History of the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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A Short History of the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Involvement of NGOs in the Peace Process

Two successive and complex wars wreaked havoc on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 1996 and 2003. The complexity of the wars stems from many factors, including the legacies of both colonial and autocratic rule, wars in neighboring Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, and the fact that up to nine states were militarily involved in the DRC, and at least that many rebel groups. DRC, Africa's third largest country, gained its independence in 1960 and was ruled by Colonel Joseph Desire Mobuto from 1965 to 1996. In October 1996, DRC's first civil war erupted when Rwandan troops led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, known as the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL), entered DRC. Mobuto was forced to flee the country, and Kabila declared as president. In 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops out of DRC. Most refused to leave; instead, the Rwandan backed Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) attacked the government troops with the intention of ousting Kabila. Angolan, Zimbabwean, and Namibian troops subsequently intervened on behalf of DRC's government. The RCD withdrew to the eastern part of the country, and in February 1999, the Ugandan-backed Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) joined the fight and assumed control over northern DRC. By the summer of 1999, the country was effectively divided into three sections, and the warring parties had reached a stalemate.

In July 1999, representatives from the government, RCD, and MLC met in Lusaka, Zambia, to negotiate a ceasefire agreement. The Lusaka Accord, signed in August 1999, established the political imperative to hold the Inter-Congolese Dialogue (ICD). The Accord stipulated that the ICD should include representatives of DRC's government, the armed opposition, the political opposition, and civil society. Violence continued, however, and the designated time frames to implement the Lusaka agreement and conclude the ICD were continuously missed. Laurent Kabila was accused of stalling the proceedings of the negotiations, but his assassination in early 2001 and replacement by his son, Joseph Kabila, resulted in a political environment more hospitable to the ICD. The negotiations commenced in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October 2001, but were delayed after five days due to a lack of participation, disorganization, and other complications. Three hundred sixty-two delegates, 66 of which represented DRC's civil society, continued the negotiations in Sun City, South Africa, in February 2002. The delegates to the ICD were divided into five commissions aimed at presenting separate proposals for final approval. The political and judicial commission included 16 civil society delegates; the economic and finance commission five; the humanitarian and cultural commission 16; the defense and security commission 10; and the peace and national reconciliation commission 19. By April, a total of 34 resolutions pertaining to the internal affairs of DRC had been signed. In July and September, separate agreements were signed between DRC and Rwanda, and DRC and Uganda. On April 2, 2003, the delegates to the ICD approved the Final Act, whereby they formally endorsed all previously signed agreements. A provision for a two-year transitional government, headed by Joseph Kabila and four vice-Presidents, was included in the Final Act, which was signed by five members of civil society.

An important reason why DRC's civil society was successful in getting itself included at the ICD was the fact that it was capable of mobilizing a wide group of individuals and harmonizing their different agendas. For example, in preparation for the ICD, 48 civil society delegates met during a four-day National Civil Society Dialogue in Kinshasa in January 2002. During the meeting, the participants synchronized their agendas and fused two separate documents listing civil society goals from groups in the western and eastern parts of the country into a joint statement for the ICD. This allowed civil society to speak with a relatively unified voice at the negotiations through their delegates, which included several NGOs. A survey conducted in 1999 by the Institut Interculturel dans la Région des Grands Lacs (Pole Institute), a research institute that concentrates on the Great Lakes region of Africa asked residents of rural DRC what role they thought civil society could play at the ICD. The most common answers given were that civil society representation at the ICD would help generate institutions that represent the interests of all members of society equally, and would discourage the creation of exclusions that leave large sections of the population unhappy, because, according to them, that is what had launched the country into war in the first place.

Information for this short history of the conflict in the DRC has been drawn, in part, from the following source:
Dialogue Intercongolais Un: Points de Vue des Membres de Pole Institute- Editorial. Pole Institute. 1999.