II. Eastern DRC: a regime-change incubator
Since the genesis of the modern DRC, the Eastern provinces have been a hotbed of instability for the landlocked, and largest, country of sub-Saharan Africa. After Belgium officially withdrew (while maintaining high stakes in the Katanga region), ethnic tensions arose in North Kivu as a spillover of Rwanda’s Kanyarwanda war between 1963 and 1965. Later, the two Congo wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2002), involving nine African countries, were also directly sparked by tensions in the eastern region. The current Congolese president has arrived to power as the result of an agreement with the direct heir of the regime change of 1996, Joseph Kabila. His father, Laurent Désiré Kabila, lead the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. The movement originated from South Kivu and went down the Congo river, owing its success to support from Rwanda and Uganda. The ADFL’s sweep through the massive Congolese landmass was swift and took only a few months, resulting in the bloodless capture of Kinshasa in the summer of 1997. The disconcerting ease with which Mobutu was overthrown by insurgents originating from the distant Great Lake region has bred an enduring paranoia within Congolese governing circles. Two years later, the Second Congo War, against Kabila, was also sponsored by Rwanda and Uganda. To Kinshasans, Kabila sounded eastern, with his accent and administration employing many Tutsis and Banyamulenge. The President tried to remedy this which . This tension points to a constant throughout modern Congolese history: a crippling lack of national unity. This is the logical result of a modern Congo that was shaped by external actors’ fluctuating foreign policies instead of organic historical evolution into statehood, starting with Leopold II in 1885, then Belgium, and finally the bipolar US-Soviet confrontation. The DRC has relied on outside influence to survive since its post-independence hangover. In the early 1960’s, the UN and the US firmly countered Belgian-sponsored attempts at the secession of Katanga. The Mobutu regime was a kleptocracy kept alive through US support, IMF funding, and French-sponsored mercenaries. Moreover, the DRC encompasses 250 different ethnicities and over 750 dialects. Without the support of external powers, the DRC we know today would have certainly imploded in the 1960s. Territorial sovereignty was guaranteed through international law and not internally developed state capacity.
While international attention to the conflicts fluctuates, the territorial integrity of the DRC is constantly in peril, while the tiny and more homogenous Rwanda has less difficulty keeping itself together, although it is less well-endowed with resources. More so than in the DRC, the ethnic tensions arose because of administrative distinctions enacted by Belgian colonial occupation, which was acknowledged by the Belgian leadership in 1999. Land distribution privileged certain ethnicities over others (such as the Hutus over the Tutsis) in a small agrarian and landlocked country. Notwithstanding, Rwanda is now pictured in western media as the Singapore of sub-Saharan Africa, marked by a successful transition into peace and reconciliation after the 1994 genocide, a steady economy, and a clean and stable capital. Kigali counts among the safest cities in the world, which could not come into starker contrast with Kinshasa’s high levels of human trafficking and top spot on the global organized crime index for Africa. The gap is also palatable through the difference in median age and life expectancy rate between the two countries. The 1999 Lusaka agreement failed to include all the belligerents, and following the 2013 Addis Ababa framework, some former militiamen have been reintegrated into the FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo). Accountability and justice are hence not as structurally integrated in the DRC as in post-genocide Rwanda.
The countries of the Great Lakes share an intricate political history, abundant natural resources, and an ethnic overlap. The result is an enduring habit of interfering in one another’s domestic affairs. Moreover, to export its resources the DRC relies on the sea access of Mombasa (Kenya) or Dar El Salaam (Tanzania), passing through Burundi, Uganda, or Rwanda, all of which use taxes to exploit this Congolese strategic dependence on the east African corridors. On top of this, rebels flee to neighboring hilly regions to run their operations, representing massive sources of political instability for all the countries. These structural elements impede serene cooperation in the EAC.