(by Gus Constantine, WashingtonTimes.com) - To his followers, Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda is known affectionately as “Mon General.” He calls himself a born-again Christian and claims he is fighting a war to liberate Congo from corruption.
Yet prominent rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch say his troops loot from, rape and execute civilians.
Lately, reports of troops from neighboring Rwanda and Angola in
Nkunda’s stronghold in eastern Congo — on opposite sides of his
11-week offensive against government troops — have raised the specter
of a renewal of Africa’s first world war.
“If the reports of an armed intervention by Angola are confirmed, it
would certainly change the situation in eastern Congo,” said Herman
Cohen, a national security official and assistant secretary of state
for Africa in the Reagan and Clinton administrations.
Angola lies more than 1,000 miles away from the battle grounds in
eastern Congo, where Nkunda’s forces have forced 250,000 civilians to
flee to the regional capital of Goma for protection.
From 1997 until a shaky peace deal in 2003, Angola, Zimbabwe, Chad
and Namibia helped Congolese forces prevent the ouster of the
government of Congolese President Laurent Kabila by the combined forces
of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. An estimated 3 million people died.
The Rwandans had earlier installed Mr. Kabila, a man from
southeastern Congo, in power, bringing an end to dictator Mobutu Sese
Seko’s three decades of rule.
The Rwandans later turned against Mr. Kabila who was assassinated in 2001.
Now the threat of renewed fighting, with a flood of photos depicting
civilian refugees on dirt roads, have rallied the United States, United
Nations, the African Union and individual European countries to call
for a negotiated settlement.
This week, Africa experts Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic
and International Studies and John Prendergast of the International
Crisis Group appealed for an intensified effort to craft a peace deal.
But in an interview on National Public Radio, they were unable to confirm that foreign forces had joined the fighting.
A decade earlier, Angola’s first intervention was based on concern
that a Rwanda-controlled government in Kinshasa would ally itself with
Jonas Savimbi, then leader of the Angolan rebel group known as UNITA,
or the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.
Savimbi was killed by government troops in 2002. But it appears that
Angola still regards Tutsi-led Rwanda as a hostile country, with Nkunda
the latest Rwandan ally to appear in eastern Congo.
Rwanda denies that it is offering Nkunda material help but justifies
moral support on grounds that he is opposing Rwandan exiles who fled
Rwanda after committing genocide against the Tutsi and their Hutu
Nkunda, shown posing in news photos like a rock star, at times has
defined his ambitions narrowly, as a fight to protect Congolese Tutsi
against their enemies Rwandan Hutu exiles.
Other fighters in eastern Congo include indigenous Congolese
militias such as the Mai Mai, who see themselves as defending their
turf against Rwandan Tutsi incursions.
At other times, Nkunda has outlined far more ambitious plans than
protection of fellow Tutsis. In a recent interview with the British
Broadcasting Corp., he said his ultimate aim is to overthrow the
Congolese government in Kinshasa, now headed by Mr. Kabila’s son,
President Joseph Kabila.
The one thing that Nkunda and many rebel leaders have in common is
their allegiance to the Tutsi-led Rwandan government in Kigali. Tutsis
from exile in Uganda replaced the Hutu government that ruled Rwanda
during the 1994 genocide.
In 1997, a Rwandan general flew a force across the vast Congo to the gates of Kinshasa, only to be repelled by the Angolans.
In 1998, the Rally for Congolese Democracy, of which Nkunda was a member, opposed the Kinshasa government.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has developed huge stakes in the rich mineral resources of eastern Congo.
Though Rwanda said its aim is the defeat Hutus who fled to Congo after the Rwandan genocide, other evidence belies this claim.
Beginning in 1996, when it helped install Laurent Kabila as
president, the relatively small Rwandan nation has integrated its
economy with Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. That region sits
astride Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s Great Lakes, and is one of the
richest regions in the world in natural resources. It has an abundance
of oil, copper and cobalt.
Previously, Rwanda’s main moneymaking export was coffee.
Goma, the principal town of North Kivu province is within reach of
Nkunda’s forces. Their march toward that town in the past 11 weeks has
sent hundreds of thousands of refugees, as well as government troops,
Other reports say that government troops are on the march north of
Goma to confront the rebels, who had declared a unilateral cease-fire.
South Kivu, with its capital city of Bukavu, has not been part of
Nkunda’s offensive, because it lies adjacent to Burundi, Central
Africa’s other Tutsi-dominated state.
Congo’s tortured modern history began almost immediately after
independence in 1960. Its first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, an
iconic figure, was assassinated after resisting Belgium’s efforts to
retain post-colonial control. He flirted with the idea of appealing to
the Soviet Union as a counterweight.
The country was then run to the ground in the Mobutu years, only to
come into conflict with Rwanda’s economic and political ambitions in
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NOTE TO STUDENTS: Don’t get discouraged! There is a lot of confusing information here. Just do your best to answer the questions. Any information you learn about the situation in the DRC will probably be more than most adults know.
1. a) List the countries that border the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
(answer can be found at the link to the CIA World Factbook or worldatlas.com in “Resources” below)
b) Name the president of the DRC.
c) Name the capital of the DRC.
2. List all of the facts you learn about Laurent Nkunda from this article.
3. a) List the countries defending President Kabila’s government in the DRC between 1997 to 2003.
b) List the countries that fought with Congolese rebels to overthrow President Kabila’s government during that time.
4. What is surprising about Rwanda’s opposition to Congolese President Kabila?
5. Why are the United States, United Nations, the African Union and individual European countries calling for a negotiated settlement between the groups in the DRC?
6. How has the Rwandan government reacted to the accusation that it is offering rebel Laurent Nkunda material help?
7. Is Laurent Nkunda’s group the only one fighting against the DRC government?
8. Compare the Rwandan government’s explanation for backing the rebels in the DNC with the real reason it is probably doing so.
The history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can be confusing, but read over the following a few times and it will make more sense to you:
(from the U.S. State Department website):
Visit the U.N.’s MONUC website for current information on DRC.
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Africa. (Click on DRC for a more detailed map.)
Read a previous article on the Democratic Republic of the Congo at studentnewsdaily.com.