Kivu, the forgotten armed conflict in the heart of Africa


Thu, Sep 27, 2018 - Page 6

When asked to name a long-running war somewhere the world, many people are likely to point to notorious hotspots such as Afghanistan or Syria. How many would name Kivu?

Yet this conflict in the heart of Africa ranks among the longest, bloodiest and potentially most dangerous wars in recent history.

Fighting in Kivu, a region in the east of the vast powder-keg state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), first flared a generation ago.

It developed into two full-fledged wars that sucked in countries around eastern and southern Africa, claiming millions of lives.

Today, the fighting continues at a lower intensity and without direct foreign involvement.

However, it still reaps a near-daily harvest of killings, rape, maimings and torched villages, coinciding with an ongoing outbreak of Ebola — a mix that adds perilously to the DR Congo’s instability.

“The conflict is deliberately being forgotten or played down by the international community, which is showing a kind of willful blindness,” said Omar Kavota, head of the Centre of Studies for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights (CEPADHO), a not-for-profit group based in the province of North Kivu.

The bloodshed is mainly blamed on militias derived from ethnic groups, many of which fight over Kivu’s natural resources — a traffic in so-called “blood minerals” that include coltan, a metallic ore vital for mobile phones and electric cars.

According to the Congo Research Group, a study project at New York University, 134 armed groups are active in North and South Kivu, the region’s two provinces.

In August alone, it counted 49 violent deaths, 103 kidnappings and 32 clashes.

On Saturday, 21 people were killed in the city of Beni by assailants wielding guns and machetes, prompting aid workers to suspend efforts to roll back an outbreak of deadly Ebola. Two days later, one person was killed and 17 kidnapped in Oicha, a town 30km to the south.

Authorities have said the attack was the work of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group rooted in Ugandan Islamism that has killed hundreds of Kivu civilians since its creation in 1995.

The ADF is under UN sanctions.

Kivu, a region bigger than Portugal that borders Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, spiraled into catastrophe in 1994.

Hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutus streamed across the border, fearing reprisals after hardline Hutus were ousted from power following a genocide of Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

Two years later, the first war flared in the DR Congo. Rwanda’s new strongman, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, backed a campaign by rebel Laurent-Desire Kabila to overthrow dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Kagame’s forces entered the DR Congo to settle scores with Hutus who had taken part in the genocide, but civilian refugees — “between 200,000 and 300,000,” according to Belgian writer David van Reybrouck — were the main victims.

Once in power, Kabila turned against his Rwandan and Ugandan allies, expelling their forces from the country and the second war ensued in the DR Congo.

Nine African countries and more than two dozen armed groups became embroiled in the conflict, which by some estimates caused more than 5 million deaths from violence, disease and starvation.

Some historians have dubbed the conflict: “The Great War of Africa.”

The war formally ended in 2003, but its embers still glow brightly, stirring fears that they could be easily fanned back into greedy flames.