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The first phase of the Second Congo War led to a stalemate in the Democratic Republic of the 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 government, under the leadership of Laurent Désiré-Kabila, backed by Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Sudan, Chad, and Libya.
A Proxy War
By September 1998, a month after the Second Congo 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 fighting for the next 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. These groups attacked the rebel group, Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), which was largely made up of Congolese Tutsis and was supported, initially, by both Rwanda and Uganda. Uganda also sponsored a second rebel group in the northern Congo, the Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC).
In 1999, a Failed Peace
In late June, the major parties in the war met at a peace conference in Lusaka, Zambia. They agreed to a ceasefire, exchange of prisoners, and other provisions to bring about peace, but the 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.
The Resource War
One of the most significant show downs between Rwandan and Ugandan troops was in the city of Kisangani, an important site in the Congo lucrative diamond trade. With the war stretching on, the parties began focusing on gaining access to the Congo's wealth of riches: gold, diamonds, tin, ivory, and coltan.
These conflict minerals made the war profitable for all involved in their extraction and sale, and extended the misery and danger for those who were not, mainly women. Millions died of hunger, disease, and a lack of medical care. Women were also systematically and brutally raped. Doctors in the region came to recognize the trademark wounds left by the torture methods used by the different militias.
As the war became more and more overtly 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 sent in peacekeeping forces, but they were inadequate for the task.
The Congo War Officially Draws to a Close
In January 2001, Laurent Désiré-Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, and his son, Joseph Kabila, assumed the presidency. Joseph Kabila proved more popular internationally than his father, and the DRC soon received more aid than formerly. Rwanda and Uganda were also cited for their exploitation of the Conflict minerals and received sanctions. Finally, Rwanda was losing ground in the Congo. These factors combined to slowly bring about a decline in the Congo War, which officiall ended in 2002 in peace talks in Pretoria, South Africa.
Again, not all of the rebel groups participated in the talks, and the eastern Congo remained a troubled zone. Rebel groups, including the Lord's Resistance Army, from neighboring Uganda, and fighting between groups continued for more than a decade.
Resources and Further Reading
- Prunier, Gerald. .Africa's World War: The Congo, Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe Oxford University Press: 2011.
- Van Reybrouck, David. Congo: The Epic History of a People. Harper Collins, 2015.