DRC conflict comes back to haunt Zimbabwe

Exactly ten years since the last conflict dubbed the Second Congo War in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it is back to haunt Zimbabwe.

We reminiscence how imprudent our leaders were to support the war to a far fetched extent, stretching Zimbabwe’s resources. Main question to be asked is who it really benefited. At that time in 1998 the first African countries to respond to Laurent Kabila’s request for help were fellow members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with Zimbabwe and Angola at the forefront.

On August 2, 1998, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) deployed troops to the DRC, almost half of the army at the time, to defend the regime of slain Congolese leader Laurent Kabila against a rebel incursion backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

While officially the SADC members are bound to a mutual defence treaty in the case of outside aggression, many member nations took a neutral stance to the conflict. However, the governments of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola supported the Kabila government after a meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe on 19 August Several more nations joined the conflict for Kabila in the following

weeks: Chad, Libya and Sudan.

A multisided war thus began. In September 1998, Zimbabwean forces flown into Kinshasa held off a rebel advance that reached the outskirts of the capital city while Angolan units attacked northward from its borders and eastward from the Angolan territory of Cabinda, against the besieging rebel forces.

This intervention by various nations saved the Kabila government, and pushed the rebel front lines away from the capital. However, it was unable to defeat the rebel forces, and the advance threatened to escalate into direct conflict with the national armies of Uganda and Rwanda that formed part of the rebel movement.

Rebels in DRC are now accusing Angola and Zimbabwe of mobilizing troops to fight in Congo in a repeat of a 1998-2002 war that drew in armies from a half-dozen African nations. The Zimbabwe officials vehemently deny this accusation. The current conflict is said to be fuelled by tensions left over from Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Angola and Zimbabwe fought for DRC in exchange for access to copper and diamond concessions. Rwanda and Uganda backed rival rebel factions.

President Robert Mugabe, lured by DRC’s rich natural resources and a desire to increase his own power and prestige in Africa sent troops to assist Kabila, was the most ardent supporter of intervention on Kabila’s behalf.

Kabila and Mugabe had signed a US$200 million contract involving corporations owned by Mugabe and his family, and there were several reports in 1998 of numerous mining contracts being negotiated with companies under the control of the Mugabe family. Mugabe resented being displaced by Nelson Mandela as the premier statesman of southern Africa. The war was a chance to confront another prominent African president, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. As the head of the SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Mugabe believed he could reclaim his position as southern Africa’s premiere statesmen by aiding Kabila. Mugabe pitched the war as an effort to shore up a “democratically elected government.” Involvement in the war triggered a precipitous decline in Zimbabwe’s economic performance and the value of the Zimbabwean dollar. In addition, it caused severe shortages of hard currency.

Despite protests at home that Zimbabwean lives were being put at risk in an ill-fated adventure, as well as pleas from Nelson Mandela that the conflict should have been resolved by negotiations rather than firepower, in November of the same year Mugabe stepped up his support for Kabila. Zimbabwe then had 6,000 troops in the DRC along with tanks, helicopters and Mig fighter planes, costing an estimated £1million a day. The budget at the time saw a

46 per cent increase in defence spending. While Mandela wanted a negotiated settlement in the Congo, Mugabe believed that military intervention will establish Zimbabwe as a regional sphere of influence and refuses to countenance talks with the rebels. Oh right we are exactly that, the negative centre of influence.

Years went on and then a bodyguard shot and wounded Laurent Kabila in an assassination attempt on 16 January 2001. Two days later Kabila died from his injuries, some sources say he died on the same day. It is unknown who ordered the killing but most feel Kabila’s allies were to blame as they were tired of his duplicity, in particular his failure to implement a detailed timetable for the introduction of a new democratic constitution leading to free and fair elections. Angolan troops were highly visible at Kabila’s funeral cortege in Kinshasa.

In April 2001 a UN panel of experts investigated the illegal exploitation of diamonds, cobalt, coltan, gold and other lucrative resources in the DRC. The report accused Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe of systematically exploiting Congolese resources and recommended the Security Council impose sanctions.

There was even criticism from within the upper ranks of the ruling party, ZANU-PF.

The increasingly outspoken then chief whip, Moses Mvenge, accused the government of getting its priorities wrong. In an apparent reference to the fact that more than 1,200 Zimbabweans were dying each week as a result of AIDS, Mr Mvenge said, “It is sad to note that the death rate in Zimbabwe has gone to levels above those found in any war situation…The resource allocators do not seem to realise that the war back home is more serious than the war in the DRC.”

Plain and simple the main reason as to why the war was supported was down to greed and pride.exactly what has destroyed Zimbabwe. The DRC war was a war with no victors. The DRC war has done more harm than good to the late president’s allies, despite the immediate economic and security benefits for Zimbabwe and Angola. The commitment of forces to the Congo accelerated the decline of Robert Mugabe’s regime as the Zimbabwean opposition made opposition to the war into its battle cry. For Zimbabwe, involvement in the DRC was also an economic affair. The president committed $200m to funding the first war and entered the second to defend the integrity of the country, support his old friend Kabila and, not least, protect his investments.

Although some of the commercial holdings established at the time lined the pockets of the regime’s bigwigs, they have done little for Zimbabwe itself.

The international financial institutions penalised Zimbabwe specifically for its involvement in the DRC war, among other things by holding back a loan of $240m, and the regime found itself in deep crisis.

Africa’s “first world war” was a defeat for the regime, Zimbabwe, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now (African Union) AU. Despite all the meetings and summit conferences, and the appointment of then Zambian president Fredrick Chiluba as mediator, the OAU proved incapable of imposing a settlement. The UN, too, has suffered a major setback. The war flashed again and now it brings bad memories to Zimbabwe.

Harare Tribune

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  1. Lucien Naki

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