The Democratic Republic of The Congo: A Brief Overview
The DRC is a a country located in south, central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by land mass and the 11th largest in the world. It has a population of around 112 million people, and is widely recognized for its natural resources, political instability and the Congo River. The DRC is the second largest rainforest biome in the world (Amazon is the first), fed by the great Congo River; the geography of the DRC will play a massive role in the development of the country and give rise to much of the political instability in the country.
While there are more than 200 ethnic groups living in Congo, the majority share a Bantu heritage. The largest of these groups are the Mongo, Kongo, Kuba, Lunda, and Luba groups. Ethnic hostilities and territorial disputes have long been a destabilizing factor in the post-colonial period in the Congo.
In 1885 The Congo became The Congo Free State, a personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium, where he committed many atrocities and human rights violations in his pursuit of and exporting rubber, in which the Congo is particularly rich. In 1908, King Leopold ceded the Congo to the Belgian government and was named the Belgian Congo. The DRC finally achieved independence in 1960, but was then subjected to secessionist movements and brutal dictatorships.
Decolonization effort in the DRC
The DRC was a colony of Belgium from the period of 1908 to June 30th 1960. This period was marked by consistent unrest, but also a leap forward in development, education, and the rise of a middle class called the évolués. This economic development took place during the latter part of WWII, and the évolués were an integral part of the movement to come. Évolués status wasn’t a formal title, but was generally defined as someone who was educated in French language, had secondary education, and was an adherent christian. The Évolués were limited in upward mobility by the colonial system in place, but they enjoyed activities that set them apart from the ‘masses’, such as elite social clubs. In the lower levels of the economy, the masses also began organizing themselves in labor unions, and ethnic syndicates. One such alliance was the Alliance des Bakongo (ABAKO) which represented the Kongo people in the south.
In the 1950s most of the évolués were concerned with inequalities under the colonial regime, but conversations around independence began in 1954 following ABAKO calling for representation in Leopoldville elections. In the same year, Joseph Kasa Vubu took over ABAKO and steered the alliance toward a more hostile view of colonization. In the following years, talks of self-rule spread as the middle class-educated elite expanded. In 1956 Congolese academics, assisted by European intellectuals drafted a manifesto calling for the end of colonization and the introduction of self-rule over a period of 30 years. ABAKO in response called for immediate termination of the colonial system. By 1957, the Belgian government began realizing the threat of losing their colony but wasn’t prepared to do so.
In October 1958, Leopoldville évolués including Patrice Lumumba, and Albert Kalonji formed the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) which advocated for peaceful independence, education of the populace, and an end to regionalism. Belgian officials actually liked the moderate stance of the MNC and advocated for Lumumba to attend the All African People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana. Lumumba attended and was impressed by Kwame Nkrumah and his opinions and returned to The Congo with a more radical stance toward colonialism.
Following the downfall of ABAKO as a political force in the wake of riots in the capital, Lumumba continued gaining power and prominence in the party, much to the concern of the party’s leaders who feared his now- radical beliefs about colonization. The MNC split into the MNC-L and the MNC-K following the breakup between Lumumba and MNC party official Albert Kalonji.
Following a wider and more organized anti-colonization movement in The Congo, the Belgians granted the nascent country independence in 1960. Immediately following independence, instability in the secessionist Katanga Region and
The Congo Crisis: Where it all went wrong.
The Main Players in the Congo Crisis
There is no short way to summarize the Congo Crisis without leaving out the small details and accounts that are the fundamental building blocks of this crisis. The Congo Crisis began on July 5th 1960, a little over a week after Belgium ceded freedom to its colony and democratically elected President and Prime Minister, Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Patricia Lumumba, respectively. To properly understand the conflict, we must first examine the players, the setting, existing ethnic tensions, the geopolitical landscape of the world, and the plentiful natural resources that remain hidden under the ground in the nascent DRC. Right in the thick of the Cold War, the Congo becomes a battleground over influence and control, especially of the natural resources of the Congo. Russia and the US are at odds, in Africa, new countries are being born by the day, and Europe is left in ruins, broke, and pissed off; at the same time, the UN and NATO are just finding their feet. Eisenhower is president of the United States and a champion of NATO, we’ll get back to this later. Within about a week of being separate from Belgium, a military mutiny kicks off in Leopoldville, the result of a tactless speech by a Belgian Force Publique officer, who assured the majority black soldiers that despite a change in leadership and sovereignty in Congo, the discipline of the army will not change, and nor do the rights and privileges of the soldiers. During the mutiny, Belgian citizens are targeted, prompting an intervention by the Belgian government to protect these citizens. The intervention of Belgium divided Kasa-Vubu and Lumumba as the latter was intolerant of Belgium’s assistance and maintained that Congolese sovereignty was disregarded. In the days that followed, the mutiny spread across the country and on the 11th of July, the mineral rich region of Katanga and South Kasai announced its secession and sovereignty under Moïse Tshombe as they feared their resources would be nationalized under Lumumba. Under mounting pressure, The UN intervened to remove all Belgian troops from the Congo to restore stability. Lumumba initially welcomed the aid, but was angered when they refused to help with the situation in Katanga and South Kasai. Frustrated, he turned to the the United States for help, when the US refused unilateral support to combat the secession, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union who sent aid, in the form of soldiers, mercenaries and strategists. Lumumba, with the help of the Soviets, led a coordinated attack against south Kasai which was very effective. Despite this success for the paralyzed central government, Lumumba’s reputation was destroyed beyond repair and President Kasa-Vubu sought to remove him from office. Mounting pressure from Tshombe, Kalonji, and western countries resulted in Kasa-vubu publicly removing Lumumba from power on the radio. Lumumba refused this and consequently tried to remove Kasa-Vubu from his office, resulting in a constitutional crisis. To end the stalemate, Army Commander, Joseph Mobutu stepped in arrested Lumumba and confined him to house arrest. Kasa-Vubu was reinstated as President by February 1961 by Mobutu, after this coup, Mobutu became a prominent force in the Congolese political theatre behind the scenes. By the end of 1960, Lumumba was kidnapped and shipped off to the Katanga Region where he died within hours of arriving. In the following years, ethnic tensions would continue to worsen with the political state, the US would continue to battle rebel insurgents backed by Chinese, Russian, and African blocs, until the coup of 1965. In a second coup by Joseph Mobutu, he removes Joseph Kasa Vubu and Moise Tshombe from power and takes control of the government until the mid 1990s, effectively ended the Congo Crisis as an International conflict. Joseph Mobutu ruled as a western-sympathizer and even changed the name of the Congo to Zaire in 1971. Despite the formal end to the conflict, conditions in Congo weren’t much better than before, and by 1990, there was significant outrage at his prolonged cling to power, and Mobutu had to use the army to thwart change at certain points. By 1997 Laurent-Desire Kabila led an opposition force and overran the capital forcing Mobutu into exile.
What does the DRC Say Now?
Having read about the Congo and its traumatizing past, its really fascinating to hear what the up-and-coming country says now about its past. The first thing I noticed is that this question is actually pretty hard to answer as native Congolese webpages are few and far between. It took nearly a half hour and some tricks to locate any sort of government website, and when I did, it wasn’t very