Democratic Rebublic of Congo Country profile
East Congo has been embroiled in conflict since the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, resulting in a staggering 4 to 5 million deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. In spite of peace efforts and the presence of United Nations troops, the situation remains volatile and the political transition in the country fragile. The situation in the East is also highly influenced by events in Kinshasa and the rest of the country. Congo is suffering by a weak and divided government in Kinshasa, a divided ineffective army that is itself a perpetrator of atrocities, and repeated exactions by several rebel armed groups who have intensified local ethnic and other conflicts.
The Second Congo War, beginning in 1998, devastated the country, involved seven foreign armies and is sometimes referred to as the “African World War”. Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, fighting continues in the east of the country. In eastern Congo, the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world. The war is the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 4 – 5 million people. Albeit citizens of the DRC are among the poorest in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered to be the richest country in the world in regards to natural resources that are basically situated in the East.
Some political normalization, characterized by the installation of institutions resulting from the former elections, has taken place in the last few years. Major agreements have improved the security situation somewhat; mainly through a rapprochement between the Rwandan and the DRC government that allows a coordination of strategies against rebels. However, the situation in eastern Congo remains highly fragile and unstable and how could it not, in a country with an army, a police force and judiciary that is not properly paid, and can therefore not be properly motivated to protect its own citizenry, and feeds on them instead.
Congo and its citizens have never really had the experience of an empowered people in charge of their own affairs. In terms of their identity as a nation, they can only look back on a history of domination and exploitation by a long row of foreign powers: Leopold II – the Belgian entrepreneur king who actually created the country as his property at the end of the 19th century, Belgium – the colonialist power who governed it for nearly four decades, Mobutu – its corrupt and ruinous leader throughout most of its independent existence, foreign multinational companies – who still today exploit its resources, or Rwanda – the tiny neighbour who influenced the affairs of the DRC since the aftermath of the genocide in 1994.
Since there never was a Congolese state free of the dominance of others, Congolese citizens have, unlike many other nations, no past to refer to as a model of proud, self-determined nationhood. There was always someone else to blame for the country’s –and its citizen’s, misfortunes.
Such a history of dominance by outside exploiters may have helped engender a striking cultural tendency of denying individual responsibility for people’s acts and misfortunes. This tendency is prevalent everywhere: in politics where the influence of foreign powers is a constant theme, or in social relations where child witches are blamed for causing problems. In Congo hate speech and scapegoating thrive – the art of redirecting the frustrations of the people by blaming inactivity and misfortunes on evil outside forces beyond one’s control. It helps politicians avoid engaging in real fundamental efforts at state reform, and frustrates individual efforts to force the country’s leaders to be consistent in carrying out the reforms they may promise.
Hate speech and physical violence are intrinsically linked. In the preparation of the country’s first free elections in 2006 hate speech among different candidates who often owned their own broadcasting station caused serious violence in the DRC, resulting in hundreds of deaths in armed confrontations, mostly in Kinshasa.
In 2010 the security situation has somewhat improved through the agreements with Rwanda and the joint army operations that followed, but since the failed state still is not repaired, the field is still wide open for power grabs by individuals promising to better the situation only to gain a position in which to enrich themselves and their families. Shifting alliances of opposition politicians in the capital have in the past , and may again in the future see political gain in supporting rebels in the Kivus to create circumstances that may weaken the present government and justify a grab for power; or in reverse, the authorities in power may be provoked to disproportionally hard-handed suppression of dissent.