Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Reconstructing the Congo

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Reconstructing the Congo

Article excerpt

Since 1996, the Congo has been the battleground for wars and wars within wars, involving, at various times, at least nine African countries as direct combatants and many more as military, financial and political supporters of one or the other fighting force. To this one must add a number of internal conflicts. All together, these forces are often involved in complex and shifting military and diplomatic networks. These wars have, in a de facto manner, partitioned the country into several broad spheres of influence which are controlled, to varying degrees, by these networks. (1) And they have also created one of the most devastating humanitarian disasters of our day, resulting in what some have estimated as 3.5 million deaths from war, famine and disease, and an internal displacement rate of nearly 10 percent of the population. (2)

After many failed negotiation attempts, the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement was concluded in July 1999, but did not end the conflicts. It was followed three years later by a series of bilateral agreements between Kinshasa, Uganda and Rwanda that resulted in the withdrawal of nearly all foreign troops. The peace process in the Congo culminated in a power-sharing agreement, reached in Pretoria on December 16, 2002 and brokered by South Africa; this, in turn, led to the establishment of a transitional government in June 2003. The new transitional government is comprised of leaders representing almost every Congolese actor in the wars, many of whom have been each other's enemies for the last seven years. It is based on political accommodation rather than on effective governance. Despite this, the government is mandated with the difficult task of beginning the reconstruction process by temporarily governing the country, drafting a new constitution, preparing for democratic elections and establishing a new, integrated, national army--all within a period of two years.

The future reconstruction needs of a country that has undergone 32 years of President Mobutu's predatory rule in addition to seven years of devastating war are massive. Moreover, violent conflict continues in eastern Congo. But there is a strong commitment on the part of the Congolese to the state and to maintaining its territorial integrity.

This paper examines state-building efforts and the refraining of Congolese nationalism from independence through the three subsequent decades of dictatorship under President Mobutu. This is followed by an analysis of the three Congo wars, which started in 1996 and are, to a certain degree, still going on today. It also looks at more recent evidence of nationhood from public opinion surveys with respect to three variables: commitment to national unity, satisfaction with government or rebel authority services and attitudes towards minority groups. A final section draws some conclusions about the Congolese nation and state and the implications for future post-war reconstruction.

The data show, first, that the identification of the Congolese with the Congo nation and state over the last 40 years has become stronger, despite predatory leaders, years of war and political fragmentation, devastating poverty, ethnic and linguistic diversity and the virtual collapse of state services. It also suggests that while Congolese identity has become stronger, it has also become exclusionary with regard to one particular ethnic group, the Rwandaphone peoples. Although these groups constitute a small minority in the Congo, their exclusion from the Congolese nation is significant for any future state-building efforts--not only because they have been an important group historically and politically, but also because that exclusion is tied to two external actors, Rwanda and Burundi, and their actions in the region.

CONSTRUCTING AN INDEPENDENT CONGO

The geographic frontiers of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have largely remained unchanged since the Association Internationale du Congo, a private company under the leadership and ownership of King Leopold II of the Belgians, established a private colonial, commercial empire in Central Africa in 1875. …

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