Causes of Conflict in DRC

Keywords: drc conflict causes, congo conflict cause


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








Kongo central


















Kasaï oriental



























































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.

Second war

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.

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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.

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Ethnic differences

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 being a conflict created by greed and exploitation of mineral resources by internal and external actors motivated by pure profit, because of the extreme concentration of mineral resources on Congolese soil. Fleckner (2007) notes that often overlooked factor is the micro level dynamics that creates informal politics and power structures parallel to the central transitional government in the capital Kinshasa. The provinces of Ituri and the North and South Kivus are highly explosive areas with ongoing disputes among ethnicities about land ownership, access to mineral resources and political participation in decision making. According to some observers the peace process never had the expected impact on the eastern parts of the country. Ethnic clashes continuously break out. So was the case of the strike on the Gatumba transit centre in the bordering Burundi August 13 on 163 ethnic Banyamulenge Tutsis by Hutu militants living in exile in DR Congo. Ethnic affiliation has therefore become an even more dominating and noticeable factor in the conflict with armed groups using it in their recruitment strategies for new members.

The access to land, mineral resources and political decision making, are three major issues in the conflict in the eastern part of DR Congo. In the lack of stable and continuous governance, ethnicity indeed has become an excuse to use violence to gain control of assets in the politically fragile environment. Seen in the light of the colonial legacy and its favouring of some ethnic groups and the exclusion of others, these issues have become an ever self-birth giving Sisyphus-like obstacle on the road to peace, and with a constant overshadowing threat of a disastrous full scale war. So is the case of the Hema and Lendu disputes, and the Tutsi and Hutu disputes, that have created death tolls comparable with the Second World War.

More recently, despite the supposed cessation of hostilities, massacres continued in eastern Congo during 2003-2004. Rwandan Hutu militiamen feared returning to Rwanda, believing they would be targeted by revenge-seeking Tutsis. According to King (2007) in December 2004, rival units within the DRC’s national army clashed in the eastern part of the country. In May 2005 he reports that Rwandan Hutu rebels based in eastern Congo were responsible for hundreds of summary executions, rapes, beatings and hostage-taking of Congolese civilians in the territory of Walungu, South Kivu Province.

Congo’s communities are trying to cope with growing ethnic divisions that have deepened since Nkunda took up arms against the Congolese government. Nkunda says he is trying to protect eastern Congo’s Tutsis from Hutu militias, known as the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), but his claims are widely disputed. Clement Congo,an elected leader at Mugunga Two Camp,told VOA that ethnicity is a tense subject in North Kivu that During his so-called protection of the Tutsi community, Nkunda has committed many terrible abuses against other communities and that he did nothing but increase hatred toward the Tutsis.

Therefore, the role of ethnicity can not be ignored as a cause for conflict in Congo. However, like most factors, it has its root causes in the colonial occupation.

Presence of rich minerals in Congo

Conflict in Congo has become to termed as the War of Resources (Nzongola: 2005). Countries rich in minerals such as cobalt, coltan, cassiterite, copper, and gold are often marred by corruption, authoritarian repression, militarization, and civil war. Rebel groups, governments and mining companies exploit mineral resources, fueling civil and interstate conflict as players vie for control over riches. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo have fallen victim to rebels who use revenue from minerals such as diamonds, coltan and cassiterite to purchase arms and fuel conflict. Governments often establish repressive military regimes in mineral producing regions to protect their “national interests,” but local populations rarely see the profits and are subjected to environmental damage wrought by corporations.

Like Angola and Sierraleaone, Congo has suffered for the presence of rich minerals in the country. If not for the presence of minerals in Congo, Leopold and Belguim could never have occupied the country in the first instance, rebel groups and multi national corporations couldn’t have done what they did and still do, and there would never have been interference by neighbouring states in the affairs of Congo. Therefore, the problem of Congo lies in the fact that it is richly endowed with minerals. Congo is awash with gold, diamonds and metals such as cassiterite and coltan used to weld small pieces together in electronics.

The conflict in eastern Congo is being fueled and funded by a tussle for mineral resources that end up in cell phones, laptops and other electronics– deepening the stakes in a war that sprung out of festering hatreds from the Rwandan genocide. Rebel militias and Congolese army troops are fighting each other for control of mineral-rich land. They can then sell the raw materials they mine and use the proceeds to fund their activities and arms– which prolongs the conflict. Many analysts say that the heart of conflict is the struggle for minerals. “In some ways (mineral exploitation) has become the means and the ends of the conflict,” said Jennifer Cooke, the director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in New York.

There’s virtually no government control over the eastern Congo and much of the conflict there is a scramble at the local level and at the regional level for access to land and the minerals underneath them. Over the years, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has faced a problem of natural resource management. The continual exploitation and lack of effective management has led to the perpetuation of ongoing conflict and instability throughout the country, but most notably in the Eastern provinces. It is feared that without international recognition and domestic pressure to curb the ongoing exploitation, the DRC’s future will be one that is trapped in a vicious cycle of human rights abuses and conflict.

While these practices should be addressed, it is more crucial to look at the manner in which natural resource control has been manipulated and used by warlords and governments as a means to sustain violent conflict. For instance, in the late nineties in the district of Ituri it was discovered that the ability of the warlords to continue their violent actions was supported and financed by the exploitation of gold from the area. This example is indicative of a wider trend throughout Congo whereby armed groups are fighting for control of resources for material gain and the financing of continued armed conflict.

Therefore like most scholars and analysts agree, the primary cause of the Congo conflict lies in the struggle by different sects to exploit and manage natural resources (minerals). This causal factor goes back to 1888s during the era of Leopold and Belguim colonial occupation to the nineties that witness the partition and plunder by neighboring states of Uganda and Rwanda.              

Occupation and interests of neighbouring States

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo  is the widest interstate war in modern African history. The DRC has become an environment in which numerous foreign players have become involved, some within the immediate sub-region, and some from much further a field. That only serves to complicate the situation and to make peaceful resolution of the conflict that much more complex. The war, centered mainly in eastern Congo, has involved nine African nations and directly affected the lives of 50 million Congolese.

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During 1997, relations between Kabila and his foreign backers deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops to leave the DRC. Most refused to leave. On August 2, fighting erupted throughout the DRC as Rwandan troops “mutinied,” and fresh Rwandan and Ugandan troops entered the DRC. Two days later, Rwandan troops flew to Bas-Congo, with the intention of marching on Kinshasa, ousting Laurent Kabila, and replacing him with the newly formed Rwandan-backed rebel group called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD). The Rwandan campaign was thwarted at the last minute when Angolan, Zimbabwean, and Namibian troops intervened on behalf of the DRC Government. The Rwandans and the RCD withdrew to eastern DRC, where they established de facto control over portions of eastern DRC and continued to fight the Congolese Army and its foreign allies.

In February 1999, Uganda backed the formation of a rebel group called the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC). Together, Uganda and the MLC established control over the northern third of the DRC. At this stage, the DRC was divided de facto into three segments, and the parties controlling each segment had reached military deadlock. In July 1999, a cease-fire was proposed in Lusaka, Zambia, which all six parties (The DRC, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Uganda, and Rwanda) signed by the end of August. The Lusaka Accord called for a cease-fire, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation (MONUC), the withdrawal of foreign troops, and the launching of an “Inter-Congolese Dialogue” to form a transitional government leading to elections. The parties to the Lusaka Accord failed to fully implement its provisions in 1999 and 2000. Laurent Kabila drew increasing international criticism for blocking full deployment of UN troops, hindering progress toward an Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and suppressing internal political activity.

Each side in the conflict repeatedly accused the other of violating the Lusaka accord, which seemed to exist only on paper. As of late December 1999 the deteriorating military and security situation suggested that the slightest incident could have triggered large-scale organized attacks against civilians, especially ethnic Tutsis. Given the threat to the Congolese Tutsi community, they themselves could have triggered an anti-Tutsi offensive through violent actions against their neighbors. In June 2000, the President of the UN Security Council requested the UN Secretary-General to establish a Panel of Experts on the illegal exploitation of the natural resources and other forms of wealth of the DRC to follow up on reports and collect information on all activities of illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the DRC, including in violation of the sovereignty of that country; and to research and analyze the links between the exploitation of the natural resources and other forms of wealth in the DRC and the continuation of the conflict.

Rwanda and Uganda had miscalculated with respect to the regional dynamics. They did not anticipate the interventions of Angola and Zimbabwe on Kabila’s side. A major regional power, Angola defeated the Rwandan and Ugandan troops in the south-west before they could move up from the port of Matadi and the Kitona base for Kinshasa. And Zimbabwe sent troops to help defend the Ndjili International Airport in Kinshasa. In addition to these allied actions, popular resistance played a crucial role in defeating the rebels in Kinshasa, as they faced an unarmed but determined public that was not afraid to take on the enemy with whatever weapon it could put its hands on, including machetes, bicycle chains, and the “necklace”—a burning tyre placed around the neck—as the ultimate tool of popular justice. Unfortunately, the privatization of justice and anti-Tutsi hysteria resulted in many innocent civilians being hurt or harassed simply because they were or looked like Tutsis. Having failed to overthrow Kabila and to replace him with a more pliable puppet, Rwanda and Uganda, later joined by Burundi, settled on a de facto partition of their big neighbor to permit unimpeded access to its resources.

The idea that Rwanda and Uganda intervened on the side of Congolese rebels was pure myth, as the rebels themselves were a creation of the two states, the Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie (Congolese Rally for Democracy—RCD) by Rwanda, and the Mouvement de libération du Congo (Congo Liberation Movement—MLC) by Uganda. The first group was established nearly two weeks after the invasion, and the second several months later, when it became evident that the RCD enjoyed no popular support in DR Congo. Unlike the first war, in which the survival of Rwanda’s RPF regime was a major factor, this was a new type of war altogether, a war of resources. This was a war in which there was little engagement between the belligerents, and even allies would fight over turf for the control of resources. The best example of this particular behaviour is the fighting that erupted three times between the Rwandan and Ugandan armies in Kisangani in 1999 and 2000. On the other hand, a war of resources is a war of partition and plunder that is waged against a territory and its civilian population, in which men are perceived as competitors or potential enemies and women are sexually violated. The brutal and anti-civilian character of a war of resources is best captured in the October 2003 instalment of the UN panel of experts’ report:

In 1999 and 2000 a sharp increase in the world prices of tantalum occurred, leading to a large increase in coltan production in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Part of that new production involved rebel groups and unscrupulous business people forcing farmers and their families to leave their agricultural land, or chasing people off land where coltan was found and forcing them to work in artisanal mines. As a result, the widespread destruction of agriculture and devastating social effects occurred, which in a number of instances were akin to slavery.

On January 16, 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila.


The misfortune of the Congo is due to the post-independence failure to consolidate democracy, a failure that is primarily a function of the betrayal of the people’s expectations by their political and military leaders, who have placed narrow class interests above patriotism and the general welfare. Rather than serving to meet the basic needs of the population, the enormous wealth of the Congo has been monopolized by its rulers and their foreign allies, represented today by several networks of international financial criminality including states, mafia groups, and rogue business operators, which thrive on profiting from crisis situations.

What is happening in DR Congo has already occurred in the resource wars of Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which gave the world new concepts such as “conflict diamonds” and whetted the appetite of many to follow the example of Liberia’s Charles Taylor in moving from warlord to head of state by any means necessary, be it force or internationally supervised elections. The responsibility of the international community in resource wars such as that which has ravaged DR Congo is evident, particularly as regards double standards in implementing international law. For if billions of dollars can be spent in fighting against ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in the Balkans, why it is difficult to devote even a small fraction of that amount to combating similar crimes in Africa?

The major lesson of all this is that Africans have to assume full responsibility for their own problems, just as Nigeria and the regional peacekeeping force ECOMOG have attempted to do in Liberia and Sierra Leone. South Africa’s role in facilitating the inter-Congolese dialogue that has resulted in the current process of national reconciliation and transition to democracy is a positive reinforcement of the need for African solutions to African problems. However, since these problems invariably have an international dimension in the current context of globalisation, the involvement of the world community is indispensable. The United Nations played a crucial part in the success of the inter-Congolese dialogue and remains engaged in support of the transition process. Peace and security in central Africa can be established only by restoring a strong state in DR Congo, one with the capacity to play an effective role in ensuring stability and sustainable development in the entire Great Lakes region.


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