The Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) has a conflict ridden past and remains in a state of conflict today. TheDRC is often catagorised as a failed state (Oyeniyi,2011) and has many characteristics which make it prone to conflict includingeconomic greed and political grievances (Mazrui, 2008). It is one of the poorest countries in theworld and, some would argue, one of the most underreported (Vice, 2012a). DRC’s percapita income, GNP (gross national product), and human development index (whichmeasures human well-being) all rank near the bottom of the world rankings (Oppong & Woodruff 2007). Continued violence in the DRC has contributed to deaths anddisplaced people in the region along with malnutrition, starvation, disease,and social and economic decline (Oyeniyi, 2011). In 2006, itwas estimated that 38,000 people per month died of treatable diseases such asdiarrhoea and respiratory infections (Oppong 2007).
This essay will look at Congo’shistory of conflict, what the triggers have been in the past and how theeffects of this history linger in the present day. The contributing factorsthat will be discussed within this paper are colonial history, ethnicity,natural resources, and political instability. The DRC’s colonial historystretches back to the 1800s and Independence from Belgium wasachieved on June 30, 1960 (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). In 1876 a Belgianexplorer arrived and the Congolese people were forced, at gunpoint, to signover their land rights (Vice, 2012b). Essentially, the DRC was run as a privatecorporation with the Belgian crown as the sole shareholder and chairman (Vice, 2012b).Much of the blame for the challenges the DRC faces today can be attributed tothe colonial legacy of the country (Oppong and Woodruff, 2007).
Colonialexperience has been found to have a profound impact on the country’svulnerability to war (Mazrui, 2006). An estimated 10 million Africans werekilled under Belgian rule and the colonisers left destruction which continuesto impact nation and state building efforts (Mazrui, 2006). Another note-worthyissue are the borders determined by colonial powers in Europe. The colonialpowers carved these borders with poor maps and little thought for the Africanpeople (Oyeniyi, 2011). Therefore tribes were split across borders and whencountries reached independence it was difficult for them to make anyalterations as their bordering countries would possibly not have reachedindependence as of yet (Oyeniyi, 2011). The DRC post-independence was hopeful underthe rule of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu but the country soon went into decline withinfrastructure crumbling, telephone and postal services ceasing, no medicine orstaff for hospitals and no justice system in place (Henderson, 2008).
Ethnicity is also a factoraffecting the stability of the DRC and this is not only an issue within the DRCbut also the wider region. Conflict fuelled by ethnicity in countries likeRwanda have overflowed into the DRC with detrimental effects and fuelling warnot only within the DRC but with its neighbouring countries (Zeleza, 2008). Identityand ethnicity is an interesting dimension to the conflict in the DRC. The mainsource of conflict was between people identifying themselves as Tutsi and peopleidentifying as Hutus, who traversed borders and fuelled the conflict in the DRC(Henderson, 2008).
The Hutu and Tutsi divide originated in Rwanda, with theHutu extremist regime committing genocide, killing 800,000 Tutsis and theTutsis eventually succeeding to power (Zeleza, 2008). An estimated 1 millionHutus then fled to neighbouring DRC fearing revenge for the genocide whichfuelled inter-state aggression due to the support of the rebels or separatistmovements (Oyeniyi, 2011). In 2006 the UN declared the Hutu extremists ‘aserious threat to stability’ (McGreal, 2008). This continued ethnic rivalrywhich form rebel groups have led the country into a permanent state of war (Vice,2012b). One of the most notorious of these groups was M23, comprised ofCongolese Tutsis who defected from the army (Vice, 2012b). The actions of thisgroup led to the first ever combat force formulated by the United Nations whosepurpose was to ‘neutralise and disarm’ M23 along with other rebel groups suchas the FDLR and Lord’s Resistance Army (UN Resolution 2098, 2013).
It was saidthat M23 was possibly receiving aid from Uganda and Rwanda (Vice, 2012b). Mucheffort goes into convincing members of these groups to defect, with UN and NGOsthrowing flyers from helicopters in the jungle which instruct members on how tosurrender to the UN (Vice, 2012b). However, the UN’s best bargaining chip hasbeen taken away.
Previously, former combatants of certain rebel groups wereguaranteed amnesty but this surrender condition no longer exists (Vice, 2012b).Political instability has longbeen a characteristic of conflict-prone DRC. Politics could be categorised as acommercial venture as elite groups enrich themselves at the expense of thecommon man (Oyeniyi, 2011). Conflicts arise out of the individual desire forwealth and power rather than a conflict of ideologies or agendas (Oyeniyi,2011). Patrice Lumumbe was the first democratically elected person in charge ofthe DRC after independence (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006).
Lumumba was murdered, andsome say that this was due to him being seen as a threat to the control Westerngovernments and corporations had over the DRC (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). The United States werealso reportedly weary of the strengthening ties between Lumumba’s governmentand the Soviets (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). This led to the supportof Mobutu who would ensure the US continued access to cobalt, which they neededto build their cold war jets (Vice, 2012a). Mobutu was instated followingLumumba’s death and some stability followed (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). By 1970 he had firmpolitical control over the DRC but his patrimonial political tendencies led topolitical despair and widespread corruption. He nationalised dome diamond andcopper mines but copper production collapsed in September 1990 when the roof ofthe Kamoto mine caved in and therefore production dropped by 90% (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006).
When Rwanda invaded the DRC, then names Zaire by Mobutu,and reached the capital in May 1997 Mobutu was forced to flee and the Rwandansinstated Joseph Kabila in his place (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). Kabila was viewed by theRwandans as a man who would bring the Hutus to justice and protect Rwanda (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). He did not live up to the Rwandans expectations and thetwo countries soon fell out once again (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). In 1998 tensions betweenthe DRC and Rwanda rose as Rwanda moved to create a buffer zone between the twocountries and in response Kabila recruited Hutus into the Congolese army (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). A bloody war ensued which was dubbed Africa’s First WorldWar (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). Kabila’s term started in 2001 and was due to officiallyend in December 2016 (Benson, 2017). According to the constitution electionsshould have been held in November 2016 but Kabila’s government claimed that dueto financial and logistical reasons they were unable to hold elections (Benson,2017). Widespread protests in the DRC ensued and an agreement was reachedbetween the government and the opposition that an interim government would beput in place, elections would be held at the end of 2017 and Kabila would stepdown (Benson, 2017).
However, implementation of this agreement was slow andtalks stalled after the death of opposition leader Tschisekedi (Benson, 2017). Persecutionand violation of human rights in the DRC is rife, and the displacement ofpeople, poverty and instability is rooted in an inept, mismanaged and incapablegovernment (Oyeniyi, 2011). Natural Resource Exploitation haslong been a characteristic of the DRC. From 1920 to 1990, Copper was the mostprofitable natural resource and the largest supplier of government revenue (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006).
The Belgian colonisers stripped Congo of its naturalresources, killing half the population in the process (Vice, 2012a) andessentially introducing the dependence on natural resources to the DRC (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). The presence of natural resources should aid developmentrather than act as a catalyst for conflict. However, there is a rise inresource- driven conflict in Africa. The control of these resources is apopular method of financing wars and they therefore escalate and prolongconflict (Ahmed, 2008). Therefore, they have been dubbed ‘conflict minerals’ asthey have been and continue to be used by armed groups in the region to runwars since the mid-1990s (Vice, 2012a). Much of this is centred in eastern Congo’s regionsof North and South Kivu.
Where there is an abundance of gold and, most notably,coltan. Coltan is a key component in mobile phone and laptops and the DRC ishome to 80% of the world’s supply (Vice, 2012a). It is suggested that a keyreason for the reliance on resources such as gold or coltan is due to the declinein the financing of foreign wars by the world’s superpowers after the Cold Warended (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). After these superpowers lost interest in financing thesewars abroad to further their interests, rebel groups had to turn to alternativemethods of financing their on-going war tactics (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). Another key factor in theimportance of the natural resources is globalisation. The greed of wealthiercountries is imparted on this poor nation (Zeleza, 2008) and globalisation hasfacilitated the export of conflict minerals to the global market (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006).
The reality of therebels not succeeding in overthrowing the government of the DRC could suggestthat they are not interesting in gaining state power but content in continuingtheir banditry and control of the resource laden regions (Zeleza, 2008). As therate of violence increases so does the value of the resources, therefore whywould they have incentive to look to alternative methods of financing war (Vice,2012a). Activists in the US and Europe have been pressuring electronicscompanies to take more responsibility for the use of conflict minerals and in2010 the US congress passed legislation which forces companies to declare theiruse of conflict minerals (Vice, 2012a). However, when it comes to conflict minerals,it is in the businessman’s interest to fuel the conflict and ensure that nocontrol or regulation is introduced to the industry (Vice, 2012a). The race togain control over these resources was also a driver in the war between the DRCand neighbouring countries. With the DRC government, Angola, Namibia andZimbabwe on one side and Rwanda and Uganda siding with the DRC rebels by 2004,this war had claimed an estimated 3-4 million lives (Mazrui, 2008). Since 1997the DRC has experienced two wars and experienced the highest death toll in awar since the second world war (Rogier, 2006). According to Benson 2017, the DRCis at a greater risk of local conflicts starting a war today.
The countrycurrently faces a political and constitutional crisis (Benson, 2017). Localisedconflicts have spread across the country in 2017 and rebel groups havecontinued their resource wars in the North and South Kivu provinces (Benson,2017). 1997-2016 The Kivu provinces have been the location of over half ofpolitical violence incidents in the country. Despite being home to just 13% ofthe population of the DRC (Benson, 2017).
However, violence has been spreadingacross the country most notably in the Kasai region. The Kasai region is nowdescribed as ‘tense and volatile’ due to inter-ethnic violence according to areport by the UN Children’s Fund (Relief Web, 2017). According to the UnitedNations Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of genocide,Adama Dieng, 1.2 million people have been displaced, with 300,000 fleeing toAngola (Dieng, 2017). In October 2017 the Kasai region accounted for 40% of DRC’s foodinsecure population (UN.ORG, 2017). In August 2016 Jean-Pierre Mpandi,a local leader in the Kasai region, was killed by Congolese security forces andin response rebels have decapitated policemen and security forces retaliated by carrying outcivilian massacres (Benson, 2017).
The Kasai region had been subjected to just3.6% of the violence in the DRC from 1997 to 2016 but in the latter half of2016 this more than tripled to 10.4% (Benson, 2017). In June 2017, 38 massgraves were discovered in the Kasai region bringing the total mass graves toover 80 since August 2016 (Reuters staff, 2017).
Some contributors of war are rebelgreed and the post-Cold War environment in which donor withdrawal occurred (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 20066). The Congo war roots stretch much further back to theMobutu era and the Belgian colonisation (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). Current rulers of the DRCseem to have continued the manner of ruling that the Belgians employed (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). Such as selective land and citizenship rights, mostly tothe elite class and their communities to ensure opposition to the state doesnot thrive (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). This in turn encouragescompetition between communities and creates tensions from which oppositiongroups arise (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). The DRC government hasalso removed revenue from the country for institutional and private use (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). These conditions have led to the scramble for controlover the countries natural resources (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006). Peace processes andresolution tactics have been as of yet unsuccessful in addressing the realcause of conflict in Congo (Nest, Grignonand Kisangani, 2006).
The UN Security Councilreleased a 2017 Un Security Resolution 2360 in which continued concern for thehumanitarian and security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo isexpressed. Both historical and present challenges fuel the conflict in the DRCtoday and although it goes through varying degrees of conflict, the country hasnot been at rest nor is it likely to be in the near future.