The great war that broke out in Congo-Kinshasa in 1998 had devastating consequences. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and the civilian population was subjected to horrific abuses. The war formally ended in 2003, but the struggle over who should control the country’s vast natural resources has continued and led to new violence, especially in the eastern parts of the country.
The refugee flows that arose after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 ignited the spark that triggered the war. But the country also carried a heavy legacy from both the colonial era and the dictator Mobutus’ harsh and corrupt rule 1965–1997 (see From King Leopold’s reign of terror to Mobutu’s dictatorship ).
The first Congolese war of 1996-1997 led to the fall of Mobutu. The new president Laurent-Désiré Kabila promised a democratic government, but he soon became as authoritarian as his representative. When the Tutsi people in eastern Congo-Kinshasa revolted against Kabila in 1998, they were supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Kabila managed to retain power with the help of Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe (see “Africa’s First World War” ).
A turning point came in 2001 after Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated and his son Joseph took power. In 2003, a peace agreement was reached and three years later, democratic elections were held, the first in Congo-Kinshasa in 40 years. The election was won by Joseph Kabila, who was also re-elected in 2011 (although the result was questioned from several quarters). But democratization came about and despite a massive UN effort and several peace agreements, the violence has not stopped (see Concerns after the war ).
President Joseph Kabila’s term expired at the end of 2016. According to the constitution, he has no right to stand for re-election. There is great concern that Kabila is planning to try to retain power and the harassment against the opposition has increased. Around the turn of the year 2016/2017, an agreement was reached that would pave the way for a new transitional government, but it was not the new start that Congo-Kinshasa would need and Kabila has been able to play out different parts of the opposition against each other. Large parts of the country are still outside the control of the central government. Several neighboring countries, especially Rwanda, are repeatedly accused of interfering in the conflicts in Congo-Kinshasa. The deteriorating economy together with the political uncertainty led to an increase in violence in several parts of the country. The presidential and parliamentary elections finally looked set to end at the end of 2018. the governing alliance FCC would instead be represented by former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
Poor people in a rich country
According to 800zipcodes, Congo-Kinshasa is really a rich country. Here are fertile soils and vast forests. It is claimed that hydropower from the Congo River could supply the whole of Africa with electricity. Nevertheless, the economy is in a miserable state, partly as a result of the war (which formally ended in 2003), but even more so due to the mismanagement that goes back to the rule of President Joseph-Désiré Mobutu (1965–1997) (see From King Leopold’s reign of terror to Mobutus dictatorship ).
Congo-Kinshasa contains diamonds, oil and timber, as well as cobalt, copper, columbite tantalite (coltan) and other metals. But instead of promoting development, natural resources have often been used to pay for the fighting. Government employees as well as the military, rebels and foreigners are participating in the exploitation.
The clashes of recent years have often been about an armed group wanting to take control of a mining district. Groups on either side of the conflict may well work together on mineral extraction. Both the military and the rebels in the east also earn a living by demanding taxes from the local population.
Severe corruption in many cases makes normal financial transactions impossible and economic life largely takes place outside the government’s control. The economy has also deteriorated in recent years, largely due to falling commodity prices. High inflation also exacerbates the problems.
Since the outbreak of war in 1998, millions of people have lost their lives in Congo-Kinshasa. Only a small proportion of them have been killed in combat, while most have died from diseases and hardships that followed in the wake of the conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee. According to figures from the UN agency Ocha, at the beginning of 2018, about 4.5 million people were on the run within the country, almost doubling compared to the year before. Particularly hard hit are the two Kivu provinces and the Kasaï region. At the same time, more than half a million Congolese had taken refuge in neighboring countries.
Systematic rape of civilians was something that almost all armed groups, including the government army, committed during the war. But even though the war is formally over, sexual violence has continued. The perpetrators often make sure to harm the victims further after the rapes so that it can be seen on them what they have been exposed to. It is also common for abuses to take place in front of family members.