Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)


Conflict Summary

In 1994, an influx of Rwandan Hutu refugees fed ongoing low-level violence between local communities in Zaire, including Congolese members of the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, further destabilising Mobutu Sese Seko’s ailing dictatorship. The Hutu génocidaires and elements of the former Rwandan army reorganised in the country’s east and started to conduct military operations against the new Tutsi regime in Rwanda. This prompted Rwanda and Uganda to found and support a rebel movement in Zaire, consisting of different groups and led by Laurent Kabila. With surprising success, this movement overthrew Mobutu in 1997, in what became known as the First Congo War, and installed Kabila as president, who renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Both Rwanda and Uganda maintained a heavy military presence in the DRC and Kabila, increasingly concerned about their influence on his government, ordered their withdrawal in July 1998. Anxious at their loss of influence, Kabila’s former allies – particularly Rwanda – supported a second rebellion, this time against Kabila, and invaded the DRC in August 1998. However, this provoked a very different response from neighbouring governments as compared to the earlier attempt to overthrow Mobutu, and during the ensuing Second Congo War – also referred to as the Great African War – Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe supported Kabila’s government to varying degrees, against rebel groups support by Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Although this proxy war was declared over in 2003, violence has persisted in the east of the country, where the Congolese Army (FARDC) and the UN peacekeeping mission have failed to curtail the activities of various armed groups. In 2006, the country held its first democratic elections, in which Joseph Kabila – who took power after his father’s assassination in 2001 – became president. Despite this milestone, a combination of regional, national and local dynamics continues to destabilise the DRC. Rwanda and Uganda have continued to support armed groups operating in the country, such as the M23 rebellion in North Kivu. The formerly peaceful Kasai region, for instance, has been rocked by armed conflict since August 2016. Most recently, delays to elections originally scheduled for November 2016 have increased tensions, leading to significant civil unrest and outbreaks of violence, which are in turn used to justify further delays to polls. Similarly, local-level violence in the DRC’s eastern provinces is often exacerbated by the actions of provincial and national authorities, further complicating an already complex topology of conflicts. There are currently over 60 armed groups operating in the DRC, many of which have fragmented into factions; some comprise local militias operating under a nationally recognised label, such as Mai-Mai, Nyatura or Raia Mutomboki.