Chaotic Congo

By Dearaujo, Ernani | Harvard International Review, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Chaotic Congo


Dearaujo, Ernani, Harvard International Review


Stabilizing the DRC

When it comes to scaring off foreign investors, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) rivals revolutionary Cuba.

The history of the last decade reads as a litany of troubles. The rule of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko saw large negative growth rates due to the destruction of a formal economy after decades of political and military strife. Mobutu was ousted by the late Laurent-Desire Kabila in 1997, but soon after, Kabila ignited a civil war among the DRC, its allies--Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Chad--and the invading Ugandans and Rwandans. Chaos combined with a heavy-handed and corrupt government drove foreign aid and investment away from the DRC.

Although the immediate concern of the DRC is ending the war and driving out the invading armies, the DRC will not be rebuilt without significant reforms to its economic policies. The DRC government must create a business-friendly environment by investing in infrastructure, ending the corrupt issuing of contracts, defending private property, and using the country's wealth of natural resources to benefit its people.

In 1997, then-rebel leader Kabila succeeded in toppling the Mobutu regime with the aid of Rwanda and Uganda. Mobutu had incensed the Rwandans by allowing Hutu rebels to set up camps in what was then called Zaire. The Tutsidominated Rwandan government swept into Zaire to destroy the Hutus that had perpetrated the Rwandan genocide and, in tandem with Uganda, established Kabila as head of the state, which they renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. African leaders hoped that Kabila could bring stability to the DRC, and, with similar hopes, the West supported him despite his background as a former communist revolutionary.

Kabila was a disappointment. Despite the support Kabila received from Rwandan Tutsis and from Uganda, he quickly turned on his allies and attacked them with the help of Rwandan Hutus and his DRC army. Thereafter, Namibia, Angola, and Zimbabwe joined the war in support of Kabila; Sudan, Chad, and even North Korea provided aid, troops, and weaponry. What had started as a coup against Mobutu soon erupted into a fullscale regional conflict that continues today.

Any hope for the DRC, which is relatively well-endowed with natural resources, lies first in ending the military conflict In 1999, the United Nations sponsored a peace conference in Lusaka, Zambia, which yielded a cease-fire and withdrawal agreement. The accord was far-reaching: it called not only for Rwandan and Ugandan troops to withdraw, but also for Hutu gangs and rebels to disarm. Kabila was supposed to engage the opposition in a dialogue aimed at fostering a peaceful future.

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