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Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo
The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) was a coalition of Congolese dissidents, disgruntled minority groups and nations that toppled President Mobutu Sese Seko and brought Laurent Kabila to power in the First Congo War (1996-1998). While the group was successful in overthrowing the Mobutu dictatorship, the alliance fell apart after Kabila and his Ugandan and Rwandan backers turned on each other, marking the beginning of the Second Congo War in 1998.
The organization was originally the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire, but was altered after Kabila changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after entering office. It is occasionally referred to as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire. The alliance is also frequently called by its original French name, Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL).
By the middle of 1996 the situation in eastern Zaire was simmering with tension. Following the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hutus had fled across the border into the DRC where they settled in large refugee camps. Many of those responsible for the genocide, the former Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe militia, used the anonymity offered by the camps to reorganize and began using them as bases to infiltrate back across the border and conduct an insurgency. Despite protests by the Rwandan government, the Zairean government and international organizations providing humanitarian aid to the camps were unable or unwilling to remove the militants from the refugee population.
At the same time, the situation of the Banyamulenge minority, ethnic Tutsis who had lived in Zaire since the late 19th century, was growing precarious. They had long been discriminated against for being relative newcomers to the region and having a different language and culture than neighboring tribes, part of Mobutu Sese Seko's strategy of encouraging a low level of internal discord in the country so an alliance would not form against him. Tthe arrival of large numbers of Hutus, many of them militant Hutus who carried out attacks on Banyamulenge targets, had substantially upset what equilibrium existed. The Rwandan government also saw the Banyamulenge as natural allies and had quietly armed and trained a substantial force in anticipation of what it felt to be an unstable situation.
Formation of the ADFL
On 7 October 1996, the vice-governor based in the Kivu town of Bukavu proclaimed that 300,000 Banyamulenge were no longer welcome and would have to leave the country. This followed the passing of national legislation changing citizenship laws. In response, the Banyamulenge began a violent uprising against the local government and attacked ethnic groups that felt a grievance against, in particular the Hutus. However, what was initially characterized as an tribal war quickly turned into something more. With support from Rwandan Tutsis, though apparently without overt Rwandan government support, the Banyamulenge managed to fend off an attack by the Zairean army. The rising tension between Rwanda and Zaire then led to an exchange of mortar fire over Lake Kivu between the two nations' armed forces.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a former Marxist rebel who had spent most of the previous decade selling gold in Tanzania, appeared as head of his old rebel group, the Party of the Peoples' Revolution, which had previously been thought to be defunct. In an remarkably short period of time, Kabila found himself head of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, which also included the National Council of Resistance for Democracy (CNRD) led by Kissase, the Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MRLZ) led by Masusu Nindaga, and the Democratic Alliance of the People (ADP). On 18 October, the Banyamulenge declared that they were joining the ADFL and a Banyamulenge, Déogratias Bugera , became the first general-secretary of the organization.
There has been much speculation about possible foreign involvement in facilitating the creation of the ADFL, most of it swirling around the Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, both of whom were personal acquaintances of Kabila. They have officially denied any involvement in the creation of the rebel group, though their culpability is widely accepted by foreign observers and the media. Uganda and Rwanda quickly threw the weight of their support behind the ADFL and sent forces across the Zairean border. Burundi, Angola, the rebels of southern Sudan, and the security forces of the province of Katanga, all of which had long standing grievances with the Mobutu government, especially his sponsoring of foreign rebel groups to destabilize neighboring countries, also proved to be important backers of the ADFL.
The course of the war
One of the first actions of the ADFL after it began to capture towns along the Zairean border was the dispersal of the large Hutu refugee camps that were offering safe haven to many militants, an act humanitarian and human rights organizations fiercely criticized. As each camp was destroyed, the refugees fled to the next, creating camps with massive populations. One camp at Mugungu, north of Lake Kivu, reached 500,000 inhabitants, which is completely unmanageable from by humanitarian organizations. However, in fierce fighting in mid-November the Zairean government forces and Hutu militants were either destroyed or forced out of the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu. The Hutu refugees then split, about 800,000 fleeing back into Rwanda and several hundred thousand moving west into the Zairean jungles where many died of starvation and exposure to the elements or fell victim to attacks by various armed parties.
While Kabila, due to his international contacts and ability to speak multiple language, was clearly the ADFL spokesperson, there was some question about who was the ultimate leader. A. Kisase Ngandu, an elder insurgent with impeccable revolutionary credentials, was the president of the ADFL's military wing, the National Resistance Council (CNRD). This internal tension between the two men was resolved on 4 January 1997, when Ngandu died under mysterious circumstances. Kabila thereafter appointed himself president of the CNRD as well as retaining his position as spokesperson and head of the political wing.
Once the Kivus were secured the remainder of the First Congo War consisted for the most part of the ADFL and its allies walking and driving across the country to Kinshasa. The population proved to have a deep antipathy towards President Mobutu Sese Seko after decades of corruption and despotism. Most of the demoralized soldiers in the national army either deserted, or joined the ADFL. Men from villages and towns throughout the country spontaneously joined the ADFL's advance. On 17 May 1997, seven months after the rebellion began and a day after Mobutu fled the country, the ADFL marched into Kinshasa and Kabila declared himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The ADFL then became the new national armed forces.
- What Kabila is Hiding: Civilian Killings and Impunity in Congo, Report by Human Rights Watch, October 1997
- Congo backgrounder by Socialism Today
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