The Congo Wars (not to confused with the Congo Crisis
, which occured in The Sixties
against the backdrop of the Cold War
) were two conflicts that have ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo
starting from 1996. The conflict theoretically ended in 2003, when the Transitional Government took charge in the country, but fighting still persists as of today. The second conflict, in particular, has killed more than 5 million people, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II
. The deadliest phase, the Second Congo War (1998-2003), is thus also called the Great War Of Africa
(referring to the original "Great War
"). The conflict started as a Grey and Gray Morality
, but then it turned into pretty much a Black And Black Morality
, with all the parties involved taking advantage of the rich resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo and generally stomping the country to the ground. In fact, the conflict is eerily similar to the Thirty Years' War
fought more than three centuries earlier.
Considering all the different factions present in both wars, explaining the whole thing in a coherent way is more difficult than it seems, but we’ll give it a try.
Mobutu had been in command of the DRC (then known as Zaire) since 1965 and, though he had promised reforms in the country, in general did nothing more than enrich himself while Zaire impoverished even more. At this time, the country was a failed state, the army had to maintain themselves by looting and the east areas were out of the capital’s control, controlled by the Banyamulenge, Tutsis living in Zaire. The main problem with the ethnic term is that it doesn’t differentiate between the Tutsis that historically immigrated and the ones that came more recently because of the turmoil in Rwanda and Burundi. When Mobutu ordered all of them repatriated, that included the Banyamulenge, and many of them ended forming part of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group.
When the Rwandan Genocide
came to an end, the Rwandan Patriotic Front was at command and started to persecute the former Hutu genocides (called génocidaires), prompting most of them to flee to Zaire. The problem was that many Tutsis that had fled the genocide had the same idea, and soon victims and victimizers found themselves in the same place. Guess how well that came out. To worsen things up, Mobutu not only couldn’t control what happened in the area, but actually tried to help the génocidaires for an eventual invasion of Rwanda. Things escalated until a Banyamulenge rebellion started in 1996 and a militia headed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila was formed, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, after which the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Angola, Burundi and Uganda decided to join the conflict for different reasons; Rwanda to stop attacks to the country from the génocidaires in Zaire and to establish a puppet regime in Kinshasa; Uganda and Burundi because of their sympathy with the Tutsis; Angola because Mobutu’s cronies provided the partisan group UNITA with armament (at that time, Angola was still caught in a civil war). Zaire received support of the UNITA and the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda, formed for the most part of former génocidaires. Other countries also contributed in a minor role, like Ethiopia, Eritrea or Zimbabwe.
Given the poor status of Zaire’s army, the AFDL and its allies quickly gained control of the east area, achieving the objective of destroying the camps the genócidaires used as bases (it deserves to be mentioned, anyway, that Rwanda took advantage and repatriated all the Tutsis it could, despite their nationality, to recover population and workforce; not to mention the possible atrocities committed to the Hutus refugees). However, they decided to keep pushing and by 1997, Mobutu had been deposed and Laurent-Désiré Kabila proclaimed himself president and renamed the country Democratic Republic of the Congo
, ending the First Congo War.
In a sane world, this would have ended here, with a crippling country in serious need of reconstruction and Kabila trying to get the country back on its feet. However, since this is the real world
, it happened that the new regime was exactly like the one before
, the corruption was still rampant, the ethnical tensions remained because of the centralized government and, to worsen things up, Kabila realized he was seen as an instrument of the foreign governments, so he started to turn against them, eventually expelling them from the country.
In 1998, a couple of militia groups mutinied and started to fight with the government and, starting from there, all hell broke loose, as multiple nations entered (or re-entered) to the DRC, in a confusing mess that is almost unexplainable. The only comprehensible thing was the ravaging
and the humanitarian disaster that followed the fighting. Ironically (or maybe not), on this occasion the sides were reversed; Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda were now the enemies of the DRC (along with some Tutsi movements, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo and the Rally for Congolese Democracy), while Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe were the allies of DRC, along with some other parties like Libya and Sudan; most of them were in it for the resources in the country, especially the diamond industry (Zimbabwe, Namibia and Libya being the most blatant examples of this). There were about 25 armed groups involved, because many of the countries involved had rebel militias that entered the war in the opposite band, and sometimes some of them split to form new militias.
In 2001, Laurent-Désiré Kabila was killed by his bodyguards and his son, Joseph Kabila, took the presidential office. He started negotiations with Rwanda to end the conflict but, in the meantime, the exploiting of the Congo’s resources continued. With time, however, the fighting slowed and eventually stopped, in part because Rwanda achieved to convince the DRC of complying with some of their objectives (although others, like the disbanding of the Interahamwe, which took part in the genocide of 1994 and had taken refuge in Congo, didn’t), but for the most part it was because the parties involved started to get tired of the never-ending violence.
Today, the conflict still persists in the form of rebel groups in the main conflict areas of the east, like the Kivu and Ituri conflict or the militia group Mai-Mai, which simply slipped out of control of the government. Some of the groups are funded by other governments, which only make things more complicated. As for the humanitarian cost, there are millions of displaced internal and externally, more than five million deaths and all the sides acting like monsters with all kinds of crimes, including mass killings and war rape.
Despite the fact that this was a massive war, with all the ingredients to make a good War Is Hell
story, there is almost no media portrayal of the Congo Wars. No comments about that. There is at least The Peacekeepers
, a documentary about efforts to have U.N Peacekeepers sent there in 2002.
Tropes present in the Congo Wars include:
- The Alliance: Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda acted like that, but in reality it was more of a “to each his own”.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Some of the militias, like the Mai-Mai.
- Armies Are Evil
- Bodyguard Betrayal: Jean-Désiré Kabila, who was killed by his bodyguards.
- The Caligula: Mobutu, maybe Jean-Désiré Kabila. Some of the other countries also had presidents with this kind of behavior.
- The Chessmaster: Paul Kagame, at the time of the First Congo War Rwandan Defense Minister and Vice President, later President. The man launched the country on a war of revenge against the génocidaires and to put a puppet regime on Zaire, convincing a few of his neighbors to give him a hand and, almost completely, succeeded. Too bad he lost some of his touch in the second war…
- Civil War: Between the whole thing.
- Crapsack World
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The First Congo War. In less than a year, Burundi, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda and the AFDL had defeated Mobutu’s forces.
- Death World
- Enemy to All Living Things: The exploitation of resources led to the destruction of thousand of forests and the deaths of thousand of animals.
- Evil Versus Evil: The Second Congo War, where all the countries involved stood out as a bunch of nasty SO Bs.
- Forever War: It’s not as long as some other wars in history, but it has lasted more than ten years if you count the remaining conflicts, and for the Congo inhabitants involved, it was (and still is) a complete nightmare.
- Full-Circle Revolution: The ousting of Mobutu brought Jean-Désiré Kabila in charge. He was almost the same kind of governor as his predecessor.
- Gambit Pileup: Seriously, with all the participants and motivations, you need a charter flow to understand what was going on in the Congo.
- Gratuitous Rape: Committed by both sides and, as usual, completely pointless. It also helped spread further sexually transmitted diseases.
- Grey and Gray Morality: The First Congo War, although you could argue that it was a Black and Gray Morality, with Mobutu being the black.
- Humans Are Bastards: You don’t need more proof for that than this war.
- Instant Militia: Seriously, they seemed to come out from nowhere.
- Jerkass Victim: Some of the génocidaires, between many others.
- Kick the Dog: Continuously, with also a helthy doses of Kick the Son of a Bitch.
- Moral Event Horizon: Mass killings and war rape happening constantly.
- Nightmare Fuel: Just… don’t try to Google photos of the war, okay?
- Not So Different: All the participants of the Second Congo War were more interested in looting the resources of the DRC than to help the country get back on its feet.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it was like this since before, when it was called Zaire. Other countries like Libya, Zimbabwe or, arguably, Uganda, also serve as examples.
- Private Military Contractors: Mobutu put out a call for his old dogs of war—the legendary triumvirate of "Mad Mike" Hoare, Bob Denard, and Jean Schramme. Unfortunately, Hoare was retired, Denard was occupied elsewhere, and Schramme was dead. Instead Christian Tavernier, another veteran of the Katanga Secession and the Simba Rebellion, was brought in with around 100 mercenaries to train the Zaire Army, along with some air support. Despite Tavernier's previous Congo experience, they proved supremely ineffective.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Rwanda’s initial main motivation was revenge against the génocidaires and groups like the Interahamwe for the Rwandan Genocide.
- War for Fun and Profit: Sadly, this seems to have been the idea for all the countries involved.
- War Is Hell: And there’s no doubt about it.
- What an Idiot: Jean-Désiré Kabila. His allies put him in charge of the DRC expecting him to solve the problems in the east. His response? Not only not doing it, but also snuffing his now former allies. Remember that the only reason he was in power it was thanks to them.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: During the second war, the pygmies were murdered (and eaten!) on large scale by both sides. Remember that the only difference is that they’re smaller.
- In The Onion's Our Dumb World, the page entry for the DRC is about the cycle of violence and rape here. It is almost inarguably the most brutal entry in the atlas.