Congo-Kinshasa got its worst possible start
as a nation and was immediately threatened by
fragmentation. Within the course of six months came army
insurgency, Belgian invasion, provinces that broke out
of the country, UN troops, military coups and
assassinations of the Prime Minister. After a five-year
crisis, decades of dictatorship followed Mobutu Sese
Seko. The First Congo War 1996–1997 led to the fall of
Mobutu, but became the prelude to the Second Congo War
1998–2003, a regional major war that required several
Congo-Kinshasa became a victim of the Cold War's
superpower competition and the financial interests of
foreign mining companies. Plundering of the rich natural
resources and a steady social decline came to
characterize the newly formed state.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
Before the election held just before independence,
120 political parties had been formed, among them
Patrice Lumumba's Congolese national movement (in French
abbreviated to MNC). Lumumba was ideologically close to
the young generation of socialist independence fighters
who advocated African unity, pan-Africanism. The MNC
party was the only one who fought for a united Congo.
Almost all other parties had been formed to promote
ethnic interests. One such was the Ba Congo People's
Alliance (Abako), led by Joseph Kasavubu. Unlike Lumumba,
Kasavubu wanted a federal state with great powers for
the provinces. The result was a compromise. Congo became
a unified state, but the provinces had their own
governments and parliaments.
After the election, Lumumba was appointed prime
minister while Kasavubu became president. The
appointment of the Soviet-oriented Lumumba caused
dissatisfaction in Belgium. Five days after
independence, the army made mutiny. Lumumba dismissed
the entire officer corps, which still consisted of
Belgians, and replaced them with Congolese. Chief of
Army Staff (in effect Commander-in-Chief) was appointed
Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who was Lumumba's closest
secretary at that time. Belgium deployed troops to
protect its citizens. At the same time, Kasai and
Katanga erupted - an area in the south corresponding to
one third of the country. The copper-rich Katanga leader
Moïse Tshombe was supported by Belgian mining companies.
Lumumba and Kasavubu requested UN support for the
Belgian intervention and outbreak. The Security Council
called on the Belgian troops to withdraw and sent 10,000
UN troops to Congo. But within the UN there was
disagreement about the mission's purpose and scope.
Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld wanted to keep the
great powers away from the conflict, while Lumumba with
Soviet support wanted the UN to force the breakaway
Kasavubu accused Lumumba of communist sympathies and
dismissed both him and Deputy Prime Minister Antoine
Gizenga. Lumumba in turn tried to get the president
dismissed. On September 14, 1960, Mobutu took power in
the name of the army, but after a few months civilian
rule was reinstated.
In Stanleyville in the north (now Kisangani), the
strongest stronghold of the Lumumbis, Gizenga proclaimed
in the late 1960s a new state, Orientale, and received
the support of the local military. A few days later,
Lumumba was arrested while on his way there. He was
taken to Katanga and executed in January 1961 by Tshombe
police with the involvement of Belgium and probably with
the good memory of the United States.
Mobutu takes power
In 1961, the UN force was authorized by the Security
Council to use force to prevent civil war and restore
order. In the following years, the UN troops Orientale,
Kasai and Katanga forced to reunite with Congo. However,
new uprisings followed and only in 1965 did the central
government gain control of most of the country.
At that point, the government was led by former
Katanga outbreak leader Moïse Tshombe, whose coalition
had a majority in parliament. A power struggle between
Tshombe and Kasavubu threatened to cripple the entire
government machinery. In November 1965, Mobutu seized
power again and appointed himself president. He was
secretly supported by the United States, who feared that
the power struggle would lead to a communist takeover.
The only party that was subsequently allowed was
Mobutu's Revolutionary People's Movement (in French MPR).
In a referendum in 1967, Mobutu pushed through a new
constitution that made him head of state, head of
government, commander-in-chief and chief of police.
President Mobutu advocated a return to traditional
African values. Citizens were forced to change their
Christian and European names to African and were
forbidden to wear Western clothing. The capital,
formerly called Léopoldville, was renamed Kinshasa and
the country was named Zaire. Many other names were also
Africanized, the President himself adopted the name
Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga.
In a zairization campaign in 1971, most foreign-owned
companies were nationalized and the state regulated the
private business sector. In several cases, state-owned
companies were handed over to members of the country's
elite. The economic consequences were disastrous. Some
gigantic industrial projects financed with foreign loans
failed through neglect and corruption. Gross domestic
product (GDP) declined, industrialization rebounded and
foreign debt grew, which contributed to the economy
Mobutu becomes dependent on the US and other
Mobutu became increasingly dependent on military and
financial support from the West, especially from the
United States. Despite the regime's violation of human
rights, Zaire's strategic location and its mineral
wealth made the country an important ally for the United
States, France and Belgium.
During Mobutu's tenure, government power barely
reached outside the capital. The civil servants and the
military had to wait for their salaries. Government
revenue went directly to Mobutu instead of to the
Treasury. Mobutu remained in power by playing his
opponents against each other, bribing governors and
military commanders, and by constantly moving local
rulers so that they would not grow strong enough to
Increased international and domestic public pressure,
however, forced Mobutu in 1990 to allow a multi-party
system and start preparing for a transition to
democracy. In 1992, a national conference voted for a
transitional constitution that took away from Mobutu all
real power. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was
elected to run a provisional government. However, Mobutu
refused to recognize the new constitution and appointed
his own government. A political deadlock occurred.
Attempts to give Zaire a functioning parliamentary
system of limited power for President Mobutu failed. The
reasons were, among other things, political divisions
within the opposition and economic crisis caused both by
years of neglect and by the fact that several Western
powers withdrew support for Mobutu.
Mobutu is forced to flee, Kabila takes power
Instead, unrest in eastern Congo became a catalyst
for a revolt against the dictator. Following the 1994
Rwanda genocide, at least one million Hut refugees had
sought refuge in the Congo, including soldiers and
militiamen behind the genocide (see Political system).
Rwandan Hutus and local security forces had begun to
attack the Zairian Tutsi minority, banyamulenge (see
Population and Languages). In the fall of 1996, they
were also threatened by the expulsion of both local
authorities and Mobutu's regime.
When the banyamulenge struck back, it was with the
support of the regimes in Rwanda and Uganda, which were
hostile to Mobutu and sent military into Zaire. The
insurgency groups joined the Democratic Forces Alliance
for the Liberation of the Congo-Zaire (AFDL), led by
Laurent-Désiré Kabila. He had previously been an aide to
Lumumba's government and was a long-time critic of
Mobutu. The AFDL quickly became a unifying force against
The demoralized Zairian army was helpless against the
AFDL and its Rwandan support troops. The uprising
movement quickly advanced and took Kisangani in March,
Lubumbashi in April and Kinshasa on May 17, 1997. The
day before, Mobutu had left the country; He died a few
months later in Morocco of prostate cancer.
Laurent-Désiré Kabila proclaimed president and the
country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo. In
order not to be confused with the neighboring Republic
of the Congo, it is often called in Swedish
Congo-Kinshasa (and the neighboring Congo-Brazzaville).
In English and French an abbreviation of the formal name
is often used: DRC or RDC.
"Africa's First World War"
Kabila soon appeared as authoritarian as Mobutu. He
broke with banyamulenge and ordered Rwandan and Ugandan
military out of the country. Hot propaganda led to new
persecution of banyamulenge.
The story seemed to repeat, when the rebel movement
Congolese Democracy Collection (RCD) was formed in
eastern Congo, largely by former AFDL members.
In August 1998, RCD initiated an armed uprising, with
the support of Rwanda and Uganda, which has now come
into conflict with Kabila. Soon, six countries and a
large number of armed groups were directly involved in
what has been called Africa's First World War and became
the deadliest in the continent's modern history. A
further number of countries indirectly supported each
RCD advanced quickly towards Kinshasa. When the
capital was about to be called in, Kabila got help from
the regional cooperation organization SADC. Soldiers
from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe came to Kabila's
rescue. Rwandan hutumilis and Congolese Tutsi-like
groups also joined the government.
The RCD and the Rwandans were driven back from the
western part of the country but retained control of the
eastern provinces, where there are large resources of
diamonds, minerals and coffee. In the south, battles
raged around the diamond and copper mines.
At the beginning of 1999, RCD had several military
successes, but contradictions within the movement
divided it into two factions, one Uganda-supported in
Kisangani and one Rwanda-based in Goma. In addition, the
Ugandan Liberation Movement (MLC) was formed with
Ugandan assistance, which took control of large parts of
The war was complicated by the personal financial
interests of leading politicians, businessmen and the
military. A 2001 UN investigation accused Rwanda, Uganda
and Zimbabwe of deliberately pursuing the war in order
to accumulate as much wealth as possible.
A first peace agreement was signed in July 1999 in
Lusaka, Zambia, but it was soon broken by both sides.
In January 2001, Kabila was murdered by one of her
own bodyguards. The official investigation identified
Rwanda, Uganda and RCD as responsible for the murder,
which everyone denied.
Joseph Kabila takes over power, peace
The circle around Kabila hastily appointed his new
30-year-old son Joseph Kabila as new president. He was
completely unknown to most. But Joseph Kabila quickly
took command and began a new peace process. UN mediation
got underway, Kabila made direct contact with the rebels
and again allowed political parties to operate freely.
Foreign troops began to withdraw and a UN force, Monuc,
While negotiations were underway, Congo signed
separate peace agreements with Rwanda and Uganda in
2002, and both countries withdrew most of their forces.
However, in the void after the foreign troops, fierce
fighting broke out in the Kivu region in the east,
between the RCD and the militia alliance Mai-Mai (see
Political system). The civilian population was hit
In December 2002, all parties reached a settlement in
Pretoria, South Africa. In accordance with the war, the
war officially ended in April 2003, when Kabila was
installed as head of state and leader of a broad unity
government involving most parties and rebel movements.
In July, four vice presidents took office: for the
rebels, MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and RCD's Azarias
The peace agreement did not mean that it became calm.
In the east, rebel movements were split when local
commanders considered themselves past and did not want
to be disarmed or included in the army. In the fall of
2005, Monuc, in collaboration with the Congolese army,
launched an offensive against militia in the east in an
attempt to harm them.
War in the war
In addition to the major conflict, a "war in war" was
fought in the Ituri region in the northeast from 1999. A
protracted conflict over land between the Lendu and Hema
people groups was intensified by the Great War. Large
quantities of weapons had flowed into the area, and
Uganda, in particular, was accused of trying to take
control of Ituri's rich deposits of gold, including
At least 60,000 people are estimated to have been
killed in Ituri, half a million were driven away from
their homes and the civilian population was subjected to
serious abuse. In May 2003, the EU sent a French-led
force of around 1,200 men to try to put an end to the
fighting. Sweden contributed to the squad, which was the
EU's first military operation outside Europe. After
three months, the EU squad was replaced by Monuc. The UN
began disarming the militias in Ituri and in June 2005
they were considered largely dissolved.
Democratic elections, but the unrest
At the beginning of 2006, a new constitution came
into force and in July democratic elections were held
for the first time in over 40 years. The parliamentary
elections provided a majority for parties gathered
around Joseph Kabila. In the decisive round of
presidential elections in October, Kabila defeated Vice
President Jean-Pierre Bemba.
The unrest continued in the country. Bemba was
unwilling to disarm his militia. In March 2007, tough
street fighting was fought when Kabila's army attacked
Bemba's force. Several hundred people were killed before
the fighting was interrupted by international mediation
and Bemba left the country. He was arrested in Belgium
in 2008 (see Political system).
Even in the east, it was tense. A former RCD leader,
Laurent Nkunda, had formed the Tutsimilis CNDP (see
Political system), which was accused of serious
abuse. Hard battles were fought with both the Mai-Mai
militia and the government army, and hundreds of
thousands of people escaped. Splitting between rival
factional leaders eventually led to the weakening of the
CNDP. President Kabila also began a contentious
collaboration with the former enemy of Rwanda, which
resulted in the arrest of Laurent Nkunda in Rwanda in
January 2009. By then, Rwandan army soldiers had entered
eastern Congo-Kinshasa to fight the FDLR hutumilis (see
Political system). As a result, the FDLR began to
take revenge on the civilian population and aid
In March 2009, the government and the CNDP signed a
peace agreement under which the rebel force would be
converted into a political party and the soldiers
granted amnesty and included in the army and a new
police force. However, the agreement received criticism
for not going to the bottom of the causes of the
conflict and rewarding war criminals as soon as possible
by giving them high posts.
In parallel with the unrest in the Kivu provinces,
there were fighting in northeastern Congo, where the
countryside was infiltrated by the Ugandan LRA guerrilla
(see Uganda: The Lord's Resistance Army).
Congo was supported by Ugandan and South Sudanese troops
in 2008-2009 to drive away the LRA. The unrest in the
area has continued on a smaller scale (see also
Foreign Policy and Defense).
Monuc was converted at the end of 2010 to Monusco
(French abbreviation of the United Nations Stabilization
Organization for the Democratic Republic of Congo).
Monuc was considered to have fulfilled his mission as a
peacekeeping force. The mission of Monusco is to
stabilize the troubled provinces of the east, where no
war is formally going on.
Contested presidential election
Tensions rose before the election, which applied to
both the National Assembly and the presidential post.
There were some violent events around the election, with
several deaths. According to the official result, Kabila
won with 49 percent of the vote against 32 percent for
Etienne Tshisekedi. The 78-year-old Tshisekedi refused
to accept the result and proclaimed himself president
and put in unofficial house arrest. Foreign observers
were also critical of how the election was conducted.
The final result of the parliamentary elections was
only presented after just over six months; Kabila's
party had strongly backed, but his party alliance still
had more than half of the seats in the National
M23 creates new concern in the east
In the spring of 2012, serious unrest erupted in the
Kivu provinces, where the March 23 (M23) movement was
formed by former Tutsi rebels who were included in the
army but then dropped out. During the fall of that year,
M23 occupied large parts of Nordkivu and temporarily
held the provincial capital of Goma. M23's success was a
severe setback for President Kabila and meant a new
break with Rwanda. The UN also accused Rwanda of being
behind the M23, which also appeared to receive support
In February 2013, African leaders from eleven
countries, following UN mediation, signed a peace treaty
in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. Accordingly, a new
United Nations military force was set up to fight the
rebel movements in eastern Congo. The new force FIB
sorted under Monusco but was given a more offensive
During the rest of the year negotiations took place
between the M23 and the government, interspersed with
battles in which the FIB force participated in support
of the government army. In December, the M23, which was
also shaken by internal contradictions, was militarily
defeated and a peace agreement was signed in Nairobi,
Kenya. However, the parties wrote on partially different
documents and the agreement was considered defective.
A new investment in disarmament, demobilization and
reintegration programs was launched in 2014, in an
attempt to harm the armed groups.
Kabila tries to retain power
At the same time, there was concern that Kabila would
try to cling to power despite the fact that he was not
allowed to stand for re-election. At the beginning of
2015, a political crisis arose when parts of Kabila's
party alliance's Presidential Majority (MP) tried to
enforce an amendment to the electoral law, which meant
that presidential and parliamentary elections should be
held only after a census was conducted. The opposition
boycotted a vote in parliament and violent
demonstrations in Kinshasa demanded tens of lives. The
government withdrew the proposal and later announced
that local elections would be held in October 2015,
followed by four indirect local and regional elections,
and finally the presidential and parliamentary elections
in November 2016.
But political tensions remained. The government was
criticized for hastily attempting to push through a
decentralization process (and creating several
provinces), organizing too many costly elections in a
short period of time and lacking resources to establish
reliable voting lengths.
Read more about the Congo-Kinshasa conflict here.