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Congo Civil War: the widest interstate war in modern African history

Congo Civil War

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC; formerly called Zaire under President Mobutu Sese Seko) is the widest interstate war in modern African history. The DRC became an environment in which numerous foreign players were involved, some within the immediate sub-region, and some from much further afield. That only served to complicate the situation and to make peaceful resolution of the conflict that much more complex. The war, centered mainly in eastern Congo, had involved 9 African nations and directly affected the lives of 50 million Congolese.

The International Rescue Committee said that between August 1998 and April 2004 (when a bulk of the fighting occurred) some 3.8 million people died in the DRC. Most of these deaths were due to starvation or disease that resulted from the war, not from actual fighting. Millions more had become internally displaced or had sought asylum in neighboring countries.

The Congolese people are made up of around 200 separate ethnic groups. These ethnic groups generally were concentrated regionally and spoke distinct languages. There was no majority ethnic group, but some of the larger ethnic groups were the Luba, Kongo and Anamongo. The various ethnic groups spoke many different languages, but only 4 indigenous languages had official status: Kiswahili, Lingala, Kikongo and Tshiluba. French was the language of government, commerce and education. Societal discrimination on the basis of ethnicity was widely practiced by members of virtually all ethnic groups and was evident in private hiring and buying patterns and in patterns of de facto ethnic segregation in some cities. In large cities, however, intermarriage across ethnic and regional divides was common.

By 1996, the war and genocide in neighboring Rwanda had spilled over to the DRC (then Zaire). Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe) who fled Rwanda following the ascension of a Tutsi-led government were using Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire as bases for incursions against Rwanda.

In October 1996, Rwandan troops (RPA) entered the DRC with an armed coalition led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, known as the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL). With the goal of forcibly ousting Mobutu Sese Seko, the AFDL, supported by Rwanda and Uganda, began a military campaign toward Kinshasa. Following failed peace talks between Mobutu and Kabila in May 1997, Mobutu left the country, and Kabila marched into Kinshasa on 17 May 1997. Kabila declared himself president, consolidated power around himself and the AFDL, and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). RPA units continued to operate with the DRC's military, which was renamed the Forces Armees Congolaises (FAC).

Congolese Tutsis, as well as the Governments of Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, all relied on the Rwandan military presence in DRC for protection against hostile armed groups operating from the eastern part of the country. These groups included:

The Interahamwe militia of ethnic Hutus, mostly from Rwanda, which fought the Tutsi-dominated Government of Rwanda;
Hutu members of the former Rwandan Armed Forces, believed to be responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, which also fought the Government of Rwanda;
The Mai Mai, a loose association of traditional Congolese local defense forces, which fought the influx of Rwandan immigrants;
The Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF), made of up Ugandan expatriates and supported by the Government of Sudan, which fought the Government of Uganda; and
Several groups of Hutus from Burundi fighting the Tutsi-dominated Government of Burundi.
During 1997, relations between Kabila and his foreign backers deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops to leave the DRC. Most refused to leave. On 2 August 1997, fighting erupted throughout the DRC as Rwandan troops "mutinied," and fresh Rwandan and Ugandan troops entered the DRC. On 4 August 1997, Rwandan troops flew to Bas-Congo, with the intention of marching on Kinshasa,...

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