Patterns of State Collapse and Reconstruction in Central Africa: Relfections on the Crisis in the Great Lakes

by René Lemarchand


In a matter of days last October, a large swathe of eastern Zaire erupted into an orgy of violence, sending tremors through the Great Lakes region and beyond. What brought Armageddon to the shores of Lake Kivu were the search and destroy operations launched by units of Rwanda’s Armée Patriotique Rwandaise (APR) on a Hutu refugee population of over a million people distributed among a dozen camps, many of which had been used as launching pads for cross-border raids into Rwanda and Burundi (1).

The awesome nemesis visited upon the refugees is both epilogue and beginning. It brings to a close the threats posed to the Rwanda state by Hutu extremists, and opens up a new chapter in the tortured history of Zaire (now renamed the Democratic Congo Republic [DCR]). The violence unleashed by the APR had its source in Zaire, but its logic came from Rwanda; the Kabiliste insurrection, on the other hand, has a logic of its own, but its impetus came from Rwanda.

Out of the dialectic that so closely links retribution to insurrection emerged–or resurfaced –a “revolutionary” movement dedicated to the overthrow of Mobutu’s dictatorship: Laurent-Desire Kabila’s Alliance des Forces Démocratique pour la Libération du Congo (AFDL). Its spectacular success, only six months after its birth, in carrying the banner of “liberation” to the gates of Kinshasa is a commentary on the extent of popular disaffection generated by the Mobutist state–and, parenthetically, on the naiveté of those analysts who failed to recognize, or refused to admit, that its disease, like that of Mobutu himself, was very clearly terminal.

This is not the place to speculate about the long-term impact of the seismic aftershocks sweeping across the Great Lakes region and the neighboring states. The aim here is to reflect on what the current crisis tells us about the patterns of decay and collapse affecting the state systems of Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire, and briefly consider the prospects for reconstruction. But first something must be said of the human costs of the crisis, and its geopolitical implications for the region…

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