Falsehoods about six million Congolese reported to have died since 1996

On 5 January 2023 at 10:52

The number of Congolese who died during armed conflicts is among issues that sparked mixed reactions on social media platforms mainly owned by Congolese who demand justice over atrocities reported in eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

They also consider the situation as Genocide and estimate the number of civilians who lost lives throughout the 26 years of insecurity. Some of them estimate the number of victims to be between six and ten million.

The heated debate was triggered by the resurgence of M23 rebel group towards the end of 2021, which continues to capture different areas in DRC.

Opinion leaders in DR Congo rushed to accuse Rwanda of backing the rebel group, and took the advantage of it to blame the neighboring country for lives lost over the past years based on the fact that Rwanda is among countries that supported AFDL of Laurent Desire Kabila in 1996 to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko.

Since then, Congolese have been blaming Rwanda for their country’s security problems claiming that it should be held accountable for the deaths of civilians in the country which is home to over 130 armed groups.

In June 2022, DRC’s Representative to the United Nations, Georges Nzongola Ntalaja told the UN Security Council that there is a US agency dubbed ‘Internal Rescue Committee’ which indicated that over six million Congolese died since 1998 due to Rwanda’s invasion.

The report pointed out by Nzongola, focused on civilians who died during conflicts that mired DRC from 1998 to 2007.

However, it did not indicate that the civilians were killed by Rwanda. As it was reported in 2020 by La Liberation, a news medium based in French, the figures were largely disputed over applied methodology.

Falsehoods on the numbers of civilians killed in RDC

It is no doubt that there is a large number of civilians who died since 1998 under what is considered as the second Congolese war. As of today, consequences of the chaos still lead to the deaths of many in eastern part of DRC through armed groups.

DR Congo registers more than 130 armed groups operating in eastern part of the country. They are either run by Congolese or foreigners and are responsible for killings of civilians in controlled areas.

Even though a large number of civilians lost lives during the unrest, claiming to know the exact number of deaths would be a mistake because DRC itself does not know the precise number of its population.

DR Congo which is among the largest African countries, conducted the latest population census in July 1984 during the leadership of Mobutu Sese Seko.

The figures are still considered today. They are reduced or increased depending on various reasons that do not depict the correct numbers of the country’s population.

The country currently indicates that it is populated by 100 million but does not have records of their particulars.

This photo was taken in February 2022 at the burial of over 60 civilians killed by CODECO armed group.

The country does not have a recognized identity card where people are only identified by voters’ cards which are not released in transparency as they are owned by people from different countries.

The only identity card Congolese have ever owned was issued at the leadership of Mobutu Sese Seko and expired and 1997.

The Congolese National Identification Agency (ONIP) also admits that Congolese do not have identity cards and considers it a serious problem.

It was highlighted in September 2021 by the Director General of ONIP, Ilunga Ntumba Richard who disclosed that it is time for nationals to own identity cards.

“As of today, over 100 million Congolese do not have identity cards […] When there are no organized civil registration processes, a person can mature and die without being noticed,” he said.

It is hard to announce the correct figures given that the country has no reliable records of its population, birth places, dates and parents.

The fact that there is no structured system to keep records of all citizens makes it difficult to establish genuine figures of births and deaths.

Grass root leaders in the country register births and deaths but it is important to note that infrastructures including hospitals are scarce. This reduces the number of women delivering at health facilities where new births can be recorded and puts at risk the lives of many who might die at home over lacking access to health services.

Another issue of concern is how DR Congo can confirm the exact number of civilians killed by over 130 armed groups yet most of them operate in forests and other areas out of government’s control?

In 2008, Belgian researchers, Louis Lohlé-Tart and André Lambert conducted a probe on the number of people who might have died in Congo between 1998 and 2004.

It was carried out on the funding of the European Union. At the time, the researchers reported that the number of civilians who lost lives during clashes does not exceed 200,000.