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Diananga Cingoma {*}

The Conflict in Eastern Congo

Analysis and Evaluation of the Consequences

 

From the periodical of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria
'zur debatte', 3/2008 P. 9-11
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

Since 1996 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a cruel war has been raging that came from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda and has weakened the state. That war that first had been called the uprising of the "Banyamulenge", an ethnic minority of Rwandan origin, against the provocations of local ethnic groups has very quickly become a struggle for freedom.

Already a few days after the outbreak of the uprising it was for Laurent Kabila at the head of the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Congo (AFDL) no longer about defending the rights of the "Banyamulenge" but rather about obtaining by force of arms the control over the central state. After eight months of military offensive he on 17 May 1997 succeeded in chasing President Mobutu out of his office. The success of that military action made many observers doubt and they immediately suspected the involvement of Western powers in that operation. Thus, for example, F. Ryntjens wondered what support Laurent Kabila had possibly received. He records the following:

"The remarkable ability to coordinate and the effectiveness of such a young insurgency movement, which actually lacked in military capacity and which developed from a rather spontaneous merger of different groups, lets arise the question of support by external forces in the region. Even in view of a little efficient State Army the rapid advance of the alliance of insurgents on several fronts by bridging huge distances could only be managed thanks to an excellent logistic performance regarding reconnaissance, communication and supply. That appears all the more necessary when you consider that the uprising was lead by a very heterogeneous alliance of different Congolese and foreign troops."

Herman Cohen brings light into the darkness of the external support of the uprising by Laurent Kabila and calls the uprising of the AFDL a 'commissioned war': "A commissioned war is a war that is brought from outside into a country and is then camouflaged as civil war".

In 1998 there was a break between the then President Laurent Kabila and his former Rwandan allies because of the contest of contracts in connection with mines. Instigated by Rwanda the leaders of the Banyamulenge then formed a new movement of the struggle for freedom in the name of the Congolese Assembly for Democracy (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie - RCD).

Note the similarity of the two uprisings. Both came from Rwanda in order "to defend the Banyamulenge and to keep in check the Hutu militias which had settled in the Congo".

Besides, in both uprisings we find the same actors: the DRC government and armed Hutu militia against the government of Rwanda and the community of the Banyamulenge. Apart from those two main players on the field itself also some African countries, especially Uganda, Burundi, Angola and Zimbabwe are involved in the conflict. In addition, there are still invisible actors, who cannot easily be found out but play in different areas an important part, for example in planning the war, supplying weapons, exploiting the lucrative / profitable mines, and who certainly have an influence on the position of the international community in that war.

In my lecture I'd like to try to describe the explosive situation in the Province Kivu, in order to explain the reasons for the conflicts and to assess the chances of an end to that war. First I'd like to show how the different internal and external actors profit by the conflict.

The current conflict in East Congo is by no means an ethnic conflict. In my opinion it is rather directed against the State itself. The origins of that process are outside the Congo. A number of planned and unplanned events consolidate that process. These include the effects of colonization in the Congo, Mobutu's patrimonial rule, the radical change in the world order, the ethnic conflicts in Rwanda, the assassination of the Rwandan President Habyarimana, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and above all the large ore deposits in the Province Kivu, where the Rwandan Hutu militias have fled.

The presence of those Hutu militias is the reason for all the armed conflicts which have been afflicting the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996, including the last, since 2004 ongoing war that is waged by Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (Congrès national pour la defense des peuples - CNDP) to "defend the Banyamulenge". The warlords and the political conditions may change, but in view of the ambitions of the players one thing is sure: The war in East Congo is not yet at an end for a long time.

 

Causes of the Conflict in Kivu and the Actors Involved

1st Colonial History of the Congo

When you want to understand the conflicts in the East Congo you have to go back to the founding of the Congolese state, because already here some indications of these conflicts can be found. The Congolese State is a legacy of the colonial powers. It was created at the Berlin Conference in 1885. It did not spring from the will of the Congolese people. At its beginning there were contracts between the colonial power, represented mainly by the "Association internationale africaine" (AIA) and the local chiefs.

You have to realise that the AIA made the contracts with each local tribe individually. There were no agreements between the tribes themselves. Thus the local tribes were united under foreign direction and by the individual will of an external actor, namely the Belgian King Leopold II.

Even though the different ethnic groups were integrated by force into the colonial state, they all the same had not developed the awareness to belong to a state that went beyond the ethnic boundaries. That lack of awareness is undoubtedly caused by the fact that such awareness was never promoted. Or to put it with P. Anyang Nyongo: In the Congo the state has fallen from the sky.

The so-called Congo Free State, which was created by Western colonial powers for Western colonial powers, established a completely new territorial order in a region that was inhabited by several nations.

It should be stressed that the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda established by the colonial powers did not only create two countries but also divided the "people of the Banyarwanda". Such a fate did not only happen to the community of the Banyarwanda. It was the same with other ethnic communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as in other African countries.

For those Banyarwanda who now belonged to the Congo nothing had changed after the Berlin Conference. They continued to speak their language, to visit each other, to hold together and above all to be as always loyal to their traditional leaders.

As a result of the Versailles Treaty Rwanda and Burundi were in 1920 put under the mandate of Belgium. Those two countries consequently formed with the Congo a coherent area under the rule of the colonial power Belgium. For various reasons, such as famine and labour shortages, many Rwandans were resettled by the Belgians into the Congo. Apart from the resettlement carried out by the colonial administration the Banyarwanda also for other reasons migrated into the Congo: e.g. political exile and the search for fertile land for farming or livestock breeding. In addition, there was also the phenomenon of illegal immigration.

The large influx of Rwandans (resettled people, immigrants, refugees) to Kivu during the 20th century increased the existing problems with the distribution of land and led to tensions between "foreigners" and "locals" and between cattle breeders and farmers.

 

2nd - Still Open Identity

To those regional conflicts the still unresolved identity of the population of Rwandan origin is added, which has settled from pre-colonial times in the Congo and which has time and again got and lost the Congolese citizenship through the various phases in the history of the country. That uncertainty regarding the own identity has contributed to the frustration of the Banyarwanda and has further weakened their position in comparison with other indigenous ethnic groups with which they compete socially and economically.

 

3rd - The Frustration of the Natives regarding the Banyarwanda

Another source of the conflicts in Kivu is the natives' envy of the Banyarwanda. We can distinguish three groups of Banyarwanda in the Congo. The first group already in the pre-colonial time settled in the Congo. The second group came due to the Belgian colonial settlement policy into the Congo, and the third group consists of refugees. Apart from the Banyarwanda who lived already before the colonization in the Congo, the other Banyarwanda possessed no land and had by necessity to work on payment in kind on the land of the natives.

From pre-colonial time until 1973 the land was owned collectively, i.e. it belonged to the ethnic group and was administered by the tribal leaders. That's why the Banyarwanda who later came from Rwanda owned no land in the Congo, although they had been settled there by the colonial power.

In 1973 two events changed that situation. First the law Bakajika was introduced by which the land in the Congo was no longer the property of the ethnic group but of the Congolese state, which could sell it to anyone. In the same year also the Zairization took place, i.e. the nationalization of foreign companies. Beneficiaries of the Zairization were for the most part the Tutsi Banyarwanda. For the former Chef de Cabinet of President Mobutu, Bisemgimana, was a Tutsi and enabled his tribal brothers to purchase nationalized estates with preference.

That's why the Banyamulenge Tutsis, who had recently been dependent on the locals, became the owners of large nationalized businesses, farms and plantations. In addition, they were now allowed to purchase land from the Congolese State. And they acquired a lot of it. With the dense population in that part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 300 inhabitants per square kilometre the possession of a piece of land meant a non-negligible influence. The natives were of course not indifferent to that turn of the situation. Their dissatisfaction led time and again to encroachments on the Banyarwanda's estates and their sabotage.

 


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But it must be added that despite those tensions there were never such massacres as in 1996. Not only the Zairization and the Bakajika Law contributed to the happy situation of the Tutsi community in the Congo. Also the appeal of Tutsi women to the Congolese has its share in it. I must admit that the Tutsi women are very beautiful. Everybody desires them. Many Congolese politicians have Tutsi women as second wives. Those Tutsi women who are married to rich Congolese have contributed to wealth and influence of their community in Kivu. It must, however, be added that the connections between the Tutsi women and the Congolese politicians were rather of strategic nature than love affairs. The same phenomenon can at present be observed with some high-ranking military officers and politicians who associate with Tutsi women, who therefore are camouflaged military agents or secret service agents.

 

4th The Conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi

The Hutu's uprising of 1959 in Rwanda had driven many Tutsi families into exile in the Congo, Uganda and Tanzania. A section of the Rwandan refugees who joined in the movement "Patriotic Front of Rwanda" (Front patriotique Ruandais - FPR) in 1990 tried in vain to overthrow the Rwandan President Habyarimana. After the failed uprising the front between the Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda hardened. Those tensions were also felt in Kivu, where some Tutsi had been involved in the attack against the Habyarimana government.

The peak of the conflict between Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda was reached with the assassination of President Habyarimana in April 1994, which triggered the genocide in Rwanda and ended with the take-over of power by the FPR. More than two million Hutus, including soldiers of Habyarimana, found a refuge in the Congo, not far from the border with Rwanda.

The first objective of the Hutu soldiers who had fled into the Congo were the Tutsi living in Kivu, who were attacked out of revenge against the Tutsi ruling in Rwanda. In order to defend the Tutsi living in the Congo the Patriotic Rwandan Army (armée patriotique ruandais) in 1996 intervened in the Congo. The Democratic Republic of the Congo experiences on its territory a war that it had not provoked, and in which it had not even been involved at first. The war has killed more than five million people; many women were raped and more than 50.000 children fought in that war.

The misfortune for Kivu is not only that on its territory the different conflicts just mentioned by me take place but also above all the enormous amount of mineral resources under its surface.

According to recent geological studies there are in the ground of the East Congo deposits of copper, silver, coltan, but especially gold in an exceptional concentration. Experts believe that Kivu will in future be the economic engine of the Congo. Thus the Kivu region is undoubtedly a desirable place in the view of multinational corporations, but also for certain countries. One had only to find means to get hold of those minerals.

The conflicts in Kivu served many who wanted to get the mineral resources as a pretext to stir up the war in order to appropriate by its help the riches of the Congo. The war makes the territory ungovernable and so makes the access to its riches easier.

That planned stirring up of war begins with the assassination of the Rwandan President Habyarimana in 1994. For there is the suspicion that private international investors play a major role in it.

 

International Actors Mixed up in the Conflict

According to Pierre Baracyetse the involvement of private investors in the control of mines in Kivu begins with the take over of power by the rebel leader Paul Kagame in Rwanda. The rebel movement had been supported by AMFI (American Mineral Fields International). After Kagame was in power the way was free for the last goal, namely to exploit the raw materials in the Congo. In that context Laurent Kabila, then rebel leader, on 16 April 1997 signed a contract with Jean Remond Boule, owner of American Mineral Fields, about an estimated amount of one billion dollars for the exploitation of mines. Besides Laurent Kabila got for himself an aircraft.

You can ask what guarantee the Western, particularly American donors had in the first days of the invasion of the AFDL to invest in the exploitation of mines, although they could not be sure whether the AFDL would get the ultimate control of the country. That unshakable conviction of the Western donors to invest in the Congo shows that the war was planned from the beginning. In other words: Since the western donors themselves had planned, organized and financed the invasion, they had no reason to doubt the success.

By forming an alliance with the Rwandans and Ugandans Laurent Kabila had made a mistake with the war and its goals. For those two countries, which were the real lords of that war, fought above all for the financial interests of the donors and their own interests. The proof for it is that when Lauren Kabila questioned the contracts made with AMFI an uprising against him was formed, and that in the East of Congo, exactly where he himself in 1996 had begun his "revolt". Some lobbyists and states actually reproach Kabila with ingratitude towards them. For the service in return for the war was the occupation and exploitation of mines by the Rwandans, Ugandans and the donors. That second war since 1998, the longest and deadliest, remains from its origin connected with the uprising of the AFDL, which brought Laurent Kabila to power.

Even when Rwanda and Uganda emphasize safety reasons, yet they are attracted by mineral resources in which the East Congo is so rich, and they did not hesitate to exploit them from the first moment when the AFDL invaded the country. The persecution of the former Rwandan soldiers and of the murderers of Interahamwe by the regime in Kigali is nothing else than a hypocritical pretext. The presence of the Interahamwe is a welcome occasion for Rwanda to justify its presence in the Congo, a presence for mainly economic interests. It can therefore not surprise that Rwanda has become the largest exporter of raw materials coming from East Congo.

The defence of the Banyamulenge belongs therefore to the manipulable events with the help of which the control over areas rich in raw materials is taken away from the Congolese central government. The alleged plundering raid of Interahamwe deserters on Congolese soil, which is often evoked by the Rwandan government and its Congolese allies, is often questioned. The CNDP of Lauren Nkunda argues today with the same arguments as Kabila in 1996 and Ruberua in 1998. He pretends to defend the Banyamulenge.

According to the testimonies of people who fled from the last attacks of General Nkunda there is a contradiction between the statements on the motives of the attack and the reality of military operations. The victims report for example that APR and FDL do not fight against each other although they have marched into areas where their troops see each other. On the contrary they have meetings in order to realize hardly defined objectives. Among the APR there are some former Interahamwe resp. ex-FAR (former Habyarimana soldiers) who in the context of the DDRR operation of MONUC had already been repatriated. The attacks are directed against the civilian population, in order to drive it out.

The Rwandan occupation since 1996 has until today cost the lives of more than 5 million people. The only thing that the Rwandans have not accomplished for 12 years is to eliminate the Interahamwe. The danger which they represent is the only pretext for the Rwandan presence in the Congo.

When you consider the true objectives of the war actors in the Congo then there can be no peace as long as the actual and still invisible actors are not included in the solution process, and as long as the real problems are not tackled which "confront" the war: above all the return of Rwandan refugees to Rwanda, the democratization of Rwanda with regard to the ethnic and political realities, and the recognition of the largest genocide that at present takes place in the Congo by the international community the sole issue of which is globalization. Instead of that every year a peace conference takes place in Kivu, and the next day they continue to bury the dead and the disintegration of the State goes on.

That disintegration of the state, which has been going on for 12 years in Kivu, has created a small para-sovereign state entity, starting with the Banyamulenge rebellion of 1996, which was monopolized by Laurent Kabila's AFDL, then with the RCD in 1998, and now since 2004 under the flags of Laurent Nkunda's CNDP. That "not tangible" structure is built like a state. It does not demand secession, even less independence, but it provokes the sovereignty of the central government by strengthening its own through violence and economic power. Its sovereignty is based on international economic and ethnic alliances and is strengthened by international financial networks which have been built for the exploitation of mineral resources. That similar to a state entity is lead by a political-ethnic team and depends in certain cases on foreign countries. The headquarters of that edifice of state shift time and again for safety considerations and security needs. That sometimes gives the entity so the features of a migratory state.

The existence of that state-like entity fundamentally changes the political situation of the Congo. It puts the central government in the position of the permanent search for its own sovereignty, either through endless negotiations with its opponents or by military clashes.

 


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Conclusion

For a State like the Congo, which has artificially been created at the Berlin Conference by foreign forces, the survival as a nation largely depended on the adoption of that entity by the indigenous heirs, who were made up of diverse and often hostile ethnic groups. Two requirements resulted from it. First, the local power had to show proof of its legitimacy through good governance. Secondly, between the ethnic groups a feeling of mutual completion had to grow from it, as genuine foundation of a true Congolese State.

None of those objectives could be achieved, as a result of the conflicts which have afflicted the Democratic Republic of the Congo since its independence, and in particular owing to the patrimonial rule under President Mobutu, which sharpened the conflicts between the ethnic groups and eventually promoted the disintegration of the central government, as we experience it today. What is worse, the former colonial powers which supported the construction of that state now contribute to its collapse.

 

    {*} Dr. Diananga Cingoma, researcher at the Institute of Ethnology at the University of Bayreuth

 

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