This and the following blogs on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue the series on conflicts in Africa. Thus far these have covered Somalia, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. In recent African history the DRC holds an ignoble status as the locus of what has been termed ‘Africa’s World War’, a conflagration whose casualties are still disputed. Located in Central Africa, the DRC is a huge country of over 78 million people covering an area that would encompass two-thirds of Western Europe, and dwarfing Belgium, the former colonial power. While the DRC is a tropical country it also has substantial mineral resources including diamonds and cobalt, which is essential for lithium-ion batteries, and coltan, which is used in electronics such as smartphones. Given its size and location, it is no great surprise that there is a large number of neighbouring countries: the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and the Republic of the Congo. While, a sliver of land links the country to the Atlantic the DRC is mostly landlocked. The current UN force in the DRC is MONUSCO, which replaced MONUC in 2010.
A critical year for the DRC was 2003, when the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement effectively ended the Second Congo War (1998-2003). Since then violence has persisted mainly in the eastern part of the country and is centered round ethnic differences, the wealth to be exploited from mineral resources, and unresolved issues from the civil wars. Neighbouring countries are also believed to have a hand in sustaining the more than seventy armed groups active in the DRC. The largely forgotten continuing violence resulted in the largest population displacement globally in 2016 of 922,000 people, larger than those occurring in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. An estimated one million people have been displaced in 2017, a figure likely to exceed that of the Rohingya of Myanmar, who have been driven out by a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Compounding this humanitarian crisis are refugees from the fighting in South Sudan.
Understanding the current violence requires an introduction to the First and Second Congo wars, which we will cover in the next blog, but two areas currently stand out as conflict prone, the Kawawina Nsapu rebellion centered on the Kasai provinces and the continuing Kivu conflict, one of many that have affected the unstable eastern part of the DRC. There are also concerns over rising political tensions between the government and opposition parties, with the risk of a new nationwide civil war. The Kawawina Nsapu rebellion escalated at the end of 2016 and the conflict between Kawawina Nsapu militia and the government and their local Banja Mura allies has degenerated into ethnic cleansing of the Luba people, from which the Kawawina Nsapu militia recruits, and also the Lulua . In turn, the loosely formed and leaderless Kawawina Nsapu militia has targeted the Pende and Tchokwe peoples. Government forces have been accused of participating in ethnic violence on behalf of their local allies. This is a relatively new conflict and has emerged from a political dispute over governance to one where ethnic violence is rife in a region that was previously peaceful. The conflict in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu is much older, with a new phase of violence beginning in 2015. This area has an abundance of armed groups, with some operating out of neighbouring countries such as Burundi, and including the M23, who briefly held the city of Goma until they withdrew after negotiation. In this area, the UN force is authorised to carry out offensive operations, with or without DRC forces. The fighting beginning in 2015 has seen the UN forces targeted, government offensives, and infighting between what has been described as an ‘alphabet soup’ of rebel groups, whose alliances shift. The eastern part of the DRC, which includes the Kivu provinces, has a high population density, significant mineral resources, and ethnic heterogeneity, all of which has been a challenge to peacemaking and compounded by the interference of neighbours such as Rwanda and Burundi.
Next week: The Congo Wars
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Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator