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Ending Congo’s Forever War

The seemingly intractable conflict in Africa’s volatile Great Lakes region, sparked by the Rwandan genocide 30 years ago, is raging anew, as local and foreign-backed forces plunder the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s vast mineral deposits. Resolving the crisis will require close coordination among regional and external actors.

LAGOS – Violence is once again surging in Africa’s volatile Great Lakes region. This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide that left 800,000 people dead and another two million displaced. These refugees fled into the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which became the epicenter of an increasingly intractable conflict – what some now call Africa’s Thirty Years’ War.

Since the ouster of the kleptocratic dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, successive DRC governments have been unable to secure the country’s borders and govern large areas in its east, where about six million people have been killed and another seven million internally displaced. The lawlessness of this vast territory has enabled local and foreign-backed forces’ systemic looting – especially in recent years – of the DRC’s large deposits of cobalt, coltan, copper, gold, diamonds, and other minerals.

African regional bodies, external powers, and the United Nations – which has deployed peacekeeping missions in the DRC for 25 years – have failed to curb the violence. To prevent an escalation, and ultimately end the conflict, the DRC’s domestic, regional, and international interlocutors must understand the complex dynamics at work.