes region of Africa. Kabila himself had credibility because he had been a longtime political opponent of Mobutu, and was a follower of Patrice Lumumba, the man Mobutu overthrew. He had declared himself a Marxist and an admirer of Mao Zedong. He had also been a warlord in eastern Zaire for almost two decades.

Kabila's army began a slow movement westward in December 1996, taking control of border towns and mines and solidifying control. There were reports of massacres and brutal repression by the rebel army. A UN human rights investigator published statements from witnesses claiming that the ADFLC engaged in massacres, and that as many as 60,000 civilians were killed by the advancing army (a claim strenuously denied by the ADFLC). Roberto Garreton stated that his investigation in Goma turned up allegations of disappearances, torture and killings. He quoted Moese Nyarugabo, an aide to Mobutu as saying that killings and disappearances should be expected in wartime.

In March 1997, Kabila's forces launched an offensive, and demanded the government surrender. On March 27th it was reported that the rebels took Kasenga. These reports were dismissed by the government, which would begin a long pattern of false statements from the Defense Minister as to the progress and conduct of the war.

Talks were proposed in late March, and on April 2, a new Prime Minister was installed: Etienne Tshisekedi, a long time rival of Mobutu. Kabila, by this point in rough control of one quarter of the country, dismissed this as irrelevant, and warned Tshisekedi that he would have no part in a new government if he accepted the post.

Throughout the month of April the ADFLC made consistent progress down the river, and by May were on the outskirts of Kinshasa. On May 16, 1997, the multinational army headed by Kabila battled to secure Lubumbashi airport after peace talks broke down and Mobutu fled the country. (He died in September 7, 1997 in Morocco). After securing victory Kabila controlled Kinshasa, he proclaimed himself President on the same day. He immediately ordered a violent crackdown to restore order, and began to attempt a reorganization of the nation.

Unwelcome "support"

When Kabila took control of the capital in May 1997, he faced substantial obstacles to governing the country that he renamed "the Democratic Republic of Congo" (DRC). Beyond political jostling among various groups to gain power and an enormous external debt, his foreign backers proved unwilling to leave when asked. The conspicuous Rwandan presence in the capital also rankled many Congolese, who were beginning to see Kabila as a pawn of foreign powers.

Tensions reached new heights on 14 July 1998, when Kabila dismissed his Rwandan chief of staff, James Kabare, and replaced him with a native Congolese. Apparently Kabila felt that he had solidified his Congolese political base enough to put some distance between himself and the nations who had put him into power. Although the move chilled what was already a troubled relationship with Rwanda, he softened the blow by making Kabare the military advisor to his successor.

Two weeks later Kabila abandoned such diplomatic steps. He thanked Rwanda for their help, and ordered all Rwandan and Ugandan military forces to leave the country. Within 24 hours Rwandan military advisors living in Kinshasa were unceremoniously flown out. The people most alarmed by this order were the Banyamulenge of eastern Congo. Their tensions with neighboring ethnic groups had been a contributing factor in the genesis of the First Congo War and they were also utilized by Rwanda to affect events across the border in the DRC. The Banyamulenge would again prove to be the spark of another conflagration.

Factions in the Congo Conflict

The many armed groups in the conflict may be divided into four broad categories. Given the fluid nature of the war, there are numerous exceptions and caveats, and groups within a single category have violently clashed in the past over resources and territory.

Tutsi-aligned forces 
Includes the national armies of the Tutsi-dominated governments of Rwanda and Burundi, the militia groups created by the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge residing in the DRC and the Banyamulenge-dominated RCD rebel forces based in Goma. Tutsi-aligned forces inside the DRC are most active in North and South Kivu provinces, and have territory extending westward toward Kinshasa. Goals include protecting the national security of Rwanda and Burundi, defending Tutsis in the DRC, checking the influence of Uganda and plundering natural resources.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda in Washington
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda in Washington
Hutu-aligned forces 
Includes Rwandan Hutus responsible for the 1994 genocide, Burundian rebels seeking to overthrow the government, Congolese Hutus and affiliated Mai-Mai militias. The major Hutu group currently is the Forces Démocratiques de la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) operating in the Kivus. Goals include expelling foreign Tutsi forces, ethnic cleansing of the Banyamulenge, overthrowing the governments of Rwanda and Burundi, and gaining control of resources.
Uganda-aligned forces 
Includes Uganda's national army and various Uganda-backed rebel groups, such as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, in control of much of the northeast and central north of the DRC. Goals include protecting the borders of Uganda, stopping the development of a powerful Congolese state, checking the influence of Rwanda, and extracting natural resources.
Kinshasa-aligned forces  
Includes the Congolese national army, various antiforeigner Mai-Mai groups, and allied nations such as Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Namibia. They control the east and south of the DRC. The main goal is the creation of a strong state in control of its territory and borders, and thus regaining control of the natural resources.

The ethnic violence between Hutu- and Tutsi-aligned forces has been a driving impetus for much of the conflict, with people on both sides fearing their annihilation as a race. The Kinshasa- and Hutu-aligned forces have enjoyed close relations as their interests in expelling the armies and proxy forces of Uganda and Rwanda dovetail. While the Uganda- and Rwanda-aligned forces worked closely together to gain territory at the expense of Kinshasa, competition over access to resources created a fissure in their relationship. There are reports that Uganda is permitting Kinshasa to send arms to the Hutu FDLR via territory held by Uganda-backed rebels as Uganda, Kinshasa and the Hutus are all seeking, in varying degrees, to check the influence of Rwanda and its affiliates.

Nature of the Conflict

Civilians waiting to cross the DRC-Rwanda border, 2001
Civilians waiting to cross the DRC-Rwanda border, 2001

The Congo war has largely been one without large battles or clearly defined front lines. While significant numbers of trained soldiers from national armies have been involved, the rulers of those nations have been extremely loathe to risk their forces in open combat. The equipment and training of the national armies represents a major investment for the poor states of the region and losses would be difficult to replace. The vast area of Congo dwarfs the armed groups, so military units have been based around strategically important strongholds such as ports, airfields, mining centers and the few passable roads, rather than guarding strictly defined areas of control.

As a result, the war has largely been fought by loosely organized militia groups. These untrained and undisciplined forces have greatly contributed to the violence of the conflict by frequent looting, raping of women, and ethnic cleansing. It has also made peace far harder to enforce as the militias continue operating despite cease-fires between their patrons. These uncontrolled militias and their government allies have killed many Congolese. Many more have died from disease and starvation brought about by the chaos in the region.

Much of the conflict has focused on gaining control of the abundant natural resources of the Congo. The African Great Lakes states have largely paid their military expenses by extracting minerals, diamonds, and timber from the eastern Congo. These efforts have been directed by officers from the Rwandan and Ugandan armies who have grown wealthy as a result. Over time, the Rwandan national army has become far less interested in hunting down those responsible for the genocide and more concerned with protecting their sphere of control in eastern Congo. The occupying forces have levied high taxes on the local population and confiscated almost all of the livestock and much of the food in the region.

Competition for control of resources between the anti-Kabila forces has also resulted in conflict. In 1999, Ugandan and Rwandan troops clashed in the city of Kisangani. The RCD also split into two factions, greatly weakening the anti-Kabila rebel forces and limiting their operation to the eastern portion of the country. However, the forces loyal to and allied with Kabila were too depleted and exhausted to take advantage of this.

The Course of the War

The initial rebel offensive in a matter of weeks threatened the Kabila government, which was only saved through the rapid intervention of a number of other African states. For a time it looked that, as the rebel forces were forced back, an escalation in the conflict to a conventional war between multiple national armies loomed. Such an outcome was avoided as battle lines stabilized in 1999. Since then the conflict has primarily been fought by irregular proxy forces with little change in the territories held by the various parties.

The rebel push for Kinshasa

On 2 August 1998, the Banyamulenge in the town of Goma erupted into mutiny. Rwanda offered immediate assistance to the Banyamulenge and early in August a well-armed rebel group, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), composed primarily of Banyamulenge and backed by Rwanda and Uganda had emerged. This group quickly came to dominate the resource-rich eastern provinces and based its operations in the city of Goma. The RCD quickly took control of the towns of Bukavu and Uvira in the Kivus. The Tutsi-led Rwandan government allied with Uganda, and Burundi also retaliated, occupying a portion of northeastern Congo. To help remove the occupying Rwandans, President Kabila enlisted the aid of the Hutu militants in eastern Congo and began to agitate public opinion against the Tutsis, resulting in several public lynchings in the streets of Kinshasa. On 12 August a loyalist army major broadcast a message urging resistance from a radio station in Bunia in eastern Congo: "People must bring a machete, a spear, an arrow, a hoe, spades, rakes, nails, truncheons, electric irons, barbed wire, stones, and the like, in order, dear listeners, to kill the Rwandan Tutsis." [1]

The Rwandan government also claimed a substantial part of eastern Congo as "historically Rwandan". The Rwandans alleged that Kabila was organizing a genocide against their Tutsi brethren in the Kivu region. The degree to which Rwandan intervention was motivated by a desire to protect the Banyamulenge, as opposed to using them as a smokescreen for its own regional aspirations, remains in question.

In a bold move, RCD rebels hijacked a plane and flew it to the government base of Kitona on the Atlantic coast, where other mutinous government soldiers joined them. More towns in the east and around Kitona fell in rapid succession as the combined RCD, Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers overwhelmed the government forces amid a flurry of ineffectual diplomatic efforts by various African nations. By 13 August, less than two weeks after the revolt began, the rebels held the Inga hydroelectric station that provided power to Kinshasa as well as the port of Matadi through which most of the Kinshasa's food passed. The diamond center of Kisangani fell into rebel hands on 23 August and forces advancing from the east had begun to threaten Kinshasa by late August. Uganda, while retaining joint support of the RCD with Rwanda, also created a rebel group that it supported exclusively, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).

Despite the movement of the front lines, fighting continued throughout the country. Even as rebel forces advanced on Kinshasa, government forces continued to battle for control of towns in the east of the country. The Hutu militants with which Kabila was cooperating were also a significant force in the east. Nevertheless, the fall of the capital and Kabila, who had spent the previous weeks desperately seeking support from various African nations and Cuba, seemed increasingly certain.

Kabila gains regional support

The rebel offensive was abruptly reversed as Kabila's efforts at diplomacy bore fruit. The first to respond were fellow members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). While officially the SADC members are bound to a mutual defense treaty in the case of outside aggression, many member nations took a neutral stance to the conflict. However, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola all quickly threw their support behind the Kabila government after a meeting in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare on 19 August. The motivations of the nations differed widely:

Caught up in its own 25-year-old war against UNITA rebels, Angola wished to eliminate the UNITA operation in southern Congo which imported weapons while exporting diamonds out of Angola. This is the same reason it participated in the First Congo War to overthrow the hostile Mobutu government. Angola had no confidence that a new president would be better than Kabila, and feared that continued fighting would lead to a power vacuum that could only help UNITA.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (left) and Laurent-Désiré Kabila (center) meeting military officials
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (left) and Laurent-Désiré Kabila (center) meeting military officials
President Robert Mugabe was the most ardent supporter of intervention on Kabila's behalf, and was lured by Congo's rich natural resources and a desire to increase his own power and prestige in Africa. Kabila and Mugabe had signed a US$200 million contract involving corporations owned by Mugabe and his family, and there were several reports in 1998 of numerous mining contracts being negotiated with companies under the control of the Mugabe family. Mugabe had resented being displaced by South African Nelson Mandela as the premiere statesman of southern Africa and the war was also a chance to confront another prominent African president, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. As the head of the SADC's Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Mugabe believed he could reclaim his position as southern Africa's premiere statesmen by aiding Kabila.
President Sam Nujoma had interests in Congo similar to that of Mugabe, with several family members deeply involved in Congolese mining. Namibia itself has little issues of natural interest at stake in the DRC and the Namibian intervention was greeted with dismay and outrage by citizens and opposition politicians.

Several more nations joined the conflict for Kabila in the following weeks:

Kabila had originally discounted the possibility of support from Francophone Africa but after a summit meeting in Libreville, Gabon on 24 September, Chad agreed to send one thousand troops. France had encouraged Chad to join as a means of regaining influence in a region where the French had retreated in disgrace after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. [2]
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan
The government of Muammar al-Qaddafi provided the planes transporting the soldiers from Chad. Qaddafi may have seen a way to profit financially, but is also likely to have been strongly influenced by a desire to break out the international isolation imposed on him by the United States after the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Unconfirmed reports in September indicated that Sudanese government forces were fighting rebels in Orientale province close to the Sudanese and Ugandan borders. However, Sudan did not establish a significant military presence inside the DRC, though it continued to offer extensive support to three Ugandan rebel groups—the Lord's Resistance Army, the Uganda National Rescue Front II and the Allied Democratic Forces—in retaliation for Ugandan support for the Sudan People's Liberation Army. [3]

A multisided war thus began. In September 1998, Zimbabwean forces flown into Kinshasa held off a rebel advance that reached the outskirts of the capital city while Angolan units attacked northward from its borders and eastward from the Angolan territory of Cabinda, against the besieging rebel forces. This intervention by various nations saved the Kabila government, and pushed the rebel front lines away from the capital. However, it was unable to defeat the rebel forces, and the advance threatened to escalate into direct conflict with the national armies of Uganda and Rwanda.

In November 1998 a new Ugandan-backed rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo was reported in the north of the country. On 6 November, President Paul Kagame admitted for the first time that Rwandan forces were assisting the RCD rebels for security reasons, apparently after a request by Nelson Mandela to advance peace talks. On 18 January 1999, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe agreed on a ceasefire at a summit at Windhoek, Namibia but the RCD was not invited. Fighting thus continued.

Outside of Africa, most states remained neutral, but urged an end to the violence. Non-African states were extremely reluctant to send troops to the region. A number of Western mining and diamond companies, most notably from the United States, Canada, and Israel, supported the Kabila government in exchange for business deals. These actions attracted substantial criticism from human rights groups.

Lusaka Peace Agreement

Estimate of territory held by factions in June 2003
Estimate of territory held by factions in June 2003

On 5 April 1999, tensions within the RCD about the dominance of the Banyamulenge reached a peak when RCD leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba moved his base from Goma to Uganda-controlled Kisangani. A further sign of a break occurred when Museveni of Uganda and Kabila signed a ceasefire accord on 18 April in Sirte, Libya following the mediation of Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, and both the RCD and Rwanda refused to take part. On 16 May, Wamba was ousted as head of the RCD in favor of a pro-Rwanda figure. Seven days later the various factions of the RCD factions clashed over control of Kisangani. On 8 June rebel factions met to try and create a common front against Kabila. Despite these efforts, the creation by Uganda of the new province of Ituri sparked the ethnic clash of the Ituri conflict, sometimes referred to as a "war within a war".

Nevertheless, the diplomatic circumstances contributed to the first cease-fire of the war. In July 1999, the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement was signed by the six warring countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda) and, on 1 August, the MLC. The RCD refused to sign. Under the agreement, forces from all sides, under a Joint Military Commission, would cooperate in tracking, disarming and documenting all armed groups in the Congo, especially those forces identified with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Few provisions were made to actually disarm the militias.

The United Nations Security Council deployed about 90 liaison personnel in August 1999 to support the cease-fire. However, in the following months all sides accused the others of repeatedly breaking the cease-fire, and it became clear that small incidents could trigger attacks.

The tension between Uganda and Rwanda reached a breaking point in early August as units of the Uganda People’s Defense Force and the Rwandan Patriotic Army clashed in Kisangani. In November, government-controlled television in Kinshasa claimed that Kabila's army had been rebuilt and was now prepared to fulfill its "mission to liberate" the country. Rwandan forces launched a large offensive and approached Kinshasa before being repelled.

By November 30, 1999, the UN authorized a force of 5,500 troops, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known by the French acronym, MONUC), to monitor the cease-fire. However, fighting continued between rebels and government forces, and between Rwandan and Ugandan forces. Nevertheless, numerous clashes and offensives occurred throughout the country, most notably heavy fighting between Uganda and Rwanda in Kisangani in May and June 2000. On 9 August 2000, a government offensive in Equateur Province was stopped along the Ubangui River near Libenge by MLC forces. Despite the failure of military operations, diplomatic efforts made bilaterally or through the United Nations, African Union and Southern African Development Community failed to make any headway.

Kabila's assassination

In January 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. It is unknown who ordered the killing but most feel Kabila's allies were to blame as they were tired of his duplicity, in particular his failure to implement a detailed timetable for the introduction of a new democratic constitution leading to free and fair elections. Angolan troops were highly visible at Kabila's funeral cortege in Kinshasa. However, the smoothness of the transfer of power has led to questions of Western involvement.

A Congolese soldier with a PK machine gun near the Rwandan border, 2001
A Congolese soldier with a PK machine gun near the Rwandan border, 2001

The Washington Post favorably contrasted Joseph Kabila—Western educated and English-speaking—with his father. Here was someone who made diplomats "hope that things have changed", whereas "Laurent Kabila stood as the major impediment to a peaceful settlement of the war launched in August 1998 to unseat him" The Lusaka peace deal "remained unfulfilled largely because he kept staging new offensives while blocking deployment of UN peacekeepers in government-held territory." An analyst from the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit is quoted saying "The only obstruction had been Kabila because the [Lusaka] accord called for the government's democratic transition and that was a threat to his power."

By unanimous vote of the Congolese parliament, his son, Joseph Kabila, was sworn in as president to replace him. This was largely as a result of Robert Mugabe's backing. In February, the new president met Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the United States. Rwanda, Uganda, and the rebels agreed to a UN pullout plan. Uganda and Rwanda began pulling troops back from the front line.

In April 2001, a UN panel of experts investigated the illegal exploitation of diamonds, cobalt, coltan, gold and other lucrative resources in the Congo. The report accused Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe of systematically exploiting Congolese resources and recommended the Security Council impose sanctions.

Despite frequent accusations of misdeeds in the Congo, the Rwandan government continued to receive substantially more international aid than went to the vastly larger Congo. Rwandan President Paul Kagame was also still respected internationally for his leadership in ending the Rwandan Genocide and for his efforts to rebuild and reunite Rwanda.

A nominal peace

A number of attempts to end the violence were made, but these were not successful. In 2002 Rwanda's situation began to worsen. Many members of the RCD either gave up fighting or decided to join Kabila's government. Moreover, the Banyamulenge, the backbone of Rwanda's militia forces, became increasingly tired of control from Kigali and the unending conflict. A number of them mutinied, leading to violent clashes between them and Rwandan forces. At the same time the western Congo was becoming increasingly secure under the younger Kabila. International aid was resumed as inflation was brought under control.

The Sun City Agreement was formalized on April 19, 2002. It was a framework for providing the Congo with a unified, multipartite government and democratic elections; however, critics noted that there were no stipulations regarding the unification of the army, which weakened the effectiveness of the agreement. There have been several reported breaches of the Sun City agreement, but it has seen a reduction in the fighting.

On 30 July 2002, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo signed a peace deal after five days of talks in Pretoria, South Africa. The talks centered on two issues. One was the withdrawal of the estimated 20,000 Rwandan soldiers in the Congo. The other was the rounding up of the ex-Rwandan soldiers and the dismantling of the Hutu extremist militia known as Interahamwe, which took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide and continues to operate out of eastern Congo. Rwanda had an estimated 20,000 soldiers in the Congo and had refused to withdraw them until the Hutu militias were dealt with.

Signed on 6 September 2002, the Luanda Agreement formalized peace between Congo and Uganda. The treaty aimed to get Uganda to withdraw their troops from Bunia and to improve the relationship between the two countries, but implementation proved troublesome. Eleven days later the first Rwandan soldiers were withdrawn from the eastern DRC. On 5 October, Rwanda announced the completion of its withdrawal; MONUC confirmed the departure of over 20,000 Rwandan soldiers.

On 21 October the UN published its Expert Panel's Report of the pillages of natural resources by armed groups. Both Rwanda and Uganda rejected accusations that senior political and military figures were involved in illicit trafficking of plundered resources.

On 17 December 2002, the Congolese parties of the Inter Congolese Dialogue, namely: the national government, the MLC, the RCD, the RCD-ML, the RCD-N, the domestic political opposition, representatives of civil society and the Mai Mai, signed a comprehensive peace agreement. The agreement described a plan for transitional governance that should have resulted in legislative and presidential election within two years of its signing. This agreement marked the formal end of the Second Congo War.

Transitional government

Three rebel groups supported by Uganda, the MLC, RCD-N and RCD-ML, signed a ceasefire, the Gbadolite Agreement, on December 31, 2002. This obliged them to immediately stop all fighting in the Isiro-Bafwasende-Beni-Watsa quadrangle and to accept United Nations military observers in the area. It also contained guarantees of the freedom of movement of the civilian population and humanitarian organizations from one area to another. Again this treaty had limited effect.

Despite the formal end of hostilities the conflict continued. During January and February 2003, MONUC observed numerous hostile troop movements, mainly between Uganda, Rwanda and their respective proxies. On 1 May 2003, Uganda withdrew its regular forces from Bunia and Ituri in-line with the Luanda Agreement. Fighting erupts between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups between 7 May and 16 May in Bunia.

On 30 June, a transitional government composed of the various groups of the Inter Congolese Dialogue is formed. Over the course of September, a reinforced MONUC presence carries out the "Bunia, weapon-free zone" operation to demilitarize the province. They are partially successful, though a low-grade conflict continues to permeate the region.

In September 2004, between 20,000 and 150,000 people fled unrest in the eastern Kivu province caused by an advance of government troops against breakaway national army soldiers.[4] On October 1, 2004, the UN Security Council decided to deploy 5,900 more soldiers to the MONUC mission in Congo, although UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had asked for some 12,000.

In this period the International Rescue Committee reported that the conflict was killing 1,000 people a day, and calls the international response "abysmal". Comparing the war with Iraq, it said that during 2004 Iraq received aid worth the equivalent of $138 per person, whilst the Congo received $3 per person. [5]

Conflict escalation

In late November 2004, Rwandan president Paul Kagame declared that Rwanda retained the option of sending troops into Congo to fight Hutu militants, in particular the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) that has not yet been disarmed as promised in the 2002 Pretoria Agreement. As of mid-December 2004 there were many reports that Rwandan forces had crossed the border. MONUC chief M'Hand Djalouzi, commenting on the reports, said on December 1, "Infiltration is nothing new but this is something else, it has the appearance of an invasion." It remains unclear whether the Rwandan military is holding territory or carrying out temporary operations. The UN has promised to investigate.

MONUC peacekeepers
MONUC peacekeepers

On 16 December, the BBC reported that 20,000 civilians had fled fighting in the North Kivu town of Kanyaboyonga, 100 miles north of Goma. Antigovernment forces led by a Captain Kabakuli Kennedy, who has stated that he is fighting to defend the Banyamulenge, has routed loyalist government forces and holds the town and the surrounding mountains. A government has sent a mediation team to investigate and accused Rwanda of supporting another insurgency. Rwanda has denied any involvement in the fighting.[6]

The International Crisis Group released a report on 17 December warning that the Rwandan intervention threatened to roll back the progress made in years of peace talks. They further noted that the two recent wars both began in similar circumstances to that existing presently in the Kivus and that another regional war was entirely possible if diplomatic efforts were not made. [7]

On 25 January 2005, the UN reported that Uganda and Rwanda were continuing to arm insurgent groups in eastern Congo, in violation of a United Nations arms embargo in the region. Both nations denied any wrongdoing, and the UPDF spokesman suggested that MONUC was useless and should be disbanded. [8] Meanwhile, a meeting of African leaders in Abuja agreed to send more peacekeepers to the Congo and tasked with disarming the mainly Hutu rebel forces in an attempt to stem the escalating tensions. In response, a spokesman of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda stated on 2 February that the FDLR would resist with force any attempt to disarm it. [9] The same day US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed senior officials from the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda to Washington, DC for talks aimed at dialing down tensions in the region.

On 25 February, the resilience of the Ituri conflict was demonstrated when nine Bangladeshi MONUC peacekeepers were ambushed and killed by unidentified gunmen while patrolling an internally displaced persons camp in Kafe in Ituri Province. this was the largest single loss of peacekeeper life since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Floribert Ndjabu, the leader of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) militia operating in northeastern Ituri was arrested, while three other militia leaders were questioned. MONUC forces assaulted an FNI stronghold and killed fifty militia members, in what the Secretary-General referred to as "self-defence".

On 31 March, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) stated that it was giving up the armed struggle and returning to Rwanda to form a political party. This announcement followed talks mediated by Sant'Egidio in Rome with Congolese government representatives. If carried out by the various FDLR commanders, a return would remove one of the major sources of tensions in the region. The Rwandan government stated that any returnee who participated in the Rwandan Genocide would face justice.


The conflict has had wide ranging effects, most negative. The war has served to destroy the economy of an already-poor region as foreign investors have fled and resources have been devoted to fighting the war. Much of the already scant infrastructure in the Congo has been destroyed. The continuation and escalation of ethnic hatreds that fuelled the Rwandan genocide and quickly spilled over into Congo have made the postcolonial ethnic division of the region even more concrete and intractable.

A group of raped women in South Kivu
A group of raped women in South Kivu

Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout the conflict. In October 2004 the human rights group Amnesty International reported that 40,000 cases of rape had been reported over the previous six years, the majority occurring in South Kivu. This is an incomplete count as the humanitarian and international organizations compiling the figures do not have access to much of the conflict area and only women who have reported for treatment are included. The actual number of raped women is thus assumed to be much higher. All armed parties in the conflict are guilty of rape, though the militia and various insurgent groups have been most culpable. Of particular medical concern is the abnormally high proportion of women suffering vaginal fistulae, usually as a result of being gang raped. The endemic nature of rape in the conflict has, beyond the physical and psychological trauma to the individual women, contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, in the region.

Deaths resulting from the war are estimated at 3.8 million from surveys conducted by the International Rescue Committee. The vast majority of these deaths (80%–90%) resulted from easily preventable diseases and malnourishment resulting from the disruption of health service, agriculture and infrastructure, and from refugee displacement. The 2004 IRC report also includes death toll estimates of 3.4 million and 4.4 million, a range resulting from changes in basic assumptions in the model.

Effects within the DRC include the displacement of some 3.4 million people, as well as the impoverishment of hundreds of thousands. The majority of the displaced are from the eastern section of the country. Nearly two million others have been displaced in the neighboring countries of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

The war has also raised questions about sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. The increase in democratization and the end of apartheid in South Africa raised great hope for the region in the post Cold War world. Some saw the prospect of an "African Renaissance." The seemingly unending violence in the Congo has dashed many of these hopes and damaged the reputations of a number of statesmen who were once seen as reformers.

The devastating effects on the economy and social institutions have lead to serious impacts on the wildlife of the region. In September 2005, a survey reported by the WWF showed that the population of hippopotamuses in Virunga National Park's Lake Edward has plummeted to less than 900 individuals from an estimated 29,000 thirty years previously. [10] The decline is attributed to poaching for meat as well as the teeth, which are used to produce illegal ivory. Additionally, about half of the world's 700 wild mountain gorillas live in the same park.

Glossary of Armed Groups

Groups are listed under the state in which they are most active.

Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL): The Rwanda-Uganda backed alliance of groups that overthrew Sese Seko and put Laurent Kabila into power.
  • Armeé du Peuple Congolais (APC): Also Armee Populaire Congolaise. The military wing of the RCD-ML.
  • Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC): The military wing of RCD-Goma
  • Banyamulenge: Ethnic Tutsis in South Kivu who were very active in the AFDL and continue to dominate much of the ANC
  • Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC): The national army of the DRC
  • Front de Libération du Congo (FLC): An alliance that Uganda attempted to form out of the MLC, RCD-N and RCD-ML under Jean-Pierre Bemba in November 2000 to centralized control of Equateur and Orientale provinces in 2000. Fell apart in August 2001.
  • Mai-Mai: An umbrella term for Congolese militia groups generally opposed to foreign occupation
  • Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC): Ugandan-backed rebel group operating in Equateur led by Jean-Pierre Bemba. Created 1998. Sometimes used as erroneous shorthand to refer to all Ugandan-backed rebel forces in the DRC.
  • Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD): A name taken by numerous groups, but almost always refers to RCD-Goma.
    • RCD-Congo: Faction of RCD-Goma led by Kin-Kiey Mulumba that broke off in June 2002
    • RCD-Goma: A Rwandan-backed rebel group created in the town of Goma in August 1998 to fight Laurent Kabila. Technically, the ANC is the military wing of RCD-Goma but most writers do not make this distinction.
    • RCD-K: Ugandan-backed rebel faction led by Wamba dia Wamba that broke from RCD-Goma in March 1999. Became the RCD-ML led by Nyamwisi in September 1999. Also known as RCD-Wamba. See RCD-K/ML
    • RCD-Kisangani/Mouvement de Libération (RCD-K/ML): Refers to the RCD-K that became RCD-ML
    • RCD-ML: Ugandan-backed group led by Mbusa Nyamwisi. Active in North Kivu and Ituri. See RCD-K/ML. Is reported to be accepting arms shipments from Kinshasa, in agreement with Uganda, that are shared with the FDLR against Tutsi forces.
    • RCD-National (RCD-N): Ugandan-backed rebel group led by Roger Lumbala that split from the RCD-K/ML and is now allied with the MLC
  • Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALiR): The Hutu militant organization based in the Kivus since early 1997. Merged into the FDLR in September 2000.
  • Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR): The primary Kinshasa-backed Hutu anti-Tutsi group, it was created in 2000 after the Kinshasa-based Hutu command and Kivu-based ALiR agreed to merge and announced in March 2005 that they were abandoning armed resistance.
  • Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF): Tutsi-dominated national military of Rwanda. Changed its name from the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) in June 2002
  • Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF): Political wing of Uganda-based Tutsi rebel group led by Paul Kagame that chased out the genocidaire in 1994. Now the ruling Rwandan political party.

External links

Reports and articles (chronological)


Further reading

  • Berkeley, Bill. (2001) The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe, and Power in the Heart of Africa Basic Books. ISBN 0465006426. A narrative approach illustrating how political figures manipulate large groups into violence. Not focused on the current Congo conflict, but useful in understanding "ethnic conflict" generally in Africa.
  • Clark, John F. (2002) The African Stakes in the Congo War New York: Palgrave McMillan. ISBN 1403967237. The only book dealing specifically with the current war uses a political science approach to understanding motivations and power struggles, but is not an account of specific incidents and individuals.
  • Edgerton, Robert G. (2002) The Troubled Heart of Africa: A History of the Congo St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312304862. There is a modicum of information on the troubles since 1996 in the latter sections.
  • Gondola, Ch. Didier. (2002) The History of Congo, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-31696-1. Covers events up to January 2002.


1 AP: The UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland reported on May 11, 2005 that one African humanitarian crisis which has been on the international agenda for much too long is: “Congo where fighting persists despite a peace agreement”. ([11])

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