Backgrounder: Escalating violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The level of violence is again escalating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Again Rwanda is accused of supporting the rebel faction which has defected from the army: a group called M23. This Tuesday (19/6) the UN Group of Experts submitted a report on the Congo to the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council. But the most controversial part – an annex talking about Rwanda’s involvement in the recent violence – was separated from the report and has not yet been submitted.

The background is that the DRC has been plagued with recurrent violence for many years; in 1996-1997 an armed conflict toppled President Mobutu Sese Seko who had dominated the political life in then Zaire since the 1960s. The rebellion supported by amongst other Rwanda was swiftly completed and the new President Laurent Kabila quickly managed to alienate many of his former allies (amongst them Rwanda) when trying to establish himself as the new leader of the nation.

Organized violence in the DRC 1996-1997 

In August 1998 a new war broke out. Again the rebels were supported by Rwanda. This war is often referred to as Africa’s First World War since so many countries were drawn into the fighting, either supporting one of the rebel groups or the Kabila government.

In January 2001 President Laurent Kabila was killed and his son Joseph Kabila took over office. Real negotiations started and a peace agreement was concluded in late 2002. In 2006, the historical elections provided for in the peace agreement were held in DRC. These elections brought Joseph Kabila to power as the country’s first democratically elected president in 40 years.

 Organized violence in the DRC, 1998-2002

Hopes nurtured by the elections in 2006 were soon shattered, when CNDP (Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple, National Congress for the Defence of the People), a new rebel outfit supported by Rwanda, launched their struggle against the newly elected government. On 23 March 2009 CNDP concluded a peace agreement with the government. Under the agreement CNDP was promised political participation in the government if they transformed into a political party. The agreement also stipulated an amnesty and the release of political prisoners. The agreement also provided for the return of Banyamulenge refugees.

Organized violence in the DRC, 2006-2010 

In 2011 DRC again held general and presidential elections, the sitting President Joseph Kabila and parties loyal to him remained in power. And even though the elections were peaceful in most parts of the country, some believe the main opponent Etienne Tshisekedi was the true winner of the elections.

In late March this new rebellion broke out when former CNDP members left the Congolese army (FARDC) to launch M23.

So what do the rebels want?

The initial aim seems to have been to resist Kinshasa’s attempt to break up CNDP networks in the East and to achieve full implementation of the March 23 Agreement. The group has also said they will unseat the President and some officers have been speaking about taking Masisi territory under their control.

Many believe the M23 is a front to hinder the government of DRC to arrest Bosco Ntaganda, a former CNDP leader and one of the M23 defectors, wanted by the ICC.

Stina Högbladh

Project Manager, UCDP