From 1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has experienced enduring civil wars. The First Congo War (1996-7) and the Second Congo War (1998-2003) were the most prominent events in the DRC’s continuing instability. This research paper critically evaluates four perspectives to explain ethnic conflict: namely, primordialism; instrumentalism; institutionalism; and constructivism. It asks: to what extent were ethnic identities leading causes of the conflict; and, how has their role changed or persisted throughout the conflict? This research paper seeks to redress existing gaps in our understanding of these wars and provide new insights into the grounds of the DRC conflict. In particular, it examines how identity politics are discussed in primary sources, including those processed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Criminal Court, International Crisis Group, International Red Cross, UN Peacekeeping Commissions, UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General, and the UN Stabilization Missions.
To explain how ethnic identities are discussed, the research examines findings from my analysis of primary sources and pre-existing secondary literature. My research report argues that although institutionalism can (to some degree) explain the causes and conduct of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, instrumentalism provides stronger explanatory because leaders of various militia groups have persistently incited violence primarily for political or economic objectives. Results of my analysis reveal that during the First and Second Congo Wars, and also in recent violence, leaders of various militia groups politicised ethnic identities of certain groups and prompted them into violence inherently for political and/or economic motivations. These findings are practically useful as they provide the basis for policymakers and, specifically, people that work within the United Nations Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping Commissions to better navigate conflict resolutions.