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Point of No Return: Kabila, Rwanda and the Internal Dynamics of Africa's Great War

25th May 2010

Point of No Return: Kabila, Rwanda and the Internal Dynamics of Africa's Great War

Dr Philip Roessler and Mr Harry Verhoeven, University of Oxford

In May 1997 the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL), backed heavily by the Rwandan military and other regional powers, toppled the long-running dictatorship of Mobutu Sésé Seko. The post-Mobutu government, with Laurent-Desire Kabila as president and Rwandan James Kabarebe as chief of staff of the new Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC), promised to restore stability to a region wracked by spreading violence and conflict since the early 1990s and punctuated by the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But in late July 1998, a mere fifteen months after taking power, Kabila, in a hasty move designed to catch the Rwandans off-guard, expelled his comrade-in-arms and all foreign forces from the Congo, igniting a second war that would draw in nine regional governments and become the most devastating conflict since World War II. This paper, based on interviews with key players on each side of the conflict, explores the internal dynamics that led to the breakdown of the post-Mobutu government and the onset of the August 1998 war in the DRC.

Philip Roessler is the Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. Before his present post, he held fellowships from the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Stanford University and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He has published articles in the American Journal of Political Science and Comparative Politics. He is finishing a book, In the Shadow of the Coup D’état: Threat Substitution and Civil War in Africa, that examines the link between regime instability and civil war. It combines cross-national data on the relationship between internal regime rivalries and civil war in Africa combined with in-depth case studies of conflict escalation in Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad.

Harry Verhoeven is a DPhil student at the Department of Politics & International Relations, Oxford University (St-Cross College). His doctoral research focuses on the political economy of the Al-Ingaz Revolution and the links between political violence, ecological scarcity and the idea of development in Sudan. He is the Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN) and previously worked for the Belgian government in Congo. He is currently involved in new research with Dr. Philip Roessler on the Great African War and the internal dynamics that lead to the rise and fall of the coalition between Laurent Kabila and his "Eastern" backers.