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First and Second Congo Wars

Also called: Africa’s first world war

Years: 1996-2002
Battle deaths: 18,095 [1]
Non-state conflict, battle-deaths: 1,761 [3]
Onesided violence: 60,162 [2]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Chad

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2018-07-19 15:55:15
The first and second Congo Wars took place in the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo and was one of the deadliest wars in the world since World War II. This conflict is sometimes known as Africas First World War because it at times involved armed forces from more than seven nations as well as numerous rebel groups and militias. The war started in 1996 in the aftermath of the civil war in Rwanda and was formally ended by a peace agreement in 2003. The conflict restarted again in 2006 in the Kivu provinces of northeastern DRC.


The recent conflict in the Congo has been rooted in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and related violence in Burundi which saw hundreds of thousands of Hutus flee both countries into eastern Zaïre. The resulting refugee camps quickly became dominated by the Interahamwe Hutu militias that had carried out much of the genocide supported by Hutu members of the Rwandan military.

The First Congo War began in 1996 as an effort to punish members of these militia and to prevent raids or an invasion by the groups involved, the newly Tutsi-dominated army of Rwanda entered eastern Zaïre, supported by forces from Burundi and Uganda. This intervention was strongly opposed by the government of Zaïre under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu had been supported by the U.S. as a bulwark against the spread of communism into sub-Saharan Africa. However with the end of the Cold War, both superpowers disengaged from sub-Saharan Africa. When the United States withdrew its backing of Mobutu, rebels correctly felt that he would be easier to overthrow while deprived of superpower support. The Rwandan and Burundians began to funnel weapons and money to the anti-Sese Seko Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) under Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

Source: Wikipedia, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved [dat]


In 1996-1997 an armed rebellion led by AFDL (Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo, Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo) and supported by Rwanda and Uganda managed to topple Then President Mobutu in May 1997. However the new regime was soon at war again, this time against RCD (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie, Congolese Rally for Democracy) and MLC (Mouvement de libération congolais, Congolese Liberation Movement). This war, known as Africa’s first World War had more than seven different African counties involved in the fighting. After years of negotiations the parties concluded a final peace agreement in 2003, and in 2006 the first democratic elections in more than 40 years were held. The next phase of the conflict broke out after the elections in 2006. CNDP (Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple, National Congress for the Defence of the People) believed to be supported by Rwanda fought the government. This conflict ended in an agreement on 23 March 2009 but recurred in 2012 as a new movement M23 complained about the slow implementation of the last agreement.

Source: Uppsala Conflict Data Program (Date of retrieval: 2013-08-11) UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia, Uppsala University

Also see Globasecurity’s Congo War pages which include information about the belligerents and many maps that relate to the conflict.



Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: UCDP Battle-Related Deaths Dataset v. 5-2016 (link) (1989-2015) #86 #179
Low: 15,319 High: 24,537

[2] UCDP One-sided Violence Dataset v. 1.4-2015 (1989-2014) (link) including actors: Government of DR Congo (Zaire) , Government of Uganda, Government of Rwanda, AFDL, RCD, RCD-ML , CNDD, Mayi Mayi, ALiR , Mayi Mayi - Makabe, MLC, RCD-N, MLC, RCD-N, UPC
Low: 53,389 High: 114,180

[3] UCDP Non-State Conflict Dataset UCDP Non-State Conflict Dataset v. 2.5-2015, 1989-2014 (link) including dyads: Mayi Mayi vs RCD, FRF vs RCD, RCD-K-ML vs MLC, RCD-N, AFDL vs ALiR, AFDL vs Mayi Mayi, CNDD-FDD, Mayi-Mayi vs RCD, ALiR, CNDD-FDD , Mayi Mayi vs RCD, RCD-ML vs RCD-K-ML, Mayi Mayi vs RCD-ML, ALiR, Mayi Mayi vs RCD, Bafulero, Bavira vs Banyamulenge, FLC vs Mayi Mayi
Low: 1,659 High: 2,374

Excess deaths: Coghlan et al estimated 3-9 million deaths, mostly due to non-violent causes. Lancet 2006; 367: 44–51

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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