Scramble for the Congo: Anatomy of an Ugly War
Scramble for the Congo: Anatomy of an Ugly War
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Tensions dans la région des Grands-Lacs | Turmoil in the Great Lakes
Tensions dans la région des Grands-Lacs | Turmoil in the Great Lakes
Report 26 / Africa

Scramble for the Congo: Anatomy of an Ugly War

The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, signed eighteen months ago to stop the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has proved hollow. The accord largely froze the armies in their positions, but did not stop the fighting.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, signed eighteen months ago to stop the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has proved hollow. The accord largely froze the armies in their positions, but did not stop the fighting. The mandated United Nations observers, who were to oversee the disengagement of forces, have remained unable to deploy for the most part due to the continuation of hostilities. Similarly, the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, that was to have brought a ‘new political dispensation’ to the Congo, appears stillborn.

Faced with this impasse in the peace process, the Congo has begun to fragment. Throughout the country a humanitarian catastrophe is underway. The fighting has already cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, and an estimated additional two million Congolese have been displaced as a result. The violence has also encouraged ethnic militarism to grow, and the east of the country has already been transformed into a patchwork of warlords’ fiefdoms.  The territorial integrity of the Congo is threatened, as will in time be the stability of its nine neighbours if the chaos continues.

The failure of the Lusaka Ceasefire has been due to an absence of leadership. The agreement depended entirely upon the cooperation of the parties to succeed. Tragically, none of the signatories fulfilled what they had pledged. Each suspected the others of a double game, and used its suspicions to justify its own duplicity. Since the belligerents themselves were the ones responsible for policing the agreement, and since there was no external guarantor to compel their compliance, the agreement quickly became empty.

Today it remains only as a reference document, at hand for when the belligerents come to realize that they have no other options. At present this is not yet the case. All are determined to persist with their military adventurism precisely because they have so far failed to accomplish their war objectives. They all need to recoup something for the investment of blood and treasure they so foolishly squandered in the Congo. They all want to win, despite the fact that winning is no longer possible.

Rwanda and Uganda’s second war in the Congo has seriously endangered their own stability. The lightning strike they unleashed in August 1998 to overthrow Kabila has since become of a war of occupation, and risks becoming an unsustainable war of attrition. Energies and funds that each need to spend on economic development have been redirected towards their growing defence budgets. And, under the weight of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Eastern DRC, and the repeated clashes between their forces in Kisangani, the reputations of Rwanda and Uganda’s leaders have plummeted.

The war has been no better for Kabila’s allies. The DRC President’s adamant refusal to accept MONUC’s deployment, and preference for sharing the country rather than sharing power, has trapped Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe in the Congo.  Now the Harare strongman has little room left to manoeuvre, unwilling to risk a unilateral and undignified withdrawal because of the internal economic and political unrest at home. Angola, on the other hand, has escaped paying the costs of its intervention so far. Its apparent success has tempted President Dos Santos to assert himself as a regional power-broker for West-Central Africa. He supports Kabila because he cannot permit the appearance of a strong and independent leader in Kinshasa. An imminent change in the military situation, however, is likely to call into question the success of this DRC policy, and reveal the limits of Angola’s power. In power because there seems to be no other options, Kabila is only a ruler by default.

The inadequate policies of the international community have contributed to this ongoing fragmentation of the Congo. Determined to stop the fighting, the world powers pressured the belligerents to sign the Lusaka ceasefire agreement. The document fitted especially well with the United States’ preference for  ‘African solutions for an African problem’. The limits of this policy have now become clear. At present none of the belligerents has the power to escape the Congolese quagmire without help. ICG therefore recommends a stronger and more determined involvement of the world powers to revive the Lusaka peace process, ultimately restore the territorial sovereignty of the DRC and achieve regional security.

Nairobi/Brussels, 20 December 2000

Video / Africa

Tensions dans la région des Grands-Lacs | Turmoil in the Great Lakes

English version below / English subtitles available

FRANÇAIS: Depuis 25 ans, l'est de la République démocratique du Congo est devenu une zone de non-droit où opère une multitude de groupes armés locaux ou originaires des pays voisins. Les civils sont les premières victimes des violences dans cette région riche en ressources naturelles. 

Depuis fin 2021, avec l'accord de Kinshasa, l’Ouganda maintient une présence militaire dans l’est de la RDC pour combattre les Forces démocratiques alliées, un groupe armé aux origines ougandaises. Cette présence n’a toutefois pas permis d’endiguer les attaques. Dans le même temps, un groupe armé congolais que l’on croyait moribond, le Mouvement du 23 Mars, a refait surface sur fond de tensions entre les pays des Grands Lacs.

Pour amorcer une sortie des cycles de violence dans la région, notre analyste pour la RDC, Onesphore Sematumba, nous explique que le gouvernement congolais devrait à la fois tenter de mettre en place une diplomatie régionale pour apaiser les tensions entre pays des Grands Lacs et se concentrer sur l'adoption de mesures visant à résoudre les causes profondes de la violence dans l’est de la RDC.

ENGLISH: For the past 25 years, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been a lawless zone where a multitude of local and foreign armed groups operate. Those who bear the biggest brunt of the violence in this resource-rich region are the civilians.

Since the end of 2021, Uganda has had a military presence in the eastern DRC, as requested by Kinshasa, to fight the Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group originating from Uganda. However, this intervention has not been able to put an end to the attacks. Meanwhile, a Congolese armed group thought to be no longer active, the March 23 Movement, has resurfaced against a backdrop of tensions between the Great Lakes countries.

Our DRC analyst, Onesphore Sematumba, explains that in order to break out of this cycle of violence, the Congolese government should attempt to implement regional diplomacy to ease tensions between Great Lakes countries, while simultaneously placing greater emphasis on measures to address the root causes of the violence in eastern DRC.


Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.