Congo, Democratic Republic of the: Rebellion and Civil War

Rebellion and Civil War

A loss of confidence in Zaïre's government and riots by unpaid soldiers in Kinshasa led Mobutu to agree to a coalition government with opposition leaders in 1991. He retained control of a far-reaching security apparatus and important government ministries, however, and engaged in a power struggle with opposition leaders. Economic collapse continued unabated, with the national infrastructure seriously deteriorating and civil servants, often unpaid for long periods, making money through bribery and theft of government property.

The nation's problems were compounded by an influx of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees from Rwanda and a spillover of ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis into Zaïre. In mid-1994, Kengo Wa Dondo, an advocate of austerity and free-market reform, was chosen prime minister by parliament, but he was dismissed in Mar., 1997. In 1996 and 1997, while Mobutu was in Europe being treated for cancer, rebels dependent on support from Rwandan and Ugandan forces captured much of E Zaïre. The insurgents, who also received aid from Zambia and Angola, met little resistance from the ragged Zaïrean army and entered Kinshasa on May 17, 1997. Rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila was sworn in as president on May 29 and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mobutu died in Morocco on Sept. 7, 1997.

Although Kabila promised that elections would be held in 1999, he banned all political opposition, and his regime soon became repressive. His failure to revive the economy and to prevent the attacks upon thousands of Congolese Tutsis by their Hutu neighbors in the mid-1990s, as well as the revelation that his forces had probably massacred thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees during their march across the country in 1996–97, led to a fading of both internal and foreign support for his government. The eastern part of the country remained unstable, and in Aug., 1998, a group of ethnic Tutsi Congolese forces supported by Rwanda mutinied against Kabila's rule and began advancing toward Kinshasa. Although they were repulsed, the movement grew, attracting opposition politicians, former Mobutu supporters, and disaffected military leaders formerly allied with Kabila. It also threatened to widen into a regional conflict, as Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia sent troops to aid Kabila's government, while Rwanda and Uganda backed the rebels.

In July, 1999, following a peace conference in Lusaka, Zambia, the heads of the six governments involved signed a cease-fire agreement; the leaders of the two main Congolese rebel groups also subsequently signed the pact. Kabila and his allies controlled most of the east and south of the Congo, and the rebels and their supporters controlled much of the north and west. By the end of the year, however, implementation of the accord was stalled, due in part to intransigence on the part of Kabila's government, and the much-violated cease-fire was in the process of collapsing.

The United Nations approved a force to monitor the accord in Feb., 2000, but the situation in the Congo proved too unstable to permit the force to move in. Fighting erupted between Ugandan and Rwandan forces in Kisangani (as it had the year before), and Kabila's government launched an offensive in Équateur (NW Congo) and continued to resist cooperating with the United Nations and with African peace negotiators. A new agreement calling for the pullback of all forces was signed (without the participation of one of the rebel groups) in Dec., 2000.

In Jan., 2001, Kabila was assassinated, reportedly by a bodyguard, and his son, Maj. Gen. Joseph Kabila, was named his successor. Joseph Kabila's government resumed cooperating on peace negotiations, and ended the ban on political parties. Beginning in March the forces of foreign nations began pulling back from the front lines and, in some cases, pulling out from the Congo. Fighting largely ceased, although banditry by militias and fighting between tribal groups persisted in E Congo. Peace talks began tentatively in Oct., 2001, and in 2002 agreements were signed successively with one of the rebel groups, Rwanda, and Uganda, although no agreement was reached with the largest rebel force, the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy–Goma. By the end of Oct., 2002, most foreign troops had been withdrawn from the Congo. In 2010, a UN report on the years of civil war in Congo was leaked; the report accused multiple armies and militias of various serious crimes during the conflict, and indicated that the Rwandan army and its Congolese allies, Laurent Kabila's rebels, had massacred groups of civilian Rwandan and Congolese Hutus.

The government and both main rebel groups reached an accord in Apr., 2003, when they signed a peace agreement that called for a power-sharing government led by President Kabila, and an interim parliament. Despite the peace deal, fighting continued in parts of the Congo, especially between tribal groups in the east, and in June, 2003, the United Nations dispatched French-led peacekeepers to E Congo in an effort to restore order. In the same month the government and rebels agreed on the composition of the new government, which was formally established. Democratic elections were scheduled for 2005. By the time of the government's establishment it was estimated that 3.3 million people had died, directly or indirectly, as a result of the fighting that began in 1998.

The French-led peacekeepers were replaced by 10,000 UN soldiers beginning in Sept., 2003; the force was subsequently increased to 16,000. In the first half of 2004 there were two attempted coups in the country, and progress toward real peace continued to be slow during the year. By the end of 2004 rebel forces and the former Congolese army had been integrated into a unified force in name only. An uprising involving former rebels occurred in June at Bukavu in E Congo, although the rebels soon dispersed, and in December there was fighting in Nord-Kivu between former army and former rebel forces. The army forces had been sent into the area in response to threats by Rwanda to invade the region in order to attack Rwandan Hutu rebels based there. Congo accused Rwandan forces of invading and aiding the former Congolese rebels, a charge Rwanda denied, but a UN panel had accused (July, 2004) Rwanda and Uganda of maintaining armed units in E Congo and UN peacekeepers said that forces had entered Congo following Rwanda's threat to invade. The latter charge was called false, however, by a former UN employee in early 2005.

Fighting between militias and UN peacekeepers occurred in NE Congo during 2005, as the area remained unpacified and some of the militias resisted disarming. Militia forces in Katanga prov. also refused to disarm, leading to fighting there in late 2005 between them and the Congolese army. Because of the fighting and tensions within the government and logistical issues (a new constitution was not approved by the interim parliament until May, 2005) the elections scheduled to be held by June, 2005, were postponed into 2006. In Dec., 2005, however, voters approved the constitution, paving the way for electing a new government. The same month the International Court of Justice ruled that Congo was entitled to compensation from Uganda for looting by Ugandan forces during the recent civil war. The fighting in NE and E Congo continued off and on throughout 2006. The Ugandan army launched (Apr., 2006) a campaign against Ugandan rebels based in Congo and clashed with Congo's forces, prompting a protest from Congo.

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