The Second Congo war, which is also known as the Great War of Africa or the African World war, began in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in August 1998, a year after the First Congo war. It was the widest inter-state war in modern African history, it directly involved nine African nations, as well as about 20 armed groups.
In the First Congo war, the support of Rwanda and Uganda enabled Congolese rebel, Laurent Désiré – Kabila, to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko’s government. However, after Kabila was installed as the new president, he broke ties with Rwanda and Uganda. They retaliated by invading the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the process starting the Second Congo war. Within a few months, no less than nine African countries were involved in the conflict in Congo, by its end nearly 20 rebel groups were fighting in what had become one of the deadliest and most lucrative conflicts in history.
When Kabila first became president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, who had helped bring him into power, exerted considerable influence over him. Kabila appointed the Rwandan office and troops who had participated in the rebellion held key positions within the new Congolese army and for the first year, he pursued policies addressing the continued unrest in the eastern part of the DRC, which was consistent with Rwanda’s aims.
The Rwandan soldiers were however hated by many of the Congolese, and Kabila was constantly caught between angering the international community, Congolese supporters and his foreign backers. On July 27, 1998, Kabila dealt with the situation by summarily calling for all foreign soldiers to leave the Congo. Through a radio announcement, Kabila cut his ties with Rwanda. Rwanda responded by invading a week later on August 2, 1998. With this move, the growing conflict in Congo shifted into a second world war.
There were several factors that drove Rwanda to its decision to attack, but the main one was the continued violence against Tutsis within eastern Congo. Many have also argued that Rwanda, one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, harbored visions of claiming part of the eastern Congo for itself, but they made no clear moves to that effect. Instead, they armed, supported and advised a rebel group composed mainly of Tutsis called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RDC).
Rwandan forces made quick strides in eastern Congo, but rather than progress through the country, they tried to simply oust Kabila by flying men and arms to an airport near Kinshasa, in the far west of the DRC, near the Atlantic Ocean, also in an attempt to attack the capital. The plan almost succeeded, but Kabila received foreign aid, this time from Angola and Zimbabwe, who came to his defense. Zimbabwe was motivated by their recent investments in Congolese mines and contracts they secured from Kabila’s government.
Angola’s participation was more political than anything else. Angola had been engaged in a civil war since decolonization in 1975. The government feared that if Rwanda succeeded in ousting Kabila, the DRC might once again become a safe haven for UNITA troops, which was the armed opposition group within Angola. Angola further hoped to influence Kabila. The intervention of Angola and Zimbabwe was crucial, the three countries together also managed to secure aid in the form of arms and soldiers from Namibia, Sudan (who was also opposed to Rwanda), Chad as well as Libya.
With these combined forces, Kabila and his allies were able to stop the Rwandan backed assault on the capital. Be that as it was, the first phase of the Second Congo war led to a stalemate in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On one side were Congolese rebels, backed and guided by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. On the other side were both Congolese paramilitary groups and the Sudan government, under the leadership of Laurent Désiré-Kabila, backed by Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Sudan, Chad and Libya.
A month after the war had begun, the two sides were at a stalemate. The pro-Kabila forces controlled the west and central part of the Congo, while the anti-Kabila forces controlled the east and part of the north. Much of the fight the following year was by proxy. While the Congolese military (FAC) continued to fight, Kabila also supported Hutu militias in rebel territory as well as pro-Congolese forces known as Mai-Mai.
In late June, the major parties in the war met at a peace conference in Lusaka, Zambia. They agreed to a cease fire, exchange of prisoners and other provisions to bring about peace, but not all of the rebel groups were even at the conference and others refused to sign. Before the agreement even became official, Rwanda and Uganda split and their rebel groups began fighting in the DRC. One of the most significant showdowns between Rwandan and Ugandan troops was in the city of Kisangani, an important site in the Congo’s lucrative diamond trade. With the war stretching, parties began focusing on gaining access to the country’s wealth; gold, diamonds, tin, ivory and coltan.
As the war overtly became about profit, the various rebel groups all began fighting among each other. The initial divisions and alliances that had characterized the war in its earlier stages dissolved and fighters took what they could. The United Nations (UN) sent in peace-keeping forces, but they were inadequate for the task.
In January 2001, Laurént Désiré-Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, and his son Joseph Kabila assumed the presidency. Joseph Kabila was more popular than his father, and in turn the DRC soon received more aid than before. Rwanda and Uganda were also cited for their exploitation of the conflict minerals and received sanctions. Eventually, Rwanda lost ground in the Congo. These factors slowly brought about a decline in the Congo war, which officially ended in 2002 in peace talks held in Pretoria, South-Africa.
By 2008, the war and its aftermath had caused 5.4 million deaths, mainly through disease and starvation, making the Second Congo War the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II. Another two million were displaced from their homes or sought asylum in neighboring countries. Despite a formal end to the war in July 2003 and an agreement by the former antagonists to create a government of national unity, 1000 people died daily in 2004 from easily preventable cases of malnutrition and diseases.
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