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The Democratic Republic of the Congo
cycle of violence


For decades, the people of the Congo have been tormented by the chaos of wars, conflicts and corruption.

And whilst Congolese soil is exceptionally fertile and rich in raw materials such as copper, cobalt, gold, diamonds, coltan and oil, its people do not really reap the benefits.

Indeed, the vast majority live in abject poverty. In the east of the country, one of Africa's bloodiest conflicts has claimed the lives of millions and the region remains in turmoil to this day.

With looting, rape and murder commonplace, people have no option but to escape. As for the human rights situation, it is quite simply catastrophic.


Population46 million (2013)
Official languageFrench
Life expectancy56 years
GDP per capita400 US dollars (2012)
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Ursula Kayali - CICR Delegate Dem. Rep. of Congo


Ursula Kayali has been working for the ICRC for over 20 years, and her current role involves helping the people of eastern Congo. She hopes that her work can make a real difference.

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Local people

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Ursula Kayali and Alice Masika work tirelessly for the welfare of the local civilian population. They are incredibly proud of the work they do and talk about what makes them happy in spite of the atrocities that they have experienced.

What do you have in your pocket?

What are you proud of?

When are you happy?

What do you worry about?

How do you imagine your children’s future?

The conflict

In 1994, genocide erupts in Rwanda. Over a mere 100 days, Hutu extremists murder around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Before long, the murderers themselves are hunted down. An army of exiled Tutsis from Uganda march into Rwanda under the leadership of Paul Kagame, the current president. Many of the murderers flee to neighbouring Zaire, known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Hundreds of thousands of Hutus gather in the refugee camps around Goma. To this day, some of the violence badly affecting eastern Congo is still linked to the consequences of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Timeline of major events

1960 Independence Independence
On 30 June, the Congo becomes an independent republic with Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president.
1961 The murder of Patrice Lumumba The murder of Patrice Lumumba
The Belgian government allows Lumumba to fly to Katanga. "You're going to kill me, aren't you?" – these were the last words spoken by the first Prime Minister of the Independent Republic of the Congo after hours of torture.
1965 Mobutu seizes power Mobutu seizes power
General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu seizes power with the support of the CIA.
1994 The Rwandan Genocide The Rwandan Genocide
Hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees flood into the Kivu region following the genocide in Rwanda, including many of the perpetrators. The camps in Congo are attacked by rebels under Rwandan control and countless Hutu refugees are massacred.
1996 - 1997 The First Congo War The First Congo War
The first Congo War begins. With the support of the Rwandan army, Tutsi rebels take over vast expanses of eastern Congo and overthrow the Mobutu regime. Laurent Kabila becomes the new president, initially backed by the two much smaller states of Uganda and Rwanda. In 1997, Kabila renames his country from Zaire back to "the Democratic Republic of the Congo". When Kabila turns against Rwanda and Uganda in 1998, however, the most devastating African war in history breaks out.
1998 - 2002 The Second Congo War The Second Congo War
The most devastating war that Africa has ever seen results in the deaths of millions of people.
2001 The murder of Laurent Kabila The murder of Laurent Kabila
Laurent Kabila is murdered by one of his bodyguards. The circumstances behind the assassination remain unclear to this day. His son Joseph Kabila becomes president aged 29.
2003 The Sun City Agreement (South Africa) The Sun City Agreement (South Africa)
The transition to a democratic government is prepared with a new constitution, with Kabila as president of a "government of national unity". The north and south of the country remain war zones. The UN sends EU forces to Bunia to prevent a massacre.
2005 - 2006 Free elections Free elections
84.3 per cent of voters support the new constitution, paving the way for new elections in 2006. The first free elections for decades are held in July 2006. Joseph Kabila triumphs over Jean-Pierre Bemba. International election observers confirm that Kabila's election as president was lawful.
2009 UN report criticises war economy UN report criticises war economy
The eastern regions of the Congo remain in turmoil. The UN Security Council asks its peacekeepers to protect the civilian population as part of its MONUC mission, which was renamed MONUSCO in 2010.
2011 Presidential elections Presidential elections
Kabila officially triumphs with 48.9 per cent of the votes. 
His main opponent Etienne Tshisekedi refuses to accept the election result, which is also questioned by international observers.
2012 - 2013 M23 uprising M23 uprising
Rebels from the M23 group take over the streets of Goma in November 2012.


The political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains fraught. The neighbouring countries of South Sudan and the Central African Republic are war zones themselves. The ICRC provides support and emergency aid to the population.

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"Generally speaking, Goma is a town where people get on with their daily lives. They get used to any situation. That's what I find to be the strength of the population."
Alice Masika, ICRC staff, Dem. Rep. of Congo
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