State Failure and Civil Society Potential: Reconciliation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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BY VERITY MOULD** | 06.09.2011

  • Introduction
Between 1998 and 2007, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people; a death toll greater than any other conflict since World War II (International Rescue Committee 2007). These figures highlight just one aspect of the severe devastation caused by a prolonged conflict that has ravaged the country’s economic and social resources, left millions dead and many more displaced, homeless, malnourished and suffering from disease.
  • The Colonial Era to Post-Mobutu Democracy
DRC_Rwanda_lineThe DRC’s long history of violence, since Belgian rule until the present day, caused Frantz Fanon to remark that, ‘Africa has the shape of a gun and its trigger is Congo’ (in Savage and Vanspauwen 2008:323). Following the prolific exploitation of both human and natural resources during the colonial period and the subsequent, relatively peaceful move to independence in June 1960, the country fell into political chaos within its first year of independence, and was led for the next five years by a series of weak civilian governments (Savage and Vanspauwen 2008:326). On 24 November 1965, Joseph Mobutu, then Chief of Staff of the army, seized his opportunity and took power in a military coup, surviving as head of the Congolese government under autonomous rule until 1997, leading a regime characterized by extreme levels of corruption, human rights violations and political repression (Savage, 2006:3).

After negotiations at the Sovereign National Conference had failed in August 1991, further political uncertainty came in 1994, when the effects of the Rwandan genocide spilled over into the DRC. Many of the 1.2 million Hutu refugees who fled to eastern Congo were soon regrouped in refugee camps under the direction of the Interahamwe. The leaders of the Interahamwe, the political group largely responsible for deaths during the Rwandan genocide, also recruited Congolese Hutus, forming the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (AliR). They carried out attacks along the border against Rwandan and Ugandan forces in Congo, and also launched a counter-attack against the new, Tutsi-led Rwandan government based in Kigali (Savage 2006:4). In response, a newly-formed coalition between Ugandan and Rwandan forces and Congolese fighters, the Democratic Forces Alliance for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL), led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, forced Mobutu finally to surrender power and flee the country. In May 1997, Kabila announced himself as head of the government of the newly-named Democratic Republic of Congo, but his style of political leadership failed to involve many of the democratic components that the country’s new name would suggest (Havermans 2000).

Following Kabila’s assumption of power, the formally allied Rwandan and Ugandan forces switched to serve their own agendas. The Rwandan, Congolese and Ugandan armed forces, along with numerous rebel groups, then fought each other for power and control of the country’s vast mineral resources. The ensuing war, labelled by Borello as ‘Africa’s First World War’ soon took on a truly international nature when Angolan, Zimbabwean, Chadian and Namibian troops stepped in, in support of Kabila’s government (2004: iii).

  • The Road to Peace

A ceasefire in Lusaka in 1999 was followed by the Lusaka Peace Accord. This had little impact however, and the devastating consequences of this can partially be seen in the over three million deaths that resulted between 1998 and 2002, from continued fighting, malnutrition and disease (International Rescue Committee 2006).


*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 1 | No. 2

** Verity Mould studied International Economics at the University of Nottingham before going on to earn a distinction for a Masters in Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University. Since completing her masters she has spent several months in Rwanda gaining practical experience in the application of reconciliation work in post-conflict communities. Verity is particularly interested in the potential use of restorative justice in cutting offending rates in the UK.

© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN

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