The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Civil War is rooted in history. Hundreds of years before their civil war, many people were kidnapped and forced into slavery. Ensuring a safe place aboard their own ships from disease and illness, European slave traders would employ the help of local tribal leaders to find people to be slaves and bring them to the coast. Slaves were usually traded for weapons to be used in conflicts with neighboring tribes. The Congo region learned early on that their inhabitants and their resources could be subject to exploitation.
This is the example that was given when King Leopold II of Belgium gave as he took control the Congo Region and exploited its natural resources for personal gain. Called the Congo Free State, King Leopold II of Belgium was the sole shareholder and chair of the African International Society, a dummy non-governmental organization that ruled over the Congo region. King Leopold’s rule over the Congo Free State is a classic example of kleptocracy in Central Africa, exploiting the people and natural resources for personal gain.
King Leopold used the inhabitants of the Congo region as slave workers to extract the resources that naturally occurred in their region. One of the major naturally occurring resources was the rubber tree. Many Congolese people were enslaved in the harvest of this plant. King Leopold’s rule over the Congo region oversaw the deaths of approximately 10 million people; he is commonly paired with Attila the Hun in his viciousness of slaughtering millions of people.
The harsh rules of King Leopold II, tethered with the abduction and forced slavery by European traders, are clear examples how the Congolese people were bred in a mindset of “take matters into your own hands. ” This type of thinking is what fueled the civil war almost a hundred years later. In 1960, a difference in leadership style emerged between Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and President Joseph Kasa-Vubu. To keep control in the country, General Joseph-Desire Mobutu, head of the military, took control of the DRC, ousted Prime Minister Lumumba, and returned control to the President Joseph Kasa-Vubu.
Later, in 1965, after five years of failed political leadership, Mobutu decided that the government was too corrupt and took control of the DRC for second time, not to relinquish power until forced out 30 years later. Mobutu helped further instill a mindset of taking matters into your own hands attitude by overstepping the government and abolishing it under his own totalitarian rule. Once Mobutu took power as dictator he changed the name of the country and his own personal name.
Joseph-Desire Mobutu changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko and changed the name of the country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Zaire in a pro-African move. Mobutu’s rule over Zaire can only be characterized as a kleptocratic leadership following right after the footsteps of King Leopold II himself. He worked hard on little but to increase his personal fortune, which in 1984 was estimated to amount to US $5 billion. He owned a fleet of Mercedes-Benz vehicles that he used to travel between his numerous palaces, while the nation’s roads rotted and many of his people starved.
Infrastructure virtually collapsed, and many public service workers went months without being paid. Mobutu saw how easy it could be to exploit the resources of the Congo, and did so for many years. Without proper food and education the Congolese people, perhaps out of necessity, stole and murdered to just stay alive. Without knowing it they were beginning the transition where the common population began to take the matters of failed government into their own hands. With a bounty of resources, the Congo could be very successful and foster a good living for all.
Instead, the resources that the country produced was not going to benefit the citizen’s of Zaire, but to Mobutu himself. After years of this style of rule, the people of Zaire were simply ripe for a rebellion. All they needed was something to spark enough interest for it to take place, and in this case, the Hutu/Tutsi conflict in Rwanda in 1994 that served as a catalyst and precursor to that rebellion. In 1994, a civil war broke out in Rwanda between two tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi’s. Both tribes claimed to be the “race of God” and had been fighting for many years about it.
From early April to mid July 1994, two Hutu militias were “exterminating” anyone who was of Tutsi descent. In the span of about 100 days there were approximately 800,000 to 1 million Tutsi’s murdered by Hutu militia’s, which became known as the Rwandan Genocide. In a mass exodus to the closest refugee camp, approximately 2 million Tutsi’s fled to neighboring Zaire for safety. After 100 days of fighting a rebel Tutsi force was able to overthrow the Hutu militias and reinstate a Tutsi controlled government. Following the re-installment of a Tutsi controlled government, the Hutu militia’s also fled to neighboring Zaire.
As a result of the end of the fighting, over 500,000 Tutsi refugees returned to Rwanda from Zaire. Even though the direct fighting between Hutu and Tutsi’s in Rwanda had halted, the rebel Hutu militia’s were not satisfied and began to harass and attack the Zairian Tutsi population in Eastern Zaire, which became labeled as the Rwandan “Spill-over” effect. Rwandan Tutsi’s had long opposed Mobutu, due to his open support for Rwandan Hutu extremists responsible for the Rwandan genocide. When Mobutu issued an order in November 1996 requiring Tutsis to leave Zaire under penalty of death, they erupted in rebellion.
From eastern Zaire, with the support of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Rwandan Minister of Defense Paul Kagame, and the Burundian government, they launched an offensive to overthrow Mobutu. Leading the charge west toward Kinshasa was longtime political opponent of Mobutu, Laurent-Desire Kabila, marking the beginning of the First Congo War. Ailing with cancer, Mobutu was unable to coordinate the resistance, which crumbled in front of the march, the army being more used to suppressing civilians than defending the country.
On May 16, 1997, following failed peace talks, the Tutsi rebels and other anti-Mobutu groups formed Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) and captured Kinshasa after Mobutu fled the country. Laurent-Desire Kabila appointed himself president and changed the country’s name back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is interesting that the Congolese people took matters into their own hands, as rebel militias, when an unlawful mandate was decreed.
This marks the beginning when common Congolese people began to fight over what should and should not happen and to whom things should and should not go. At this point, the government is no longer in control of the country, it is the inhabitants who truly control what does and does not happen in the Congo. As Kabila took control of the DRC, he faced substantial obstacles to governing the country. Uganda and Rwanda, two of the heaviest supporters of Kabila taking power, were not inclined to let go of the power and influence they held over Kabila when he asked them to leave.
As previously mentioned, the true power of control of the DRC fell with the people as potential rebel militia’s, Kabila needed to prove to the Congolese people that he was indeed the man they wanted to rule the country. Rwandan presence in the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, proved unsettling to many of the Congolese people that Kabila might not be strong enough of a leader to rule the country. In an attempt to prove his strength, Kabila dismissed his Rwandan chief of staff, James Kabarebe, and ordered all the Rwandan and Ugandan forces to vacate the DRC.
Kabila witnessed that when control is taken into matters of the people, order is challenged. Rwanda and Uganda did not want to leave the Congo. For one thing, they liked having influence over what happened in the resource rich country, and two, they did not want to let go of their current exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources. Because of this, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi formed a well-armed militia group in Eastern DRC, Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), composed of primarily DRC living Tutsi’s, the Banyamulenge, and backed by Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.
The RCD quickly took control of the towns of Bukavu and Uvira in the North and South provinces of Kivu. They based their operations in the city of Goma and came to dominate the resource-rich eastern provinces. To help remove the RCD, President Kabila enlisted the aid of the Hutu militants in eastern Congo and began to agitate public opinion against the Tutsis. Interestingly, the same Hutu militia’s that initiated the genocide in Rwanda, only a few years earlier, were now being enlisted by Kabila to continue their work of hatred toward any Tutsi in Eastern DRC.
Since the RCD was primarily made up of Tutsi’s, it made sense to Kabila to attack them with their common enemy. The Rwandan government also claimed a substantial part of eastern Congo as “historically Rwandan. ” The Rwandans alleged that Kabila was organizing a genocide against the Tutsi’s that lived in the Kivu region, who largely were made up of Rwandan Tutsi refugees from the 1994 genocide. The degree to which Rwandan intervention was motivated by a desire to protect the Banyamulenge, as opposed to using them as a front for its own regional aspirations is unknown, but is highly suspect.
Control was beginning to slip out of Kabila’s hands. Kabila saw the influence a few ethnic groups could have in running his country. He also saw that he could not fight the RCD alone and began diplomatic negotiations with neighboring countries. The first African countries to respond to Kabila’s request for help 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, the governments of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola supported the Kabila government.
Several more nations joined the conflict for Kabila in the following weeks: Chad, Libya and Sudan. In the First Congo War, Congolese rebels were trying to take control away from a kleptocratic dictator and restore order to the country. Backed by Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, it was largely a Congolese war. When Kabila ordered all the foreign troops who helped him get to power to leave the DRC, he created tensions between him and those who expected to benefit from helping him gain power, mainly by exploiting the DRC’s natural resources, and, subsequently, started the Second Congo War.
The Second Congo War differed from the First Congo War by enlisting the aid of neighboring countries on both sides. The Second Congo War was a regional African war consisting of countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Eastern DRC Tutsi’s against the Kabila government and DRC military, former Rwanda Hutu militia’s living in Eastern DRC, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Chad, Libya, and the Sudan. The fighting that occurred in this war was not for control of the country, but for control of Congolese natural resources. The pursuit for control of Congolese natural resources fuels and financially supports the fighting between nations.
The DRC is rich in cobalt, copper, cadmium, petroleum, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, coal. Also timber and hydropower provide a high return of funds. Those who are able to exploit these resources force local tribal and town members to work in the mines to extract the said minerals. The African Great Lakes states have largely paid their military expenses by extracting minerals, diamonds, and timber from the eastern Congo. Officers from the Rwandan and Ugandan armies who have grown wealthy as a result have directed these efforts.
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 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 and caused the RCD to split into two factions, creating the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).
Laurent-Desire Kabila witnessed first hand that the Second Congo War was founded on actions taken into one’s own hands. In 2001, he was assassinated. It is unknown who ordered the assassination, but speculation exists that Kabila’s allies who disapproved of his ability to bring peace to the area in a timely manner ordered it. Ten days after his assassination his son, Joseph Kabila, was sworn in to office to replace him. Joseph Kabila worked quickly to end the fighting in the DRC. In October 2002, he negotiated the withdrawal of Rwandan forces occupying eastern Congo.
Two months later, the Pretoria Accord was signed by all remaining fighting countries to end the war and establish a government of national unity. He led a transitional government tasked with moving from the war-ridden state by the Second Congo War to a government based upon a constitution. The transitional period came to end with the completion of the 2006 general election and the swearing in of Kabila as President. The First and Second Congo Wars had incredible death tolls for soldiers on both sides of the conflicts, yet they were not the ones most affected by the fighting.
War, disease and malnutrition kills 45,000 Congolese every month and claimed 5. 4 million victims in a little over a decade, making it the world’s most deadly conflict since World War II. Routine and treatable illnesses have become weapons of mass destruction. According to the International Rescue Committee, which has conducted a series of detailed mortality surveys over the past six years, 1,250 Congolese still die every day because of war-related causes; the vast majority succumbing to diseases and malnutrition that wouldn’t exist in peaceful times.
Another facet of civilian victimizing is using rape as a weapon. Rape has always been apart of war, but during the Congo wars, it was used to strike fear and obedience into those of rural tribes, it is about showing terror. Rape was used mostly by rebel militia’s, but has been used by the pro-Kabila militaries and by the United Nations Peacekeepers as well. Rape is so wide spread that it has a normal occurrence in the Congo and affects everyone involved. It is one of the first places where rape has been used as an act of war, instead of an act of just fulfilling one’s pleasures.
Many of those that have been raped are considered “unclean” and no longer suitable for marriage. Some, just to make ends meet, have given their lives to prostitution, selling themselves for a mere $1 to UN Peacekeepers. Wherever you look in the DRC, widespread poverty and poor living conditions follow. These people do not have the ability to take matters into their own hands to fix their problems. Their lifestyles are a direct effect of others who did take matters into their own hands, and they have to suffer for it.
The war officially ended five years ago, yet currently in the DRC there is still widespread fighting in the East. The DRC spends less than any other country in the world for health care, approximately $15 per person per year, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel of fixing this country’s problems. From tribal leaders and government officials to the common population, history has shown us that the people of the Congo take matters into their own hands to achieve what they want. The Democratic Republic of the Congo Civil War is founded on people taking matters into their own hands, instead of by some other means.
We can see that through history, as taking matters into one’s own hands was introduced into their society, that eventually it trickled down to the common people who rebelled against government and leaders. It is because of this poor decision making hundreds of years ago that the DRC Civil War had a hold to take place. Clark, John Frank. African Stakes of the Congo War. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Collins, Carole J. L. “Congo: Revisiting the Looking Glass. ” African Political Economy (Taylor & Francis, Ltd. ) 29, no. 3 (September – December 2002): 607-615. Crawley, Mike. “Agony in Africa. ” Maclean’s (Rogers Publishing Limited) 116, no. 23 (June 2003): 50. Crilly, Rob. “Amid poverty and hunger, armies fight to grab wealth of mines and forests. ” The Times, November 19, 2008: 41. McGreal, Chris. “The Gaurdian. ” The Gaurdian. September 3, 2007. http://www. guardian. co. uk/world/2007/sep/03/congo. rwanda (accessed November 11, 2008). Mealer, Bryan. All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo. New York, New York: Bloomsbury, 2008.
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