Struggle for Political Power
The US backed the dictator Mobutu in the overthrow of the previous leader, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1960. (Lumumba was also non-aligned in geopolitical/cold-war sense, so not seen favorably by the US.) Corruption, siphoning off massive personal wealth, a plunge in copper prices, and mounting debt led to enormous economic downturns:
From the time of Belgian colonial rule, the inhabitants of the region have derived little if any benefit from its natural wealth. Instead, they have suffered an unbroken succession of abusive political administrations, military authorities and armed political groups that have looted the region and committed human rights abuses with impunity. King Leopold II accrued vast personal wealth without ever setting foot on Congolese soil. The Belgian rulers of the then Belgian Congo, from 1905 to 1960 used slave labour to plunder its rubber, ivory and timber.
After independence in 1960, the long presidency of Mobutu Sese Seko made the newly named Zaire notorious for cronyism and corruption. When President Mobutu came into office in 1965, a sustained period of institutionalised corruption and misappropriation of state resources began. Large proportions of the revenues from state-owned companies, such as the copper and cobalt company Gécamines, went not to the state treasury but straight into the pockets of President Mobutu and his closest allies.
— “Our brothers who help kill us”—economic exploitation and human rights abuses in the east, Amnesty International Report, AFR 62/010/2003, April 1, 2003.
The impact of this corruption is felt on the citizens:
Today, Mobutu is deposed and dead, but his legacies live on. His family holds his fortune, and his country holds his $12 billion debt. In a nation with an annual income of $110 per capita, each resident theoretically owes foreign creditors $236.
— David Malin Roodman, Still Waiting for the Jubilee, World Watch Institute, 26 April 2001.
Since then, there have been many internal conflicts where all sides have been supported from various neighbors. The conflict has also been fueled by weapons sales and by military training. The weapons have come from the former Soviet bloc countries as well as the United States, who have also provided military training.
The United States military has been covertly involved in the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a US parliamentary subcommittee has been told. Intelligence specialist Wayne Madsen, appearing before the US House subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, also said American companies, including one linked to former President George Bush Snr, the father of the current US President, are stoking the Congo conflict for monetary gains.
— John Kakande, US Army Operated Secretly in Congo, allAfrica.com, June 17, 2001
When Congolese President Laurent Kabila came to power in May 1997, toppling Marshall Mobutu, with the aid of Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Burundi and Eritrea, it was hoped that a revival would be seen in the region. Instead, the situation deteriorated. Kabila, also backed by the US, had been accused by rebels (made up of Congolese soldiers, Congolese Tutsi Banyamulenge, Rwandan, Ugandan and some Burundian government troops) of turning into a dictator, of mismanagement, corruption and supporting various paramilitary groups who oppose his former allies. As the conflict had raged on, rebels controlled about a third of the entire country (the eastern parts). Laurent Kabila had received support from Angolan, Zimbabwean and Namibian troops.
Up to the assasination of Laurent Kabila in January 2001, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia supported the Congolese government, while the rebels were backed by the governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.
The reasons for different regions getting involved are all murky. Rwanda is one example, summarizing a Daily Telegraph news report (31 August 2002): The role of Rwanda, though small, has had a number of forces in large areas of the country. This has been in the backdrop of the genocide when more than 800,000 mainly Tutsi Rwandans were slaughtered. Hutu interahamwe militia carried out most of the massacres and fled to neighboring Congo in the eastern region of the DRC after the genocide. From there, they often launched attacks into their home country, prompting a Rwandan invasion. As a result, Rwanda has justified its role in the four-year war by saying it wanted to secure its border, while critics accused it of using the interahamwe attacks as an excuse to deploy 20,000 troops to take control of Congolese diamond mines and other mineral resources.
And as Amnesty International adds, “the UN Panel of Experts indicated, in its first report [Report of the UN Panel of Experts, April 2001] that, unlike Rwanda, the Ugandan government does not benefit directly as a government from the resources exploitation in Congo. Only individuals were gaining from it. But the Ugandan government has remained silent and has taken no disciplinary action against those individuals.”
The effects and tactics seen from the conflict have been many, according to the same Amnesty report, including:
- Shifting alliances as needed to achieve the economic exploitation;
- Repeated military operations and violence, including rape and other forms of attacks on civilians, in areas rich in mineral resources;
- Disrupting humanitarian assistance;
- Pillage as a strategy of war;
- Looting often accompanied by torture, killings, rape
- Targeting harvests
- Stealing from medical centers
- Planned and coordinated attacks and robbing of villages
- Systematically pillaging food aid
- Killing people for resisting extortion;
- Corruption and 'taxation' where the taxes are not used for the stated purposes or are extortionate, while exempting elites in various ways;
- Public services have predictably collapsed;
- Ethnic rivalries have been fueled by economic interests;
- Forced labor and displacement;
- Sexual exploitation;
- and many more.
Despite the Lusaka peace agreement signed in 1999, there was still fighting going on and the peace was fragile. There were various political problems in trying to get a UN peacekeeping force in there to help out, while killings continued. Due to conflicts of interests, there were fears that the UN peacekeeping mission would even be aborted before it got started. (The UN deployed team is known as MONUC. It was a small cease-fire monitoring body whose mandate was strengthened in July 2003 to “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” Amnesty International for example, has noted that “MONUC has been a hostage to its weak mandate and has lacked the necessary equipment, personnel and international political backing.”)
On January 16, 2001 Laurent Kabila himself was assassinated and his son Joseph Kabila was sworn in as the new President of the DRC. He said that he would further the need for cooperation with the United Nations in deployment of troops, further dialog of national reconciliation and help revive the stalled Lusaka peace agreements (also with France’s request). However, the alignments of power have been in flux with many parties involved.
In a dialog that was supposed to comprise five components, two rebel movements, an opposition group (the MLC) as well as the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy, non-armed opposition groups, political parties, civil society organizations and the government, only the government and one opposition group did the main talks on the power sharing question. The Lusaka agreements were declared dead, though it was said that attempts would be made to continue dialog. Various other groups have had disagreements on a variety of issues, and as the International crisis group concludes (14 May 2002), “the future for the Democratic Republic of Congo remains uncertain.”
For more on the issue of power sharing and the political realignments in the conflict see for example:
- Storm Clouds over Sun City; The Urgent Need To Recast The Congolese Peace Process, from the International Crisis Group, 14 May 2002.
- Congo’s Situation is As Grave As Palestine’s, Daily Trust (Nigeria) 14 May, 2002, reposted at AllAfrica.com. This is an interview with Professor Ntalaja from the DRC and until recently UNDP Senior Special Adviser for Governance in Abuja, Nigeria. It provides a look at the ongoing situation in the DRC as well as questions about Joseph Kabila’s commitment to democracy.
Nonetheless, at the end of August 2002, a peace agreement had been signed to supposedly end the civil war, though only Jospeh Kabila, president of DRC, and Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda were party to this agreement.
However, the United Nations reported in October 2002 that the plunder of gems and minerals continued, with elite networks running a self-financing war economy centered on pillage.
The main fighting has been on the eastern side of DRC. It is mostly under foreign control, and over three quarters of the estimated number of killings have taken place there, with approximately 90 per cent of the DRC’s internally displaced population having fled violence from that region.
Under a growing escalation of violence, in June 2003 a small “rapid reaction force” led by the French (Interim Emergency Multinational Force—IEMF) was also deployed to the town of Bunia in eastern DRC. However, its mandate was very limited and was withdrawn on 1 September 2003 to be replaced by a larger contingent of MONUC. Amnesty International noted that IEMF had been almost universally welcomed by the civilian population of Bunia, having contributed greatly to improving the security situation in Bunia itself. With the replacement by MONUC, Amnesty International has continued raising concerns at the limited mandate, resources, international political backing and resolve of MONUC.