Why is there no peace and justice in Congo?

The Second Congo War, which began in 1998 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), proved to be the deadliest war ever seen in the African continent, taken part by a number of different African nations, political parties and ethnicities. Its death toll ranged between 3 and 5.4 million people, making it the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II (LeMelle & Stulman, 2009: 4). Yet still today, nine years since the end of the war, the conflict remains largely unresolved and peace is virtually nonexistent in the DRC, despite the peace talks which brought an end to the war in 2003. The explanation for this is very complex, as is it usually tends to be when talking about prolonged conflict.

However, I contend that sustainable peace and justice were severely compromised in order to come to quick-fix solutions to the conflict all those years ago. A lack of any resolution to the conflict, as well as the compromises made to suit all warring parties and lack of any form of justice enforcement, proved disastrous in the pursuit of sustainable peace. Whilst I do acknowledge that attempts at peace-building were made on regional and national levels, local conflicts were not given due consideration and the country’s high concentrations of structural violence remained largely unaddressed. Additionally, I argue that the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC, the world’s largest ever, has not helped bring country peace and justice.

Background: The Second Congo War

Before I look at the contemporary situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I will provide a contextual background. Since the DRC achieved independence in 1960 from Belgian colonisers (who, incidentally, fuelled ethnic rivalries whilst in control of Congo), it has undergone several name changes and been torn apart by intrastate conflicts on at least five occasions (Rogier, 2004: 3; UPPSALA, 2012).

Two major wars have been fought in the DRC since 1996. The first saw the ousting of Mobutu, the country’s patrimonial dictator, after over three decades in power (Rogier, op cit). The second, beginning in 1998, is the one in question. It began when the succeeding leader, Laurent Kabila, fell out with his backers and both Rwanda and Uganda inspired a rebellion to overthrow him (Baylis: 2011, 241). This began an all-out war between rebel forces – the RCD (Congolese Rally for Democracy), MLC (Congolese Liberation Movement) and RCD-ML (RCD- RCD-Liberation Movement – backed by Rwanda and Uganda, and the Kabila government, with the military support of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Sudan.

Despite attempts at ceasefires and peace talks starting with the Lusaka accord in 1999, an end to the war did not occur until after Kabila was assassinated and replaced by son, Joseph; by 2003, he had persuaded foreign countries to withdraw troops and all warring parties to sign a “Global and All-Inclusive Agreement” to end war and form a coalition transitional government, thanks to the “Inter-Congolese Dialogue” (ibid).

Transition period detrimental to the peace process

The first drawback to the establishment of sustainable peace and justice in the DRC was the failures it experienced in its transition from war to democracy in 2006. The conclusion to the Second Congo War was largely a stalemate, and instead of resolving the situation, the agreements settled upon by the warring parties reflected their willingness to maintain the status-quo, rather than move forward (Weiss, 2000: 24). Instead of working towards a framework for peace, the consequent transitional government produced more in-fighting, as former enemies in the war, who all recognised that victory wasn’t likely for anyone, sought to consolidate power in the new government, rather than continue fighting (ibid; Autesserre, 2007: 428).

The struggle in the transitional government caused a blockage of the decision-making process, effectively stalling the transition process. Moreover, the resulting political trade-off between former enemies also caused an “institutional gridlock” by creating a “large bureaucracy for a country just emerging from conflict”, with 6 ministers of state, 34 ministers and 20 deputy ministers (Mwaniki, 2099: 3). This – along with the fact that Kabila’s coalition needed to hold together its own 30 constituent parties, thus risking “internal splits over representation in the cabinet and on policy matters” – made dealing with the country’s vast amount of problems, inherited from the Mobutu and colonial eras, extremely difficult (ibid). The transitional process was thus hampered by the very nature of the transitional government, in that it was too large and full of former enemies, still hostile towards one another.

Additionally, the transitional government was rife with impunity and neglect of justice, making peace difficult to achieve. With no one proclaimed as the “winner” or “loser” of the war, and therefore no group being, in a political sense, an outright “victim” or “perpetrator” of wrongdoings, it was hard to bring people to justice. Worse still, both sides – government and rebel forces – conducted war crimes during the war and continued to do so afterwards (ibid: 5). Thus, it would prove extremely undesirable for anyone in power to want to agree to administering justice, as it could implicate him or her as well. Even though a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was meant to be established as promised by the agreements at the end of war, funds were never allocated towards it (although that could also be due to the transitional government’s poor economic circumstances), and as a transitional institution, its “mandate expired with the installation of the newly elected government in 2006” (Carayannis, 2009: 12).

As such, it was hard to give civilian victims of conflict, especially in war-torn regions in the east such as the Kivus, what Hamber (2009: 135) describes as the need to be shown “how seriously [their] society and those that wronged them take their plight, and whether they and others will be protected in the future and are valued citizens”, a necessary feature of transitional justice. Furthermore, the neglect of justice “has contributed to the ongoing cycles of violence by allowing actors with shady records, inside and outside Congo, to operate with impunity” (Carayannis, op cit). Therefore, even though the transitional government’s very structure slowed down transitional peace-building processes, its failure to deal with injustice also led to a breakdown of peace in the DRC.

Failure to address structural violence made problems worse

Another factor contributing to a lack of peace in the DRC was the failure to address structural violence in the country. Here I use Barash and Weber’s (2009: 8-9) definition of structural violence as a subtle form of conflict “built into the very structure of social, cultural and economic institutions” which has “the effect of denying people important rights”. While efforts were made to reach peace on regional and national levels (as agreements were signed between the warring nations and parties), too little was done to provide peace on the local level. In effect, this has meant that ever since the war ended, a negative peace – whereby there is an absence of war, but structural violence and internal conflicts remain (ibid: 7) – has existed.

An illustration of this lies in the country’s resource-rich eastern regions, where conflict is prevalent, despite the absence of war. Since 2003, the area has lacked any legitimate state authority. Consequently, access to land there has always been contested, revenues from resources have remained in the hands of a few, and armed groups, from inside and outside the DRC, have been allowed to act with impunity, creating great levels of insecurity in the region (Carayannis, op cit: 5).

Government in-fighting and corruption also led to an inability to deal with structural violence. When troops of all former warring parties were made to join together into the national army, antagonisms between Kabila and the rebels caused many to reject the integration process into the army, resulting in bouts of violence. High-level corruption made things worse still, as government officials embezzled funds earmarked for army integration processes, also causing inadequate funds for soldier remuneration (Autesserre, op cit: 428).

Local populations suffered, as “each armed group used violence to deter villagers from supporting some other faction” and soldiers sought their payment through preying on civilians  (ibid: 429; Mwaniki, op cit: 5). Systematic rape of women was, and still today is, the most horrendous of the methods used to instil psychological and social torment on local communities and terrify them into forced-compliance (LeMelle & Stulman, op cit: 5). With studies in 2011 showing that, on average, 48 women were being raped every hour in the country, and approximately 12% of the female population had been raped at least once in their lives, commentators have describe the country as the worst place on Earth to be a woman (Adetunji, 2011; Viner, 2011).

Another issue not dealt with properly by the authorities was ethnic discrimination, and in some cases they intensified it. The DRC is a country disposed to ethnic division, consisting of around 250 ethnic groups and 242 languages and having a history of leaders fuelling ethnic rivalries (Baylis, op cit; Rogier, op cit). Ethnic tensions erupted in the east after the war, which were exploited by army commanders (especially belonging to rebel groups such as the Mai Mai) looking to promote their agendas through terrorism (Autesserre, op cit: 429).

Immediately after the war, the political struggle caused by the compromise drew leaders from all sides of the political spectrum to use the Rwandophone community (the ethnically Rwandan Congolese) as a scapegoat for their problems; “Rwandaphone-bashing was an easy way to show one’s patriotism and to appeal to the majority of the Congolese population” (ibid: 428). This led to a vicious cycle of existing ethnic tensions encouraging politicians to stir ethnic hatred further for political gain. More problematic, the discrimination of Rwandophone Congolese allowed the Rwandan government a motive to continue exerting a force in the east of the country, where it always had economic interests, further consolidating insecurity in the region. Thus, one of the obstacles to building sustainable peace in the DRC remains the rectification of structural violence, through the stabilisation of the eastern regions, an end to high-level corruption and impunity, and the erasure of ethnic and gender discrimination.

The letdown of MONUC

The United Nations has been an important actor trying to bring peace to the DRC. Its “United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” (referred to as MONUSCO, previously MONUC) is the second largest peacekeeping force, in terms of personnel, as of 2010, but is equally one of its most highly criticised (Blatant Independent Media!, 2011; Tull, 2009: 215). Tull (ibid: 226-227) argues that the Mission has had three major flaws: that it failed to adapt its behaviour to its evolving mandate; that its principal strategy of focusing on implementing peace agreements in Kinshasa failed to recognise the growing need to focus efforts in the conflict-ridden east; and that there are “fundamental conceptual and operational problems” relating “to the use of force in robust peacekeeping operations”.

The first and third points relate to the fact that the Mission, which began with the creation of MONUC in 1999 after the signing of the Lusaka accord, underwent several mandate changes, moving from classical peacekeeping to multidimensional and robust peacekeeping (reflecting concurrent changes in both the DRC’s political situation and UN peacekeeping doctrine). MONUSCO’s failure to come to terms with the transformation from the authorisation of using force only in self-defence (in order to monitor the implementation of ceasefire agreements) to doing so to protect civilians and deter violence (even in hostile environments) has been a major weakness not only on its behalf, but also on the behalves of the UN officials who ordered the several ambiguous mandate changes in the first place (ibid).

There are underlying fundamental problems hindering their jobs, however. In order to oversee ceasefire agreements and democratic elections as part of their mandate, UN peacekeepers must assist and help prop up the corrupt, dysfunctional and generally unpopular government which is uninterested in co-operating with them and is essentially one of the roots to the conflict which they are trying to combat (Williams, 2009: 11-12). Furthermore, Williams (ibid) argues the peacekeeping corps has needed to face the country’s vast territory, with undeveloped terrain and lack of infrastructure, the chaotic array of insurgents and rebel movements, the awkward diplomatic situation existing between the DRC and neighbouring countries and lack of equipment sufficient for transportation and intelligence gathering capabilities. Thus, at the end of the day, the situation in the DRC is far too complicated for a peacekeeping force to achieve much success at all, but it is not being helped by its own efforts, nor those of its officials back at the UN.


Thus, the situation in the DRC is a pertinent illustration of the problems that are faced when trying to bring peace and justice to collapsed or conflict-ridden states. Whilst I have pointed out that one of the flaws in the peace-building process in the DRC was that the warring parties failed to come to a resolution after the two major wars, creating further conflict and instability ever since, there seemed to be no better solution. The “quick-fix” answer for foreign armies to pull troops out and the warring parties to form a coalition transitional government was largely commended by commentators as a diplomatic victory to end full-scale war. However, in hindsight, we see that the coalition government was burdened with internal conflicts, disabling it from dealing effectively with the country’s vast array of problems, including its high levels of structural violence – which still today remain insufficiently dealt with.

Despite this, the continued occurrence of impunity and corruption – inside and outside the country – largely stymied peace-building efforts; while I showed that it would have been difficult and undesirable for high-level officials to seek justice, the lack of doing so helped advance conflict, especially in the eastern regions. Moreover, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, has largely been ineffective in bringing peace to the nation, not just because of its own failings, but also because of the ambiguous nature of the UN’s ever-changing peacekeeping policy and the complexity of the situation it confronts in the DRC. Therefore, I am saddened to say that there is very little peace or justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo and it seems extremely difficult to help provide them in the complex Congolese situation.




Adetunji, J 2011, Forty-eight women raped every hour in Congo, study finds, Guardian News and Media Limited, viewed on 12 April 2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/12/48-women-raped-hour-congo&gt;

Autesserre, S 2007, D. R. Congo: Explaining Peace Building Failures, 2003-2006, Review of African Political Economy, vol. 34, no. 113, pp. 423-441 (p. 428 & 429)

Baylis, J 2011, “International and global security” in Baylis, J. Smith, S. & Owens, P. (Eds.), The Globalization Of World Politics, New York: Oxford University Press. (pp. 230-245), p. 241

Blatant Independent Media! 2011, The Largest Current United Nations Peacekeeping Forces In The World, viewed on 12 April 2012, <http://www.blatantworld.com/feature/the_world/largest_current_united_nations_peacekeeping_forces.html&gt;

Carayannis, T 2009, The challenge of building sustainable peace in the DRC, Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Geneva, Switzerland, p. 12

Hamber, B 2009, Transforming Societies after Political Violence, Springer Science + Business Media, p. 135

LeMelle, G & Stulman, M 2009. Africa Policy Outlook 2009: The Obama administration must overhaul U.S. policy toward Africa, Africa Action and Foreign Policy In Focus, p. 4 & 5

Mwaniki, D 2009, Supporting the Peace in the DRC, Global Crisis Solutions, p 3 & 5

Rogier, E 2004, “The Labyrinthine Path to Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, in ISS African Security Analysis Programme, The Peace Process In The DRC: A Reader, International Security Society (pp. 3-25) p. 3

Tull, D 2009, “Peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Waging Peace and Fighting War”, International Peacekeeping, vol. 16, no. 2, April 2009, pp. 215-230 (p. 215, 226 & 227)

UPPSALA, 2012, Database – Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP): DR Congo (Zaire), viewed on 13 March 2012, <http://www.ucdp.uu.se/gpdatabase/gpcountry.php?id=38&regionSelect=2-Southern_Africa&gt;

Viner, K 2011, City of Joy: New hope for Congo’s brutalised women, Guardian News and Media Limited, viewed on 12 April 2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/09/city-of-joy-congo-women-rape&gt;

Williams, P 2009, “Lessons Unlearned: Despite Being the Largest U.N. Mission, MONUC Has Little Success to Show for It”, Journal of International Peace Operations, vol. 4, no. 4, January-February 2009, pp 11-14 (p. 11 & 12)

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