Africa Congo






December 2, 2003: The 1994 Rwandan genocide changed the way in which we think genocide occurs because it encompassed hatreds that rested on colonial resentments, revenge massacres since 1962, assassinations of political elites, gender, and reproduction, and as we shall see, explicit racial mystifications. The Hamitic theory of race and the role it played in the Rwandan Genocide:




Sept. 5, 2007: South Africa and AFRICOM.



August 7, 2008: France has rejected Rwandan claims accusing French officials of playing an active role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But what are the real facts? Case Study The French Rwanda File:


Today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is Africa’s third-largest state. At 875,000 square miles, it is approximately the size of Western Europe. The vast central African country frequently is confused with the Republic of the Congo; the two countries’ capitals, Kinshasa and Brazzaville, are located immediately across the Congo River from each other.

Central and northwestern DRC is home to the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon and is largely impenetrable. Savannah and parkland are found north and south of the Congo River Basin, while mountains rise in the east. These, along with a series of lakes and the White Nile River, from the country’s eastern border. Approximately 1,000 miles separate Kinshasa from the country’s eastern frontier, and no direct cross-country roads or railways exist. Given the vast distances, challenging geography and lack of resources available to the central government, controlling the DRC’s regions is a major challenge for that government.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is an artificial entity. Though mountains, the White Nile, and a series of lakes in the east form a sort of natural boundary, the rest of the Congolese territory is ungrounded in any tribal or geographic reality. The DRC essentially exists as a series of disconnected islands that Kinshasa does not have the military or political clout to control. Underlying tensions arising from this reality mean that periods of quiet in the DRC will be only temporary before unrest flares up once more.

Relatively little is known about the development of the more complex societies in Central Africa from the time ‘before’ Europeans arrived. The obvious problem here is that Europeans knew little of Africa 's historical development. Trying to use these sources is today, is thus  like peering into a shallow river: images come back to us, but they are vague and distorted, and we struggle to make sense of the real history beneath them, but we give it an as best as possible try based on the information that is available today.

In the fifth century BCE, Herodotus reports a story told of 'a group of wild young fellows' who traveled south from Libya into the African interior and, after crossing the desert and traveling far to the west, came to a 'vast tract of marshy country' inhabited by 'little men, of less than middle height', and to 'a town, all the inhabitants of which were of the same small stature, and all black. A great river with crocodiles in it flowed past the town from west to east'. The description may refer to the Niger river or to the Bodele Depression northeast of Lake Chad , now dry. Herodotus also reports Phoenician sailors circumnavigating the continent in a clockwise direction around the end of the seventh century or beginning of the sixth century BCE, and another voyage in the fifth century BCE down the west coast of Africa by Sataspes the Achaemenian, who reported to the Persian king Xerxes that, 'at' the most southerly point they had reached, they found the coast occupied by small men, wearing palm leaves'. (Herodotus, The Histories, London, 1996, p. 229).

Although Herodotus and his contemporaries usually named the whole continent ' Libya ', the name ' Africa ' is usually said to derive from the Greek word aphrike, meaning without cold. (J. Mark, The King of the World in the Land of the Pygmies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), pp. 41-2. )

The Romans were familiar with the Mediterranean regions of North Africa , and with the trans-Saharan trade, which brought valuable goods from beyond the desert; but they knew little of the lands to the south. In the period after the decline of the Roman Empire, European knowledge of the continent remained limited, in part as a result of the Christian preoccupation with the Scriptures and with a world centred on Jerusalem and the Holy Land , and in part by force of political geography. Hostile Muslim rulers occupied the north of Africa and in any case European ships were incapable of travelling far to the south. Rumours filled the void. Sailors spoke of a Sea of Darkness , breathing with giant serpents. Other stories hinted of lands where gold, spices and precious stones might easily be found. One powerful tale was the twelfth-century legend of Prester John, a fabulously wealthy Christian ruler living on the east side of the Islamic empire. Stories of his empire were used to justify the Second and Third Crusades. Marco Polo even reported Prester John's death. (The Travels of Marco Polo,London: Wordsworth Classics, 1997).

Africa was not unknown to Europeans at this time, particularly the coastal regions of the Maghreb and of Egypt , but there was virtually no knowledge of the vast regions south of the Sahara . Beyond the familiar world of the Mediterranean coastal areas and the Near East, few ventured to go. Rumours abounded, however, and the trans-Saharan trade revealed to the European merchants established in the cities of North Africa the wealth (in gold and ivory) of 'black' Africa , far to the south. Books described the incredible wealth of lands beyond the seas, the extraordinary challenges that awaited explorers and the strange people and monsters lying in wait to attack them. The storytellers usually had little first-hand knowledge of these exotic regions. Typical were the descriptions given by Mandeville's Travels, fanciful accounts of travels in strange lands by an English squire who had never visited any of them. The legend of Prester John was also relocated to Africa. In 1415, a Portuguese invasion captured the Moroccan city of Ceuta. Following this conquest, and increased access to the transSaharan trade, stories began to circulate in Europe of kingdoms south of the Sahara, in Mali , Ghana and Songhai, and cities in Timbuktu , Gao and Cantor. Into the middle years of the fifteenth century, Dom Henrique, the Portuguese ruler of Ceuta, still determined to find Prester John's descendants. As late as the early fifteenth century, the Venetian fleet, probably the most powerful in Europe at the time, consisted of boats dependent on rowers and was effectively confined to the Mediterranean . New developments in shipbuilding by the Portuguese and Spaniards, however, made further exploration into the Atlantic possible. From the 1440’s onwards, the development of a loa-foot long ship, the caravel, enabled Portuguese sailors to travel greater distances. In 1482 Diogo Cio became the first European to visit the area of the modern Congo , when he reached the mouth of the Congo river and sailed a few miles upstream. It was the river that drew his interest. The Congo was the greatest river that any European had seen. For 20 leagues it emptied fresh water into the ocean. The waves breaking on the beach were an astonishing yellow colour, and the ocean was muddy-red as far as the eye could see. Cio recognized the importance of the Congo river as a possible source of transport and trade. He set up a stone pillar marking this Portuguese 'discovery'. He claimed the river and lands around it for the Portuguese king. (P. Forbath, The River Congo: The Discovery, Exploration and Exploitation of the World's Most Dramatic River, London : Seeker & Warburg, 1978, pp. 19,29, 32, 36, 38,40,48, 52,71-6, 81).

Cio regarded himself as the man who discovered these territories, yet the empire of the Bakongo already possessed a ruler, Nzinga Nkuwu, who led some 2-3 million people. The population of the capital Banza (later Sao Salvador) was around 40,000. Its citizens traded shells, sea-salt, fish, pottery, wicker, raffia, copper and lead. (J. Vansina, Equatorial Africa and Angola: Migrations and the Emergence of the First States', in D.T. Niane (ed.), General History of Africa, Volume IV: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century, Paris: UNESCO, 1984, pp. 551-77, 575).

Nkuwu's authority was semi-feudal in character. Local lords had the right to control land, in return for which they paid taxes to their king. His people were skilled in iron- and copper-working and especially weaving. They grew bananas, yams, and fruit; they kept goats, pigs and cattle and fished. From palm trees, they manufactured oil, wine, vinegar and a form of bread. The society was prosperous and self-sufficient. Yet ·the Bakongo were said to lack any concept of seasons, or a calendar, and the wheel had not been discovered. Cao met Nzinga Nkuwu, and encouraged him to send ambassadors to meet the King of Portugal. Cao then continued on his travels, heading south. (E. Axelson, Congo to Cape: Early Portuguese Explorers, London: Faber, 1973, p. 95).

In the aftermath of Cao's visit, Nkuwu opened up his kingdom to Portuguese influences, and soon missionaries, soldiers and noblemen could be found at his court. Following further visits in 1491 and 1500, Nzinga Nkuwu even agreed to convert to Catholicism, starting Africa 's first Catholic dynasty. In 1506, Nzinga Mbemba Affonso succeeded him to the throne. Affonso was an intelligent, literate man, who understood that his country might gain from certain forms of European learning, their science, woodworking and om masonry, their weapons and their goods. The challenge was to allow selective modernization, to take the best parts of Western knowledge, while declining the worst parts, the cruelty and the greed. Over time, the actions of the Portuguese began to alarm the Bakongo. Their worries grew as the Portuguese extended and professionalized the slave trade. Prior to then, slaves had been part of the domestic economy, and were even sometimes exchanged, but the trade had never been central to the economy of the region. Under Portuguese rule, the number of slaves increased, and their economic role grew. As well as holding lands in today's Morocco , the Portuguese were also settled in today's Brazil , where they set Africans to work, digging and working mines, and harvesting coffee. Slaves were also sent to the plantations of the Caribbean. In order to work these lands at their full capacity, a regular supply of new labour was needed. In the land of the Bakongo, Portuguese traders began to promote feuds between neighbors, knowing that any conflict would result in greater numbers of slaves. Young men set out to work as masons, teachers or priests; but then, faced with the actual dynamics of the existing Portuguese economy, they soon realized that their fortune would be made more quickly if they learned to trade in slaves instead. Nzinga Affonso was a remarkable, learned man. His son was consecrated as a Roman Catholic bishop, the last black man to hold such a position for four centuries. Affonso became a great witness to the horror of sixteenth century Portuguese colonialism. Many of his letters survive, including one sent to King Joao III of Portugal in 1526:

Each day the traders are kidnapping our people ... children of this country, sons of our nobles and vassals, even people of our own family .... We need in this kingdom only priests and schoolteachers, and no merchandise, unless it is wine and flour for Mass .... It is our wish that this kingdom not be a place for the trade or transport of slaves. (A. Hochschild, King Leopold's Chost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Coloniced Africa, London: Pan Books, 1998, p. 13).

The ruler of the Bakongo understood that many of the richest of his people were complicit in the slave trade. So taken were they by these new Western goods that they were willing to sell even their relatives. The only way to stop his people from doing this was to limit their access to the West. Of course, Affonso was no better than his times. He did not argue that all slavery should be abolished. He felt rather that it should be regulated, and conducted with respect to the society in which it took place. The Portuguese system horrified him because it was incapable of recognising any limit. In 1526, Affonso reported that the Portuguese were inciting his nobles to rise against the throne. By the mid-1530’s, 5,000 Bakongo slaves were being sent west each year. Some used the passage to rise up against the traders. (D. Richardson , Shipboard Revolts, African Authority, and the Atlantic Slave Trade', William and Mary Quarterly, 58, no. I ,2001).

In their absence, the society from which the slaves had been taken was reduced almost to penury. It was no longer able to defend itself from its rivals, descending from lands to the east.One particular group, the Yakas, or Gagas, or Jagas, attacked the Bakongo from the mid-1500’s onwards. Andrew Battell, a sailor originally from Leigh in Essex , observed these fierce warriors at close quarter. He came to Africa having been captured by the Portuguese. Battell described the Yakas as a bellicose people, harvesting palms for wine, pillaging and raiding, quite unlike the urbanised and more peaceful Bakongo. Battelilived among the Yakas for two years as a prisoner, before escaping, and later publishing his memoirs. He reported:

The Yakas spoile the Countrie. They stay no longer in a place, than it will afford them maintenance, And then in Harvest time they arise, and settle themselves in the fruitfullest place they can nnd; and doe reape their Enemies Corne, and take their Cattell. For they will not sowe, nor plant, nor bring up any Cattell, more then they take by Warres. (The strange adventures of Andrew Battell of Leigh in Essex, sent by the Portugals prisoner to Angola who lived there, and in the adjoyning Regions, neere eighteene years', in S. Purchas, Hakuytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes: Contfirming a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Traivells by Englishmen and others; Volume VI, Glasgow: James MacLehose & Sons: 1905, pp. 367-430, 384).

In 1571, the Bakongo, perhaps by virtue of their more productive economic base and better-organised state system, or possibly as a result of access via the Portuguese traders to muskets and gunpowder, finally defeated the Yakas. In the years that followed, a number of attempts were made to rebuild their society and to establish a new relationship with the West, based on fairer relations of trade. Western rugs, beads, mirrors, knives, swords, muskets, gunpowder, copper, tin and alcohol have all been found in the ruins of the towns.10 Yet the series of wars between the Bakongo and their neighbours served to undermine the older, more urban civilisation of the Bakongo. Soon the Bakongo were neither secure nor free. (R. W. Harris, River of Wealth , River of Sorrow: The Central Zaire Basin in the Era of the Slave and Ivory Trade 1500-1891,New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981, p. 44).

One legacy of the Portuguese conquests was a diminution of the power of the Bakongo kings in relation to other regional rulers, who had previously recognised their sovereignty. The seventeenth century saw many wars between the different peoples of the region. Lisbon made a series of attempts to re-establish a base at the capital Sao Salvador, which failed. The city itself was destroyed in 1678. Another Capuchin mission was expelled in 1717. In 1857 the German traveller Dr. Bastian found Sao Salvador 'an ordinary native town', with few monuments of its past. (K.Thornton, The Kingdom of Kongo : Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718, University of Wisconsin Press , 1983, p. 84).

Few societies flourished on the ruins of the Kongo and Yaka societies. The kingdom of Kuba was founded in the sixteenth century by a federation of immigrants, the Bushong. They settled in the area along the Kasai and San kuru rivers. Beside the Bushong groups, the Kuba federation incorporated among its members the previous inhabitants of the region, the Twa and the Kete, who continued to live alongside the new arrivals. The Kuba monarch was elected for a limited, four-year term. Women were eligible to stand for office. The kingdom lasted till 1910. (T. Mukenge, Culture and Customs of the Congo, Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2002, p. 13).

Further south, there were several large civilisations, based in present-day Katanga . A Luba state was formed by clan fusion perhaps before 1500, a Lunda state before 1450. The Luba had four kingdoms by the seventeenth century: Kikonja, Kaniok, Kalundwe and Kasongo. The Lunda state arose to Luba's south-west, covering about 400 by 800 miles with two tributary states by 1760, Yaka and Kazembe, each with a capital so named. A Bemba empire began to form towards the end of the eighteenth century under Lunda pressure. These civilisations traded with the Portuguese but were not conquered. The Luba empire broke into Yeke and Swahili-Arab spheres in the 1870S and 1880s, while Yeke and Chokwe broke up the Kazembe and Lunda states. (D. Birmingham , Central Africa from Cameroon to the Zambezi , in R. Gray (ed.), The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume IV: From 1600 to '790, Cambridge University Press, 1975, pp. 325-83).

Despite the destruction of their main allies and their own defeat, the Portuguese retained an interest in the region. In the late eighteenth century, Lisbon-backed African and mulatto traders (pombeiros) traded with the kingdom of the Kazembe to the south. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Arab, Swahili and Nyamwezi traders from present-day Tanzania also penetrated the highlands of the Congo from the east, and began a trade there in slaves and ivory. A lively Arabic literature began, describing travels through northern and central Africa. (See Travels of an Arab Merchant in Soudan, London: Chapman & Hall, 1854). Some traders established their own states. One merchant, Muhammad bin Hamad, or Tippu Tip, from Zanzibar ruled much of eastern Congo , into the 1890’s. (H. Brode, Tippu Tip: The Story of His Career in Zanzibar and Central Africa , Zanzibar: Gallery, 2000).

As late as the 1870s, the region remained a patchwork of disparate tribes and rulers with no political coherence. This last point is of great importance. For while the British and the French empires in Africa were secured at the cost of great battles, in several of which the colonisers were defeated, the later Belgian empire of the Congo seems to have been achieved.

Not unlike the fact that Egyptian Pyramids are mainly tombs, several of them are claimed to be hidden under mountains in Schotland today. Captain J.K. Tuckey in fact (near Boma) lost seventeen men upstream from the mouth of the Gongo to proof its source is the Nile in Egypt. Further exploration was discouraged. Public interest was renewed, however, following the successful exploration of the Niger. A new goal was needed, and dreams of discovering the White Nile 's source encouraged a new fever of exploration. Some geographers argued that Lake Victoria was its source, while others spoke up for Lake Tanganyika . Richard Burton advanced as far as Matadi in 1863. The explorer Dr David Livingstone set out to resolve the dispute.

Livingstone had been born to a poor family in Lanarkshire , Scotland . A prospector, missionary and occasional British consul, Livingstone made his name by exploring southern Africa , from the early 1840’s onwards. As he progressed with missionary work he developed a desire to travel further and deeper into the continent. Livingstone's mission was driven by a complex series of motives: philanthropy, a belief in the civilising work of commerce, the idea also that Africa was some new space with its history waiting to begin. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored his expedition. The government's hope was that any discovery would make vast new tracts of land available to religion and trade. Although Livingstone never saw Africans as his egual, he loved them with the Christian charity of a true Victorian. 'We do not believe in any incapacity of the African in either mind or heart', he wrote. 'Reverence for royalty sometimes leads the mass of the people to submit to great cruelty, and even murder, at the hands of a depot or a madman; but on the whole, their rule is mild, and the same remark applies in a degree to the religion.

Livingstone portrayed his work as a great civilising mission: to rescue the peoples of central and eastern African from being held as slaves by Arab traders. This mission resonated with the children of those who had supported previous campaigns against the British slave trade. For different reasons, the message also had an appeal to the propertied classes, the former slave-traders and their descendants. As may happen, the leading industrial power in the world, on reaching its position of sovereignty, had come to the conclusion that all trade should now take place on a footing of complete freedom. There should be as few tariffs as possible; the exploitation of slave labour was immoral and commercially unfair. From 1811 onwards, British agents had opposed the international trade in slaves, and the last slave market was closed in Zanzibar in 1873.

The British project was to demonstrate that there were other ways of relating to the continent. Considerable attention therefore focused on the Arab slavers of East Africa , a visible target, in contrast to the allied Spanish and Portuguese traders, who were tolerated even as they still sent slaves to Brazil. Many Arab traders were of African descent. They were most active in the Swahili-speaking territories of modern Kenya and Tanzania. Having captured people there, the slavers sold them on in Persia or Madagascar , or in the Arabian Peninsula, or compelled them to work plantations in Africa itself In 1866, Livingstone set off on one further voyage of discovery. In the course of his travels, he discovered the Lualaba river, located in the south-east of modern-day Congo. Yet he had no means to report his find to the West. Three years passed, and there was no news. Rumours suggested that Livingstone had been killed. It was at this stage that James Gordon Bennett, the owner of the New York Herald saw the opportunity for a major scoop. He instructed a 28-year-old reporter, Henry Morton Stanley, to search for Livingstone. Stanley 's expedition would kindle a lifelong need for expedition in its author. Over the course of the next twenty years, this journalist did as much as anyone to found the later Belgian Empire in the Congo. Stanley 's origins, like those of Livingstone, were obscure. One of five illegitimate children of a housemaid, Stanley had the name John Rowlands when he entered the workhouse, aged 6. At 18, he left Britain for America , where he served both sides and without distinction in the American Civil War. Certain traits of Stanley 's character were now evident: a pathological fear of women, an inability to work with talented co-workers, and an obsequious love of the aristocratic rich. In 1867, he reported the Indian wars for the Northern press. The following year, he was sent by the Herald to report on a British war with Abyssinia. Stanley had the foresight to bribe the clerks in Suez, ensuring that only his reports were sent back. Within days, he had converted a temporary posting into a permanent career.

Stanley's claim was that his editor met him in Paris in 1869, where he was told, 'Do what you think best, but find Livingstone!' In fact, he spent the next twelve months dawdling, before taking 190 men with him into Africa . His book How I Found Livingstone records that Stanley picked up the track of Livingstone at Lake Tanganyika and followed them into unknown territory. His following narrative records the peril of swamps, crocodiles, disease and Arab slavers. Stanley was the only journalist to cover his own adventure. His two white companions both died on the journey. So did an uncounted number of black porters and guides, starved and whipped by their leader, or victims of the hostile environment. Stanley finally caught up with Livingstone at Ujiji on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in I871. When found, Livingstone was suffering from acute pneumonia and coughing blood. Stanley 's first apocryphal words were 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?'

David Livingstone died in Zambia in 1873 without solving the mystery of the Nile. Yet his failure had produced a greater discovery. The Lualaba river led Europeans to the source of the Congo, the best road to central Africa.

Stanley’s  dream was to convert of the people of the Congo into wage labourers. In every cordial-faced aborigine whom I meet I see a promise of assistance to me in the redemption of himself from the state of unproductiveness in which he at present lives. I look upon him with much of the same regard that an agriculturalist views his strong-limbed child; he is a future recruit to the ranks of soldierlabourers. The Congo basin, could I have but enough of his class, would become a vast productive garden.

Some parts of the Congo were ill developed, of course. In the rainforests, paths had to be cut through thick and fast-growing foliage. Semi-nomadic peoples kept the white traveller at a distance. Yet in the savannah, by contrast, there were large towns and established kingdoms. To these areas, Stanley brought the eye of a commercial surveyor.

Among the many items available which commercial intercourse would teach the natives to employ profitably, are monkey, goat, antelope, buffalo, lion and leopard skins; the gorgeous feathers of the tropic birds, hippopotamus teeth, bees-wax, frankincense, myrrh, tortoise-shell, Cannabis sativa, and lastly ivory, which to-day is considered the most valuable product.

At times, Stanley's eye for profit was extraordinary: It may be presumed that there are about 200,000 elephants in about 15,000 herds in the Congo basin, each carrying, let us say, on an average 50 Ibs. weight of ivory in his head, which would represent, when collected and sold in Europe , £5,000,000. He even acknowledged the skills of the Congolese, in ordet to count them on his balance sheet: In minerals this section is by no means poor. Iron is abundant. The Yalulima, Iboko, Irebu and Ubangi are famous for their swordsmiths. The Yakusu and Basoko are preeminent for their spears. In the museum of the [International African] Association at Brussels are spear-blades six feet long and four inches broad, which I collected among those tribes.

Stanley attempted to interest the British government in the commercial exploitation of the region, without great success. Indeed he was not alone in this failure. Another rival explorer, Lieutenant Cameron, had followed Livingstone's route. He signed treaties with various chiefs, and had in 1875 declared that the lands of the Congo Basin now belonged to the British Crown. The obstacle facing both Cameron and Stanley was the hegemony of Gladstone 's Liberals in Parliament.These were the middle years of the nineteenth century, a period before empires or trusts. The ruling class of Britain remained converted to a policy of expansion by trade, without tariffs, annexations or slavery. It was a moment of peace. The idea that the European powers could achieve progress without conquest was still dominant. Searching for a patron, Stanley turned his attention to another rich and powerful man, King Leopold II of the Belgians.

While Leopold II is sometimes said to have suffered from 'some' form of megalomania, the first Belgian King wanted Belgium to be a colonial power from the start.

Case Study P. 1: The Creation of Belgium.

Case Study P. 2: The Start of Belgian Empirialism: When Texas was to be a Belgian Colony.

The Congo River is Africa's most powerful river and the second most voluminous river in the world.


Case Study P. 3: History of the former Belgian Congo P.1: Egypt in Central Africa.

Case Study P. 4: History of the former Belgian Congo P.2: King Leopold's Media.

The Congo Free State and, later, the Belgian Congo were held together by brute force. Belgian colonial authorities relied on a relentless paramilitary unit known as the Force Publique to pacify the vast country and extract its resources for maximum gain. Belgian officers and noncommissioned officers led the force; Africans were forcibly conscripted into the paramilitary unit. Early on, Europeans sought rubber and ivory; African workers were required to make production quotas — on pain of dismemberment. Opposition to Belgian colonial rule gained strength alongside liberation struggles in other African countries in the 1950s, culminating in independence in June 1960 as the Republic of the Congo.

Even though it had gained independence, the new state’s troubles were far from over. President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba led the government. Without the oppressive force that kept the country relatively intact, the Republic of the Congo (sometimes known as Congo-Kinshasa) collapsed into several competing regions — essentially geopolitical islands unto themselves — with various domestic and foreign interests exacerbating the split.

For the first several years of its post-colonial history, the Republic of the Congo faced several secessionist attempts at once. One was in the south-central region of Kasai, a significant source of diamonds. A second was in the southeastern region of Katanga, where major quantities of cobalt and copper are mined, and a third was in the northeastern, diamond-rich region, around the town of Kisangani. A fourth was in the eastern region that includes North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces, where gold, niobium and other minerals are mined. Leaders from the areas sought to take control of these regions for their own gain, never mind the interests and demands of the central government in Kinshasa.

The dense jungle and heavy woodland that render much of the heart of the DRC impassable, combined with numerous rapids in the only somewhat-navigable Congo River, made deploying security forces overland to distant rebellious regions problematic. Limited road and rail infrastructure into the hinterlands made air transportation a necessity. But because Congo’s armed forces had little in the way of air transport capability, they grew dependent on foreign providers.

Mercenaries, along with government troops and U.N. peacekeepers, were used in the early 1960s to defeat these secessionist attempts and try to promote Kinshasa’s hold on power. Battles raged for the first five years of the Republic of Congo’s independence; only in 1965 did Kinshasa’s control over the country become consolidated, though it never went uncontested. An overwhelming and extensively equipped foreign force along with a Congolese force defeated the regional independence bids. Some 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers, more than 1,000 European, South African and Rhodesian mercenaries, and American intelligence and logistical assistance (including the critical provision of otherwise-scarce transport airplanes and helicopters) combined to defeat the secessionist attempts.

Leading the Congolese efforts to quash the internal rebellions was then-commander-in-chief of the Congolese National Army Joseph Mobutu, later known as Mobutu Sese Seko. Spurred on by the army’s successes — underpinned as they were by Western backing — Mobutu in 1965 deposed Kasavubu and installed himself as the leader of the Republic of the Congo, which in 1971 was renamed the Republic of Zaire.

During the Cold War, Mobutu promoted Zaire as a crucial pro-Western ally from which efforts at containment of Soviet influence and expansion in central and southern Africa could be launched. Kinshasa station became the CIA’s largest station in Africa, providing the Mobutu regime with intelligence and support to maintain its grip over disparate regions of the country. The West tolerated Mobutu’s excesses and methods, as his country was the chief bulwark against communism in central Africa. (Neighboring Angola and the Republic of the Congo, aka Congo-Brazzaville, were ruled by Marxist regimes that enjoyed Soviet support during the Cold War.) While Mobutu’s grip might have been challenged in distant regions, his use of brute force to quell rebellions or silence opponents compensated for his forces’ slow deployment times, and also ensured that his population remained frightened and docile.

The end of the Cold War meant the West no longer needed an alliance with Zaire. By the mid-1990s, Zaire had lost its Western patronage, including that of the United States. Mobutu had become an old, increasingly isolated man who preferred the good life on the French Riviera to keeping opposing forces in check at home. Meanwhile, discontent in regions far from Kinshasa, long restless under Mobutu’s rule, had become more organized. Eventually, Mobutu’s own armed forces deserted him as officers and enlisted men, seeing the decay in his regime, stole whatever they could and abandoned their posts. By the mid-1990s, the central government had no ability to meaningfully project or sustain military force on the far side of the country, let alone in Kinshasa, and no foreign actor cared to intervene on its behalf.

The rebellion led by Laurent Kabila that had festered in the eastern Congo in the 1960s, but was ultimately contained, cropped up again. Kabila resurfaced in 1996, this time with Rwandan and Ugandan backing. Both neighboring countries sought a share of Zaire’s mineral wealth, though both also supported Zairean rebel groups to protect their own national security.

Rwanda was hunting down ethnic Hutu rebels who had fled after that country’s 1994 genocide, seeking to prevent the Hutus from reappearing as a threat to Rwanda’s Tutsi-dominated government. Known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (better known by the French acronym, FDLR), the ethnic Hutu fighters — whose current strength is estimated at 8,000-10,000 — fled unchallenged by Kinshasa into eastern Zaire. The Tutsi-led government of Rwanda considered the FDLR a national security threat as long as it remained mobilized and unmolested in the North and South Kivu area of Zaire, immediately adjacent to Rwanda.

Kigali’s calls for Kinshasa to demobilize and disperse the Hutu fighters went unheeded. This prompted Rwanda to support an ethnic Tutsi force led by Laurent Nkunda, a former general in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which had overthrown the Hutu regime that instigated Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Nkunda’s force, called the National Congress for People’s Defense — known by its French acronym, the CNDP — is estimated to have about 6,000 fighters.

Meanwhile, Uganda moved to confront the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and other Ugandan rebel groups like the Allied Democratic Front that operated in the lawless jungles of northeastern Congo, from where they launched attacks to destabilize Ugandan territory and the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Uganda’s intervention in Zaire was meant to prevent the LRA from gaining a secure foothold and to keep either Kinshasa or Sudan, the LRA’s main patron, from harboring the rebel group.

With material support from Rwanda and Uganda, Laurent Kabila in 1997 launched a cross-country assault on Kinshasa. He overthrew the Mobutu regime, took power by May of that year and changed the country’s name from Zaire to the DRC. Initially, Uganda and Rwanda supported Kabila, believing they would gain a satellite government in Kinshasa that would give them free rein to carry out counterinsurgency operations in DRC territory.

Kabila succeeded because, in addition to the support provided by Uganda and Rwanda, most of Mobutu’s defense forces stood down or joined Kabila’s forces during the operation. Facing no real internal challenge meant that Kabila’s forces could march the length of the DRC and overcome the natural geographic barrier in the Congo River basin, even though Kabila lacked air transport capability. Kabila took power while Mobutu fled into exile; he died soon afterward.

Good relations among the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda lasted one year, during which time Kabila firmed up his grip in Kinshasa — with the support of Ugandan and Rwandan troops surrounding him. By July 1998, Kabila was able to tell his Rwandan and Ugandan patrons to go home. Though those troops left Kinshasa, they did not leave the border region of eastern Congo, as the issues that propelled their initial intervention in the DRC remained unresolved. The Ugandans continued to carry out hot-pursuit operations into DRC territory against the LRA (which continued to hide out in the DRC), while the Rwandans continued to face off against FDLR elements in eastern Congo.

The Second Congo War

Believing that Kabila’s about-face put their national security and economic interests in the eastern DRC at risk, the Rwandans launched a cross-country assault against their former proxy in August 1998. The Rwandans still faced a national security threat from the FDLR that Kabila could not (or would not) contain, and they could not trust Kabila to refrain from arming the FDLR to destabilize Kigali.

Having turned against those who brought him to power, Kabila appealed to other foreign powers — notably Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe — for the troops that saved the young DRC government from being overthrown. Foreign troops forward-deployed to cities including Kisangani and Mbuji-Mayi in the middle of the DRC, establishing blocking positions at these strategic vectors that the Rwandans would have to travel through to get around the Congo River Basin. The Angolans provided their own aerial transportation, while the Zimbabweans provided helicopters. By this time, the Rwandans lacked the support from the local population necessary for a run at Kinshasa.

Kabila needed to reward his new patrons in Kinshasa and elsewhere for their patronage. In good Congolese tradition, he awarded mining concessions in return for foreign troop assistance, a move that meant Rwanda could not count on an undivided control over mining activities in the eastern DRC.

On a separate issue see also our earlier comment about Blood Diamonds.

Sporadic fighting continued for a couple of years. Cease-fires and negotiations carried into 2002, leading to an agreement in 2003 to end the war and establish a transitional government. (Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 by a disgruntled bodyguard; he was replaced by fiat by his son Joseph, who was elected DRC president in his own right in 2006.) Despite the transition from Mobutu to Laurent Kabila to Joseph Kabila, Rwanda’s national security concerns remained unresolved. Namely, a Hutu fighting force that in 1994 decimated the country’s Tutsi population remained armed and at large inside the DRC, just across the border from Rwanda. Governments of any stripe in Kinshasa proved unwilling or unable to act against the FDLR, leaving Kigali with the belief that it must act unilaterally in the DRC.

The recent situation

The Rwandan rebels in the eastern DRC are restless. Despite the 2003 peace deal, underlying tensions in the eastern DRC never really went away. Battles occur between the Rwandan-backed rebel force led by Nkunda and his CNDP fighters on one hand, and the DRC armed forces, Hutu rebels and a tribal Mai-Mai militia on the other. A major battle occurred at the end of 2007, when the DRC mobilized 40,000 regular and irregular troops (including the FDLR Hutu rebels and the Mai-Mai) against an Nkunda-led force of 4,000 men. Nkunda’s men defeated the combined DRC forces, despite being outnumbered by a 10-1 ratio. Kinshasa sought a cease-fire and peace deal in early 2008, but as the DRC negotiated only with U.N. forces and pro-Kinshasa rebels — refusing to deal with the CNDP — any hopes for a lasting cease-fire were dashed.

Fighting erupted again in the eastern DRC several weeks ago. Though the DRC government talks of cease-fires, Kinshasa is not going to negotiate with the Rwandan-backed rebels led by Nkunda. Hardliners in Kinshasa do not want to legitimize Rwanda’s land grab in eastern DRC by talking to the Tutsi rebels: They see that as tantamount to ceding that territory to Rwanda and losing out on the minerals necessary not only for the DRC’s economic well-being, but also for ensuring that regional loyalties are claimed by Kinshasa rather than Kigali. Legitimizing Nkunda’s forces in the eastern region would also put Kinshasa on the defensive, by permitting the rebels an uncontested rearguard area to mobilize support. That could enable them to launch a cross-country invasion aimed at Kinshasa — which is precisely how the Kabila regime first came to power.

However, circumstances are not the same as during the First Congo War, which saw Mobutu fall from power. Kabila faces effectively no political opposition. This is partly due to the exile and subsequent arrest by the International Criminal Court of Jean-Pierre Bemba, Kinshasa’s leading opposition figure, who is a former rebel leader and Mobutu protege. Opportunities for growth and thievery are on the upswing, meaning Congolese are buying into the Kabila government in a way they did not buy into Mobutu’s decaying government. This means that the Nkunda-led CNDP will not be able to find much Congolese support for a cross-country invasion; there is no indigenous push to dump the Kabila regime, and the Congolese people do not want to become dependent on the Rwandans and Ugandans. And, as during the Second Congo War, Angola and other allies of Kinshasa would likely forward-deploy troops to Kisangani and Mbuji-Mayi to establish blocking positions against any advance by Nkunda’s Rwandan rebels.

At the same time, there is foreign support in defense of the Kabila government to resist a CNDP invasion. There are 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers dotted about the DRC, including 6,000 in North Kivu and 5,000 in South Kivu. Though not an effective fighting force, the peacekeepers serve essentially as a harassing force and early-warning mechanism that other interested actors are monitoring.

Paramount among neighboring countries is Angola, which has imperatives of its own that require it to defend the Kabila regime. Angola’s core concern in the DRC is to ensure a friendly regime there that will not permit Angolan dissidents, such as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) opposition party or rebels in the country’s oil-rich Cabinda province, to have a rearguard area in DRC territory where they can recover a military capability and rebel against Luanda’s control at home.

During the Mobutu era, Zaire permitted Angolan and Western actors to use Congolese territory in attempts to defeat the Marxist-oriented Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the ruling party. To keep Kinshasa happy and, more importantly, to ensure the security of its near abroad, Angola accordingly stands ready to intervene should the Rwandans break westward. Luanda was prepared to intervene in the DRC in January, had the conflict spread. Luanda was also ready to deploy troops to Kinshasa in 2006 to defend against any disruptions that could have prevented Joseph Kabila’s election. Overall, Angola maintains 30,000 troops in Cabinda province, an exclave near its border with the DRC, that can be mobilized for deployment to Kinshasa.

In addition to the battle-hardened Angolans, Kinshasa likely could gain renewed support from other allies, including Zimbabwe and Namibia. Awarding additional mining rights would be the price Kinshasa would have to pay for troops from Harare and Windhoek. The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) regime in Zimbabwe, led by President Robert Mugabe, would find the foreign currency generated by mining in the DRC useful for ensuring the loyalty of Zimbabwe’s armed forces and security services.

Recent conflict in the DRC has remained concentrated in North Kivu province, at the eastern extreme of the country. A spread of rebel activity to other geopolitical islands of the DRC, such as Kisangani, Kasai or Katanga, has not occurred. Those regions continue to act fairly autonomously, unilaterally striking mineral deals that Kinshasa tries half-heartedly to contest. The backroom deals that provincial politicians and officials get from mineral concessions certainly mean less money for Kinshasa’s coffers, but turning a blind eye to corruption is the price Kinshasa must pay to keep secession efforts contained.

Overall, the DRC exists as a coherent country only on paper. In the course of its entire existence as an independent entity, it has never really established full control over all its territory. Periods of quiet were temporary, and the underlying problems of an inherently weak central government facing a diverse and massive territory were left unaddressed, only to flare up again.

Kinshasa will permit Kasai, Katanga and Kisangani to be corrupt and autonomous in order to avoid giving them reason to attempt secession. Kinshasa will maintain a hard line on North Kivu and the eastern part of the country, by contrast, to keep that rebellion as contained as possible. Kinshasa also will continue to turn a blind eye to FDLR activities in order to sustain it as a harassing force against Nkunda’s Rwandan rebels. The Rwandan rebels will otherwise be permitted to steal sufficiently from the mineral wealth to keep their focus on North Kivu rather than toward the west. Finally, efforts will be made to keep relations strong with foreign backers, particularly Angola, to ensure Kinshasa’s protection and provide it a means of projecting a modicum of national control — thereby maintaining DRC territorial integrity to the greatest extent possible.




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