The Democratic Republic of Congo bears the scars of a modern history shaped by unremitting bloodshed. After Belgium's brutal colonisation came three decades of tyranny under Mobutu Sese Seko, followed by two wars, the last a five-year conflict so appalling in scale and savagery that it is now referred to as Africa's "First World War".
A peace agreement last year promised to end the orgy of murder pillage and rape that drew in six foreign African armies and left three million dead. The disastrous events of the past week have left the peace deal in tatters and now those who warned that a UN force of just 10,000 soldiers for an area the size of Western Europe would be utterly impotent are in danger of being proved right.
The immediate crisis is the surprise capture by renegade Congolese forces (former Rwanda-backed rebels who were supposed to have merged into a new national army) of the strategic eastern town of Bukavu. Dozens have been killed and the chaos has derailed efforts to help half a million civilians facing starvation. Even if the dissidents withdraw from Bakuvu the omens are not encouraging. This border region is the crucible of the two wars that have ravaged the DRC since 1996. Once again, the renegade forces say they are acting to protect the Banyamulenge minority, ethnic Congolese Tutsis. And once again the Congolese are accusing Rwanda, Congo's main enemy in the war, of orchestrating "an invasion".
Events in Bukavu have ignited a wave of understandable anger at the UN. The feeble and over-stretched mission's reputation was already damaged by the alleged sexual abuse of children by its soldiers. Yet it is difficult to understand why UN forces stood aside and watched as the rebels seized Bukavu. If the transitional government now falls, it will be in large measure an indictment of the international community's failure to underpin peace with convincing support. The world gave warm backing to the peace deal, but the failure to deliver meaningful sums of money and enough forces with a clear mandate to enforce the accord suggests that the engagement represented only lip service.Reuse content