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Rwanda and the DRC

A history of bloodshed

by Manuel Wollschläger
Militiamen retreating from Bukavu in 2004

Militiamen retreating from Bukavu in 2004

From 1965 to 1997, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was ruled by the kleptocratic dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. For much of his rule, the country was known as Zaire. In the early 1990s, growing resistance forced Mobutu to launch a process of negotiations on political liberalisation and allow more political participation in general. By Manuel Wollschläger

In 1994, the genocide escalated in Rwanda. Zaire – under pressure from the international community – admitted refugees who were close to the Hutu militias who had committed atrocities in Rwanda before losing the civil war. Regrettably, the refugees were accommodated in camps near the border and never disarmed.

In 1996, Laurent-Désiré Kabila called for the violent overthrow of Mobutu and received support from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Rwanda grasped the opportunity to wage a brutal campaign of revenge. Soon after seizing power in Kinshasa, however, Kabila quarrelled with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who refused to accept that eastern DRC should be controlled exclusively by Congolese troops. Exploitation of natural resources was an underlying issue.

In 2001, Kabila was assassinated and his son Joseph Kabila, after international mediation, formed a transitional government that embraced the warring parties, including the militias backed by Rwanda. It did not succeed, however, in integrating all armed groups into the regular security forces.

Kabila was confirmed as president in 2006 and 2011 in controversial elections that were possible only thanks to the intervention of the international community. Over the years, the eastern part of the country has been the scene of repeated eruptions of violence involving regular security forces as well as various militias, self-defence groups
and criminal gangs.

Meanwhile, Rwanda also keeps making for negative headlines. This summer, a UN report accused Kagame’s government of involvement in violent conflicts in the neighbouring DRC. Donor countries thereupon cut back development aid for Rwanda. In September, the independent human rights group Human Rights Watch made similar allegations against Rwanda as the UN.

The international community’s involvement in DRC remains patchy. UN and EU peacekeepers have made elections possible, but they were never deployed in the numbers necessary to ensure security across such a large country. Individual warlords have been extradited to the Criminal Court in The Hague, but many more are still at large and some even command heavily armed militias. (mw)