Perhaps you’ve seen recent news articles about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and wondered to yourself, “what are Rwandan rebels doing in the Kivus?” Or you saw that Laurent Nkunda had announced his intention to “liberate” the entire country and asked yourself, “who is this guy, and where can I get a ‘rebels for Christ‘ pin?”
Then again, maybe you’ve just been reading our recent Congo coverage and thinking: “I too would like to be publicly snarky about events in a far away land that I’ve never visited, and perhaps make snide remarks at cocktail parties about other peoples’ activism efforts, but I just don’t feel confident enough in my background knowledge.”
Well, never fear! “WrongingRightsNotes™ – First and Second Congo Wars” (yes, I was calling them CliffsNotes before, but then I realized, that shit is trademarked), and the much needed appendix to the new edition, “Yes, They Ended a While Ago, But It’s Still an Issue and Here’s Why” is here!
So, down to business. The world said “someone really ought to do something,” then decided to go out for Thai food as 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda during the spring and summer of 1994. Here’s what happened next:
- Members of the Hutu militias responsible for the Rwandan genocide decide they’d be much more comfortable if they had a couple million of their countrymen between them and the advancing RPF forces, craftily spark general panic of retaliatory genocide, prompt mass militia-disguising Hutu flight into neighboring Zaire (now DRC).
- Militias hidden among fleeing Hutu civilians join refugees in what UN Special Rep. Shahryar Khan describes as “a revision of hell.” Over-crowding, disease, and inadequate aid lead to the deaths of over 50,000 people in the camps in mid-1994.
- Massive influx of aid leads to stabilization of the humanitarian situation, gives Hutu militias the opportunity to reorganize, take control of the camps, begin launching attacks on Rwandan Tutsis and the Banyamulenge (Congo’s Tutsi group).
- President of Zaire Mobuto Sese Seko looks other way, hums loudly as militias ship arms into the camps.
- Humanitarian aid groups supplying the camps ask themselves if they really want their delicious Meals, Ready to Eat in the bellies of genocidaires, begin cutting off aid.
- Global community, having not learned its lesson, ignores requests from UN for peacekeepers to separate out militias from genuine refugees in the camps.
- Rwanda, pissed off at UNHCR for feeding its enemies, begins to arm the Banyamulenge.
- The vice-governor of North Kivu decides in October of 1996 that it’s time for things to go from bad to worse, orders Banyamulenge out of the country.
- All hell breaks loose. Banyamulenge, well-stocked with Rwandan-supplied arms, rebel.
- A seemingly already-prepared Laurent Kabila emerges as head of an surprisingly well-organized new rebel group incorporating the Banyamulenge militias called the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (ADFL). Mystery is later cleared up when Rwanda and Uganda admit: “Oh yeah, we totally orchestrated that whole thing.“
- As the ADFL sweeps through the Kivus clearing the camps, the Hutu militias decide it’s time for Operation Massive Human Shield: Phase 2 and push hordes of long-suffering refugees ahead of them from camp to camp.
- Rwandan and Ugandan troops appear on the scene, assist ADFL as it decimates Hutu forces and Mobutu’s army. Angola, Burundi, and some Sudanese rebels show up for the party as well. ADFL insists that this was accomplished sans any incidental massacring of civilians; demographic statistics and eye witness accounts suggest otherwise.
- ADFL, with Kabila at its head, begins march / amble to Zairian capital Kinshasa. Mobutu’s government insists that everything is FINE, thank you very much.
- Mobutu gives up and flees the country in May 1997. Kabila declares victory, appoints himself President and announces that he never liked the name “Zaire” anyway. Proving that even corrupt warlords have a sense of humor, country is renamed the “Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
This concludes our discussion of the First Congo War. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment “the Second Congo War,” in which Rwanda and Uganda have second thoughts about their hand-picked stooge, and virtually every country in Africa decides to field an army.