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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 13:55 GMT
DR Congo war: Who is involved and why
Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila: Relying on some powerful friends
By African analyst Elizabeth Blunt

Young President Joseph Kabila has inherited from his father the continent's most complicated and intractable war.

It has already sucked in the armies of six neighbouring countries, and left the population prey to the depredations of a host of competing armed groups.

Some of them are Congolese, but others are foreign, currently operating on Congolese soil, since their own civil wars have spilled across into neighbouring territory.

And as if this were not enough, the new president has to face an active internal opposition, and a number of bitter tribal conflicts, made worse by the lack of government control and the easy availability of weapons.

Sorting out the mess will be very difficult, since each of the players is there for different reasons; there is never going to be a single, "one size fits all" solution.

Ranged against the Kinshasa government are:


An effective fighting force, and the power which originally installed Laurent Kabila as president.

Many Hutu killers evaded justice and are still in DR Congo
Many Hutu killers evaded justice and are still in DR Congo
It became involved in the first place in order to get rid of the threat from the so-called Interahamwe - the former Rwandan soldiers and Hutu militiamen who carried out the 1994 Rwanda genocide and then fled into the Congo.

Not only are they still there, but an estimated 15,000 of them are actually fighting with the Congolese army.

Ending the conflict with Rwanda would mean solving the problem of these Interahamwe, disarming tens of thousands of armed men - probably against their will - and finding them somewhere to go.


The country's armed rebels have also found a base in the Congo, and employment fighting for President Kabila.

The Burundian army - preoccupied with the civil war at home, is not a major player in the Congo, but the rebels, again estimated to number about 15,000, are an important component of the Congolese government forces.

Joseph Kabila would find it hard to do without these Rwandan and Burundian militias unless he was confident that any peace agreement would hold.


This is another country with rebels lurking on Congolese territory, just over its border.

MLC rebels
Uganda backs one rebel group in eastern DR Congo
But the reasons for Uganda's involvement are less clear cut.

President Yoweri Museveni has made the Congo something of a personal crusade, and some Ugandans are certainly making a lot of money in the part of Congo that Uganda controls, but if President Museveni loses the upcoming presidential election, a new government might decide to reduce, or even end, its military involvement.

On the Kinshasa government's side are:


It is involved in the Congo for remarkably similar reasons to most of its opponents.

Angolan soldiers
Angolan soldiers were in evidence at the funeral
It is still fighting Jonas Savimbi's Unita movement, whose natural rear base is in the forests of southern Congo.

Angola dare not risk having a hostile government in power in Kinshasa which might encourage Unita, or object to Angolan cross border raids against Savimbi's rebels.

And it believes Rwanda and Uganda both have links with Savimbi.

Angola's oil makes it rich and it is potentially an important player in the region.

It may be ready for an end to the war, but would want a major say in any settlement.


It has no obvious security interest in Congo, but President Mugabe may have been keen to play a more prominent role in the region.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe: Has an estimated 11,000 troops in DR Congo
The Zimbabweans also concluded a number of contracts and economic agreements with Laurent Kabila, which should have meant that the war in the Congo was at least self-financing, and perhaps even the source of substantial profits.

But neither the war nor the business deals have gone well, and President Mugabe is under domestic pressure to pull out.


It is very much the junior partner in the pro-government alliance. It would probably follow Angola's lead in making war or peace.


These are the international players Joseph Kabila will have to satisfy if he is going to be able to end the war.

Some of them clearly would like to get out of the Congolese mess, and the change of leadership in Kinshasa may give them an opportunity to do so.

But where would any agreement between governments leave the Congolese warring parties?

The rebel movements backed by Uganda and Rwanda would be far less of a threat if they lost this foreign support.

Some might give up, or join an internal political dialogue.

Or they might fight on, reverting to the kind of low level insurgency which has been endemic in Congo since Independence.

Tribal conflicts have been endemic as well and are not going to stop, but they might reduce in intensity if the general situation were less disturbed.

President Mobutu survived in power for nearly 30 years, managing simply to ignore the fact that parts of his vast country were from time to time outside his control.

Complete peace in the Congo may an impossible hope; Joseph Kabila's best chance may be to achieve a survivable situation.

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22 Jan 01 | Africa
23 Jan 01 | Africa
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