2009 Appeal Letter
Questions on the Conflict in North Kivu
By Andrew Peterson
What are the historical roots of the complex current state of affairs?
In 1961, after 50 years of colonial plunder, the first Prime Minister
of the newly independent Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was
assassinated. After having asked both the United States and United
Nations for support, and being denied, Lumumba had turned to the Soviet
Union for help and was in turn labeled a Communist. As a result, the
Belgians, with the tacit support of the United States, condemned this
democratically elected leader to death.
Out of the violence
that followed, military leader Mobutu Sésé Seko – supported
by the CIA – took control of the country, declared himself leader,
and proceeded to rule the country as one of Africa’s most corrupt
and brutal leaders for the next three decades. During this time he received
billions of dollars of support from western governments, the IMF and
the World Bank. A significant part of this (perhaps $4-5 billion) ended
up in Mobutu’s own bank account or that of his cronies; but the
support continued as Mobutu was considered an ally in the Cold War. Support
dwindled with the end of the Cold War and Mobutu’s government began
to crumble even further.
What led to Rwandan and Ugandan involvement in the Congo?
While people of Rwandan origin have been living in eastern Congo since
the late 19th century, much of the current conflict traces its origins
to the influx of 1.2 million Hutus that fled Rwanda fearing reprisal
attacks as the 1994 genocide ended. Among them were an unknown number
of “genocidaires” (those responsible for the genocide),
including members of the former (Hutu) government and armed forces
and also members of the Hutu “interahamwe” militias. These
refugees gathered in internally displaced persons camps (IDPs), including
some 800,000 outside the city of Goma in North Kivu, just across the
border from Rwanda. Conditions were terrible with an estimated 50,000
dying of cholera.
These IDP camps came
to be controlled by the military forces of the former government of
Rwanda, which began to forcibly coerce people to
join their fight. They hoped to return to Rwanda and complete the “work” of
the genocide, making guerrilla raids into northwest Rwanda. The Government
of Rwanda did not appreciate being attacked by these militias, and in
1996 they were joined by Uganda and Burundi, as well as some nascent
militias, in overthrowing Mobutu’s corrupt government. Support
for Mobutu was so low that hardly any of his troops put up much of a
fight and the invading troops were able to make their way to the capital
in a matter of months. Laurent-Désiré Kabila was declared
leader of the new “Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
Kabila had difficulty holding the large country together. To consolidate
his power and put to rest the idea that he was a puppet of Rwanda, he
expelled the Rwandan members of his government. This angered the Rwandans
and led, in 1998, to a second attempt to overthrow the Congolese leadership.
However, under Kabila,
the Congolese government was able to enlist the support of Zimbabwe,
Namibia and Angola and the fighting soon deadlocked
with no group able to control more than their own part of the country.
By 2003 this “Second Congo War” had become the deadliest
war since WWII with an estimated 5.4 million deaths. Most of these were
preventable civilian deaths from disease and malnutrition, the result
of people being displaced from their homes and unable to access humanitarian
aid and health care.
What has happened since the Second Congo War ended in 2003?
While the violence has never fully stopped, the Second Congo War is said
to have ended after many of the militias, including those supported
by Rwanda and Uganda, signed the 2002 Global and All-Inclusive Agreement
with the Congolese government. The agreement paved the way for a transitional
government until national elections could be held, theoretically unifying
the whole country under one political and military authority, while
Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia agreed to withdraw their
Unfortunately, while some progress was made, it was difficult to integrate
the existing militias into the national army, as stipulated in the 2002
agreement. Instead, local militias continued to operate under the authority
of local leaders and to control the population and resource extraction
within their areas.
Who is Laurent Nkunda and where did he come from?
Laurent Nkunda is a Tutsi born in North Kivu who was trained by Rwanda
and who fought with Rwandan troops in the two Congo wars. The 2002
agreement sought to integrate him into the national Congolese army,
which he did for a while, rising to the rank of General in command
of two brigades.
When the elections that were called for in the 2002 agreement successfully
occurred in 2006, many Tutsi in North Kivu felt they had lost political
power. They continued to feel vulnerable to attacks by Hutu genocidaire
forces, often, they felt, supported by the Congolese troops. Responding
to these concerns, Nkunda began to operate independently of the Congolese
army and proclaimed himself the protector of Congolese Tutsi against
the Hutu genocidaires. At the same time, however, he was quite effective
in using his military force to exploit resources and increase his own
power and influence.
Who are the other groups fighting in North Kivu?
There are many armed groups in the region, but to simplify, the main
CNDP – (Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple) – Laurent
FDLR – (Forces Démocratiques de la Libération du
Rwanda) originally included Rwandan Hutus involved in the genocide who
wanted to retake power in Rwanda, though now also made up of recruits
who were not so involved
Mai-Mai militias – referring not to any particular group of a specific
ethnic or political affiliation but rather to a number of small militias
that fight to protect local communities, mostly in response to the intrusion
of Rwandan militias
FARDC – (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique
du Congo) – National Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
MONUC— (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo) 17,000 UN peacekeeping forces in the DRC
Why have people been arriving at IDP camps outside Goma?
In January 2008, Nkunda’s forces signed a peace agreement with
the Congolese government agreeing to cease fighting and disarm in exchange
for amnesty as well as pursuit and disarmament of the Hutu militias (FDLR)
by the Congolese government. However, Nkunda’s forces soon resumed
fighting claiming that the government’s fight against the FDLR
was progressing too slowly. As Nkunda’s forces have expanded the
territory they control in North Kivu, civilians have fled. Of approximately
600,000 displaced people in the province, some 250,000 have found their
way to camps outside Goma.