It is with humor that President Kagame, speaking about Congo, once mentioned that the problem of Congo predates his birth, since there has never been a desire to resolve it definitively. Indeed, the history of the Congolese never-ending misery has been around well before the average age of Heads of State in the Eastern African Community.
Congo’s misery began way back in the 1480s when the Portuguese began the slave trade in the Kongo kingdom. However, the foundation for Congo’s never-ending troubles was laid in 1877 by Sir Henry Morton Stanley, sponsored by King Leopold II of Belgium. Over 10 million Congolese died during King Leopold’s reign in the Congo and he made over $1.1bn, hiding the fortune in foundations, Swiss accounts, shell companies, and properties on the French Riviera. Fast forward to 1960, the year the DRC claimed “Independence” on June 30th. That’s when the first United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC), came in to stabilize the country.
Since then, the United Nations has been in and out of Congo with different names – ONUC, MONUC, and now MONUSCO. Today, MONUSCO comprises 16,316 individuals from 62 countries, costing a whopping 1.4 billion dollars annually. But they’re not alone in the quest to fix the Congo mess. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), African regional groups like EAC, CIRGL, SADC, NGOs, communication companies, and numerous researchers and analysts have all tried to “restore peace and security in Eastern DRC.” Unfortunately, success remains elusive.
Despite the immensity of human, financial, and political means spent to “restore peace”, the DRC continues to experience an armed conflict that has already lasted too long. This conflict has involved and involves actors at the national level (armed groups, mostly of a tribal nature, most of the time supported by the Kinshasa regime) and foreign armed groups such as the FDLR which is known throughout the world for having committed the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
The core of this enduring turmoil lies in a historical failure: Never in the history of the DRC have they invested in setting up a serious army. For example, During Mobutu’s time, he subcontracted the work of the regular army to the likes of Bob Denard and Schcramm, all Belgian mercenaries to defeat secessionists in Katanga and claimed victory by raising his military ranks to Marshall, without ever winning a battle with his own troops. Today, Tshisekedi has hired mercenaries from former Soviet countries and some ex-legionnaires and he thinks he can restore peace in DRC and perhaps even wage war with Rwanda!
But let’s be honest here; no matter the number of foreign boots on the ground, or the sophistication of weaponry, these hired hands cannot address the root causes of instability in the DRC. The Tshisekedi regime, like those before it, must confront internal challenges, invest in robust institutions, and forge a national army capable of maintaining order and safeguarding its citizens. Only then can the nation hope to break free from the cycle of violence and instability that has plagued it for generations.