The Democratic Republic of the Congo occupies an area of vast natural riches. Fertile land and an abundant water supply make the area prime for agriculture and timber. Underground lies a wealth of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and oil.
But those riches have helped fuel a conflict so devastating that many have dubbed it "Africa's first World War." Analysts estimate that some 100,000 soldiers and civilians have perished in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced since fighting began in August 1998. In 1965, the U.S. backed an insurgency by a staunch anti-communist, Congolese army Col. Joseph Désiré Mobutu. After seizing power, Mobutu quickly consolidated power and began a campaign of "Africanizing" the Congo. In 1971, he changed the name of the country to Zaire.
Under a program of "Zairianization," Mobutu changed the names of many places and people, renaming himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He also nationalized mines controlled by foreign companies. The current conflict in Congo is rooted in a bloody war in neighboring Rwanda in the early 1990s. In Rwanda, strife between two ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi, came to a boiling point in 1990 when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led an insurgency against the Rwandan Hutu government. In late 1996, the Tutsi-led Rwandan government, along with its ally, Uganda, attempted to end attacks from the Hutu in Zaire by overthrowing the government of Mobutu. They wanted to install a friendlier government, and supported a then-obscure anti-Mobutu rebel, Kabila. After seven months of fighting, Kabila and his supporters overthrew Mobutu in May 1997. Kabila renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo and promised free elections. However, after gaining power, Kabila quickly gained a reputation as a repressive dictator. Although Kabila was happy to use Rwandan support to gain power, says Salih Booker, director of the Africa Studies Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, "he lacked a plan, a movement, and grew tired of some of his allies and their more focused agenda." Kabila did little to stop attacks by the interahamwe on Rwanda. The war in Congo has simmered inconclusively since August 1998.
In addition, Tanzania and Zambia have been affected by the fighting because they have received thousands of refugees.
All told, experts say, the conflict in Congo had claimed tens of thousands of lives and had displaced nearly one million people and deprived two million of food. The conflict has contributed to the spread of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which has ravaged the continent. Soldiers from all over Africa have come to Congo--and returned with the HIV virus to spread infection at home. According to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, civilians are frequently killed by soldiers for food or money. In Rwanda, it was clear that the Hutu were systematically massacring the Tutsi. In Congo, by contrast, many factions are at war--and none seem entirely blameless. Correspondent Mike Thomson reports on popular fears surrounding the new military operation. (2010) "There hasn't been an 'official' war in the Democratic Republic of Congo for seven years. But, for most of last year, government forces have been going all-out to rid the east of the country of one of its most notorious rebel Hutu militias." "But the military operation to defeat them has caused more than nearly a million people to flee their homes and led to a record rise in reported rapes, some carried out by Congolese government soldiers themselves." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8527000/8527726.stm) Since ICOF last covered the Congo conflict on August 8, 2003, sporadic violence continued to occur and troops from neighboring Rwanda entered the eastern part of the country.
The National Assembly was installed in September 2006 and KABILA was inaugurated president in December 2006. Provincial assemblies were constituted in early 2007, and elected governors and national senators in January 2007. current situation: Democratic Republic of the Congo is a source and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation; much of this trafficking occurs within the country's unstable eastern provinces and is perpetrated by armed groups outside government control.
Bobb, F. Scott. Historical Dictionary of Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999.
"Congo Conflict." Issues & Controversies On File: n. pag. Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 1 June 2007. Web. 18 Aug. 2010