American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

August 2000

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War and Peace in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo

Chaos in the Congo
Contents of this article

Part I

 • Africa's First Continental War
 • The Lusaka Agreement

The War’s Origins
 • The Tutsi genocide in Rwanda and its Consequences
 • The Motivations of the Anti-Mobutu Alliance
 • The Early Kabila Regime—May 1997 to August 1998
 • The Kabila Regime and Foreign Affairs

The Second Congo War and Its Consequences
 • The Start of the Second Congo War
 • Comparing the Two Congo Wars
 • Evolution of the Second Congo War
 • Lusaka: The Internal Dialogue and the Role of the UN

Belgian Colonial Rule and the Independence Struggle: A Bit of History
 • The Katangans
 • The Congo Rebellions-Revolution

 • Peace
 • Status Quo
 • War
 • The Regional Elements
 • The Future


Congo Military Zones

Click to open map of Political-Military zones in separate screen.

The War’s Origins (cont.)  •


HE VICTORY OF THE ADFL and its leader Kabila in May 1997 was politically and emotionally a watershed event for Africa. There were, by this time, a large number of Presidents who had old scores to settle with Mobutu and therefore welcomed the demise of his regime, but in addition others saw themselves as a new generation which would give a more genuinely African character to the continent’s interstate relations. From their perspective the old, Cold War-linked, and corrupt leaders had to go, and Mobutu was not only the most important representative of this group, he was its symbol.

Relations with African States
Two months after the capture of Kinshasa much of Africa came to celebrate and congratulate Kabila. The joint communiqué which was signed on July 20, 1997 is extraordinary both for the degree of support it gives the new, self-appointed president of the re-named Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also for who signed it: Chiluba of Zambia; Nujoma of Namibia; Zenawi of Ethiopia; Afewerki of Eritrea; Museveni of Uganda; Patasse of CAR; Didangi of Gabon; Chissano of Mozambique; Bizimungu of Rwanda; and Mugabe of Zimbabwe, also at the time President of the OAU. Surprisingly, no Angolan signatory was present; whether this was significant or not is an unanswered question.

But this support soon weakened. Less than a year later, in May 1998 at the anniversary of the ADFL victory, Rwanda refused to participate. In the same month, Museveni was attacked by one of Kabila’s ministers; and, most important, a DRC organized summit meeting had to be canceled because both Rwanda and Uganda and other invitees refused to participate. A month later, in June, Rwanda was charging the Kabila regime with something like a “capital” offense — it claimed that Interahamwe were being recruited by the Kabila regime and trained at the Kamina military base.

Given the support which Angola gave Kabila immediately after the new rebellion and invasion in August 1998, it is important to note that Angola also showed signs of being dissatisfied with the way Kabila was conducting the DRC’s government and its policies. It was reported that the Angolan government had expected Kabila to develop a more pluralistic government (this was also the expectation of Uganda), and it was dissatisfied with the role given some of its protegés among the Congolese exiles who had lived in Angola. Angola also wanted military control over the area in the Congo which bordered UNITA dominated areas in Angola. This was, of course, something which both Rwanda and Uganda, in effect, had attained. Kabila refused the Angolan request.

Despite the different paths which Angola, Rwanda and Uganda were about to follow, they did, in one respect, face a common dilemma: The goal of eliminating the bases of insurgency movements against their governments located in the DRC had not been met. At one time or another, they all seemed to have blamed Kabila for this. But one may wonder whether, after being in power for one year, Kabila had the military and organizational strength to do much about these movements. Indeed, in the east, the Rwandans and the Ugandans were themselves active on both sides of the border attempting to deal with this problem, but with limited success. If they could not succeed, how could Kabila? Thus, to explain their growing antagonism toward Kabila one must pose the question whether the suspicion — publicly expressed as an established fact — that Kabila was working with insurgency movements such as the Interahamwe was not the most important cause of the divorce. In this context, Kabila’s friendly relations with the Sudan government were also a provocation for Uganda. The Sudan was known to be supplying anti-Museveni movements both in Uganda and those based in the DRC.

In sum, during the first year of Kabila’s presidency, the foreign states which had been most instrumental in putting him in power were frustrated and antagonized by his actions. That does not, of course, mean that all of Africa became antagonistic. There was continuing support from Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Nujoma in Namibia and also from Libya and Sudan.

Relations with the UN and the West
The relations of the Kabila regime with the UN and with Western states was largely dominated by the issue of the UN investigation of the Hutu massacres during the anti-Mobutu forces’ march to Kinshasa. In a variety of ways, Kabila thwarted every attempt to successfully undertake such an investigation and this resulted in a rapid change of attitude — from one which placed great hope in and anticipated support for his regime to one of estrangement and virtual abandonment. On this issue there was a great divide between Congolese opinion and much of the rest of the world. The Congolese viewed the Hutu massacres as a foreign affair between Rwandans (Tutsi and Hutu) and they did not understand why they were being blamed for these events. Increasingly, it became clear that these massacres had been perpetrated, at least in large measure, by the Rwandan troops engaged in the march toward Kinshasa. Why then did Kabila thwart the investigation? The question becomes even more puzzling after Kagame as early as July 1997 in effect claimed that the victory over Mobutu was the result of Rwandan military action. In other words, the fiction that Mobutu’s defeat was solely the result of a Congolese revolutionary war was laid to rest.

One can suggest several reasons for Kabila’s opposition to the investigation:

  1. The fear that the Rwandans would act against him personally if he allowed the investigation to go forward. This is the explanation suggested by people close to Kabila especially after the second Congo War started.

  2. A distrust and antagonism toward the UN and apprehension that the UN’s presence in the DRC would result in a loss of sovereignty.

  3. Having claimed the leadership of the anti-Mobutu campaign, it would have humiliated Kabila to admit that he had no control over “his” troops or that the victory had little to do with his revolutionary mobilization since it was essentially one achieved by foreign troops.

Whatever the reasons for the obstructionism, it was extremely costly for the DRC. Most projected foreign financial aid — and it was substantial — was linked to allowing the investigation into the massacres to go forward and, as a result of the repeated obstacles placed in the path of its successful execution, the DRC was denied much needed funds.

Relations with the Rest of the World
The above described arenas — African states, the UN, the West — are clearly those which have the power to influence any African country the most. Initially, the Kabila regime had the tacit support of all of them, but within a year that support had diminished dramatically. Probably because of this development, Kabila sought support from other sources and in this he was moderately successful. He established cordial relations with China, Cuba, and North Korea. There were two elements in these relationships: first, they constituted the re-establishment of ties with the countries and the political philosophies which had animated the Congolese mid-1960’s revolutionaries, of whom Kabila was a remaining, relatively unchanged, representative. Second, these states were not unwilling to support a leader who had become a thorn in the side of the West and especially the U.S. In addition, China was to become an important partner in barter arrangements which would supply the DRC with arms and money.

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