The Congo Forgotten

The ongoing, but sometimes forgotten war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to aggravate tensions throughout central, eastern and southern Africa. The conflict, which has raged since Laurent Kabila's 1997 takeover of Kinshasa from the French-backed dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, centers on a civil war between Kabila's forces and Tutsi-led rebel forces in the northeast. While the 1995 Rwandan genocide and Mobutu's ousting briefly centered world attention on the region, continued instability deserves greater attention as the conflict has far reaching implications for surrounding countries and much of the African continent.

The latest news from the DRC provides a window into the complexity of the conflict as well as an understanding of some of the players involved. A June 3 Agence France Presse (AFP) report said Ugandan officials had accused Sudan of bombing the Binga trading center in the northeast of the DRC in an attempted attack on the rebel forces. Also, according to AFP Thursday, Zimbabwe had accused Rwanda of violating its own unilaterally declared cease-fire after launching another offensive in support of its rebel proxy in the DRC, the Congolese Gathering for Democracy (RCD).

In other recent news, the RCD on June 1 shot down some Zimbabwean fighter planes. Earlier this month, Chad withdrew its 2,000-member force that was supporting Kabila despite continuing negotiations for the return of six of its POWs held in the DRC by Ugandan forces. And the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on June 1 that a group of former Mobutu generals had joined the RCD and the Ugandan-backed Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) in an attempt to step up the war effort against Kabila.

Even such a cursory examination of recent developments alerts the observer that this conflict has larger implications than those expected from a low-grade internal conflict. A broader picture shows Uganda and Rwanda backing temporarily cooperating rebel groups against the Kinshasa government that is supported by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. Uganda accuses Sudan of high altitude bombing of rebel positions in the DRC (a charge which Sudan denies) and of aiding an increasingly disruptive rebel movement in Uganda. Sudan, for its part, accuses Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia of aiding the rebel movement in its country. And Angola is in the midst of its own civil war that is no doubt exacerbated by the conflict in the DRC.

Other countries not directly involved yet taking an active interest in the conflict include Kenya, Zambia and Libya, all of which have held talks in recent months that have addressed the war in the DRC. Most recently a conference in Kenya of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), broke down because 12 of the 21 members were at war with one another. Zambia's President and outgoing COMESA chairman stated, "Our efforts to towards regional unity will not amount to much if we do not immediately put a stop to these conflicts and wars," as reported by on May 29.

Serious regional tensions underlie the conflict in the DRC. Peace talks have failed as one cease-fire after another has been violated. Despite the latest peace accord reached in April in Sirte, Libya, fighting has continued in what has become a battlefield for regional power interests. And as a result of the war, poverty remains high and economic development low, despite the substantial natural resources and economic potential of the region. According to a June 3 AFP report, 62,000 civilians have fled the crisis in the DRC, adding to the current refugee emergency throughout Africa. In light of the war's debilitating effect on all countries involved, the European Union issued Wednesday a statement of "great concern" over the stalemated peace process and warned of "serious risks" if a solution was not found soon, according to AFP.

Due to the complicity of neighboring countries, the war in the DRC cannot be solved through a simple reconciliation between the government and the rebel factions. The European Union has proposed that all parties withdraw their troops and agree to have them replaced by a neutral peacekeeping force. But the conflict between Uganda and Zimbabwe or Uganda and Sudan demonstrates that the war, if stopped in the DRC, could very well break out someplace else. So the EU is right in acknowledging there will be no lasting peace in the region until a peace settlement and an agenda can "be agreed by all participants" in the conflict.

Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at

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