29 November 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: DRC's Recurrent History of Conflicts, Wars

Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN
Weapons retrieved from rebels by the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo being destroyed.(file photo).


History seems to be repeating itself in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once again, armed rebels are on the move in the vast country's eastern borderlands with Rwanda and Uganda. The Great Lakes area, where colonial era borders cut at random through ethnic groups, has in the last 20 years been the centre of conflict and ethnic rivalry that led to multiple uprisings and invasions. One of such revolts even reached the Congolese capital, Kinshasa - 1,000 miles to the west.

The latest Tutsi insurgents, calling themselves M23 and mirroring a previous 2004 to 2009 revolt, last week easily seized the North Kivu Provincial capital of Goma and say they want to march to Kinshasa and "liberate" Congo. The M23 revolt is once again focusing the attention of a bewildered world on a country the size of Western Europe. The DRC has dazzled explorers and invaders for years with its treasure of resources: rubber, timber, gold, diamonds, copper, as well as cobalt, uranium and coltan.

But Congo has paid in blood and suffering for these natural riches. Abuses under colonial rule in the late 1880s and early 1900s during a rubber boom saw agents and soldiers of Belgian King Leopold II sever human hands, feet and heads to force natives to extract the white latex from the luxuriant forest. Independence from Belgium in 1960 turned Congo into a Cold War battle ground that was fought over by rebels and mercenaries, CIA agents and Cuban guerrillas. This eventually led to the overthrow of the long, crippling rule of U.S-backed leader, Mobutu Sese Seko.

The last two decades have only worsened Congo's "Heart of Darkness" image propagated by Joseph Conrad's 1902 novel - with conflicts that at one stage involved six African armies. This encouraged a plethora of armed groups to join in, resulting in untold loss of human life, hunger and disease. Estimates from humanitarian agencies say over five million people died in the destructive, recurrent wars since 1998. According to Jason Stearns in, "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters," DR Congo is a country where State authority has been eroded over the years and where once fighting begins, each community seems to have its own militia, fighting brutal insurgencies and counter-insurgencies with each other.

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