CRS History in Democratic Republic of Congo
One of the world's deadliest conflicts since World War II has been waged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a eight-year war involving eight nations and a number of rebel groups has left as many as 4 million dead. Most of those people have died from disease and starvation, the result of massive displacements of civilians, and a lack of health services. Sometimes called Africa's first World War, this conflict has disrupted the lives of more than 50 million people.
The war can be traced back to events following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where Hutu extremists massacred more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. After many of the perpetrators of the genocide took refuge in Congo, the nations of Rwanda and Uganda backed a 1996-1997 rebellion that led to the removal of Mobutu Sese Seko, who had been Congo's leader since 1965. Laurent Kabila took over, but had a falling out with Rwanda and purged Tutsis from his government shortly thereafter. Rwanda again intervened in August 1998, supporting Congolese Tutsi rebels trying to overthrow Kabila. Uganda also backed other rebel factions. Kabila sought assistance from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. The result was protracted conflict.
United Nations peacekeepers arrived after a peace treaty was signed in 2000, but violence continued. Kabila was assassinated in 2001, succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila. Continuing peace negotiations led to the Pretoria Agreement in December 2002, and the withdrawal, for the most part, of foreign troops. A transitional government was established a year later, consisting of a president (Kabila) and four vice-presidents (the heads of the three major rebel groups, and a vice president from the unarmed opposition).
The Congo in 2006
The war and previous decades of neglect under Mobutu have made life for the average Congolese extremely difficult today. Though the DRC has abundant natural wealth — fertile agricultural land, the world's second largest rainforest, and minerals including diamonds, coltan, cobalt, cassiterite and gold — it is now one of the world's poorest countries. About 11 percent of Congolese children die before their first birthday and life expectancy is less than 45 years. The International Rescue Committee recently reported that over 1,200 people continue to die daily from effects of the conflict.
The DRC has one of the worst transportation and communication infrastructures on the continent, leaving the majority of Congolese completely isolated from health services, educational opportunities, markets and information. Violent conflict also persists today in eastern DRC. Most recently, violence flared in Katanga province where the army is fighting to put down local militia groups. Reports from international groups indicate the DRC's diverse natural resources have played a major role in funding the conflict, and undermining efforts to promote peace, stability and economic development. The United Nations has called DRC "a neglected catastrophe, a silent but deadly disaster."