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Congo (Kinshasa): Back to the Brink

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 19, 2004 (041219)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"In Iraq ...the 2003 aid budget was $3.5 billion or $138 per person. ... In spite of [the Democratic Republic of] Congo's rank as the deadliest recorded conflict since World War II, the world's humanitarian response in 2004 was a total of $188 million in aid or a scant $3.23 per person." - International Rescue Committee

As the year draws to a close, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), along with Sudan, stands as one of the most formidable immediate challenges to the capacity of Africa and the international community to curb violence costing millions of lives. This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains summaries from new briefings from the International Crisis Group and the International Rescue Committee on the imminent threat of escalated conflict in the DRC.

Meanwhile, the head of the African Union monitoring force in Sudan warned that the unresolved conflict there was "a time-bomb." For previous Bulletins and links to current news on Sudan, see

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin today contains a commentary on the recent peaceful and well-run election in Ghana, one of five African countries that held national elections in the last two months with little international notice (the others were Botswana, Namibia, Niger, and Mozambique).


NOTE: Today's two issues of AfricaFocus Bulletin are the last for 2004. My best wishes to readers for the holidays and for our common work and concerns for Africa as we enter the new year. Publication will resume in the second week of January.

AfricaFocus Bulletin will continue to need your support in 2005. To make a voluntary subscription payment, visit

The AfricaFocus website is always available and regularly updated with news feeds from and IRIN. For convenient access to country-specific background links and news feeds, visit

Previous issues of AfricaFocus Bulletin are easily accessible on the site. Topical listings include:

Politics and human rights

Peace and security


Economy and development

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Back to the Brink in the Congo

International Crisis Group

Press Release

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 December 2004: Rwanda's dramatic escalation of the conflict in the eastern Congo (Democratic Republic) risks catastrophe in Central Africa. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan should immediately convene an emergency meeting of all concerned parties to prevent the impending disaster.

Back to the Brink in the Congo, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, shows why Rwanda's recent armed incursion into the Congo is a major threat to regional stability. Two wars devastated the Congo in the past decade, resulting in some 3.8 million deaths, and both began the same way: with Rwandan troops crossing the border into its giant neighbour's unstable east.

"We're now looking into the abyss of a third explosive calamity", says Suliman Baldo, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director. "But the situation can still be saved if the key players come together now to hammer out a joint strategy".

Kigali has consistently complained about the continued presence of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in North and South Kivu provinces of the Congo, and the danger they pose to Rwanda. The UN estimates FDLR forces to be some 8,000 to 10,000 strong; they do not seem to pose a serious military threat to Rwanda, but recent signs the group has been readying attacks have understandably raised tensions.

"Kigali has legitimate concerns about the FDLR in the Congo that need to be addressed, but risking a return to full-scale regional conflict only exacerbates the problem", says Susan Linnee, Crisis Group's Central Africa Project Director. "Rwanda is playing with fire".

The crisis is rooted in both failure to deal with security issues in the Kivus and the faltering political process in Kinshasa meant to produce a legitimate government in June 2005 elections. None of the bilateral and regional security agreements have been implemented. A major unfulfilled bargain is definitive Rwandan withdrawal in exchange for disarming of the FDLR, voluntarily or by the Congo transitional government's yet unreformed, weak army.

The Security Council should immediately direct the peacekeeping mission (MONUC) to secure key border points, then sit all parties down urgently, decide on a specific course of action with a time-line, designate responsible actors, establish UN verification, and apply a mix of muscle and diplomacy to make a comprehensive solution possible. Donors should link their aid to progress on these agreements, and the Council should punish either country -- an arms embargo and targeted measures against high officials -- if it fails to fulfil its obligations.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946 Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601

Back to the Brink in the Congo

Africa Briefing

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 December 2004


Both wars that devastated the Congo (Democratic Republic) in the past decade and led to some 3.8 million deaths[1] began when Rwandan troops crossed the border into that giant country's unstable eastern region, the Kivus. History may be repeating itself in recent weeks as a Rwandan incursion stirs fears of a third catastrophe, but the situation can still be saved. There is uncertainty about what is actually happening on the ground in the isolated and rugged border terrain -- including whether the Rwandans are holding territory -- but the strong government in Kigali appears to have limited aims, and the weak government in Kinshasa is unlikely to confront the invaders seriously. At the least, however, the crisis threatens the Congo's fragile political transition. At worst it could cause the Great Lakes region to go up in flames again. The international community, including the UN, whose peacekeeping mission (MONUC) has stood by ineffectively, needs to sit all parties down for urgent discussions, decide on a course of action and apply a mix of muscle and diplomacy to make a comprehensive solution possible.

Antagonism between the Kivus' ethnic groups has been steadily rising in the last few months. Increased Rwandan interference in the two eastern provinces will add to the resentment of inhabitants of other origins against those of Rwandan origin whom they tend to view as collaborators with a foreign aggressor. In the recent wars, many Congolese of Rwandan origin, and particularly Tutsis, actively cooperated with the Rwandans and their local allies, the RCD-Goma. They fear a repeat of past pogroms against their community by government soldiers sent from Kinshasa to quell local rebellions or repel Rwandan incursions. Fighting in the past few days for control of Kanyabayonga between reinforcements sent by the government and the North Kivu-based segment of the army made up of former Rwanda-backed rebels and the resulting flight of civilians underscore the dangers of ethnic polarisation and inter-communal violence.

The crisis is rooted in both the failure to deal with security issues in the Kivus and the faltering political process in Kinshasa. Neither the 2002 Pretoria Agreement, which envisages a transition culminating in election of a Congo government in June 2005, nor subsequent bilateral and regional security agreements signed by the parties, have been implemented. A key bargain that remains unfulfilled is definitive Rwandan withdrawal in exchange for disarming of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the insurgent force with strong links to the g‚nocidaires of 1994. It is time to end the cycle of impunity: donors should link progress on these agreements directly to their aid and those who undermine the agreements need to be held personally responsible for their actions.

Rwanda's reckless decision to play with fire followed almost immediately the summit pledge of eleven regional leaders, including President Paul Kagame, to "fully support the national peace processes in the region and refrain from any acts, statements or attitudes likely to negatively impact them..."[2] It has multiple motivations. The 8,000 to 10,000 FDLR fighters in the Kivus are too few and disorganised to pose an imminent military or political threat to the country but they are a grave danger for civilians in the Kivus on whom they prey, including those of Rwandan origin. Kigali also wishes to maintain its political and economic influence over the two potentially rich provinces.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan should convene an emergency meeting to develop a coherent strategy that addresses all aspects of the crisis: the continuing presence of armed FDLR, Rwandan security needs, and the endangered Congolese political transition. Congo and Rwanda should participate and voice their concerns and proposals.

On its past record, the international community will have no difficulty speaking strongly to the effect that any sign of continued support for the FDLR by the Congolese government, its continued failure to disarm those rebels, a renewed Rwandan incursion, and even continued dithering on the transition by Congolese politicians is unacceptable. More difficult, but necessary, will be to give teeth to those sentiments.

Should Congo or Rwanda fail to fulfil existing obligations or those assumed in the course of the new process that Crisis Group believes must be launched immediately, the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in response to the threat to international peace and security, should impose penalties on the culpable party, including a targeted suspension of international assistance (with care to minimise effects on the civilian population); an arms embargo; and an assets freeze and travel ban against high officials.

It will perhaps be even more difficult to reach agreement on realistic measures to deal with the FDLR. Insecurity in the Kivus is a fundamental source of tension and instability, crippling the Congolese transition and poisoning relations between Rwanda and the Congo. The FDLR presence there is a major element of the witches' brew. Unfortunately, the voluntary program of disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration (DDR) has failed.[3] Forcible disarmament is called for and has received some verbal support from the African Union (AU) and South Africa. But the Congo's own army (the FARDC) is too weak. MONUC is unwilling and in its present configuration perhaps incapable as well. Creative thinking is needed to devise a workable compromise combining more vigorous FARDC and MONUC steps, while MONUC and others redouble their efforts to establish a functioning national army capable of meeting the Congo's security needs and responsibilities.

Donors should turn the coordination body they have in Kinshasa -- the International Committee in Support of the Transition (CIAT) -- into a much more proactive body to further progress in the politically deadlocked capital, including on the all important reform of the security sector.

Once a plan has been devised, the Security Council should endorse it and request that the Secretary General supervise its implementation through his Special Representative in the Congo and keep the Council closely advised.

If all this can be done, or at least set on its way, within the next few weeks, perhaps another collapse of the Congo and war for its riches can be headed off.[4]

[1] This is the figure in a recent study by the International Rescue Committee, "Mortality Rates in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from a Nationwide Survey, Conducted April-July 2004", December 2004, available at

[2] "Dar-Es-Salaam Declaration on Peace, Security, Democracy, and Development in the Great Lakes Region", First Summit of Heads of State and Government, Dar-Es-Salaam, 19-20 November 2004, Ch. III, Article 17.

[3] "Third Special Report of the Secretary-General on the UN Organisation Mission in the DR Congo", S/2004/650, 16 August 2004. For simplicity, Crisis Group uses the short form abbreviation DDR in this briefing to cover the five concepts rather than DDRRR.

[4] Crisis Group plans to publish an extensive report on the situation in the Kivus early in 2005.

International Rescue Committee

IRC study reveals 31,000 die monthly in Congo conflict and 3.8 million died in past six years. When will the world pay attention?

Amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the International Rescue Committee issued a mortality survey today which finds that more than 3.8 million people have died there since the start of the war in August, 1998 and more than 31,000 civilians continue to die monthly as a result of the conflict.

"DR Congo remains by far the deadliest crisis in the world, but year after year the conflict festers and the international community fails to take effective action," says the IRC's Dr. Richard Brennan, one of the study's authors. "In a matter of six years, the world lost a population equivalent to the entire country of Ireland or the city of Los Angeles. How many innocent Congolese have to perish before the world starts paying attention?"

The latest mortality study, a joint effort by the IRC and Australia's Burnet Institute, is among the most comprehensive ever conducted in a conflict zone, covering 19,500 households. Mortality data was collected for the period between January 2003 and April 2004.

  • Teams of physicians and epidemiologists found that during this time more than 1,000 people died every day in excess of normal mortality, nearly 500,000 excess deaths in all, and almost half of the casualties were among children under five.
  • As documented by three previous IRC surveys in DR Congo, the vast majority (this time 98%) were killed by disease and malnutrition, byproducts of a war that destroyed much of the health care system and economy.
  • Of particular importance is the finding that insecurity has a powerful effect on death from both violent and non-violent causes. In the eastern conflict-prone provinces where insecurity often impedes access to humanitarian aid, death from infectious disease and hunger is highest. If the effects of insecurity and violence in Congo's eastern provinces were removed entirely, mortality would reduce to almost normal levels. Such was the case in Kisangani-Ville, where the arrival of peacekeepers helped quell fighting, allowing the IRC and its partners to rehabilitate basic health care, water and sanitation services. Crude mortality rates subsequently declined by 79 percent and excess mortality was eliminated.

In Iraq, where Sadaam Hussein's years of brutality, the effects of sanctions and three wars have led to far fewer casualties than DR Congo, the 2003 aid budget was $3.5 billion or $138 per person. Precise aid figures for 2004 were unavailable. The desperate situation in Darfur, Sudan, where an estimated 70,000 people have died and some two million have been displaced, has led to more than $530 million in foreign aid for 2004 or $89 for each person. In spite of DR Congo's rank as the deadliest recorded conflict since World War II, the world's humanitarian response in 2004 was a total of $188 million in aid or a scant $3.23 per person.

"The international response to the humanitarian crisis in Congo has been grossly inadequate in proportion to need," says Brennan. "Our findings show that improving and maintaining security and increasing simple, proven and cost-effective interventions such as basic medical care, immunizations and clean water would save hundreds of thousands of lives in Congo. There's no shortage of evidence. It's sustained compassion and political will that's lacking."

The peace accords of 2002 fueled hope that the years of slaughter, displacement, sexual violence and desperation would come to an end. The subsequent deployment of international peacekeeping troops coincided with the withdrawal of foreign forces, leading to increased stability and humanitarian access and a dramatic decline in mortality. A new transitional government was established, tasked with reunifying the country.

In spite of all these advances, DR Congo is now dangerously close to sliding back into full-scale war. Political progress has stalled, the reduction in mortality has plateaued and a series of violent incidents threaten to undermine the peace process and destabilize the region. At this time, Rwanda is threatening to attack Hutu extremists in DR Congo, while numerous reports indicate an incursion has already taken place. This follows an explosion of violence in the eastern city of Bukavu in June and the brutal August massacre of nearly 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees at a camp in Burundi.

Urgent action is needed to restore stability, strengthen the peace process and address the underlying causes of the conflict. The IRC makes the following recommendations:

  • Stop the Violence. The recent scaling up of the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC, falls short of what's required, as the current force remains largely incapable of protecting civilians or Congo's borders. It is crucial that all of the requested 23,000 forces be deployed. However, more of the same will not help. From the start, the troops have been poorly equipped and trained and lacking in commitment or will to carry out their mandate. It is vital that MONUC be given the training, equipment and resources necessary to implement their mandate -- to disarm and apprehend Rwandan Hutu fighters, prevent cross-border incursions and arms flows, protect vulnerable civilians and restore stability to eastern provinces.
  • Promote lasting peace. Donor governments must hold all parties involved in the conflict more accountable, ensuring they abide by and effectively implement the December 2002 Pretoria peace agreement and subsequent accords. Peace in the east must be made a priority. More pressure from the international community must be exercised on foreign governments, forces and militias to cease violent and destabilizing actions in DR Congo. Donor governments must also insist on improved management of Congo's natural wealth and support recommendations outlined by the UN panel on illegal exploitation of natural resources in DR Congo. In addition, key governments must work toward improved coordination and implementation of the critical disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process for foreign and Congolese combatants.
  • Vastly increase humanitarian aid. Save Lives. The current level of international humanitarian assistance for Congo is abysmal and basic needs are not being met. While European donors slightly increased funding in 2004, the US government reduced its support. In general, global donors have fallen far short of the UN's funding appeal for DR Congo. This appeal must be met. As suggested by the IRC's survey, simple inexpensive aid interventions could revive the health system and save hundreds of thousands of lives. The IRC urges donor nations to scale-up aid to meet the region's immense needs. Congolese civil society is vibrant and needs to be empowered. With appropriate support, it will be able to regain self-sufficiency and mitigate further conflicts in the region.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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