How to Become an Expert on the Congo in Just Five Minutes a Day, Cont’d

So, when we left off, former Marxist rebel (with whom, by the way, Che Guavara was famously unimpressed) Laurent Kabila had proclaimed himself president and renamed his country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If you picked up on my subtle foreshadowing in yesterday’s post (e.g. “Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment ‘the Second Congo War’…”) then you know that another war was about to break out. Here’s how it went down:

  • Kabila takes office in May 1997, discovers running a country is not as easy as it looks, especially when the particular country you’ve chosen to run is the Congo. (Which, let’s face it, is more of an advanced level choice. Beginners should probably stick with Andorra, or something. That place runs itself, right?)
  • Faced with internal pressure to get foreign forces out, Kabila decides in July 1998 that he’s the sort to bite the hand that feeds him, demotes his Rwandan chief of staff James Kabarebe in favor of a Congolese replacement. Kabila then orders all Rwandan and Ugandan forces out of the country, personally frogmarches every Rwandan within reach onto a plane to Kigali.
  • Bits of the army rebel, Rwanda-allied Banyamulenge freak out, start making “we started one war, don’t think we won’t start another” noises. (You may be asking yourself, “wait, wasn’t Kabila on the Banyamulenge’s side last time?” The answer to that question is a resounding “sort of.” Basically, the Banyamulenge have, since independence, had a mutually mistrustful relationship with Kinshasa. The Congolese suspect the Banyamulenge have closer ties to Rwanda than to the Congo, and the Banyamulenge suspect the Congolese government wants to revoke their citizenship and probably kill them.)
  • With Rwanda’s assistance, Banyamulenge forces form the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD). Under awesomely named president Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, the RCD announces its intention to overthrow Kabila. Rwandan, Ugandan, and Burundian forces pour into the Kivus.
  • Kabila remembers what happened to the last Congolese president who pissed off the Banyamulenge, decides that a bit of constructive genocide might be in order. He signs up to his cause the Hutu militias still hanging around in the eastern Congo and encourages the creation of a bunch of new Congolese militias called “Mai-Mais.” Banyamulenge throughout the country become targets of anti-Tutsi violence.
  • Rebel forces advance on Kinshasa throughout August 1998, things look bad for Kabila until… Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to the rescue! With the foreign forces’ help, Kabila pushes the rebels back, foreclosing all hope of a quick end to the hostilities.
  • Uganda decides it doesn’t like sharing control with Rwanda over their joint-enterprise rebel group RCD, throws its support to Jean-Pierre Bemba‘s Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) in late 1998.
  • Meanwhile, multiple rounds of peace talks break down over Kabila’s refusal to talk to the rebels. Other parties variously agree to various ceasefires, but the fighting continues.
  • Our old friend Ernest Wamba dia Wamba leaves the RCD in May 1999 and establishes a splinter group in Kisangani called RCD-Kisangani (RCD-K). The old RCD becomes RCD-Goma, an ominous portent of the acronym soup that the Congo is about to become.
  • James Kazini, head of the Ugandan forces in the DRC, decides things aren’t confusing enough already and creates a new province called “Ituri” carved out of Orientale province.
  • Kazini names as governor of Ituri a member of the Hema tribe, convincing members of the Lendu tribe that Uganda and the RCD-K are taking the Hema’s side against them. This sparks the Ituri conflict, otherwise known as “Horrific and Ongoing Violence That Would Totally Count as a War Were It Not for the Fact That It’s Pretty Much a Sidenote to the Worst Conflict Since WWII.”
  • In July/August 1999, the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and the MLC all sign the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement.
  • Tensions between the two RCD factions erupt into open fighting between the Rwandan and Ugandan armies (clearly operating under some definition of “ceasefire” of which I was previously unaware) in Kisangani. Rwanda and the RCD-Goma win this one.
  • In early 2000, a UN peacekeeping operation called “MONUC“, shows up on the scene to monitor the Lusaka Ceasefire.
  • MONUC forces monitor like champs as Rwanda and Uganda again duke it out over Kisangani’s mineral wealth and DRC government forces clash with the MLC in Equateur.
  • An unexpected plot twist occurs on January 16, 2001 when Laurent Kabila is shot by one of his own underage bodyguards. (Called the “kidogos,” which means “little ones” in Swahili, they were a crack troop of child soldiers who traveled everywhere with Kabila.) He dies two days later and is succeeded as president by his son, Joseph Kabila.
  • Despite hopeful rumblings from the UN and Western media that Kabila the Younger would bring peace, he continues to funnel money to the Hutu militia-composed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the biggest rebel group fighting against Rwanda and its proxy forces in the eastern Congo.
  • Multiple “accords” and “agreements” (Sun City, Luanda, Pretoria, etc.) are reached between various combinations of combatants over the course of 2002. Eventually, some of them start to take, and the foreign militaries withdraw from the DRC.
  • On December 17, 2002, the internal warring parties (by now including a number of additional RCDs whose acronyms I won’t burden you with) sign the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement which provides for everybody to disarm and form a transitional government. (I guess one out of two ain’t bad…)
  • Second Congo War officially “ends” as the transitional government under Joseph Kabila takes power in July 2003. Nobody seems too bothered by the fact that the apocalypse is clearly underway in the Kivus and Ituri.

This brings us to the end of WrongingRightsNotes™ – Second Congo War. Please check back for tomorrow’s installment on the aftermath, or what I would prefer to refer to as the still-going-on-math, of the Congo wars. Highlights will include the emergence of Laurent Nkunda, further speculation on those pernicious Bemba cannibalism rumors, and the role of your cell phone in the bloody deaths of adorable Congolese children.

Should be a good time.

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. I know you’re aware of this, but I just wanted to point Coltan isn’t just in cellphones. Attention whores like Lisa Jackson seem forever latched on to this premise (god, she wouldn’t shut up about it on her blog even though she has a cellphone, laptop, etc.) as it “gets” people when really it’s in every portable device we have. Hell, modern electronics would basically not even be possible without it, which explains why the Chinese are doing such nice things like building a very swell, new road to the Bukavu airport that I wish they had finished prior to my last visit. Step on it people! There’s Coltan in them there Kivus! Maybe they could chip the lava off the Goma tarmac while they’re at it as well. I’m just sayin’.

  2. More nitpicking: it’s only an “acronym” if you pronounce it as a word. So something like DRC, RCD, FDLR, etc. is just an initialism. An acronym is something like NASA (“nassa”) that you pronounce as though it were a word.

    Great article! I’m very glad to have had that rundown. I wish I saw foreign conflicts explain in rundown form more often, rather than the usual “OMG brown people are in trouble” stuff.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys!

    I deserve that nitpick, because I often crankily correct people on their use of the term. However, I am also a hypocrite, and I just like the sound of “acronym soup” better than “initial soup” or “alphabet soup.”

    I am continually amazed at how few resources there are offering conflict chronologies. Because really, they seem like they’d be pretty useful…

    Regarding your comment, hudin, I am also continually amazed at people not knowing what coltan is. I am regularly asked if I am, perhaps, just mispronouncing the word “cobalt” – wtf?

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