DRC Country Profile


The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. It is nearly the size of western Europe, and it is home to 79 million people. The country has suffered from armed violence for much of the past fifty years and has not seen a peaceful transition of presidential power since gaining independence in 1960. Currently, there are many armed groups operating in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. The president, Joseph Kabila, defeated one of the most dangerous armed groups, M23, in 2013. Unfortunately, many of its members joined other armed groups shortly after.

President Joseph Kabila

Kabila is 46 years old and has held power in DRC since 2001 when his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. Joseph Kabila’s current term ended in December 2016, but he has retained his power without holding elections since then. Elections are now scheduled for December 2018 (BBC).

Recent Violence

In December 2017, 15 UN peacekeeper were killed by the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group that originated in Uganda. Throughout 2017, 1.7 million people were forced from their homes due to conflict (BBC). Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation as a result of the fighting (The Economist).

Succession of Power

  • 1960 – DRC gains independence from Belgium
  • 1965 – Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) takes power through a coup; later renames the country “Zaire”
  • 1997 – Laurent Kabila takes power through a rebellion; Rwanda provides support; the country is renamed “Democratic Republic of Congo”
  • 2001 – Joseph Kabila takes power when his father Laurent is assassinated

Additional Sources

“The Economist” – refers to January 6, 2018 edition, “The Never-ending Term”

Kurdistan: An Explainer


On September 25, 2017, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) held a referendum for its independence from Iraq. The referendum was called by the President of the KRI, Masoud Barzani. The KRI is known as a “semi-autonomous” zone in northern Iraq. 92% of the 3.3 million voters in the referendum voted or secession, with a turnout rate of 72.61%. The referendum was meant to apply to all of the territory that the Iraqi Kurds currently occupy, which they extended beyond the semi-autonomous region when they won back territory from ISIS in 2016 and 2017. Iraq’s president, Haidr al-Abadi strongly opposed the referendum, along with many surrounding countries and Western allies of the new Iraqi government. Turkey and Iran are home to many Kurds of their own, so they fear the ethnic group gaining more political power in neighboring Iraq. In Iraq, about 15-20% of the total population of 37 million is Kurdish.

KRI’s Preparedness for Independence

Although the people of the KRI clearly want independence, the KRI government is quite ill-prepared for statehood. It is deeply indebted and defended by a fighting force (the Peshmurga) that is deeply divided into multiple family-led factions. Additionally, President Barzani has extended his rule twice and shut down Parliament to when it threatened to limit his powers. There is no mechanism or agreement that enforces the Kurdish referendum, so secession is unlikely. Barzani nevertheless wanted to get the vote off before the KRI’s presidential elections on November 1st of 2017.

History of Kurdistan Political Status in Iraq

At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein allowed Kurdistan to become fully autonomous, though not independent from Iraq. In 2003, following the US invasion of Iraq, the KRI gave up its autonomy and became “semi autonomous,” meaning the US and Iraqi government had more power over the region. Since 2003, the KRI has increased its power by expanding the territory its forces control (which it won back from ISIS), and increasing its oil exports significantly.


The Economist: Sept 23rd, 2017


Civil Unrest in Togo: An Explainer


In the month of September, 3 people were killed amidst anti-government protests. One of the victims was a 9-year-od boy. The President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe has been in power for 12 years. His father, Eyadema Gnassingbe ruled the country for 38 years before that, beginning in 1967. These two men make up the longest-ruling family regime in Africa. They represent the Union for the Republic (UNIR) party, which holds 62 of the National Assembly’s 91 seats. When the public began showing signs of unrest earlier this year, UNIR promised to introduce a bill for presidential term limits to the National Assembly. It turned out that this bill would not apply retroactively, and would in fact allow President Gnassingbe to run again in 2020 and 2025. The bill failed, so the country will soon vote on the constitutional amendment in a referendum.

The Opposition

The opposition is made of many different factions, the most powerful being the National Alliance for Change (ANC) led by Jean-Pierre Fabre. Fabre came in second place in the 2015 presidential elections, but he and the ANC have begun to work with the Pan African National Party to defeat Gnassingbe as soon as possible. The politics in Togo are tied in many ways to tribal identities. The Gnassingbes actually come from a relatively small northern tribe called the Kabye, but they have filled the government and military with their tribemates, giving the group an outsized level of influence.

Comparison to The Gambia

Given the increasing levels of civil unrest, citizens of Togo may be seeking help from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was instrumental in ousting Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia. ECOWAS assembled troops at the border of The Gambia when Jammeh seemed he would refuse to give up his office after losing the presidential election. ECOWAS has not responded to the civil unrest in Togo so far. While the situation is not the same as in The Gambia, another complicating factor is that the president of ECOWAS is married to Faure Gnassingbe’s sister.

Source: The Economist, September 23rd

South Sudan: An Explainer

Update: December 2017

A peace agreement was signed in December 2017 between the government, led by President Salva Kiir, and the rebel group led by former Vice President Riek Machar. The agreement includes a ceasefire and access to conflict-affected areas for humanitarian assistance. The war has now been going on for over five years, killed tens of thousands of people, and forced over a million refugees out of the country (New York Times).


There is a civil war going on in South Sudan. The war is being fought between two ethnic groups, which puts it at risk of turning into a genocide. The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, is from the Dinka ethnic group, while former Vice President Riek Machar is from the Nuer ethnic group. These two men lead the factions that are fighting each other and thousands of civilians who have gotten in the way. President Kiir rose to power in 2011 after a referendum liberated South Sudan from Sudan to the north. Riek Machar was his vice president until July 2013, when Kiir fired him. Civil war broke out in December 2013 and lasted until a peace agreement signed between Kiir and Machar in August 2015. Violence broke out yet again in July 2016 between the government and opposition forces and has continued since.


A History of the Conflict

The conflict between the northern and southern regions of what used to be Sudan began before the country had even gained independence. Egypt and Britain gave up their joint rule in 1956 and a new government was established in Khartoum. While the north embodied a Muslim/Arabic identity, the south continued to follow traditional beliefs of its 64 ethnic groups. The north ruled according to its Muslim/Arabic identity, and the south fought back in a civil war that lasted from 1955 to 1972. The Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of 1972 awarded Sudan’s southern region some autonomy, but that autonomy expired in 1983. As a result, another civil war broke out and lasted until 2005. This war was fought by a group from the south called Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), of which Salva Kiir is now the leader. 1.5 million people were killed in the conflict. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement brought an end to the civil war and scheduled a referendum vote for secession of the south in 2011. The new nation of South Sudan was created as the outcome of this referendum in July 2011.

Civil War in the New South Sudan

The country’s president, Salva Kiir and vice president, Riek Machar did not get along and fell out in July 2013 when Machar was officially fired. Civil war broke out a few months later in December between Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group. The violence was bad enough for the UN to make a rare decision to authorize peacekeepers to use force in order to protect civilians. The violence also prevented farmers from harvesting crops, which led to the worst food crisis in the world by July 2014. One third of South Sudan’s population (4 million people) were affected, and 50,000 children faced death by starvation.

The Latest Developments – As of December 2016

It seemed the conflict might end in August 2015 when President Kiir and Vice President Machar signed a peace agreement. Machar returned to the country in April 2016 and was once again sworn in as vice president. Unfortunately, violence erupted yet again in July 2016, Machar fled after he claiming that Kiir’s forces attempted to assassinate him, and Kiir replaced Machar with an army general as the new vice president. The fighting has spread into the southern region of the country. Kiir’s government is seemingly mobilizing militias to target civilians from particular ethnic groups there and throughout the country. The United Nations has sent in expert observers who have warned of an impending genocide.


Adam Dieng, the UN Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention suggested an arms embargo to the UN Security Council as a measure to keep weapons out of the hands of the fighters. In December 2016, Samantha Powers from the US put forward an arms embargo proposal to the Security Council, but the proposal failed with eight abstentions. Other possible solution are sanctions against South Sudan, a regional protection force in addition to the UN’s 14,000 forces, and a hybrid court to hold those involved accountable for crimes committed.


Before South Sudan was even created, all of Sudan had endured Africa’s longest running civil war. Today, things are as bad as ever in the 5-year-old South Sudan. 200,000 people are seeking safety in UN emergency protection camps. 3 million South Sudanese in total have been forced from their homes. 600,000 of these have fled across the southern border to Uganda. It is estimated that 17,000 children are fighting in various militias. The unrest has led to very poor health outcomes, with 10% of children dying before the age of five. Rape has been recorded on a massive scale, with 1,300 cases documented between April and September 2016 in Unity State alone. There have been 50,000 total deaths since 2014.

Side Issue –  UN Peacekeepers’ Failure

When the fighting broke out in July 2016, there was a particularly gruesome attack on Terrain Hotel in Juba. On July 11, government troops entered the hotel and began killing, torturing, and raping victims inside. Victims included western aid workers, UN staff, and other civilians. There was a UN peacekeeping camp less than a mile away, but the UN troops never came to the rescue. The failed response led to the firing of the Kenyan commander of the UN troops after less than six months in charge.