History of the Conflict

Quick Facts

  • Violence, poverty and disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo have claimed the lives of over 5 million men, women and children.
  • Despite democratic elections and multiple peace agreements, the eastern region is still impacted by conflict—more than 1.3 million people are not able to return to their homes.
  • There are more than 300,000 Congolese refugees living in neighboring countries.

In the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, millions of Rwandan refugees flooded into the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. As a new Tutsi government was established in Rwanda after the genocide, more than two million Hutus sought refuge in eastern Congo. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that only 7% of these refugees were perpetrators of the genocide (often referred to as Interhamwe or FDLR—the Federation for the Liberation of Rwanda).

In 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the eastern DRC (then called Zaire) in an effort to root out the remaining perpetrators of the genocide hiding there. A coalition comprised of the Ugandan and Rwandan armies, along with Congolese opposition leader Laurent Desiree Kabila, eventually defeated dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the Congolese army, and Laurent Desiré Kabila became president. In 1998, President Laurent Kabila ordered Rwandan and Ugandan forces to leave the eastern DRC, fearing annexation of the mineral-rich territory by the two regional powers. Kabila’s government received military support from Angola and Zimbabwe and other regional partners—the ensuing conflict has often been referred to as Africa’s World War with nine countries fighting each other on Congolese soil.

President Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph Kabila was appointed president at the age of 29. In 2006, Joseph Kabila won the presidency in the DRC’s first democratic elections in 40 years.  It was during this period that the Tutsi-led militia group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) representing the interests of Tutsis in Congo and led by Laurent Nkunda, became more active in pursuing the FDLR in eastern Congo.

Despite the signing of a peace agreement between 22 armed groups, including the CNDP, in January of 2008, fighting between the Congolese army, FDLR, CNDP, and other armed militias continued. Rwandan officials arrested Laurent Nkunda in January 2009, and he remains under house arrest in Rwanda today.

The Rwandan and Congolese governments began cooperating in early 2009 in joint military operations focused on rooting out the remaining FDLR genocide perpetrators still in eastern Congo. Although the FDLR have been weakened through this intervention, they continue to perpetuate instability in eastern Congo. In the northeastern region, the Lord’s Resistance Army, an armed militia active in Uganda for the last several years, continues to cause terror and unrest. The peace process in eastern Congo continues to be fragile with multiple armed groups operating throughout the region, terrorizing civilians and blocking the path to long-term peace.

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