First Congo War

The First Congo War[lower-alpha 3] (1996–1997), also nicknamed Africa's First World War,[29] was a civil war and international military conflict which took place mostly in Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo), with major spillovers into Sudan and Uganda. The conflict culminated in a foreign invasion that replaced Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko with the rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Kabila's uneasy government subsequently came into conflict with his allies, setting the stage for the Second Congo War in 1998–2003.

First Congo War
Part of the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the spillover of the Burundian Civil War and the Second Sudanese Civil War

Map showing the AFDL offensive
Date24 October 1996 – 16 May 1997
(6 months, 3 weeks and 1 day)
Zaire, with spillovers into Uganda and Sudan[1]
Result Decisive AFDL victory


Supported by:
 Central African Republic[8]
 Kuwait (denied)[9]

Mai-Mai[lower-alpha 1]

Supported by:
 South Africa[16]
 United States (covertly)[20]

Mai-Mai[lower-alpha 1]
Commanders and leaders
Mobutu Sese Seko
Donatien Mahele Lieko Bokungu 
Christian Tavernier
Omar al-Bashir
Jonas Savimbi
Paul Rwarakabije
Robert Kajuga
Tharcisse Renzaho
Laurent-Désiré Kabila
André Kisase Ngandu 
Paul Kagame
James Kabarebe
Yoweri Museveni
Pierre Buyoya
José Eduardo dos Santos
Zaire: c. 50,000[lower-alpha 2]
Interahamwe: 40,000–100,000 total[22]
UNITA: c. 1,000[22]–2,000[6]

AFDL: 57,000[23]

Rwanda: 3,500–4,000[23][25]
Angola: 3,000+[25]
Eritrea: 1 battalion[26]
Casualties and losses
10,000–15,000 killed
10,000 defected[25]
thousands surrender
3,000–5,000 killed
222,000 refugees missing[27]
Total: 250,000 dead[28]

Following years of internal strife, dictatorship and economic decline, Zaire was a dying state by 1996. The eastern parts of the country had been destabilized due to the Rwandan genocide which had perforated its borders, as well as long-lasting regional conflicts and resentments left unresolved since the Congo Crisis. In many areas state authority had in all but name collapsed, with infighting militias, warlords, and rebel groups (some sympathetic to the government, others openly hostile) wielding effective power.[30][31] The population of Zaire had become restless and resentful of the inept and corrupt regime; the Zairean Armed Forces were in a catastrophic condition.[32][21] Mobutu, who had become terminally ill, was no longer able to keep the different factions in the government under control, making their loyalty questionable. Furthermore, the end of the Cold War meant that Mobutu's strong anti-communist stance was no longer sufficient to justify the political and financial support he had received from foreign powers - his regime, therefore, was essentially politically and financially bankrupt.[33][20]

The situation finally escalated when Rwanda invaded Zaire in 1996 to defeat a number of rebel groups which had found refuge in the country. This invasion quickly escalated, as more states (including Uganda, Burundi, Angola, and Eritrea) joined the invasion, while a Congolese alliance of anti-Mobutu rebels was assembled.[30] Though the Zairean government attempted to put up an effective resistance, and was supported by allied militias as well as Sudan, Mobutu's regime collapsed in a matter of months.[34] Despite the war's short duration, it was marked by widespread destruction and extensive ethnic violence, with hundreds of thousands killed in the fighting and accompanying pogroms.[35]

A new government was installed, and Zaire was renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the termination of the Mobutu regime brought little political change, and Kabila found himself uneasy in the position of a proxy of his former benefactors. To avert a coup, Kabila expelled all Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian military units from the Congo, and moved to build a coalition including Namibian, Angolan, Zimbabwean and Zambian forces, soon encompassing a string of African nations from Libya to South Africa, although their support varied.[36] The tripartite coalition responded with a second invasion of the east, largely through proxy groups. These actions constituted the catalyst of the Second Congo War the following year, although some experts prefer to view the two conflicts as one continuous war whose aftereffects continue to date.[37][38]

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