To Subsidize, Systemize, and Sustain Conflict in the DRC

Wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo

International involvement in the violent clashes the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has faced since the dwindling of the Cold-War can be summarized into three terms: subsidization, systemization, and sustainability of conflict. This essay will draw out in detail why the international ‘response’ to clashes in the DRC is anything but an intervention and more indicative of the creation and maintenance of a political economy of conflict surrounding natural resources. The principal mechanism of exchange shown in this economy will be resource theft and weapons smuggling, with rebels groups acting as proxies for foreign interests facilitating an ultimately self-defeating quasi-state security apparatus for traders. Understanding how this economy of conflict works is acutely relevant in predicting future relations in the DRC and progressing towards a lasting peace. It is worth noting the DRC arguably has never had non-violent elections, and a new round of presidential elections are coming up in November.

The reasoning given by specific groups and nations for persistent conflict is elusive and often disingenuous. However, in speaking to the human geography of conflict in the DRC, much can be rooted to a deeply held mistrust between Rwanda and the DRC –  specifically between the ethnic groups of the Hutu and Tutsi (Gettleman, 2009, p.16). Herbert Weiss and Tatianna Carayannis (2004) highlight this ethnic doubt in saying, “identification of the Congolese with the nation over the last 40 years has become stronger, it has also become more exclusionary with respect to one particular ethnic group – the Rwandaphone peoples” (p. 129).

This brief description of ethnic friction is necessary because ethnic factors in conflict often led to the most destructive and protracted scenarios of intrastate conflict (Yilmaz, 2007, p. 24) The DRC has shown this theory to be a correct description. To compound ethnic strife further, the DRC is a failed-state in the strictest sense. As Phoebe Okowa (2007) states, “the central government structures were for considerable periods unable to exercise public power over the population or to institute a credible system of public administration.” (p. 210) There is compelling information to this day that the DRC is still unable to exercise control over its people specifically in the Eastern providences. Conditions similar to a failed-state or chaos and anarchy must be maintained for an implicit economy based around explicit conflict to flourish.

The Road from Rwanda

The Rwandan Tragedy: Ethnic conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi in the DRC has roots in the Rwandan conflict and genocide of 1994. After the assassination of Hutu Rwandan President Habyarimana, both the Hutu Interahamwe and the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) forces put into play long-planned military missions that resulted in mass killings of both ethnic groups whom then sought refuge in the DRC (Herman & Peterson, 2010, pp. 22-24). As the saying loosely credited to Julius Cesar of Rome goes, “to the victor go the spoils” of war; the genocide and conflict in Rwanda were no different. The RPF, hailing from Uganda and underpinned by the United States (US) and led by the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame, won out in the end, seizing control of the Rwandan capital Kigali (Herman & Peterson, 2010, pp. 22-24). Rebel fighters from the Interahamwe used the movement of Hutu refugees to the DRC as a shield for hiding as they traveled alongside after the Tutsi RPF seized power in Rwanda (Braeckman, 2004, p. 14). It is worthy to note that according to Weiss and Carayannis (2004), “two weeks into the genocide, the deteriorating security situation on the ground led the UN to withdraw most of its UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR I) forces” (p. 121). This effectively shut the eyes and ears of the international community to which side was perpetrating genocide and war crimes as well as to any investigation in real time as to who was responsible for the assassination of the head of state. However, soon to follow the RPF’s victory was the wholesale acceptance of the RPF by the international community as the legitimate government of Rwanda (Herman & Peterson, 2010, p. 24).

The Tutsi Conspiracy: Much of the blame cast by the international community for genocide lies at the feet of the Hutu rebel group Interahamwe; the evidence, however, does not support a one-sided genocide (Morrill, 2012, p. 3). Hanna Morrill (2012) says of this evidence, “killings (by the RPF) were described as indiscriminate killings against men, women, children, including the sick and elderly, occurring at meetings held under the pretext of peace.” (p. 3) Evidence that is out of the scope of this essay goes so far as to allege that the RPF might have orchestrated the assassination that stoked ethnic genocide in Rwanda for political and economic gains (Herman & Peterson, 2010, pp. 22-24). Edward Herman and David Peterson (2010) speak of this evidence in saying, “the assassination’s perpetrators has been crucial in the West, as it seems awkward the ‘trigger’ for ‘the genocide’ was ultimately pulled, not by the officially designated Hutu villains, but by the Tutsi victors in the conflict.” (p. 27) What is clear is that both Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups were slaughtered in the fight, and once they fled into the DRC those groups formed new militias that continue to fight. The continued fighting has brought about three protracted wars and a devastating humanitarian crisis in Eastern Congo with an estimated 3.5 million deaths (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 115).

Mixed Implications: The perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide fleeing into the DRC with refugees seeking relief is a pivotal factor, if not the most important in the continued conflict facing the DRC. This is why so much space is given to the Rwandan genocide; the DRC cannot be explained without explaining Rwanda. The most profound question is if the RPF with Kagame at the helm incited the conflict in Rwanda by assassinating Habyarimana. If this is true, would this not make Kagame and the RPF responsible for the genocide committed on both the Tutsi and Hutu? Does Kagame have the legitimacy to rule Rwanda and execute a foreign policy that drastically hampers the DRC? What portion of the blame do Western powers and Uganda receive for sponsoring the RPF in obtaining power through genocide? Should Kagame be deposed and tried for war crimes? These questions, and the lack of dialogue around them, not only matter to the DRC but will end up having unseen effects outside of Africa. In essence, without continuing the dialogue and bringing to justice those who commit genocide we are advancing ever implicitly the norm that genocide is an acceptable tool of warfare and peacemaking.

These questions matter greatly to understanding the conflict in the DRC because Rwanda and Uganda along with other African nations and Western influences, use the presence of the Rwandan genocidaires in the DRC as a legitimization for the need to sponsor rebel fighting or formal invasion (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 122). As well, if the actual cause of genocide has been answered with impunity, the DRC can never actually obtain justice for the 3.5 million people lost in the DRC because of the Rwandan genocide. Subverting the international community into believing and advocating for what might only be a half-truth dashed with some outright lies is granting Kagame a wealth of legitimacy that might be entirely undeserved. The international response to the Rwandan genocide which has bled into the DRC is one of subsidizing and sustaining a regime who very well could be at fault for the genocide.

At the Gates of Goma

Inside the Congo: This section will highlight the conditions in the DRC which led to the Rwandan genocide having such a profound impact. The endless conflict in the DRC is not only attributed to the Rwandan genocide but also post-genocide Rwandan foreign policy, along with Ugandan and Western influences, as well as internal state weakness. It should be noted this is a retracted list as throughout the wars in the DRC many sub-Saharan African nations also contribute to various sides of the fight as well as at different times in what is often considered the African World Wars. However, the base factor being the Rwandan genocide should never be left too far from the center of conflict. As Okowa (2007) says to this effect, “there is considerable evidence that the 1994 Rwanda Genocide was the primary catalyst for the conflict in the DRC.” (p. 206) This essay does not refute that claim.

Mobutu’s Regin: From as far back as 1491 and through to the present, international powers specifically the US and the European Union (EU) nations have been using the DRC as a free grab-bag. This did not occur in spurts or waves. From the slavery era, throughout the colonial period, into the industrial revolution, and now the 21st century the DRC’s massive storehouse of resources has been raided by numerous foreign and national powers, and the population has been in conflict and poverty (Braeckman, 2004, p. 16). After the end of the Second World War and Congolese independence in 1960, from 1965 to 1997 dictator Joseph Mobutu ruled the Congo through kleptocracy (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, pp. 117-121). The US, France, and other Western powers were all too happy to fund Mobutu’s reign in excesses of a billion US dollars as they saw danger and possible communist leanings in the first democratically elected leader of the DRC, Patrice Lumumba (Weissman, 2014, p. 2). However, the economic interests of Western corporations might have been the fine print or message between the lines that was left unsaid. Colette Braeckman (2004) describes this entanglement in saying, “Lumumba’s desire to use the Congo’s riches to serve its people threatened Western financial and corporate interest. Lumumba was arrested and assassinated as a result of a vast conspiracy by US and Belgian intelligence and his Congolese rivals, including Army Chief of Staff Colonel Joseph Mobutu” (p. 16).

Throughout Mobutu’s thirty-year reign, any semblance of a working state that provides services and security was altogether abandoned (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 119). Once the Cold-war came to an end in the 1990’s, the US and Western powers had no need for a buffer to communism in the DRC and Mobutu was then effectively left without any aid to fund his regime. In the end, Mobutu did try to push forth reforms – but they were all too little, too late. Throughout 1994 to 1997 as Mobutu’s power was waning and the Rwandan conflict was bleeding out into the Great Lakes Region, the DRC was left in a precarious position for which it has yet to recover.

The conflict in Rwanda and the subsequent influx of Hutu refugees into the DRC (some if of which were the Interahamwe) is the catalyst for what is known as the First Congo War in 1996. When the UN left Rwanda, the French headed the humanitarian efforts in what is known as Operation Turquoise (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 122). The primary mandate of this mission was to secure and transport Hutu refugees to UN refugee camps in the DRC. However, Operation Turquoise is often cited as allowing the Hutu rebels forces to flee under the guise of needing French humanitarian aid. Regardless of the presence of fighters, the influx of around one million refugees had systemic effects on the DRC which has little-to-no infrastructure (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 122). This was a two-year process in the run-up to the war in 1996.

Mobutu during this time was facing increasing unrest and a fallout of international support with the ending of the Cold-War. As well, he was dying of cancer (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 123). In his waning of power, he resorted to sponsoring and sheltering numerous rebel groups fighting multiple neighboring nations with funds provided by the US through Cold-War aid (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 123). Mobutu and his generals support of a campaign against the Banyamulenge (Tutsi Congolese) provided the spark Rwanda needed to enter into the DRC to fight the Hutu rebels (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 123). Soon after Uganda and Angola entered the fray to try and dislodge power from Mobutu because of his sponsorship of rebels fighters (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, pp. 122-123).

Kinshasa in Our Sights

The First Congo War: As Weiss and Carayannis (2004) state, “to avoid being seen as the aggressors and invader, the Rwandan and Ugandan government immediately sponsored the creation of an alliance of small and obscure exiled anti-Mobutu Congolese revolutionary groups” (p. 123). Chief among the groups was the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL) heading by the spokesman Laurent Kabila. While this creation did aid in the illusion of a Congolese front against Mobutu, the majority of those fighting were foreign fighters (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 123). With Mobutu’s forces on the run raping and pillaging their way back to Kinshasa and his reign at an end, within eight months the AFDL took control of Kinshasa seeing Mobutu off to exile eventually dying (Weiss & Caryannis, 2004, p. 123).

The Second Congo War: With Laurent Kabila in power, it only took fifteen months for the First Congo War to escalate into the Second which broke out in August of 1998. Kabila’s popularity was never tenable. He had tried to install a ‘cultural revolution’ based on his Marxist leanings which infuriated his UN and US support, along with his domestic opposition. As well, his forces in Kinshasa were primarily seen as Rwandan occupiers (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 124). Kabila eventually realized the drain on support Rwandan soldiers in Kinshasa were having on his power. On July 27, 1998, Kabila dismissed the Rwandan soldiers drawing condemnation from Uganda and Rwanda. For Kabila, this also proved to be too little, too late. By August a new war had begun with the mutiny of two Congolese armies in close contact with Rwandan troops who then invaded the Congo outrightly (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 124).

With Tutsi soldiers throughout the Congo refusing to disarm, Kabila resorted to tactics only described as ethnic cleansing of all Tutsi peoples in the Congo. Numerous anti-Kabila fighters, anti-Mobutuist fighters, as well as those loyal to Mobutu, banned together in Goma, North Kivu creating the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) in opposition to Kabila (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 125). However, from left field, Angola switched sides in support of Kabila thwarting the RCD attempts at overthrowing the ruler. The RCD did manage to wrangle control of Eastern Congo.

Weiss and Carayannis (2004) state that over the next year “Kinshasa received direct military support from Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Chad, while the ‘rebels’ were supported by Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi” (p. 125). The situation up to the 2002 bilateral peace deal quickly devolved into chaotic anarchy with scores of civilian deaths, rapings of women and men, and kidnappings of children for conscription into fighting (Great Lakes Policy Forum, 2010). Kinshasa supported Hutu and Interahamwe fighters along with Mai Mai gorilla soldiers who further embedded Kabila and the DRC in opposition to Rwanda and Uganda who were supporting their rebels in the DRC. Before the 2002 bilateral peace deal, the relationship between Rwanda and Uganda corroded which also saw the RCD fall into two factions supporting either country (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 126). Weiss and Carayannis (2004) point out further that Uganda then created the anti-Kabila movement known as the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) which in turn became a dominant force in Eastern Congo (p. 126).

The Soft Solution: With over 20 failed efforts for peace by the UN, AU (the African Union formerly titled OAU) along with the South African Development Community (SADC), the war only ended when a stalemate was realized by those involved (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 126). The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement was signed in 1999 which ushered in a UN force to enforce the cease-fire and the United Nations Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). However, these mandates have been criticized because fighting has not stopped, they failed to see the rise of the Kivu Conflict and were mandated not to use force to disarm combatants (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 127). Further compounding diplomatic progress were ineffective power sharing methods between Kinshasa and rebel groups specifically causing the RCD-Goma and MLC groups to break from talks and shared governing.

In 2001 Laurant Kabila was assassinated and replaced by his son Joseph Kabila who rules to this day (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 127). Joseph Kabila is remarkably different than his father and much more willing to cooperate and hold talks but was still unable to bring about a diplomatic resolution to the conflict, nor is his government able to secure Eastern Congo.

Eventually, Kinshasa entered into bilateral agreements with Rwanda facilitated by the nation of South Africa on July 30, 2002. Sarah Ancas (2011) also says of South Africa’s involvement in the 2006 DRC elections, “South Africa did play a substantive role in supporting the country’s first democratic elections in 2006 and acted as a successful mediator for the AU when President Kabila’s challenger contested the results (p. 146). In summarizing Weiss and Carayannis (2004), this deal saw Rwanda agreeing to leave the DRC and end its sponsorship of rebel fighters with the DRC agreeing in return to disarm the Hutu rebels fighting Rwanda from Eastern Congo as well as to turn over genocidaires still in the country. Finally, the DRC was mandated to remove Hutu rebels from official power-sharing models (p. 127). This saw an end to formal and proxy fighting between Rwanda and the DRC but left a power vacuum in the Kivu region that has flared into a tedious and complicated conflict which occur to this day (Weiss & Carayannis, 2004, p. 128). The Kivu Conflict and the numerous actors both national, regional and international will be discussed while making the argument of an entirely sanctioned political economy of conflict in the DRC in the next section of this essay.

At the Intersection of Economics and Conflict

Theory: Needless to say, there is no formal structures of law and order in Eastern Congo as rebel groups and the UN spar for control of the region in the absence of state authority from Kinshasa. It is in an absence of state authority the international community has been utilizing a conflict economy based on insecurity, resource extraction and arms dealing in Eastern Congo. Because the Kivu Conflict is tedious, complicated and quite remote, the international community implicitly subsidizes, systemizes, and sustains conflict through an ambivalent ignorance. Admittedly so, it is rather hard to connect the dots from IPhones, conflict minerals, arms smuggling and mob style racketeering in a way that shows culpability on the part of consumers. An attempt to draw out those lines and connect the dots will be made.

Back to Rwanda: This story starts at the top with the UN and international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) during the Rwandan genocide. As stated above by Herman and Peterson (2010), there is compelling information implicating the RPF as the original perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide and at minimum guilty for their half of the blood bath. To quote Herman and Peterson’s (2010) strong wording of condemnation towards the RPF they say, “neither the RPF’s violent takeover of Rwanda, its massacre of 10,000 or more Hutu civilian per month in 1994, nor any of its other numerous postwar slaughters, have ever once been disturbed by criminal charges at the ICTR” (p. 29).

With the absences of observers and deteriorating ground conditions, real time accounts and observation of the genocide were few and far between but not non-existent. With the RPF winning the capital and a particularly bloody international misstep at hand by allowing the genocide to happen, the international community was all too ready for conflict to come to and end and to quickly cast blame. Herman and Peterson (2010) in quoting a resignation letter to the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda), by Filip Rentjens, a Dutch academic and witness before the ICTR say, the RPF crimes fall squarely within the mandate of the ICTR; they are well documented, testimonial and material proof is available, and the identity if the RPF suspects is known. It is precisely because the regime in Kigali has been given sense of impunity that, during the years following 1994, it has committed massive international recognized crimes in both Rwanda and the DRC. (p. 32) With impunity passed around, the conditions were prime for Rwanda to set in motion discord, propaganda, and an aligning of interests aimed at the DRC’s resources.

Back to Goma: It seems entirely absurd that these ghastly relations between Rwanda and the DRC would be aligned with Western interests, but absurd it is not. It is compatible in the sense that Western interest and policy desired a more beneficial leader in the DRC than Mobutu to whom conflict in the Great Lakes Region heavily affected (Herman & Peterson, 2010, p. 32). As well, the US gained a strong military ally with Kagame in power in Rwanda and Uganda firmly in their pocket. Rwanda and Uganda along with Kinshasa in turn sponsor rebel fighting in Eastern Congo. Also compelling is the notion that the US was more supportive of Rwanda fighting in the DRC through rebels than it was of the RPF taking power in Rwanda in 1994 (Herman & Peterson, 2010, p. 32).

To the Mines With Guns: Through the reign of both Kabilas, the security in Eastern Congo deteriorated with a massive surge of violence and rebel factions in what is known as the Kivu Conflict. Marauding rebel fighters act as both criminal and police, consumer and producer; their weapons are their money, the slave labor, and extracted minerals are also forms of finance (Orogun, 2004, p. 155). Timothy Raeymaekers (2010) takes this conflict economy one step further, “the central argument is that the rebels do not just concentrate on economic predation, but are actually engaged in the selling of protection, in particular to a group of capitalist transnational traders on the Congo-Ugandan border” (p. 564).

Again to reiterate the complex web of involvement, Uganda and Rwanda are sponsoring many of these rebel groups exchanging racketeering services to mineral traders.  It is not just protection services that constitute an economy of conflict in the DRC. Minerals cannot be left out of the description. The DRC is rich in diamonds, niobium, tungsten, pyrochlore, coltan, and germanium (Braeckman, 2004, p. 14). These minerals or metals are essential to hi-tech consumer goods in the US and Europe. Coltan and tungsten, for instance, are used in the manufacturing of cell phones and sophisticated computers (Braeckman, 2004, p. 14).

Send it East: The smuggling and extortion of natural resources from the DRC by rebel fighters and self-interested traders has a quantifiable effect on the economies of Rwanda and Uganda. Wairagala Wakabi (2004) explains this in saying, “the greatest portion of the minerals is exported to Europe and the US through Rwanda and Uganda” (p. 21). For instance, real GDP in Rwanda grew by 10% at the height of the conflict, but the immediate year following dropped to 2% – to which Wakabi (2004) attributes to the return of Rwandan forces from the fighting in the DRC in July 2002 (p. 21).

Specifically related to minerals, Uganda in 2001 produced 2.02 tons of coltan but exported 14.96 tons. This is upwards of 86% of the production of coltan in Uganda not originating from Uganda (Wakabi, 2004, p. 21). Wakabi (2004) goes on to say this amount must be higher considering numerous amounts of transactions are not recorded (p. 21). Crespo Sebunya (1999) actually connect a Ugandan-private business deal that allegedly finances UNITA rebels fighting Angola through a company called Glasol (p. 20). Further highlighting of a political economy is shown when Sebunya (1999) says, “even more striking has been Uganda’s growing involvement in mining, smuggling and trade inside the Congo. Ugandan officials have been moving substantial amounts of mining equipment into northern Kivu across the Uganda border” (p. 20). It is the extraction, smelting, trading and producing of conflict minerals that the very real connection between consumer and conflict is found.

A Future in the DRC?: Jeremy K. Stearns (2007) complicates the future of the DRC in saying, “with costly peacekeeping operations moving into gear in Sudan, Lebanon, and Somalia, the temptation to declare victory and go home will be great.” (p. 207). This was well before the Arab Spring and subsequent Syrian Civil War. Eastern Congo is still in flames and absent of any lasting security as the Kivu Conflict continues. Rebels fighters like the FDLR, M23 and CNDP still terrorize the population and pull the levers of an economy based on conflict. Rwanda is still meddling in the affairs of Eastern Congo. As Thomas Turner (2013) illustrates, “the Americans.. could no longer tolerate Rwanda’s destabilization of the Congo and exploitation of Congolese resources. The recent cancellation of a small amount of military assistance to the Kigali government sent an unmistakable message that assistance to the M23 would no longer be tolerated” (p. 194). That clearly states that as of merely three years ago Rwanda was still being subsidized and sustained by Western powers, while still legitimizing the status quo of violence in the DRC.

As well, in 2007, Stearns is acutely aware of the dangerous of further violence the DRC faces when elections come around (Stearns, 2007, p. 206). As noted in the opening paragraph of this essay, elections are due to be held in the DRC November 2016. If we jump up to 2015, Amnesty International (2015) was already reporting of a draconian crackdown by the government in Kinshasa on political dissent ahead of the planned elections (p. 1). Amidst growing tensions that the upcoming elections would be postponed, in May 2016 the Guardian news publication was reporting on a rash of arrests being made when clashes broke out (Burke, 2016, p. 1). The people of the DRC might have had benevolent foresight because it appears the Kabila regime is plotting to remain in power using the need for a census before elections can take place. Worthy to note, Kabila’s government estimates it could delay the election by 16 months. Most recently, the Guardian in June 2016 reported on possible US sanctions against Kabila’s ‘inner circle’ due to evidence Kabila is, in fact, seeking to extend his stay in power possible through a constitutional reform on term limits (Reuters, 2016, p. 1). When elections in the DRC tend to bring about violence, the situation can quickly spark ethnic flare-ups (Stearns, 2007, p. 207). As this essay has illustrated, ethnic conflict in the DRC is more related to foreign powers using the conflict to reshift power and economic interests in their favor. The election or possible elections in November have already begun to show signs the status quo will be maintained, and violence will ensue.

Conclusion: It is highly unlikely a policy of peace for Central Africa is what is behind the twisted relations between Central Africa and Western interest and policy. What seems more plausible is a situation deemed unsolvable that is being maintained as the status-quo for business as usual to take place. It is not a stretch to ponder the conflict in the DRC as endless, and without resolve but that desire for the resources in the DRC are so great an actor is willing to use the institutions in place, even if those institutions are one of conflict, racketeering, and genocide.

It might very well be easier to buy conflict minerals versus investing in the infrastructure, training and maintenance of legal operations. As well, foreign interest might make an entirely larger profit margin buying minerals in conflict than the alternatives. The reign of Mobutu showed the global community a government can profit higher through theft and pillage versus the slow rise of social development. Are the rebel fighters following the lead of their benefactors who are, in fact, following the lead and desires of their benefactors? Moreover, finally, are Western powers allowing corporations as their patrons to direct the foreign policy relating to those nations that are the benefactors to rebel fighter in the DRC?  This essay has shown that the answer might very well be yes. Using the history, geography, and entanglement of conflict in the DRC, a crude road map or connect-the-dots drawing has been made to tie the consumer to the rebel who terrorizes and kills the miner in a political economy of conflict based in and around Eastern Congo.


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