Prospects for Sustained Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo


1. Since the creation of the Congo, at the Berlin Conference (1884-1885) as a result of the resolution of the conflict opposing imperial Africa conquering powers, the struggle for or against the Congo has always been international, roughly opposing two camps: the pro-Congolese people camp and the Congolese people ignoring/marginalizing/repressing camp. The identity of the various actors in each camp is very complex and situational.  In the 1960’s, President Kwame Nkrumah, in his Challenge of the Congo (1967), gave an interesting indication of some of the then actors.

2. The camps are not distinguished along the lines of the distinction, internal (domestic) vs. external (foreign) forces. At times, during the epoch of the Congo Free State for example, external forces such as the Morel Movement seemed more pro-Congolese people than domestic ones. Even today, a great part of the Congolese “political class” seems to be compradorian. The status of domestic forces, in each camp, is decisive for the outcome of the struggle. The weakest the position of the pro-Congolese people domestic forces leads to the defeat of the Congolese people; i.e., the outcome is less favorable to them.

3.  The Congo has always been at the center of the globalization process since the beginning. For a long time, the very hot Cold War, in all its various phases (peaceful coexistence, rivalry, détente, new rivalry, the end) shaped the struggle for or against the Congo. The secessions (first balkanization of the country), the assassinations of P.E. Lumumba and other nationalists and the dismantling of the nationalist regime were explained with reference to the Cold War.

4. The history of the Congo has been marked by a process of a never- ending crisis. The Congo Free State was marked by what Adam Hochschild (King Leopold’s Ghost, 1998) has called an ignored holocaust, the result of a brutal way of organizing the looting of the country’s natural resources (Red rubber). The Morel led international conflict resolution gave rise to Belgian Congo whose Colonial Charter’s application was crisis bound. Prophetist (Kimbangu) and trade-unionist uprisings were violently repressed. Starting with the crisis of Independence, on and off, the Congo has gone through wars since 1960, the one being ended is the eleventh. Or rather the war of emancipation (?) is in its eleventh phase. 1960-1963, the conflict led to the first balkanization of the country as a result of the Western dismantling of the nationalist regime ( with the assassination of Lumumba and other nationalist leaders), Katanga and Kasai mining companies and settlers organized secessions and the proclamation of the Stanleyville Peoples Republic. 1963-1967 and beyond: the defeat of the Second Independence armed struggle and Mobutu’s Coup d’Etat (1965) led to the reunification of the country under the banner of repression as policy by a clientelist and discriminatory State.
1967-1985: wars against mercenary (Jean Schramme) led rebellion and maquis resistance in eastern Congo and the so-called Shaba wars (1977-1978) took place. 1989-1997: with the end of the Cold War (on the basis of the collapse of the State-Party formations), the West nearly abandoned the Western friendly tyran, Mobutu, and supported the SNC movement of democratization based on a restored multipartyism. The truth based national reconciliation was not achieved and this led to a non-ending transition to democracy. Refusing to be replaced or significantly reformed, Mobutu’s regime resorted to a destructive policy of regionalism, ethnic cleansing, State repression of Tutsi Congolese minority and regional destabilization—through involvement in supporting genocidaire Rwandese regime and Angolan UNITA, for examples. This gave the occasion to the region, with the USA conniving, to militarily and diplomatically intervening on the side of the Congolese people to overthrow Mobutu’s regime. Countries involved included: Tanzania, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Erytrea, Angola. The AFDL regime failed to go into the roots of the never-ending crisis: no truth based national reconciliation was contemplated, no resumption of the democratization process, as Congolese people have hoped, its governance fell very quickly into Mobutuist-like solitary exercise of power and repression covered by an anti-Western phobic Lumumbist sounding discourse and a resumption of regional destabilization policy starting with the humiliation of some of its former allies and military backers. This made the re-building of the decomposed State more difficult. Military and political dissidence arose and received regional backing. This led to the so-called “ African First World War” ( Madeleine  Albright), the second balkanization of the country into five “administrations” (Kinshasa, Goma, Gbadolite, Bunia and Isiro), and an estimated human cost of 3 million people dead.

5. So far, each phase has ended without having resolved the basic underlining fundamental problems generating protracted armed conflicts. Each phase has been also marked by direct involvement of external forces through an “alignment” with some clientelist internal forces. The strategic position of the country in Africa (if not the world), its rich natural resources potential (strategic resources for the succeeding capitalist phases: from tropical agriculture experienced slaves, rubber, copper, cobalt/uranium, oil, coltan, biodiversity and soon, water; without neglecting the money laundering diamond) and the relative absence of strong national pro-Congo leadership institutions make the country a continuous prey for protracted external interventions and easy target for continuous people exploitation and pauperization. People resistance, passive and active, makes the country a war zone. The Congo has never had a sustained peace.


6. The capacities of the national leadership at independence were not sufficient to start tackling correctly the problems of the country in the World divided by Cold War, given the country’s strategic position. In fact, very soon the leadership that fought for independence and had some sense of its significance was replaced as a presumed solution to the crisis of independence. The resulting troubled Congolese history made it difficult to develop those necessary capacities. Western dependency mentality, on the part of would-be-leaders, has increased than decreased: each time the country faces a problem the call is made for outside help. To the extent that Western direct involvement tends to be a problem, basic problems remain unresolved.  The impression given by the nature of help which comes is that the Congo is seen as ‘ a sick person that must be kept alive in an intensive care unit, but not allowed to be totally cured.” There has been no real vision to guide the transformation of a conquered and colonized territory, freed with precipitation, into a self-reliant Nation, responding positively to the basic interests of the Congolese majority of people. The Congolese people have, thus, had no confidence in the existing institutions and their actors. The latter have failed to develop mutual trust with each other, and each actor, in the main, has had no self-confidence. And while occupying a strategic position, the country’s public consciousness has never reached the level required by that position.

7. Crucial problems have not been mastered. The country, so large, has not been even physically sufficiently integrated. Surrounded by 9 bordering countries, the country’s well understood national interest can only be articulated with some consideration of its relation to those of the neighboring countries. 6 out of the 9 countries have had or are still undergoing civil wars—which, due to the decomposition of our State, have been slipping over the DRC, making it easier for external interventions into the country. The international dimension of the country has not been mastered. The nature of the post-colonial State, as a colonial legacy, i.e., a State created through conquest and non-responsive to the basic needs of the conquered peoples, has not been problematized and transformed to make it responsive to the needs of all Congolese.  The economy, dominated by a problematic of extraction of natural resources whose markets are outside of the country, entertains violent forced labor relations of production and a dynamics of looting.  This makes it unresponsive to the basic needs of impoverished masses of people. The centuries’ history of the Congo’s foreign capital investment and wealth creation based on resource extraction has been a complete and total failure in terms of human and socioeconomic conditions of the Congolese society. In the absence of a true middle class and a patriotic political class, it is difficult to achieve and sustain the necessary structural break from the existing political economic structure. This break, if accomplished, would allow both foreign investors and Congolese society conceptualize, define and articulate their respective interests, requirements and needs as equal stakeholders in mutual beneficial partnership based relationships.  The primary sources of conflict, in the Congo, are political and socioeconomic structural problems.  They have national, regional and global dimensions.

8. The protracted crisis has always had concrete symptomatic forms of expression in each situation. Presently, we are facing principally a major political crisis, whose symptoms are as follows: a) an absence of legitimate political institutions serving openly all the Congolese and responding positively to their basic needs and aspirations and in which they have confidence and trust; b) an absence of a democratically rooted constitutionalism, since the 1965 coup d’Etat, constitution-making has been devoted to underwrite and justify dictatorial powers; c) the incumbent President, in a state of emergency it is true, was designated by a small circle with no constitutional known powers and endorsed by a parliament appointed by a self-proclaimed President, the late L.D. Kabila; d) an absence of a relatively independent, self-reliant and truly patriotic national political leadership mobilizing the population to keep at bay interventionist forces and tendencies; e) an insufficient national consciousness among the people; f) a de facto balkanization of the country; g) a continuous militarization of the politico-administrative structure; being closer to or having recourse to arms as a way of getting to or keeping power is seen as a good thing and warlords seen as heroes awarded with the title of ‘leader’;  h) an absence, especially within the structures and institutions of leadership, of political ethics ( public morality, respect for the res publica, active opposition to corruption and other negative values, the will to truth, active pursuit of a healthy interethnic conviviality, ultimate concern for human life, respect for political adversaries or dissidents, etc.);  i) the debasing of Congolese intellectuals, devoting their intellectual work to the celebration of dictators, to spreading fear in the population or in gravitating around mediocrity; k) with the lapsing of the political model of ‘liberation movements’ and the crisis of Party form, the existing numerous Parties (close to 400 registered) function as NGO’s almost the same way as civil society NGO’s with no clear vision or organized people mobilization; l) even after the end of the Cold War and the overthrow of Mobutu’s one-Party State kleptocratic ‘dictatorship’,  a transition to democratic rule has been indefinite—the country giving the impression of having embarked on a self-destructive course and a real possibility of partition.

9. SADC sponsored search for peace in the DRC– leading to the Lusaka Cease-Fire Accord– and the long lasting Inter-Congolese political negotiations—leading to the Global and Inclusive Accord– have singled out the end of war, peace, the re-unification of the country and a transition towards a new political dispensation as their targets. The complexity of the problem, the shaky determination of the African leadership and its relative financial and material poverty allowed the international community to take over the active “sponsorship” of the overall process. The SADC group was particularly sidelined.

10. Political problems aside, peace negotiations have suffered from conceptual confusions.  When the people are not at the center of the search for peace, situations of conflict are not correctly grasped: what makes peace impossible in each situation is grasped through generalities drawn from a context-free conceptual framework model which guides the peace negotiations. The silencing of weapons seems to be the end-result target. The so-called realist politics, centered around the notion of might is right, or the idea of the ‘strong man’ coupled with the notion of a zero-sum game provide for the conceptual apparatus to deal with peace negotiations. “ How and by whom are people represented in peace negotiations?” This question is often not contemplated. Negotiations are centered around warlords i.e., anyone posing a visible threat to peace has more consideration, not the most victimized. In a situation where we refuse to think on our own, refuse to take our history seriously or to see things from a long perspective, we don’t start from a rational sum-up of past outcomes of conflict resolutions: the lessons of the failures and/or successes of the 1993 Arusha Peace Agreement for Rwanda, the 1994 Peace Protocols for Angola, the Namibia Accords, etc. The ICD lasted so long and cost so much because it was badly organized and too much groping in the dark. This allowed pandora boxes to be drawn in and be open.
11.   The long and frustrating process of inter-Congolese negotiations eventually led to the Global and Inclusive Accord, now being implemented. Due to the nature of the Congolese “political class” and the mediation methodology, no real dialogue over the Congolese crisis really took place. Negotiations were subordinated to the imperatives of power sharing—you must get a State post or chair or die! The mediation team was composed of representatives of the UN (the UNSG’s Special Envoy, Moustapha Niasse) and the South African government.  It followed a strategy which, while making it possible to reach the result faster, did not facilitate confidence building and trust among the Congolese parties. From the beginning to the end, no point of agreement was reached between Congolese themselves without outside pressure. Informal consultations and discussions were used and only results were presented in the plenary meetings. Questions of procedure were entirely handled by the moderation, with no room for organized input from the Congolese parties. The mediation paid more attention to negotiations with the components referred to as ‘big belligerents’: Kinshasa Government, MLC and RCD-Goma. The other components and entities (Civil Society, Non-armed Political Opposition, RCD-ML, RCD-N and Mai Mai) were more or less called upon to endorse points of agreement reached by the big belligerents. The exchanges between delegates were indirect, passing through mediators. At no time, almost, did any of the delegates meet and discuss, face to face, to defend each other’s positions. No real palaver took place. The pressure was permanent on the delegates; thus avoiding a situation where certain parties could behave as if they had a veto right. And yet, the so-called ‘big belligerents’ knew they counted more than the other parties. As a consequence, the other parties, especially the Non-armed Political Opposition and Civil Society, lost their relative autonomy. Each organization of those components felt obliged to align itself with one or the other big armed component in the hope to have access to important posts in the transitional institutions.  Almost all groups developed a strong tendency to seek more posts in the State institutions rather than lowering their demands for them, at the expense of national reconciliation. The armed groups continue to seek to implant themselves politically throughout the whole country through the acquired posts in the transition. Instead of focusing primarily on resolving the current Congolese crisis, they are more concerned with how to win elections through the use of their positions in State structures. Briefly, the logic of negotiations was predicated on the realist politics of ‘might is right’. It did contradict the very thrust of the Accord which puts emphasis on inclusiveness, consensus, working/moving/winning together and not at the expense of some. For the big armed groups, inclusiveness meant trying everything to get their members and perhaps their allies or clients in as many important posts of the transitional institutions as possible. There was no attempt to make sure that nobody felt being excluded; and the issue of how to regenerate the Congolese people’s confidence in the transitional institutions and officials was never raised.


12. No transition, so far has succeeded in the Congo.  A new attempt has taken off, with the formation of the transitional government. The transition, starting with the end of the first balkanization, to a federal democracy was stopped by the 1965 coup d’Etat. The SNC organized transition was resisted by the refusal of Mobutu’s regime to give up and eventually ended with the overthrow of that regime by AFDL led armed struggle supported by a regional unified effort. The AFDL proclaimed plan of transition never even took off. Will this transition succeed?  Of course, the crisis of legitimacy has been at the center of the Congolese political crisis, not size of the country, ethnicity or the mere presence of the ‘fabulous’ potential of natural resources. Transition to democracy aims at dealing precisely with the legitimacy question. Forces (domestic and external), opposed to democracy, have made democratic transition in the Congo almost impossible.

13.  To assess the chances of success of this new attempt, two questions need to be addressed separately: what is ending and what is starting? Basic principles which guide the process of transition have been arrived at on the basis of a formal consensus between Congolese parties reached and sustained under foreign pressure. Mistrust between Congolese actors still prevails. The profound pauperization of the population at large, the absence of people political mobilization and the absence of political will on the part of ‘leaders’ to deal with crucial issues of the crisis make the people at large uninterested and politically powerless to exercise pressure for the transition to be non-conflict bound and successful. While we have been lucky to have had both dictators, Mobutu and L.D. Kabila, and we should now know what not to do, even if we may not know what to do differently, would-be leaders are behaving as if nothing has been learned. Mobutist legacy weighs heavily on the leaders’ and the people’s minds and behaviors. External actors do not seem to have drawn any positive lessons from the dictators’ political catastrophes either. The overall powerful and mostly negative external influence on the course of events shows that the national question remains unresolved and more bloody future historical episodes are likely. The very way the transitional institutions are being put in place, with the re-activation of so-called anti-valeurs (clientelism, regionalism, ethnicism or tribalism, corruption, etc.) makes their sustainability precarious. Democratic values are spoken about  only with the strong desire on each party to mend the process to win the elections, not to act positively according to those values. The adversary pluralist cohabitation (with 4 Vice-Presidents), in the presidential political space, does not help eradicate mistrust at all. Rumors of possibilities of a coup d’Etat are already being heard. Neo-Mobutism haunts the political scene; this is a Mobutism that has not self-criticized and likely to be revengeful. Are we headed towards one more tragedy or a farce? Did we need to sacrifice close to 3 millions Congolese to reach this result?

14.   So, what is ending? People want the war and balkanization to end as a way also of ending the State decomposition and collapsing. The reconstructed State is supposed to transform the conditions of existence of the protracted Congolese crisis. Foremost, it is supposed to organize credible, free and fair elections to lay to rest the problem of legitimacy. With the warlike Presidential collegiality, the spectre of the “strong man” or “providential man” politics seems to have diminished. Perhaps, such as a situation may end the destruction of the relative autonomy of State by the past dictators. Even if there is no debate, and thus clarity, on what type of State is going to be reconstructed. The people want it to be the one responsive to their needs; this will need to be struggled for. While party politics are still conceived within the horizon of State-party as a party-form, party pluralism is now inscribed within the State institutions and may enhance pluralism. The only worry is that even the armed forces seem to be marked by such adversary pluralism making their unity, apolitical, professional and republican characters precarious.

15.   And what is starting? Pluralism is creating a real possibility of debates on national issues. Political battles are likely to be conducted on the basis of ‘policy against policy’ (politique contre politique) and battles may be more focused on points of public consciousness. With this, different forms of political organization of politics are likely. The question of what kind of relationship to power is possible for power to be openly serving the Congolese people is going to be raised and confronted more consciously. If institutions of democratic empowerment are allowed to function relatively independently, transition will be more focused on bringing about credible, free and fair elections. These possibilities will be very much constrained by the everlasting weight of external forces opposed to the transformation of the structural socio-economic conditions of the Congolese crisis. The result of the now being planned international conference on the Great Lakes region will be the test of the political will of the regional political leadership and the international community to opt for sustained regional peace, equity, representative democracy, social justice, mutual trust based pursuit of regional security and pro-people developmentalist regional cooperation. It is a big challenge; it requires stronger and more open and trustworthy types of political leaderships within each country and in the region.


16. I tried, in a very condensed form, to provide basic elements to grasp the Congolese precarious history of bloody conflicts. I could not deal with all the cases that needed to be discussed. The Ituri situation alone would require a full paper and so would require the Kivu focalized Rwanda-Congo relations. I wanted to provide a broader picture which may help the understanding of specific crucial issues. If time allows it, I will entertain questions on issues not dealt with.

Kinshasa, July 26, 2003.

Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba is a leader of the Rassemblement Congolais la democratie (RCD-Kisangani), and is based in Kinshasa, the capital town of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development in recognition of his “scholarly contribution to the development of African philosophy and for sparking off the philosophical debate on social and political themes in Africa.” He has written innumerable articles in various scientific and non-scientific journals on the politics in Africa. He has taught at Harvard University and at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, to name but a few.

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