For years this war has been mixed up in the cauldron of African conflicts, causing outsiders to become both desensitised and indifferent to its true horror.
It’s the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where over 5 million people have died – making it officially the deadliest conflict since World War 2.
In fact, it’s known as ‘Africa’s World War’, which now features the largest ever peacekeeping force in UN history with 20,000 troops.
But as people there continue to be brutally murdered and raped, the peacekeepers admit they can’t live up to their name. The conflict is simply too widespread in a country of 66 million that’s larger than Western Europe.
The First Congo War
For over 30 years since 1965, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire) was ruled by a western-backed general called Mobutu Sese Seko. He was a typical African dictator who served the interests of Western mining companies over his own people.
However, things began to unravel in 1994 in the country’s east.
In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, 2 million Hutu refugees fled across the border to neighbouring Congo fearing retaliation from the Tutsis, the victims of the genocide.
Among the Hutu refugees were members of the interhamwe militia groups who took part in the genocide.
Fearing an internal uprising, President Mobutu decided to support the Hutus against attacks from both Rwandan and Congolese Tutsis.
He even ordered Congolese Tutsis to move to Rwanda and began confiscating their property.
Enter Laurent Kabila. As a long-time opponent, he became the leader of an anti-Mobutu rebel group.
He decided to take advantage of both Mobutu’s weakening grip on power, and calls across the world for a more democratic Africa.
With support from the surrounding governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Angola, Kabila’s forces fought for two years westwards across the country to overthrow Mobutu’s government in 1997.
Africa’s Great War – the Second Congo War
But rather than deliver any democratic milestones, the new President Kabila quickly became as corrupt and authoritarian as his predecessor Mobutu.
He turned against his former supporters in Rwanda and Uganda whose troops refused to give up control of Eastern Congo’s mineral resources.
In 1998 Kabila dismissed all ethnic Tutsis from the government and ordered all Rwandan and Ugandan officials from the country.
Angered by this, the two countries then turned against their former ally and sent troops to try and overthrow Kabila.
This is when the second war began – the new Congo government versus their old pals of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congolese Tutsis.
Fighting broke out in August 1998. It quickly became another battle of Tutsis versus Hutus as President Kabila enlisted the help of his former Hutu rivals.
Rwandan and rebel troops briefly came close to taking the capital Kinshasa after flying across to the west, but they were driven back by the Kabila government and its allies: Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Chad and Libya.
By 1999 the fighting had returned to Eastern Congo where it remains today.
The past decade of fighting can best be summed up as a battle between multiple Hutu and Tutsi militia groups supported to varying degrees by the governments of Congo and Rwanda (and to an extent Uganda).
The Hutus, still outcasts in Eastern Congo, are trying to defeat the Rwandan government and the Congolese Tutsis. The Tutsis are trying to defeat the Hutus and the Congolese government.
At the heart of the fight are the mini-battles over the various mines that fund the victorious militia’s expenses, as well as those of their supporting governments.
In fact, the conflict is now as much about this mafia-style turf war as it is about government power and revenge.
The minerals such as cassiterite, wolframite and coltan are used in cell phones, laptops and MP3 players, and are passed through a series of middlemen before being purchased by multinational electronics companies.
This has brought rise to the term ‘blood computers’, named after the infamous blood diamonds of Sierra Leone.
In recent years the governments of Rwanda and Congo (now run by Kabila’s son Joseph) have cooperated in efforts to the end the fighting – something Congo’s democratic elections in 2005 could not.
They ran a joint mission in January 2009 against the FDLR – the main Hutu militia group controlled and financed in Germany.
At the same time they also captured the main leader of the Tutsi movement General Laurent Nkunda – a controversial decision that surprised many.
Nevertheless, the conflict continues today. 45,000 people die a month from the fighting and subsequent disease and famine. This is the real tragedy.
Tomorrow in part 2, we look at the horrific atrocities that have been carried out on the Congolese people caught up in the world’s deadliest conflict.
By The Casual Truth