Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country located in Central Africa. With the capital city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo has a population of 89,561,414 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. 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 million lives.
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.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Democratic Republic of 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 provinces back.
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 crashing.
Mobutu becomes dependent on the US and other Western countries
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 challenge him.
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 regime.
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 side.
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 northern Congo.
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 agreement concluded
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, was deployed.
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 hard.
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 Ruberwa.
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 local allies.
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 continues
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 organizations.
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 Assembly.
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 from Uganda.
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 assignment.
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.