Even in the best of circumstances, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a weak country prone to fragmentation. The largely landlocked terrain enclosed within its borders is nearly the same size as Western Europe and is difficult to navigate. Since gaining its independence from Belgium in 1960, the Congo has been plagued by political power struggles and rebellions, and none of its governments have willingly ceded power to their successors. The country's valuable but unexploited natural resources have only exacerbated these problems. Meanwhile, its expansive, far-flung regions and weak central government have yielded a fractious society riven by communal rivalry. As a result, the Congo's neighbors have repeatedly intervened in the country to protect their own security interests, while many Congolese communities have taken security into their own hands by setting up local militias known as the Mai-Mai. Each of these factors has made it difficult for Kinshasa to strengthen its grip over the country.
Like his predecessors, Congolese President Joseph Kabila is no stranger to the challenge of trying to govern the Congo effectively while keeping political rivals at bay. Withholding government resources does little to quash dissent, in part because the country's regions are fairly self-sufficient and in part because the president has few means of enforcing his writ beyond the capital. This has made room for plots and rebellions to fester in the Congo's ungovernable spaces. Instead Kabila has had to take a different approach, granting more autonomy to the provinces than ever before seen. Nevertheless, the Congo's persistent problems have fueled instability in central Africa, forcing nearby Rwanda, Uganda and Angola to periodically wade into the conflict over the past two decades to safeguard their own security.
The president no doubt realizes that political security is physical security, and that staying in office increases the safety of himself and those around him from reprisal. With such a weak hand, the president has worked tirelessly to maintain a balance among the divergent interest groups that put his father in power and that undergird his own political standing. Kabila has worked to integrate militant outfits and other rebel groups into the Congolese army, but it has proved a challenging endeavor: Several factions have quit the arrangement, only to rejoin when their rebellions fail. The president has responded by shuffling commanders around the country to prevent any single faction from using the military to strengthen itself. The precarious arrangement has left Kabila with a loose grip on the military, and few means of maintaining the fragile political balance of his inherently unstable country.