BRIEF POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE DRCThe Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is located in central Africa and shares borders with nine other countries: The Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola. The vast natural resources of the DRC, including diamonds, gold, coltan, cobalt, copper and timber, have contributed to a history of colonization, exploitation and violence, resulting in one of the most disastrous conflicts in the history of modern Africa.
King Leopold II of Belgium began colonizing the DRC in 1878, and established the Free State of Congo. Leopold used the forced labour of Congolese to exploit ivory and rubber, thus accumulating a vast personal fortune. It is estimated that ten million people were killed in these labour camps. The DRC did not gain its independence until 1960.
Joseph Kasavubu was the first elected President of the DRC. He had earned prominence during pre-independence struggles as head of an organization Aboko, of Bakongo people. As President, Kasavubu was engaged in a power struggle with Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who was also the president of the Congolese National Movement. Kasavubu had Lumumba ousted with the help of Colonel Motubu, and he was later killed by CIA agents and Belgium mercenaries.
In 1965, Army Chief Joseph Desire Mobutu Sese Seko led a successful coup against Kasavubuís government and proclaimed himself President. Mobutu was a nationalist leader, and in 1975 he changed the countryís name to Zaire. With the help of Western intelligence and military funding, he established a one-party state and held a tight grasp on power until 1991, when he was forced to give some power to the opposition. Throughout his rule, Mobutu transferred state resources into his personal coffers, bleeding the country dry.
Laurent-Desire Kabila was a supporter of Patrice Lumumba. Following Lumumbaís death, he launched an unsuccessful revolt in South Kivu with Che Guevara. Kabila subsequently formed the Peopleís Republic Party and established a mini-state in South Kivu. In 1996, Kabila succeeded in toppling Mobutuís government, but his own rule was short-lived. In 1998, Ugandan and Rwandan troops invaded the DRC, and three years later, Kabila was assassinated. Like his predecessor, Kabila was accused of corruption and exploitation. Laurent-Desire Kabilaís eldest son Joseph was sworn into the presidential post after his fatherís death. To date, he has attempted to reconcile government and rebel forces and to uphold the Lusaka Accord.
Since King Leopoldís time, military, business, and political leaders have consistently abused their authority to exploit the DRCís immense supply of natural resources such as gold, diamonds, and coltan. This abuse of power has resulted in civilian deaths, rape, torture, the use of child soldiers, and child labourers. Many foreign countries have contributed to the propagation of the conflict in the DRC by supporting the different forces. Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe supported Kabila, while Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi supported rebel forces.
The Emergence of Conflict in the DRC
After the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Congolese President Mobutu allowed the interahamwe (a group of Hutus responsible for the genocide) to take refuge in the DRC. The interahamwe launched attacks into Rwanda from the Eastern Congo, triggering the Rwandan Armyís invasion of the DRC. Initially, the Army attempted to track down those responsible for the genocide; however, they changed course and began to exploit the natural resources in the region. Among the most sought-after commodities were diamonds, minerals, water and coltan. It is estimated that over an 18-month period, the Rwandan army made over $250 million through the sale of coltan alone.
In 1996, the Rwandan and Ugandan-backed Alliance of Democratic Forces of Congo- Zaire (ADFL) marched on to Kinshasa. Mobutu fled, and Laurent-Kabila declared himself President. In July of 1998, Ugandan and Rwandan troops left the DRC at the request of Kabila; however, Rwandan troops invaded the DRC a few weeks later. Kabila turned to the South African Development Community (SADC) for help. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola sent troops to help ward of the Rwandan and Ugandan armies. By 1999, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congolese rebel groups that they sponsored managed to control one third of the DRC. By late 1999, however, the interests of the Ugandans and the Rwandans, and the various rebel groups they sponsored, began to clash.
In July 1999, the Lusaka Accord was signed by the six warring nations (Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda) and rebel groups in an attempt to stop the civil war. The Lusaka Accord called for a cease-fire, the deployment of UN peacekeepers and the disarmament and repatriation of all armed foreign groups. The Lusaka Accord also called for the creation of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue to form a transitional government prior to the 2005 elections. Unfortunately, all parties have not consistently implemented the treaty.
In July 2001, Laurent-Kabila was killed by his bodyguard and succeeded by his son, 29 year-old Joseph Kabila. Joseph Kabila reconvened the LPA and the warring factions met in Sun City, South Africa in 2002. There were many problems with the peace talks, as smaller groups felt marginalized and intermittently resumed fighting. Finally, negotiations concluded and Kabila signed a draft constitution in March of 2003. The transitional government headed by Kabila and consisting of four Vice-Presidents, thirty-six Cabinet Ministers, twenty-five Deputy Ministers, a 500 member national assembly and 120 Senators was sworn in by September 2003.
Although officially there has been a cease-fire since 2003, intermittent fighting continues on the ground. In March 2004, there was an attempted coup against the government in Kinshasa. Throughout the war, many nations and multinational corporations have exacerbated the conflict by exploiting the DRCís rich natural resources for their own gain.
Want to Find Out More?
1. Global Issues
2. Global Witness Report on the Congo
4. BBC Country Profile
5. Global Policy
6. Le Monde:
7. UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC)