The area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was populated as early as 10,000 years ago and settled in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. by Bantus from present-dayNigeria. During its history the area has also been known as Congo, Congo Free State, Belgian Congo and Zaire. The Kingdom of Kongo was a powerful kingdom that existed from the 14th to the 18th century. It was the dominant force in the region until the arrival of the Portuguese. Second in importance was the Anziku Kingdom.
Congo Free State (1885–1908)
The Congo Free State was a corporate state privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians through the Association Internationale Africaine, a non-governmental organization. Leopold was the sole shareholder and chairman. The state included the entire area of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo. Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became the site of one of the most infamous international scandals of the turn of the twentieth century. The report of the British ConsulRoger Casement led to the arrest and punishment of white officials who had been responsible for cold-blooded killings during a rubber-collecting expedition in 1903, including one Belgian national for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives. Estimates of the total death toll vary considerably. In the absence of a census, the first was made in 1924, it is even more difficult to quantify the population loss of the period. Roger Casement’s famous 1904 report estimated ten million people. According to Casement’s report, indiscriminate “war”, starvation, reduction of births and tropical diseasescaused the country’s depopulation.
The European and U.S. press agencies exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to the public in 1900. By 1908 public and diplomatic pressure led Leopold II to the annex the Congo as the Belgian Congocolony.
Belgian Congo (1908–1960)
On November 15, 1908 King Léopold II of Belgium formally relinquished personal control of the Congo Free State. The renamed Belgian Congo came under the administration of the Belgian parliament, which lasted until independence was granted in 1960.
The Belgian administration might be most charitably characterized as paternalistic colonialism. Roman Catholic and Protestant churches dominated the education system and the curricula reflected Christian and Western values. In 1948 Christian missions controlled 99.6% of educational facilities. They had little regard for native culture and beliefs. Native schools provided a mainly religious and vocational education.
The Congo Crisis (1960–1965)
Following a series of riots and unrest, the Belgians realised they could not maintain control of such a vast country. The Belgians announced on January 27, 1960 that they would relinquish control in six months. The Congo was granted its independence on June 30, 1960, adopting the name “Republic of the Congo” (République du Congo). As the French colony of Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) also chose the name Republic of Congo upon receiving its independence, the two countries were more commonly known as Congo-Léopoldville and Congo-Brazzaville, after their capital cities. President Mobutu changed the country’s official name to Zaire in 1966.
In 1960, the country was in a very unstable state—regional tribal leaders held far more power than the central government—and with the departure of the Belgian administrators, there were almost no skilled bureaucrats left in the country. The first Congolese university graduate was only in 1956, and virtually no one in the new nation had any idea of how to manage a country of such size.
Parliamentary elections in 1960 produced the nationalist Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and pro-Western Joseph Kasavubu as president of the renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Even from this fleeting moment of independence democracy began to unravel. A military coup broke out in the capital and rampant looting began. On July 11 the richest province of the country, Katanga, seceded under Moise Tshombe. The United Nations sent 20,000 peacekeepers to protect Europeans in the country and try to restore order. Western paramilitaries and mercenaries, often hired by mining companies to protect their interests, also began to pour into the country. In this same period Congo’s second richest province, Kasai, also announced its independence.
Prime Minister Lumumba turned to the USSR for assistance. Nikita Khrushchev agreed to help, offering advanced weaponry and technical advisors. The United States viewed the Soviet presence as an attempt to take advantage of the situation and gain a proxy state in sub-Saharan Africa. UN forces were ordered to block any shipments of arms into the country. The United States also looked for a way to replace Lumumba as leader. President Kasavubu had clashed with Prime Minister Lumumba and advocated an alliance with the West rather than the Soviets. The U.S. sent weapons and CIA personnel to aid forces allied with Kasavubu and combat the Soviet presence. In December 1960, with U.S. and CIA support, Kasavubu and his loyal Colonel Joseph Mobutu overthrew the government. Lumumba was assassinated by Mobutu cronies with support of the Belgian government soon after; some have alleged that U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the CIA direct orders to assassinate Lumumba, but this has never been confirmed. According the same sources, the American government was also in support of such an action. After some reverses, UN and Congolese government forces succeeded in recapturing the breakaway provinces of Katanga and South Kasai. In Stanleyville, those loyal to the deposed Lumumba set up a rival government under Antoine Gizenga. Belgian, British, and U.S. troops helped end the rebellion.
Unrest and rebellion plagued the government until 1965, when Lieutenant General Mobutu, by then commander in chief of the national army, seized control of the country and declared himself president for five years. Mobutu quickly consolidated his power and was elected unopposed as president in 1970. Embarking on a campaign of cultural awareness, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire and required citizens to adopt African names. Relative peace and stability prevailed until 1977 and 1978 when Katangan rebels, based in Angola, launched a series of invasions (Shaba I and II) into the Shaba (Katanga) region. The rebels were driven out with the aid of Belgian paratroopers.
Zaire remained a one-party state in the 1980s. Although Mobutu successfully maintained control during this period, opposition parties, most notably the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), were active. Mobutu’s attempts to quell these groups drew significant international criticism.
As the Cold War came to a close, internal and external pressures on Mobutu increased. In late 1989 and early 1990, Mobutu was weakened by a series of domestic protests, by heightened international criticism of his regime’s human rights practices, by a faltering economy, and by government corruption, most notably his massive embezzlement of government funds for personal use.
In April 1990, Mobutu declared the Third Republic, agreeing to a limited multi-party system with elections and a constitution. As details of a reform package were delayed, soldiers in September 1991 began lootingKinshasa to protest their unpaid wages. Two thousand French and Belgian troops, some of whom were flown in on U.S. Air Force planes, arrived to evacuate the 20,000 endangered foreign nationals in Kinshasa.
In 1992, after previous similar attempts, the long-promised Sovereign National Conference was staged, encompassing over 2,000 representatives from various political parties. The conference gave itself a legislative mandate and elected Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo as its chairman, along with Étienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, leader of the UDPS, as prime minister. By the end of the year Mobutu had created a rival government with its own prime minister. The ensuing stalemate produced a compromise merger of the two governments into the High Council of Republic-Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT) in 1994, with Mobutu as head of state and Kengo Wa Dondo as prime minister. Although presidential and legislative elections were scheduled repeatedly over the next two years, they never took place.
First and Second Congo Wars (1996–2003)
By 1996, tensions from the neighboring Rwanda war and genocide had spilled over to Zaire: see History of Rwanda. Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe), who had fled Rwanda following the ascension of a Tutsi-led government, had been using Hutu refugees camps in eastern Zaire as a basis for incursion against Rwanda. These Hutu militia forces soon allied with the Zairian armed forces (FAZ) to launch a campaign against Congolese ethnic Tutsis in eastern Zaire. In turn, these Tutsis formed a militia to defend themselves against attacks. When the Zairian government began to escalate its massacres in November 1996, the Tutsi militias erupted in rebellion against Mobutu.
The Tutsi militia was soon joined by various opposition groups and supported by several countries, including Rwanda and Uganda. This coalition, led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, became known as the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL). The AFDL, now seeking the broader goal of ousting Mobutu, made significant military gains in early 1997. Following failed peace talks between Mobutu and Kabila in May 1997, Mobutu left the country, and Kabila marched unopposed to Kinshasa on May 20. Kabila named himself president, consolidated power around himself and the AFDL, and reverted the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kabila demonstrated little ability to manage the problems of his country, and lost his allies. Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), led by the warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, attacked in August 1998, backed by Rwandan and Ugandan troops. Soon afterwards, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe became involved militarily in the Congo, with Angola and Zimbabwe supporting the government. While the six African governments involved in the war signed a ceasefire accord in Lusaka in July 1999, the Congolese rebels did not and the ceasefire broke down within months. Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 by one of his bodyguards, and was succeeded by his son Joseph. Upon taking office, Kabila called for multilateral peace talks to end the war. He partly succeeded in February 2001 when a further peace deal was brokered between Kabila, Rwanda and Uganda leading to the apparent withdrawal of foreign troops. UN peacekeepers, MONUC, arrived in April 2001.
Currently the Ugandans and the MLC still hold a 200-mile (320 km) wide section of the north of the country; Rwandan forces and its front, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) control a large section of the east; and government forces or their allies hold the west and south of the country. There were reports that the conflict is being prolonged as a cover for extensive looting of the substantial natural resources in the country, including diamonds, copper, zinc, and coltan. The conflict was reignited in January 2002 by ethnic clashes in the northeast and both Uganda and Rwanda then halted their withdrawal and sent in more troops. Talks between Kabila and the rebel leaders, held in Sun City, lasted a full six weeks, beginning in April 2002. In June, they signed a peace accord in which Kabila would share power with former rebels. By June 2003, all foreign armies except those of Rwanda had pulled out of Congo.
Transitional government (2003–2006)
DR Congo had a transitional government in July 2003 until the election was over. A constitution was approved by voters and on July 30, 2006 the Congo held its first multi-party elections since independence in 1960. After this Joseph Kabila took 45% of the votes and his opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba took 20%. That was the origin of a fight between the two parts from August 20-22, 2006 in the streets of the capital, Kinshasa. Sixteen people died before policemen and UN mission MONUC took control of the city. A new election was held on October 29, 2006, which Kabila won with 70% of the vote. Bemba has publicly commented on election “irregularities,” despite the fact that every neutral observer has praised the elections. On December 6, 2006 the Transitional Government came to an end as Joseph Kabila was sworn in as President.
The fragility of the state has allowed continued violence and human rights abuses in the east. There are three significant centers of conflict:
North and South Kivu, where Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) continues to threaten the Rwandan border and the Banyamulenge, and where Rwanda supports RCD-Goma rebels against Kinshasa (see Kivu war).
Ituri, where MONUC has proved unable to contain the numerous militia and groups driving the Ituri conflict
Northern Katanga, where Mai-Mai created by Laurent Kabila slipped out of the control of Kinshasa.
In October 2009 a new conflict started in Dongo, Sud-Ubangi District where clashes had broken out over access to fishing ponds.