Week 25: Focus Democratic Rep. of Congo

Every crumb of life must be used to conquer dignity!
Fatou Diome (Le ventre de l’Atlantique)

 Official name: Democratic Rep. of Congo

Superficie: 2 345 410 km²

Population: 90, 011,179 habitants (estimation 2020)

Capitale: Kinshasa

Villes principales: Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi, Goma, Kananga, Kisangani, Bukavu

Langue officielle: Français

Langues courantes: lingala, kikongo, tshiluba et swahili

Monnaie: franc congolais (CDF)

Fête nationale: 30 juin

Religions: catholiques (40 à 50 %), protestants (40 à 50 %), musulmans (5 à 10 %), kimbanguistes (5 à 10 %)

Fuseau horaire: (UTC+1)

Hymne nationale: Debout Congolais

History of Democratic Republic of Congo

Known today as Democratic Republic of Congo, the country has been a product of a pattern of history.

1200 – 1600

Indeed from the 15th to the 17th century the region of Congo was evolved in a state system most buttressed by kingship and military forces. The rise of slave trade especially the Atlantic slave trade very soon undermined the kingship capacity to resist neighbor’s invasion (referring to the Imbagala attacks and bands of fighters fleeing famine and drought in the east). Already divided with internal instabilities, the Savana region was unable to hinder the colonial forces’ invasion.

1870 – 1892

In 1870, the Belgian King Leopold II established a private venture to colonize Kongo during British and Stanley’s exploration of the Congo River. A committee was then set up for the study of the Congo known as the Committee for Studies of the Upper Congo aiming at allowing European trade alongside the Congo river. In 1884-1885 with the Berlin Conference which set the colonial rules Leopold established his control over the Congo River basin area, known as the Congo Free State. Leopold strategically installed a colonial hegemony over the area through its civilizing mission. Forced labour, huge concessions for private Europeans, massive recruitment of indigenous, kidnapping of Congolese men was the huge system installed by Leopold to extract not only the natural resources of the area but also the maximum results of people’s work.

1908 – 1959

In 1908, amid the atrocities committed by the Leopold army, Belgian Parliament annexed the Congo Free state. The Belgian rules were based on the idea that Africans are to be treated as children and a strict political control of the region was established. But in 1956-1957 a group of westernized Africans “les évolués” affiliated with Alliance des Bakongo (ABAKO) had arisen and was eager for their freedom and their self-government. Under the leadership of Joseph Kasavubu, ABAKO and the Congolese National Movement co-founded by Patrice Lumumba, an advocate of pan-Africanism, the process of decolonization has started gaining weight.

1960 – 2000

In May 1960, a growing nationalist movement, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) led by Patrice Lumumba, won the parliamentary elections. Congo became independent with Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister and Joseph Kasavubu as President. The Belgian Congo achieved independence on 30 June 1960 under the name “République du Congo”. As the neighboring French colony of Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) also chose the name “Republic of Congo” upon achieving its independence, the two countries were more commonly known after their capital cities (as “Congo-Léopoldville” and “Congo-Brazzaville”) .

On 5 September 1960, Lumumba was dismissed by Kasavubu. Lumumba declared Kasavubu’s action unconstitutional and a crisis between the two leaders developed.

The events triggered by the United States and Belgium on 14 September remove Lumumba from office along with forces loyal to Joseph Mobutu. Thus, on 17 January 1961. Lumumba is handed over to the Katangese authorities and executed by Katangese troops led by Belgium.

In 1971, Mobutu changed the country’s name again, this time to “Republic of Zaire”. The new president enjoys the unconditional support of the United States because of his opposition to communism; the United States thus believes that his administration will serve as an effective counterweight to the communist movements in Africa.

By the end of 1967, Mobutu succeeded in neutralising his political opponents and rivals by co-opting them into his regime, arresting them, or otherwise rendering them politically powerless.

During the 1970s and 1980s, he was repeatedly invited to visit the United States, where he met Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In 1996, following the Rwandan civil war and genocide and the rise of a Tutsi-led government in Rwanda, forces of the Rwandan Hutu militia (Interahamwe) fled to eastern Zaire and used the refugee camps as a base for incursions against Rwanda. They joined forces with the Forces armées zaïroises (FAZ) to launch a campaign against Congolese Tutsis in eastern Zaire.

French, Belgian and Moroccan troops are helping to fend off attacks on Katanga by rebels based in Angola. Tutsi and other anti-Mobutu rebels, aided mainly by Rwanda, seize the capital, Kinshasa; Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo and Laurent-Désir Kabila is installed as president.

Kabila is assassinated in 2001. His son Joseph Kabila succeeds him and calls for multilateral peace talks. The talks led to a peace agreement under which Kabila would share power with the former rebels.

By June 2003, all foreign armies, with the exception of those of Rwanda, had withdrawn from the Congo. A transitional government was put in place until after the election. A constitution was approved by voters, and on July 30, 2006, the DRC held its first multi-party elections. A dispute between Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba over the outcome of the elections turned into a fierce battle between their supporters in the streets of Kinshasa.  A new election was held in October 2006, which Joseph Kabila won, and in December 2006 he was sworn in as president.

The country is now led by Felix Tshisekedi since 2018.