Congo Tensions: The SADC's Shortcomings

By Fahey, Ryan | Harvard International Review, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Congo Tensions: The SADC's Shortcomings


Fahey, Ryan, Harvard International Review


As 1998 opened, sub-Saharan Africa was poised to enter a new age. Not only had the blood-shed of one of Africa's worst tribal wars finally ceased in Rwanda, but the regime of the continent's most infamous dictator of the decade--a symbol of the corruption that marked post-colonial Africa--had finally been toppled.

The overthrow of Zaire strongman Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997 seemingly set the tone for the continued growth of African democracy. Given the increased role of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)--a coalition of 14 countries designed to foster increased economic and governmental stability through the use of collective peacekeeping forces--and the recent relative stability of the region, discussion of an African revitalization was beginning to sound less fanciful. The international community welcomed this news as excitedly as the Africans themselves. The future looked promising.

Yet now war has emerged in Central Africa once again. Since August 2, 1998, the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, has been embroiled in yet another insurrection that threatens to plunge the region into chaos. In an effort to contain the violence, the SADC undertook the responsibility of bringing peace to the beleaguered country. However, its efforts only exacerbated an already delicate situation. Rather than prove that a united Africa can care for its own, the SADC has shown that the region is still rife with ethnic prejudice and corruption.

Central to the renewed turmoil in the Congo is the contentious state of affairs between President Laurent Kabila and his former military allies. Kabila rose to power with the backing of Rwandan and Ugandan Tutsis devastated by tribal warfare in their own countries. Zaire's dictator Sese Seko had allowed members of the Hutu tribe, who were responsible for the butchering of over 200,000 Tutsis in the early 1990s, to hide in Zairean refugee camps during the Rwandan conflict. This enabled the Hutus to launch deadly guerrilla campaigns on unsuspecting civilian targets throughout the war. The Tutsis assumed that in repayment for his debt Kabila would eliminate the Hutu guerrillas upon taking rule. But his efforts were weak; both Rwanda and Uganda still face palpable threats from the Hutus situated across the Congolese border. For this reason, Rwanda and Uganda joined with fragments of the former Zairian army to try and oust Kabila--the very man they had installed in power only two years ago. The combined forces of Rwandan and Ugandan Tutsis now occupy a sizable portion of eastern Congo.

Although the South African Development Community has been trying to negotiate a peaceful end to this conflict since the start of the war, its methods that it uses demonstrate the inadequacy of the efforts. Since the Congo is a member of the South African Development Cartridge, the organization diplomatically backed Kabila's government at the onset of the war. Several member nations went one step further. Despite heated objections from South African President Nelson Mandela, a key leader in the group, Angola and Zimbabwe sent troops into the country who purported to be SADC security forces. …

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