Forced Migration Policy Briefing 8: Stabilising the Congo
- The Congo context: the causes of persistent conflict
The DRC has a long and tragic history of plunder, predation and pillaging, first under Belgian colonial rule and then under President Mobutu. The country’s recent history is one of intractable armed conflict, poor governance, pervasive poverty, and massive humanitarian suffering, including widespread human rights violations and large-scale population displacement. Over the last 15 years, including the First and Second Congo Wars (1996–1997 and 1998–2003, respectively), conflict in the Congo has killed some 5 million people (IRC 2008). The majority of these deaths are attributable to disease and malnutrition, and are often linked to displacement. At the height of the crisis in early 2003, there were over 400,000 Congolese refugees in neighbouring states (UNHCR 2003) and three million internally displaced people (UNOCHA 2003).
While the trappings of a sovereign state became visible following the formal cessation of hostilities in July 2003 and the subsequent elections in 2006, Congolese political space continued, and still continues, to be defined by those who bear arms and money, and violence plagues much of the country’s eastern region. Rather than a ‘simple binary conflict neatly arrayed along a single issue dimension’, persistent violence in the DRC is the result of ‘welters of complex struggles’ that have local, national and regional dimensions, giving rise to conflicts within conflicts (Harding 1984 cited in Kalyvas 2003: 479). In many places within the country, acute vulnerability or ‘pockets of crisis’ coincide with a more pervasive chronic vulnerability symptomatic of under-development (Darcy and Foliot 2009).