Freedom in the World
Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)
Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)
Celebrations to mark 50 years of independence in June 2010 were marred by brutal violence in the eastern provinces, including the killing, rape, and abduction of civilians. The outgoing electoral commission announced in August that the first round of the presidential election would take place in November 2011, while local elections were further delayed until 2013. Meanwhile, opposition politicians, human rights activists, and the press continued to be the targets of attacks and harassment, as evidenced by the murder of a cameraman in April and the suspicious death of a leading human rights activist in June.
The king of Belgium claimed a vast area of Central Africa as his private colony in the late 19th century, and the territory was exploited with a brutality that was extreme even for the imperialist era. After gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, the then Republic of Congobecame an arena for Cold War rivalries, and Colonel Joseph Mobutu seized power with CIA backing in 1965. Mobutu changed the country’s name to Zaire in 1971, renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko, and assumed dictatorial powers.
Following the end of the Cold War, domestic agitation and international pressure for democratization led to a sovereign national conference in 1992. Mobutu was stripped of most of his powers and a new prime minster was named, but Mobutu created a rival government, leading to a political standoff.In a compromise that marginalized the conference’s prime minister, the two governments merged in 1994, with Mobutu remaining head of state. Presidential and legislative elections were scheduled repeatedly but never took place.
After the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, the Rwandan and Ugandan governments turned their cross-border pursuit of Rwandan Hutu militia members into an advance on Kinshasa. Rwandan troops, accompanied by representatives of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL)—a coalition led by former Zairian rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila—entered eastern Zaire in October 1996 and reached Kinshasa in May 1997. Mobutu fled to Morocco, where he died. Kabila declared himself president and changed the country’s name to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Relations between Kabila and his Rwandan and Ugandan backers deteriorated after he ordered all foreign forces to leave the DRC in 1998. Rwanda intervened in support of a newly formed rebel group, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), but the DRC government was defended by Angolan, Namibian, and Zimbabwean troops. Uganda later backed a rival rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), establishing control over the northern third of the DRC, while the RCD held much of the eastern Kivu region. The country’s vast mineral wealth spurred the involvement of multinational companies, criminal networks, and other foreign governments.
Military stalemate led to the signing of the Lusaka Peace Agreement in 1999. The accord called for a ceasefire, the deployment of UN peacekeepers, the withdrawal of foreign troops, and a transitional government. Kabila drew international criticism for blocking the deployment of UN troops and suppressing internal political activity. He was assassinated in 2001 and succeeded by his son Joseph, who revived the peace process. The Sun City Agreement, signed in South Africa in 2002, led to the creation of a transitional government in 2003 and a formal end to the war.
A new constitution was passed by the transitional legislature, approved by referendum in 2005, and officially promulgated in 2006. Presidential and legislative elections—the first multiparty polls since independence—followed that year. Despite daunting logistical challenges, the elections were largely peaceful and drew a voter turnout of over 70 percent. Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) gained the most seats in the National Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, but fell short of an outright majority. In a field of 33 presidential candidates, Kabila won approximately 45 percent of the first-round vote, and went on to defeat MLC leader and transitional vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba in the runoff.
Following the elections, two broad alliances emerged in the 500-seat National Assembly: the Alliance of the Presidential Majority (AMP), comprising 332 seats, and the opposition Union for the Nation (UpN), comprising 116 seats. Eleven provincial assemblies voted in the January 2007 Senate elections, granting the AMP 58 seats and the UpN 21. Gubernatorial polls that year handed 10 governorships to AMP-affiliated candidates and one to the UpN. In March 2007, fighting broke out in Kinshasa between the authorities and Bemba loyalists. Bemba went into exile in Europe, raising doubts as to whether Kabila would allow genuine political pluralism.
In January 2008, a peace agreement was signed between the government and 22 armed groups operating in the east. Notably, the agreement did not include the Rwandan government or the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an ethnic Hutu–dominated militia group led by perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who had fled to the DRC. Heavy fighting broke out in August 2008 between government troops and the ethnic Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which allegedly received backing from the Rwandan government. The clashes resulted in further civilian displacement and an increase in human rights abuses.
Relations between the DRC and Rwanda began to improve significantly in late 2008, and the two governments signed an agreement to begin a joint military operation against the FDLR. The operation, which lasted from January to February 2009, coincided with the surprise arrest of Nkunda in Rwanda and led to a peace accord with the CNDP. The agreement provided an amnesty for acts of war committed by members of the CNDP and transformed the rebel group into a political entity under the leadership of Desire Kamandji. The DRC also embarked on a joint military operation with Uganda from December 2008 to March 2009 to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group.
In March 2009, Congolese and UN forces began a new military operation against the FDLR. As with previous campaigns, it led to severe civilian suffering, including reprisal killings by the rebels. The operation concluded in December, but was succeeded in early 2010 by an additional offensive. While the number of deliberate killings of civilians by the FDLR declined in 2010, the group was believed to be partly responsible for a series of mass rapes in the Walikale region of North Kivu in July and August. Separately, in July, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) launched a campaign against the Allied Democratic Forces–National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), an Islamic Ugandan rebel militia based in North Kivu. The ADF-NALU responded by attacking civilian and military targets in the north of the province, forcing at least 90,000 people to flee their homes. In addition, as violent LRA incursions into the DRC continued throughout 2010, the DRC announced in October that it was joining forces with the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Uganda to pursue militants.
The impact of years of fighting on civilians in the east has been catastrophic. As of late November 2010, there were an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced people, only a minority of whom had received assistance from humanitarian agencies. The government routinely failed to provide the displaced with adequate protection, harming their efforts to demonstrate that peace had been achieved. In October, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the results of a mapping exercise that detailed over 600 of the most serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the DRC—by armed forces and nonstate groups from Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and the DRC itself—between May 1993 and June 2003. The DRC government deemed the report “detailed and credible” and initiated draft legislation in November on the creation of special courts to prosecute the crimes.
Despite relative stability in regions outside of the eastern provinces, all of the DRC continued to suffer from the combined effects of war, economic crisis, and the breakdown of political and social institutions. At least 4.2 million people have died since fighting began in 1994, and humanitarian groups estimate that 1,000 people continued to die each day. Critical health and social services are nonexistent in many areas, and much of the country’s infrastructure has disintegrated. The DRC was ranked 168 out of 169 countries on the UN Development Programme’s 2010 Human Development Index.
In March 2010, Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito ordered that the government double its domestic revenue. The resulting increase in import duties forced importers to quit or resort to smuggling. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank announced in July that the DRC had reached the completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, earning it debt-service savings worth $12.3 billion over the next 50 years and canceling what the IMF estimated to be two-thirds of the country’s external public debt.
In May, the UN Security Council approved a one-year extension of its mandate in the country, with increased emphasis on development, particularly in the eastern part of the country. However, UN efforts have been hampered by the remarkably difficult terrain of the eastern DRC, and marred by several allegations of corruption.While the government exerted pressure on the United Nations throughout the year to pull out of the country entirely by the end of 2011, the Security Council approved the removal of just 2,000 soldiers from a total of over 20,500.
The DRC is not an electoral democracy. Though the 2006 elections were a significant improvement over previous voting, serious problems remained. The opposition Union for Social Democracy and Progress (UDPS) party did not participate as a result of its call for a boycott of the constitutional referendum, international observers noted voter registration irregularities, and the campaign period included clashes between opposition militants and government forces as well as an attempt on opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s life. The 2007 Senate elections were marred by allegations of vote buying. In August 2010, the outgoing Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) announced a timetable for new elections, with the first round of the presidential vote slated for November 2011. The proposed schedule only slightly exceeded the five-year limit mandated by the constitution. Local elections initially scheduled for 2005 were pushed back until 2013. However, it remained unclear whether the new Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI)—created by President Joseph Kabila in July—would respect the timetable. The CENI’s potential for independence has also been called into question, as four of its seven members were to be appointed by the presidential coalition. Also in 2010, the government announced that voters would be required to reregister and apply for new electoral cards, causing anxiety among those in the eastern provinces, whose existing electoral cards sometimes serve as their only proof of citizenship.