Syrian civil war. North Korean nuclear reactor. Miley Cyrus. Everything Putin. Congo War. Which in this list is unlike the others? Keeping up with current affairs requires vigilance, especially as the world navigates through a rapidly changing era. Even so, there are some topics that most of us know about as they happen – i.e. Miley Cyrus. Other topics are swept under the rug. Though the tide is slowly changing, the public knows little about the war often labeled the most neglected humanitarian crisis on earth. Here are some answers to questions you may have about the Congo war, known as the deadliest in modern African history:
1. What is the Congo?
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as the Congo or the DRC, is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world. Located in west-central Africa, the Congo is a country with great ethnic diversity and vast natural resources, especially immensely mineral-rich land. After gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, the Congo has faced systemic corruption, instability and conflict that have severely hindered the country’s growth and development.
2. How did this war come about?
The origins of the current Congo War are rooted in the country’s two civil wars, beginning in 1996 and 1998, respectively. The first civil war was sparked by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which led around two million Rwandan refugees to flee to eastern Congo. The refugee camps in this area soon served as an army base for the Rwandan Tutu tribe, who terrorized the local population until 1996, when Congolese forces pushed the Rwandans out of the Congo. In response, the Ugandan and Rwandan armies invaded the Congo and overthrew the country’s decades-long dictator Mobutu Sésé Seko. He was replaced by the rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who changed the country’s name from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Soon after seizing power, Kabila turned on his Rwandan and Ugandan allies and expelled them from the Congo. This led to the second civil war in 1998, when Rwandan and Ugandan forces invaded the Congo once again. This five-year conflict drew in nine African nations and killed around three million people, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. Despite a formal end to the war in 2003, there has still been persistent violence for control over the country, including its abundant natural resources. This struggle has dragged all of the bordering countries into a regional conflict and has developed into a major humanitarian crisis.
3. How has this affected the people of Congo?
Since the outbreak of fighting in 1998, around 5.4 million people have died in the Congo. The vast majority have died from indirect consequences of the war, such as malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea. These diseases would be preventable under stable conditions, but wartime has caused widespread instability. In addition, the U.N. has called the Congo the “rape capital of the world” for its use of rape as a weapon of war. Women have been systematically targeted and attacked on an unprecedented scale. Beyond the boundaries of conflict, this sexual violence has morphed into a larger social problem, marked by increasing brutality.
4. What’s going on in the Congo now?
Fighting has continued in eastern Congo at the hands of more than forty armed rebel groups. A new wave of violence exploded in March 2012, when a group of rebel Tutsi soldiers formed the militia group M23 and mutinied against the Congo government. In November 2012, M23 took control of the city of Goma, displacing 140,000 people. Ten days later, M23 withdrew due to international pressure. In February 2013, leaders of eleven African nations signed the “Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation for the DRC and the Region” to bring stability to the war-torn eastern Congo. This peace deal called for cooperation among the nations and no interference in the Congo’s internal affairs. The countries that signed this agreement include the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Angola, Uganda, South Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Congo-Brazzaville.
5. What has the world done to help?
In 1999, the United Nations authorized a 19,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force, now called MONUSCO, to help create stability in eastern Congo. This was the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping mission in the organization’s history. Currently, there are 113,000 peacekeeping troops in the Congo with this mission. The signing of the U.N.-brokered peace deal in February 2013 provided the support for the passage of Resolution 2098 in March by the U.N. Security Council. This Resolution authorized the use of an “intervention brigade” in the Congo. The brigade is composed of 3,000 troops that will conduct targeted operations against rebel groups in the country. Its mission is to “prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and disarm them.” In addition to U.N. intervention, many humanitarian organizations have risen to provide aid and relief, including Oxfam International, Refugees International, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and the Red Cross, among many others.
– Tara Young