History of Democratic Republic of Congo
History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Early Congolese history
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A Katanga Cross, an obsolete form of currency.
A wave of early peoples is identified in the Northern and North-Western parts of Central Africa during the second millennium BP. They produced food (pearl millet), maintained domestic livestock and developed a kind of arboriculture mainly based on the oil palm. From 3,500 BP to 2,000 BP, starting from a nucleus area in South Cameroon on both banks of the Sanaga River, the first Neolithic peopling of northern and western Central Africa can be followed south-eastwards and southwards. In D.R. Congo, the first villages in the vicinity of Mbandaka and the Lake Tumba are known as the 'Imbonga Tradition', from around 2,600 BP. In Lower Congo, north of the Angolan border, it is the 'Ngovo Tradition' around 2,300 BP that shows the arrival of the Neolithic wave of advance.
In Kivu, across the country to the east, the 'Urewe Tradition' villages first
appeared about 2,600 BP. The few archaeological sites known in Congo are a western
extension of the 'Urewe' Culture which has been found chiefly in Uganda, Rwanda,
Burundi and Western Kenya and Tanzania. From the start of this tradition, the
people knew iron smelting, as is evidenced by several iron-smelting furnaces
excavated in Rwanda and Burundi.
African pygmies and Prof. K. G. Murphy. Pygmies are the earliest known inhabitants of the Congo Basin.
The earliest evidence further to the west is known in Cameroon and near to the small town of Bouar in Central Africa. Though further studies are needed to establish a better chronology for the start of iron production in Central Africa, the Cameroonian data places iron smelting north of the Equatorial Forest around 2,600 BP to 2,500 BP. This technology developed independently from the previous Neolithic expansion, some 900 years later. As fieldwork done by a German team shows, the Congo River network was slowly settled by food-producing villagers going upstream in the forest. Work from a Spanish project in the Ituri area further east suggests villages reached there only around 800 BP.
The supposedly Bantu-speaking Neolithic and then iron-producing, villagers added to and displaced the indigenous Pygmy populations (also known in the region as the "Batwa" or "Twa") into secondary parts of the country. Subsequent migrations from the Darfur and Kordofan regions of Sudan into the north-east, as well as East Africans migrating into the eastern Congo added to the mix of ethnic groups. The Bantu-speakers imported a mixed economy made up of agriculture, small-stock raising, fishing, fruit collecting, hunting and arboriculture before 3,500 BP; iron-working techniques, possibly from West Africa, a much later addition. The villagers established the Bantu language family as the primary set of tongues for the Congolese.
The process in which the original Upemba society transitioned into the Kingdom
of Luba was gradual and complex. This transition ran without interruption, with
several distinct societies developing out of the Upemba culture prior to the
genesis of the Luba. Each of these kingdoms became very wealthy due mainly to
the region's mineral wealth, especially in ores. The civilization began to develop
and implement iron and copper technology, in addition to trading in ivory and
other goods. The Luba established a strong commercial demand for their metal
technologies and were able to institute a long-range commercial net (the business
connections extended over 1,500 kilometres (930 mi), all the way to the Indian
Ocean). By the 1500s, the kingdom had an established strong central government
based on chieftainship. The Eastern regions of the precolonial Congo were heavily
disrupted by constant slave raiding, mainly from Arab/Zanzibari slave traders
such as the infamous Tippu Tip.
The African Congo Free State (1877–1908)
Main articles: Colonisation of the Congo, Congo Free State, and Belgian Congo
Force Publique soldiers in the Belgian Congo in 1918. At its peak, the FP had 19,000 African soldiers, led by 420 white officers.
European exploration and administration took place from the 1870s until the 1920s. It was first led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who undertook his explorations under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold had designs on what was to become the Congo as a colony. In a succession of negotiations, Leopold, professing humanitarian objectives in his capacity as chairman of the Association Internationale Africaine, played one European rival against the other.
Leopold formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin in 1885. He made the land his private property and named it the Congo Free State. Leopold's regime began various infrastructure projects, such as construction of the railway that ran from the coast to the capital of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). It took years to complete. Nearly all such projects were aimed at increasing the capital which Leopold and his associates could extract from the colony, leading to exploitation of Africans.
In the Free State, colonists brutalized the local population to produce rubber, for which the spread of autos and development of rubber tires created a growing international market. The sale of rubber made a fortune for Leopold, who built several buildings in Brussels and Ostend to honour himself and his country. To enforce the rubber quotas, the army, the Force Publique (FP), was called in. The Force Publique made the practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives as a means of enforcing rubber quotas a matter of policy; this practice was widespread. During the period of 1885–1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and diseases. It has been estimated that up to half the people died of sleeping sickness and smallpox in the lands on either bank of the lower Congo River. A government commission later concluded that the population of the Congo had been "reduced by half" during this period, but determining precisely how many people died is impossible as no accurate records exist.
The actions of the Free State's administration sparked international protests
led by E. D. Morel and British diplomat/Irish patriot Roger Casement, whose
1904 report on the Congo condemned the practice. Famous writers such as Mark
Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle also protested, and Joseph Conrad's novella Heart
of Darkness was set in Congo Free State.
Belgian Congo (1908-1960)
In 1908, the Belgian parliament, despite initial reluctance, bowed to international
pressure (especially that from Great Britain) and took over the Free State as
a Belgian colony from the king. From then on, it was called the Belgian Congo
and was under the rule of the elected Belgian government.
Political crisis (1960–1965)
Main article: Congo Crisis
In May 1960 in a growing nationalist movement, the Mouvement National Congolais
or MNC Party, led by Patrice Lumumba, won the parliamentary elections. The party
appointed Lumumba as Prime Minister. The parliament elected Joseph Kasavubu,
of the Alliance des Bakongo (ABAKO) party as President. Other parties that emerged
included the Parti Solidaire Africain (or PSA) led by Antoine Gizenga, and the
Parti National du Peuple (or PNP) led by Albert Delvaux and Laurent Mbariko.
(Congo 1960, dossiers du CRISP, Belgium) The Belgian Congo achieved independence
on June 30, 1960 under the name République du Congo ("Republic of
Congo" or "Republic of the Congo" in English). Shortly after
independence, the provinces of Katanga (led by Moise Tshombe) and South Kasai
engaged in secessionist struggles against the new leadership. Most of the
100,000 Europeans who had remained behind after independence fled the country,
opening the way for Congolese to replace the European military and administrative
As the 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 as "Congo-Léopoldville" and "Congo-Brazzaville", after their capital cities. Another way they were often distinguished during the 1960s, such as in newspaper articles, was that "Congo-Léopoldville" was called “The Congo” and "Congo-Brazzaville" was called simply “Congo”. In 1964, Joseph Mobutu changed the country's official name to "Democratic Republic of the Congo". In 1971 it was changed again to "Republic of Zaïre".
On September 5, 1960, Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba from office. Lumumba declared Kasavubu's action "unconstitutional" and a crisis between the two leaders developed. (cf. Sécession au Katanga – J.Gerald-Libois -Brussels- CRISP) Lumumba had previously appointed Joseph Mobutu chief of staff of the new Congo army, Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC). Taking advantage of the leadership crisis between Kasavubu and Lumumba, Mobutu garnered enough support within the army to create mutiny. With financial support from the United States and Belgium, Mobutu paid his soldiers privately. The aversion of Western powers to communism and leftist ideology influenced their decision to finance Mobutu's quest to maintain "order" in the new state by neutralizing Kasavubu and Lumumba in a coup by proxy.
On January 17, 1961, Katangan forces and Belgian paratroops, supported by the
United States' and Belgium's intent on copper and diamond mines in Katanga and
South Kasai, kidnapped and executed Patrice Lumumba. Amidst widespread confusion
and chaos, a temporary government was led by technicians (Collège des
Commissaires) with Evariste Kimba. The Katanga secession was ended in January
1963 with the assistance of UN forces. Several short-lived governments, of Joseph
Ileo, Cyrille Adoula, and Moise Tshombe, took over in quick succession. (See
the book The Assassination of Lumumba by Ludo de Witte.)
Mobutu's rule (1965–1997)
Main article: Zaire
Following five years of instability and civil unrest, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, now Lieutenant General, overthrew Kasavubu in a 1965 coup. He had the support of the United States because of his staunch opposition to Communism. Western powers appeared to believe this would make him a roadblock to Communist schemes in Africa. Historians [who?] have also argued that Western support for Mobutu was related to his allowing businesses to export the many natural resources of Zaire without worrying about environmental, labour, or other regulations.
A one-party system was established, and Mobutu declared himself head of state. He periodically held elections in which he was the only candidate. Relative peace and stability was achieved; however, Mobutu's government was guilty of severe human rights violations, political repression, a cult of personality and corruption. (Mobutu demanded every Congolese bank note printed with his image, hanging of his portrait in all public buildings, most businesses, and on billboards; and it was common for ordinary people to wear his likeness on their clothing.)
Corruption became so prevalent the term "le mal Zairois" or "Zairean
Sickness" was coined, reportedly by Mobutu himself.
By 1984, Mobutu was said to have $4 billion (USD), an amount close to the country's
national debt, deposited in a personal Swiss bank account. International aid,
most often in the form of loans, enriched Mobutu while he allowed national infrastructure
such as roads to deteriorate to as little as one-quarter of what had existed
in 1960. With the embezzlement of government funds by Mobutu and his associates,
Zaire became a "kleptocracy."
Bank note of Zaire.
In a campaign to identify himself with African nationalism, starting on June 1, 1966, Mobutu renamed the nation's cities: Léopoldville became Kinshasa [the country was now Democratic Republic of The Congo – Kinshasa], Stanleyville became Kisangani, Elisabethville became Lubumbashi, and Coquihatville became Mbandaka. This renaming campaign was completed in the 1970s.
In 1971, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire, its fourth name change in 11 years and its sixth overall. The Congo River was renamed the Zaire River. In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (roughly translated as The Great Unstoppable Warrior who goes from Victory to Victory).
During the 1970s and 1980s, Mobutu was invited to visit the United States on several occasions, meeting with U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In June 1989, Mobutu was the first African head of state invited for a state visit with newly elected President Bush. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, U.S. relations with Mobutu cooled, as he was no longer deemed necessary as a Cold War ally.
Opponents within Zaire stepped up demands for reform. This atmosphere contributed
to Mobutu's declaring the Third Republic in 1990, whose constitution was supposed
to pave the way for democratic reform. The reforms turned out to be largely
cosmetic. Mobutu continued in power until the conflict forced him to flee Zaire
in 1997. Thereafter, the nation chose to reclaim its name of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, since the name Zaire carried such strong connections
to the rule of Mobutu.
Rwandan/Ugandan Invasions and Civil Wars
Main articles: First Congo War, Second Congo War, and Kivu Conflict
By 1996, tensions from the neighboring Rwanda war and genocide had spilled over to Zaire. 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, a coalition of Rwandan and Ugandan armies invaded Zaire under the cover of a small group of Tutsi militia to fight the Hutu militia, overthrow the government of Mobutu, and ultimately control the mineral resources of Zaire. They were soon joined by various Zairean politicians, who had been unsuccessfully opposing the dictatorship of Mobutu for many years, and now saw an opportunity for them in the invasion of Zaire by two of the region's strongest military forces.
This new expanded coalition of two foreign armies and some longtime opposition
figures, led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, became known as the Alliance
des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre
(AFDL). They were seeking the broader goal of ousting Mobutu and controlling
his country's wealth. In May 1997, Mobutu fled the country and Kabila marched
into Kinshasa, naming himself president and reverting the name of the country
to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Civilians waiting to cross the DRC-Rwanda border (2001). By 2008 the Second Congo War and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people.
A few months later, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila thanked all the foreign military forces that helped him to overthrow Mobutu, and asked them to return back to their countries because he was very fearful and concerned that the Rwandan military officers who were running his army were plotting a coup d'état against him in order to give the presidency to a Tutsi who would report directly to the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. This move was not well received by the Rwandan and Ugandan governments, who wanted to control their big neighbor.
Consequently, Rwandan troops in DRC retreated to Goma and launched a new militia group or rebel movement called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD), led by Tutsis, to fight against their former ally, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. To counterbalance the power and influence of Rwanda in DRC, the Ugandan troops instigated the creation of another rebel movement called the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), led by the Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, son of Congolese billionaire Bemba Saolona. The two rebel movements started the second war by attacking the DRC's still fragile army in 1998, backed by Rwandan and Ugandan troops. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia became involved militarily on the side of the government to defend a fellow SADC member.
Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and was succeeded by his son Joseph, who upon taking office called for multilateral peace talks to end the war. In February 2001 a peace deal was brokered between Kabila, Rwanda and Uganda, leading to the apparent withdrawal of foreign troops. UN peacekeepers, MONUC, arrived in April 2001. 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 led to the signing of 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. Much of the conflict was focused on gaining control of substantial natural resources in the country, including diamonds, copper, zinc, and coltan.
DR Congo had a transitional government 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%. The disputed results of this election turned into an all-out battle between the supporters of the two parties in the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, from August 20–22, 2006 . Sixteen people died before police and the 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 made multiple public statements saying the election had "irregularities," despite the fact that every neutral observer 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 government has allowed continued conflict and human
rights abuses. In the ongoing Kivu conflict, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation
of Rwanda (FDLR) continues to threaten the Rwandan border and the Banyamulenge;
Rwanda supports RCD-Goma rebels against Kinshasa; a rebel offensive at the end
of October 2008 caused a refugee crisis in Ituri, where MONUC has proved unable
to contain the numerous militia and groups driving the Ituri conflict. In the
northeast, Joseph Kony's LRA moved from their original bases in Uganda (where
they have fought a 20-year rebellion) and South Sudan to DR Congo in 2005 and
set up camps in the Garamba National Park. In northern Katanga, the Mai-Mai
created by Laurent Kabila slipped out of the control of Kinshasa. The war is
the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people.
Impact of armed conflict on civilians
In 2009 people in the Congo may still be dying at a rate of an estimated 45,000 per month, and estimates of the number who have died from the long conflict range from 900,000 to 5,400,000. The death toll is due to widespread disease and famine; reports indicate that almost half of the individuals who have died are children under the age of 5. The aftermath of the war has gutted the country. This death rate has prevailed since efforts at rebuilding the nation began in 2004.
The long and brutal conflict in the DRC has caused massive suffering for civilians, with estimates of millions dead either directly or indirectly as a result of the fighting. There have been frequent reports of weapon bearers killing civilians, destroying property, committing widespread sexual violence, causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes or otherwise breaching humanitarian and human rights law. An estimated 200,000 women have been raped.
Few people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been unaffected by the armed conflict. A survey conducted in 2009 by the ICRC and Ipsos shows that three quarters (76%) of the people interviewed have been affected in some way – either personally or due to the wider consequences of armed conflict.
In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN's
Indigenous People's Forum that during the war, his people were hunted down and
eaten as though they were game animals. In neighbouring North Kivu province
there has been cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs ("the erasers")
who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation.
Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their
flesh can confer magical powers.
International Community Response
The response of the international community has been incommensurate with the scale of the disaster resulting from the war in the Congo. Its support for political and diplomatic efforts to end the war has been relatively consistent, but it has taken no effective steps to abide by repeated pledges to demand accountability for the war crimes and crimes against humanity that were routinely committed in Congo. United Nations Security Council and the U.N. Secretary-General have frequently denounced human rights abuses and the humanitarian disaster that the war unleashed on the local population. But they had shown little will to tackle the responsibility of occupying powers for the atrocities taking place in areas under their control, areas where the worst violence in the country took place. Hence Rwanda, like Uganda, has escaped any significant sanction for its role.