by Jessie Smith
The crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo between President Laurent Kabila's government and the rebel coalition is proving to have major implications on surrounding states in the area. Because of DR Congo's central position in Africa, the events unfolding there impact the nine countries it borders, in addition to various other African countries that have strategic ties to Congo. The involvement of so many countries and their leaders and the long history of conflict in the region have contributed to the complexity of the situation and have made resolution a very difficult task.
On August 2, four attacks were launched on Kabila's government in DR Congo by rebel forces. The rebel coalition, Congolese Assembly for Democracy, led by Ernest Wamba dia Wamba are fighting to oust Kabila, charging him and his government with corruption. In May of 1997 Kabila seized power from Mobutu Sese Seko, the unpopular authoritarian leader of Zaire and changed the name of the country back to Congo. The general public was glad to see Mobutu and his regime go, but Kabila has offered no improvement to the extremely poor conditions in Congo. Kabila had the help of the Rwandan government in securing power from Mobutu, consequently threatening and alienating the Congolese people. Congolese animosity towards Rwandans stems from the ethnic conflict among Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Zaire and the genocide that ensued in 1994. Contributing to the public's anxiety, Kabila then awarded Rwandans with positions of high authority in his governmental regime. To increase his popularity with the Congolese public, Kabila decided to rid himself of the Rwandan forces that helped him to take power because he knew his alliance with them would prevent him from ever gaining favor with the people. In retaliation to Kabila's decision to remove them from power, Rwanda and Uganda chose to support the rebel coalition moving against Kabila. Since their invasion on August 2, the rebels, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, have continued to move west across the country, with plans to ultimately take Kinshasa, the capital.
Kabila is not alone, however, in his fight against the rebels. Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia have offered support of the Congolese regime and have militarily intervened in the conflict. Namibia's intervention is more symbolic than anything else as they have deployed a limited number of troops. Zimbabwe's intervention has been significant however, because of Kabila's tie to Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president. Mugabe helped to delegitimize Mobutu when Kabila launched his campaign against Mobutu and his oppressive regime. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is another source of support for Kabila. Though somewhat divided in their positions, the member countries have offered unanimous support. South Africa, part of SADC, previously did not favor outside military involvement in the Congo crisis but has changed its position to favor a peaceful negotiated settlement.
It is clear that a major problem exists in the Congo and elements of the crisis have fanned out to engulf other countries in the region, threatening the general stability of the area. So far, the resolutions proposed have been unsuccessful in resolving the crisis. The problem may lie in where these solutions have been coming from. It may be time to turn away from those instigating the conflict and look instead to those whose everyday lives are defined by the conflict. The popular voices in Congo need to be heard so that a reasonable and effective solution can be decided on and executed. Many questions exist as to the fate of the troubled nation of the Congo: who should be supported as a legitimate leader?; how can the Congo escape a history of corrupt military dictators?; how can this unstable government move toward an effective democracy? The answers to these questions can and need to be answered by the Congolese people themselves. An intelligent contingent does exist in the Democratic Republic of Congo who can answer these questions plaguing the region.Who Knows the Fate of the Congo?
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