Congo’s Infinite War

Paradoxically, the current flood of refugees in eastern Congo has helped to draw attention to the conflict there. This moment must be seized not only to beef up UN peacekeeping forces, but, more importantly, to use all existing leverage with the combatants and their backers to bring them back to the negotiating table.

HARARE – Some time ago, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, said of the Democratic Republic of Congo: “Nobody in the outside world feels threatened, and so the international community is not really paying attention.”

Not anymore: currently, Congo’s eastern province of North Kivu is in the headlines almost every day. Last August, fighting to the north of the provincial capital Goma flared up again, provoking a major humanitarian crisis that has no end in sight.

Like the eight-year civil war (in what was then known as Zaire) that nominally ended in 2002, the current fighting involves many different local groups: not only the Congolese government forces, which oppose the insurgents loyal to the Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda, but also the Rwandan Hutu rebels who were responsible for the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990’s and a jungle force known as the “Mai-Mai” militias. “It is a basket of crabs,” one Congolese friend told me.