POLITICS BEFORE THE SECOND DRC WAR
The DRC civil wars of the 1990s started in Rwanda and spilled over into what was still called Zaire. Rwanda, Africa’s most densely populated country has for centuries been the scene of conflict between Hutu farmers and Tutsi pastoralists. This fight changed the ground rules supported by colonial intervention.
The Tutsis, traditionally better off than the Hutus, dominated political life in the postcolonial period. Endless fights between them cost hundreds of thousands of lives. In the mid-1990s, the Rwandan Genocide produced the largest refugee streams in human history into Zaire and Tanzania. Hutus, who had killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda, started to flee into the neighbouring eastern DRC for fear of being persecuted. They then began attacking the refugee camps along the border, particularly Tutsis, in an attempt to gain greater authority over the area.
Eastern Zaire was also constantly attacked by Tutsi and Tutsi-related groups, trying to exterminate the Hutu rebels. In time, the war became bloodier and the violence spread to more regions. Uganda and Rwanda decided to help and support the Tutsi Banymulenge tribe who lived in eastern Zaire while the new Tutsi-led government in Rwanda gave them arms. Together, Rwanda, Uganda and Tutsis in eastern Zaire succeeded in taking control of the territory of Eastern Zaire and moving westward. Their leader was rebel commander Laurent Desire Kabila from Katanga (named Shaba during Zairian period). Kabila’s contingent moved down the DRC river and encountered the Mobutu force. In the core of Kabila’s troops were Tutsis. Kabila was a long-time political opponent of Mobutu, whose government was accused of destroying its own country, Zaire. Kabila’s forces moved westward and later took control of border towns and mines. Due to the statements of the witnesses who were there, the UN found out about the massacres, which had occurred (estimate: 60,000 civilians were killed). Of course, Kabila’s forces denied those statements. In March 1997, Kabila demanded that the government surrender and in May 1997, Kabila’s forces overran Zaire, swept into the capital and took power.
Kabila did not have time to celebrate his victory because many of the Congolese were worried because of Rwandan presence in the capital. Already strained relations between the DRC and Rwanda worsened - the main reason for this situation was Kabila’s decision to dismiss James Cabarabe, Rwandan chief of staff, and replace him with Celestine Kifwa who was a native Congolese. Kabila realized that this could cause many problems so he decided to put Cabarabe as his military advisor to his successor. Later, Kabila thanked Rwanda for help, but ordered Rwandan and Ugandan forces to leave the DRC. He appreciated their help, but wanted to ward off sentiments among some Congolese that he was a puppet of other nations, like Rwanda. This decision hit Tutsi Banymulenge in eastern Zaire the hardest, whose conflict with the neighbouring Hutu ethnic group was the main reason for starting the First DRC War.
On the one hand, Kabila’s regime was accused of failing to institute reforms: on the other hand, rebel forces that had helped him now saw opportunities to achieve their own territorial aims.
Thus, the Second DRC War started.