By May 1990, Mobutu was left little choice but to announce plans to introduce a multi-party state with new elections and constitution. When news of this emerged, Kinshasa was subjected to looting by government soldiers as a result of unpaid wages. This incident prompted French and Belgian paratroopers to be flown in to evacuate around 20,000 foreign nationals who were thought to be in danger.
The Sovereign National Conference was held in 1992 where over two thousand representatives from various political organizations met in order to try and solve the countries difficulties. The conference saw the election of Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo as its chairman. Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of the UPDS was elected as Prime Minister. It is believed that Mobutu’s fury over the conference led to the Limete Catholic Massacre where his personal guards murdered an estimated 250 innocent civilians on their way to Mass, on Feb 16 1992. Mobutu set up a rival government later that year. This resulted in the merger of the two governments into the High Council of the Republic – Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT) in 1994. Mobutu remained head of state and Leon Kengo Wa Dondo as Prime Minister. Presidential and legislative elections which were promised and scheduled never took place.
War and genocide in neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi in 1994 resulted in thousands of refugees entering into Zaire. Rwandan Hutu militias too had spilled over the border after the ascension of a Tutsi RPF led government. They had been using refugee camps situated in eastern Zaire as a platform to attack Rwanda. These Hutu forces quickly joined forces with the Zairian Armed Forces and launched a campaign of genocide against ethnic Congolese Tutsi’s in eastern Zaire. The Zairian Tutsi’s formed their own militia when the Zairian government began to increase its use of force against them. This quickly led to the Tutsi militias erupting in rebellion against Mobutu. Decades of rampant corruption and human rights abuses finally prompted rebels within the country and in exile, led by Laurent Kanbila, to rise up in revolt to Mobutu’s rule. In October 1996, Rwandan troops (RPA) entered Zaire along with troops led by Kabila known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL). Their goal was to forcibly oust Mobutu. They began a march to Kinshasa. Peace talks failed in 1997 and in May Mobutu fled the country. On May 20th, Kabila marched to Kinshasa, declared himself president which saw power consolidated around him and the AFDL. Zaire was no more as the country reverted back to its previous name of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This new government however did not bring with it peace or stability and it is no surprise when one looks more closely as to how and why ethnic tensions and foreign armies came to allow Laurent Kabilla assume power. We must start by looking at Rwanda in 1994 where genocide lit the spark that led to the fall of Mobutu’s reign. In Rwanda, Hutu groups (called the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi) set about killing Tutsi’s and pro-peace Hutu’s in what can only be described as mass extermination. Reports claim around 800,000 people were murdered in just over three months. In response to these mass murders the Tutsi led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to overthrow the government which was made up mainly of Hutus. As a result of the overthrow of their government over two million Hutu’s fled through western Rwanda and into eastern Zaire
Refugee camps were set up to accommodate the influx of fleeing people but these camps became de facto army bases for the Interwahamwe and the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda. Local populations of Congolese were subjected to untold misery during this time. A tipping point was reached in October 1996 when eastern Congolese Tutsi’s led an uprising with the intention of forcing the Rwandans out of the Congo. This was to become known as the First Congo War.
The name of the country had changed as a result of Mobutu’s fall from power but very little else seemed to have.
Even with the First Congo War ended, tensions in the east of the country remained. Hutu armies were allowed to regroup in the eastern parts of the country, something that angered Rwanda and Uganda. Kabila had turned his back on his allies. Some argue that this was because many saw Kabila as a puppet of the neighbouring countries that had allowed him to assume power and as a result of this impression allowed the Hutu’s revival. All foreign forces were ordered to leave the DR Congo on July 26, 1998. This was met with reservations especially by Rwanda who did not see the conflict as being resolved. There were still many unresolved issues most notably ethnic tensions in the region between the Tutsis and the Banyamulenge Hutus. Rwanda did not feel as if its security concerns had been met. Rwandan refugees were forcibly repatriated and this meant that unintentionally it had in fact imported some of the conflict itself. In western Rwanda Hutu led insurgencies began and these were supported by extremists in eastern Congo. As Rwanda could not enter Congolese soil it was felt that the insurgents could not be stopped otherwise.
In early August 1998, two brigades of the newly formed Congolese Army rebelled and aligned themselves with Rwanda and Uganda. This was the beginning of the Second Congo War, “the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in decades” according to the BBC. Rwanda offered immediate assistance to the rebels. The rebels were made up mostly of Banyamulenge Tutsis and were supported from the outset by Rwanda and Uganda. They became known as the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD). They quickly over-ran most of the eastern parts of the country, Bukavu and Uvira were captured in Kivu region. Rwandan along with Ugandan and Burundian troops had crossed the border and now occupied parts of north eastern Congo. The situation was worsening for Kabila and he turned to the help of Hutu refugees and began a campaign of agitating public opinion against the Tutsis. This led Rwandan officials to claim that Kabila was organizing the genocide of Tutsis in eastern parts of the country. Some argue that this claim was used as a justification to allow the Rwandans to enter the Congo. By the end of August the rebels with the backing of Rwanda and Uganda had reached and taken control of the Inga hydro-electrical dam which was only a mere 140 km south west of the capital Kinshasa itself. Uganda at this time created its own rebel group known as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC).
With the rebels advancing towards Kinshasa at an alarming rate it looked increasingly dire for Kabila and his regime. Pleas from Kabila to other African nations as well as Cuba were looking as if they were falling on deaf ears but this was soon to change. Some members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) answered the cause. Most notably Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola were the first to respond. They were followed soon after by Chad, Libya and Sudan. A full blown continental war had broken out but only on the soil of the Congo. The intervention of these new allies on Kabila’s side meant that the rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda found it increasingly difficult to capture Kinshasa and claim a victory. Fighting continued despite calls for peace. In January 1999, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe all agreed to a ceasefire at a summit in Namibia. This however did not stop the fighting.
Tensions became more and more strained and in 1999 Ugandan and Rwandan relations became strained. Rwandan backed RCD leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba transferred his base which was in Goma to Kisangani, a Ugandan controlled area. This saw the birth of a breakaway faction called the Forces for Renewal. A more evident sign of a division between Uganda and Rwanda happened in Sirte, Libya on April 18. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed a ceasefire with Kabila as a result of mediation from Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi. Rwanda did not attend this ceasefire and on May 16 Wamba dia Wamba was ousted from his position in the RCD in favour of a pro-Rwandan. A week later several differing factions began to clash over control of Kisangani. It was becoming clear that the rebel’s goals were deviating from the ousting of Kabila.