The forced, at gunpoint, to sign over their

The Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC) has a conflict ridden past and remains in a state of conflict today. The
DRC is often catagorised as a failed state (Oyeniyi,
2011) and has many characteristics which make it prone to conflict including
economic greed and political grievances (Mazrui, 2008). It is one of the poorest countries in the
world and, some would argue, one of the most underreported (Vice, 2012a). DRC’s per
capita income, GNP (gross national product), and human development index (which
measures human well-being) all rank near the bottom of the world rankings (Oppong & Woodruff 2007). Continued violence in the DRC has contributed to deaths and
displaced people in the region along with malnutrition, starvation, disease,
and social and economic decline (Oyeniyi, 2011). In 2006, it
was estimated that 38,000 people per month died of treatable diseases such as
diarrhoea and respiratory infections (Oppong &
Woodruff 2007). This essay will look at Congo’s
history of conflict, what the triggers have been in the past and how the
effects of this history linger in the present day. The contributing factors
that will be discussed within this paper are colonial history, ethnicity,
natural resources, and political instability.

The DRC’s colonial history
stretches back to the 1800s and Independence from Belgium was
achieved on June 30, 1960 (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). In 1876 a Belgian
explorer arrived and the Congolese people were forced, at gunpoint, to sign
over their land rights (Vice, 2012b). Essentially, the DRC was run as a private
corporation with the Belgian crown as the sole shareholder and chairman (Vice, 2012b).
Much of the blame for the challenges the DRC faces today can be attributed to
the colonial legacy of the country (Oppong and Woodruff, 2007). Colonial
experience has been found to have a profound impact on the country’s
vulnerability to war (Mazrui, 2006). An estimated 10 million Africans were
killed under Belgian rule and the colonisers left destruction which continues
to impact nation and state building efforts (Mazrui, 2006). Another note-worthy
issue are the borders determined by colonial powers in Europe. The colonial
powers carved these borders with poor maps and little thought for the African
people (Oyeniyi, 2011). Therefore tribes were split across borders and when
countries reached independence it was difficult for them to make any
alterations as their bordering countries would possibly not have reached
independence as of yet (Oyeniyi, 2011). The DRC post-independence was hopeful under
the rule of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu but the country soon went into decline with
infrastructure crumbling, telephone and postal services ceasing, no medicine or
staff for hospitals and no justice system in place (Henderson, 2008).

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Ethnicity is also a factor
affecting the stability of the DRC and this is not only an issue within the DRC
but also the wider region. Conflict fuelled by ethnicity in countries like
Rwanda have overflowed into the DRC with detrimental effects and fuelling war
not only within the DRC but with its neighbouring countries (Zeleza, 2008). Identity
and ethnicity is an interesting dimension to the conflict in the DRC. The main
source of conflict was between people identifying themselves as Tutsi and people
identifying as Hutus, who traversed borders and fuelled the conflict in the DRC
(Henderson, 2008). The Hutu and Tutsi divide originated in Rwanda, with the
Hutu extremist regime committing genocide, killing 800,000 Tutsis and the
Tutsis eventually succeeding to power (Zeleza, 2008). An estimated 1 million
Hutus then fled to neighbouring DRC fearing revenge for the genocide which
fuelled inter-state aggression due to the support of the rebels or separatist
movements (Oyeniyi, 2011). In 2006 the UN declared the Hutu extremists ‘a
serious threat to stability’ (McGreal, 2008). This continued ethnic rivalry
which form rebel groups have led the country into a permanent state of war (Vice,
2012b). One of the most notorious of these groups was M23, comprised of
Congolese Tutsis who defected from the army (Vice, 2012b). The actions of this
group led to the first ever combat force formulated by the United Nations whose
purpose was to ‘neutralise and disarm’ M23 along with other rebel groups such
as the FDLR and Lord’s Resistance Army (UN Resolution 2098, 2013). It was said
that M23 was possibly receiving aid from Uganda and Rwanda (Vice, 2012b). Much
effort goes into convincing members of these groups to defect, with UN and NGOs
throwing flyers from helicopters in the jungle which instruct members on how to
surrender to the UN (Vice, 2012b). However, the UN’s best bargaining chip has
been taken away. Previously, former combatants of certain rebel groups were
guaranteed amnesty but this surrender condition no longer exists (Vice, 2012b).

Political instability has long
been a characteristic of conflict-prone DRC. Politics could be categorised as a
commercial venture as elite groups enrich themselves at the expense of the
common man (Oyeniyi, 2011). Conflicts arise out of the individual desire for
wealth and power rather than a conflict of ideologies or agendas (Oyeniyi,
2011). Patrice Lumumbe was the first democratically elected person in charge of
the DRC after independence (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). Lumumba was murdered, and
some say that this was due to him being seen as a threat to the control Western
governments and corporations had over the DRC (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). The United States were
also reportedly weary of the strengthening ties between Lumumba’s government
and the Soviets (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). This led to the support
of Mobutu who would ensure the US continued access to cobalt, which they needed
to build their cold war jets (Vice, 2012a). Mobutu was instated following
Lumumba’s death and some stability followed (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). By 1970 he had firm
political control over the DRC but his patrimonial political tendencies led to
political despair and widespread corruption. He nationalised dome diamond and
copper mines but copper production collapsed in September 1990 when the roof of
the Kamoto mine caved in and therefore production dropped by 90% (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). When Rwanda invaded the DRC, then names Zaire by Mobutu,
and reached the capital in May 1997 Mobutu was forced to flee and the Rwandans
instated Joseph Kabila in his place (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). Kabila was viewed by the
Rwandans as a man who would bring the Hutus to justice and protect Rwanda (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). He did not live up to the Rwandans expectations and the
two countries soon fell out once again (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). In 1998 tensions between
the DRC and Rwanda rose as Rwanda moved to create a buffer zone between the two
countries and in response Kabila recruited Hutus into the Congolese army (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). A bloody war ensued which was dubbed Africa’s First World
War (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). Kabila’s term started in 2001 and was due to officially
end in December 2016 (Benson, 2017). According to the constitution elections
should have been held in November 2016 but Kabila’s government claimed that due
to financial and logistical reasons they were unable to hold elections (Benson,
2017). Widespread protests in the DRC ensued and an agreement was reached
between the government and the opposition that an interim government would be
put in place, elections would be held at the end of 2017 and Kabila would step
down (Benson, 2017). However, implementation of this agreement was slow and
talks stalled after the death of opposition leader Tschisekedi (Benson, 2017). Persecution
and violation of human rights in the DRC is rife, and the displacement of
people, poverty and instability is rooted in an inept, mismanaged and incapable
government (Oyeniyi, 2011).

Natural Resource Exploitation has
long been a characteristic of the DRC. From 1920 to 1990, Copper was the most
profitable natural resource and the largest supplier of government revenue (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). The Belgian colonisers stripped Congo of its natural
resources, killing half the population in the process (Vice, 2012a) and
essentially introducing the dependence on natural resources to the DRC (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). The presence of natural resources should aid development
rather than act as a catalyst for conflict. However, there is a rise in
resource- driven conflict in Africa. The control of these resources is a
popular method of financing wars and they therefore escalate and prolong
conflict (Ahmed, 2008). Therefore, they have been dubbed ‘conflict minerals’ as
they have been and continue to be used by armed groups in the region to run
wars since the mid-1990s (Vice, 2012a). Much of this is centred in eastern Congo’s regions
of North and South Kivu. Where there is an abundance of gold and, most notably,
coltan. Coltan is a key component in mobile phone and laptops and the DRC is
home to 80% of the world’s supply (Vice, 2012a). It is suggested that a key
reason for the reliance on resources such as gold or coltan is due to the decline
in the financing of foreign wars by the world’s superpowers after the Cold War
ended (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). After these superpowers lost interest in financing these
wars abroad to further their interests, rebel groups had to turn to alternative
methods of financing their on-going war tactics (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). Another key factor in the
importance of the natural resources is globalisation. The greed of wealthier
countries is imparted on this poor nation (Zeleza, 2008) and globalisation has
facilitated the export of conflict minerals to the global market (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006).  The reality of the
rebels not succeeding in overthrowing the government of the DRC could suggest
that they are not interesting in gaining state power but content in continuing
their banditry and control of the resource laden regions (Zeleza, 2008). As the
rate of violence increases so does the value of the resources, therefore why
would they have incentive to look to alternative methods of financing war (Vice,
2012a). Activists in the US and Europe have been pressuring electronics
companies to take more responsibility for the use of conflict minerals and in
2010 the US congress passed legislation which forces companies to declare their
use of conflict minerals (Vice, 2012a). However, when it comes to conflict minerals,
it is in the businessman’s interest to fuel the conflict and ensure that no
control or regulation is introduced to the industry (Vice, 2012a). The race to
gain control over these resources was also a driver in the war between the DRC
and neighbouring countries. With the DRC government, Angola, Namibia and
Zimbabwe on one side and Rwanda and Uganda siding with the DRC rebels by 2004,
this war had claimed an estimated 3-4 million lives (Mazrui, 2008). Since 1997
the DRC has experienced two wars and experienced the highest death toll in a
war since the second world war (Rogier, 2006).

According to Benson 2017, the DRC
is at a greater risk of local conflicts starting a war today. The country
currently faces a political and constitutional crisis (Benson, 2017). Localised
conflicts have spread across the country in 2017 and rebel groups have
continued their resource wars in the North and South Kivu provinces (Benson,
2017). 1997-2016 The Kivu provinces have been the location of over half of
political violence incidents in the country. Despite being home to just 13% of
the population of the DRC (Benson, 2017). However, violence has been spreading
across the country most notably in the Kasai region. The Kasai region is now
described as ‘tense and volatile’ due to inter-ethnic violence according to a
report by the UN Children’s Fund (Relief Web, 2017). According to the United
Nations Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of genocide,
Adama Dieng, 1.2 million people have been displaced, with 300,000 fleeing to
Angola (Dieng, 2017). In October 2017 the Kasai region accounted for 40% of DRC’s food
insecure population (UN.ORG, 2017).

In August 2016 Jean-Pierre Mpandi,
a local leader in the Kasai region, was killed by Congolese security forces and
in response rebels have decapitated policemen and  security forces retaliated by carrying out
civilian massacres (Benson, 2017). The Kasai region had been subjected to just
3.6% of the violence in the DRC from 1997 to 2016 but in the latter half of
2016 this more than tripled to 10.4% (Benson, 2017). In June 2017, 38 mass
graves were discovered in the Kasai region bringing the total mass graves to
over 80 since August 2016 (Reuters staff, 2017).

Some contributors of war are rebel
greed and the post-Cold War environment in which donor withdrawal occurred (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 20066). The Congo war roots stretch much further back to the
Mobutu era and the Belgian colonisation (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). Current rulers of the DRC
seem to have continued the manner of ruling that the Belgians employed (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). Such as selective land and citizenship rights, mostly to
the elite class and their communities to ensure opposition to the state does
not thrive (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). This in turn encourages
competition between communities and creates tensions from which opposition
groups arise (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). The DRC government has
also removed revenue from the country for institutional and private use (Nest, Grignon and Kisangani, 2006). These conditions have led to the scramble for control
over the countries natural resources (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). Peace processes and
resolution tactics have been as of yet unsuccessful in addressing the real
cause of conflict in Congo (Nest, Grignon
and Kisangani, 2006). The UN Security Council
released a 2017 Un Security Resolution 2360 in which continued concern for the
humanitarian and security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is
expressed. Both historical and present challenges fuel the conflict in the DRC
today and although it goes through varying degrees of conflict, the country has
not been at rest nor is it likely to be in the near future.