Democratic Republic of the Congo
Total: 2,344,858 sq km
Land: 2,267,048 sq km
Water: 77,810 sq km
Area comparison map:
Land boundaries: 10,481 km
border countries (9):
Angola 2,646 km,
Burundi 236 km,
Central African Republic 1,747 km,
Republic of the Congo 1,229 km,
Rwanda 221 km,
South Sudan 714 km,
Tanzania 479 km,
Uganda 877 km,
Zambia 2,332 km
Total: 10,481 km
Democratic Republic of the Congo
People and Society
Despite a wealth of fertile soil, hydroelectric power potential, and mineral resources, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) struggles with many socioeconomic problems, including high infant and maternal mortality rates, malnutrition, poor vaccination coverage, lack of access to improved water sources and sanitation, and frequent and early fertility. Ongoing conflict, mismanagement of resources, and a lack of investment have resulted in food insecurity; almost 30 percent of children under the age of 5 are malnourished. The overall coverage of basic public services – education, health, sanitation, and potable water – is very limited and piecemeal, with substantial regional and rural/urban disparities. Fertility remains high at almost 5 children per woman and is likely to remain high because of the low use of contraception and the cultural preference for larger families.
Over 200 ethnic groups populate the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of which the majority are Bantu peoples. Together, Mongo, Luba and Kongo peoples (Bantu) and Mangbetu-Azande peoples constitute around 45% of the population. The Kongo people are the largest ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2017, the United Nations estimated the country’s population to be 83 million people, a rapid increase from 39.1 million in 1992 despite the ongoing war. As many as 250 ethnic groups have been identified and named. The most numerous people are the Kongo, Luba, and Mongo. About 600,000 Pygmies are the aboriginal people of the DR Congo. Although several hundred local languages and dialects are spoken, the linguistic variety is bridged both by widespread use of French and the national intermediary languages Kituba, Tshiluba, Swahili, and Lingala.
The DRC is a source and host country for refugees. Between 2012 and 2014, more than 119,000 Congolese refugees returned from the Republic of Congo to the relative stability of northwest DRC, but more than 540,000 Congolese refugees remained abroad as of year-end 2015. In addition, an estimated 3.9 million Congolese were internally displaced as of October 2017, the vast majority fleeing violence between rebel group and Congolese armed forces. Thousands of refugees have come to the DRC from neighboring countries, including Rwanda, the Central African Republic, and Burundi.
noun: Congolese (singular and plural)
over 200 African ethnic groups of which the majority are Bantu; the four largest tribes – Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu-Azande (Hamitic) make up about 45% of the population.
French (official), Lingala (a lingua franca trade language), Kingwana (a dialect of Kiswahili or Swahili), Kikongo, Tshiluba.
Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%, Kimbanguist 10%, Muslim 10%, other (includes syncretic sects and indigenous beliefs) 10%.
The Pygmies, having arrived possibly during the Upper Paleolithic Period, are thought to have been the earliest inhabitants of the Congo basin. The remaining Pygmy groups—the Bambuti, the Twa, and the Babinga—inhabit the forests of Kibali and Ituri, the regions of Lakes Kivu and Tanganyika, and areas near the Lualaba, Tshuapa, Sankuru, and Ubangi rivers.
There are other small non-Bantu African populations. Adamawa-Ubangi and Central Sudanic groups that settled in the north include the Zande (Azande), the Mangbetu, the Banda, and the Barambu (Abarambo). Nilotic peoples live in the northeast and include the Alur, the Kakwa, the Bari, the Lugbara, and the Logo. Tutsi from Rwanda have historically lived in the eastern lake region. European and Asian groups constitute a significant part of the country’s migrant population; most went to Congo for temporary employment. The remaining migrant population is composed of Africans of non-Congolese nationality.
Christianity is the majority religion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most recent survey, conducted by the Demographic and Health Surveys Program in 2013-2014 indicated that Christians constituted 92.7% of the population (with Catholics making up 33.9%, Protestants 26.8%, and other Christians 35.8%). An indigenous religion, Kimbanguism, has the adherence of 2.8%, while Muslims make up only 1.3%. Other recent estimates have found Christianity the majority religion, followed by 95% of the population according to a 2010 Pew Research Center estimate, and 80% according to the CIA World Fact book and Pew Research Center 2013 data. Indigenous beliefs account for about 1.8–10%, and Islam for 1–12%.
There are about 35 million Catholics in the country with six archdioceses and 41 dioceses. The impact of the Roman Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is difficult to overestimate. Schatzberg has called it the country’s “only truly national institution apart from the state.” Its schools have educated over 60% of the nation’s primary school students and more than 40% of its secondary students. The church owns and manages an extensive network of hospitals, schools, and clinics, as well as many diocesan economic enterprises, including farms, ranches, stores, and artisans’ shops
As a result of the 6-year civil war in the late 1990s-early 2000s, over 5.2 million children in the country did not receive any education. Since the end of the civil war, the situation has improved tremendously, with the number of children enrolled in primary schools rising from 5.5 million in 2002 to 13.5 million in 2014, and the number of children enrolled in secondary schools rising from 2.8 million in 2007 to 4.4 million in 2014 according to UNESCO.
However, The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) education system is plagued by low coverage and poor quality. 3.5 million children of primary school age are not in school, and of those who do attend, 44 percent start school late, after the age of six. National data indicate that only 67 percent of children who enter first grade will complete sixth grade. Of those who reach 6th grade, only 75 percent will pass the exit exam.
The education system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is governed by three government ministries: the Ministère de l’Enseignement Primaire, Secondaire et Professionnel (MEPSP), the Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et Universitaire (MESU) and the Ministère des Affaires Sociales (MAS).
The Ministry of Education (MOE) is one of the most reform-focused ministries in the DRC. The Minister is the longest standing in the Cabinet and has withstood numerous reshuffles since 2006. This long-term continuity has fostered a cohesive partnership between donors and the MOE to implement key strategies, reforms, and sector plans. In addition, the government of the DRC (GDRC) has increased its financial commitment to education from 7.9 percent of its budget in 2012 to 14.7 percent in 2015.
Academic education in the DRC takes 12 years to complete, of which the first 6 are free, and lead to a certificat d’etudes primaires. This is necessary to proceed on to secondary education. Unfortunately many students especially in rural areas fail to even get this far. Secondary education (which may be either general or technical) takes a further 5 to 6 years depending on the cycle. All those who complete a diplôme d’etat are entitled to proceed on to higher education. Students may go on from primary schools to vocational schools instead, according to preferences and academic outcomes. There they can follow programs that last up to 5 years in various trades and crafts, at the conclusion of which they receive a brevet certificate.
There are many privately and publicly funded polytechnics and specialized colleges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but only 4 state universities. These include the Universities of Goma, Kinshasa, Kongo and Lubumbashi. The latter is by far the oldest, having been founded in 1991, after functioning as a branch of the University of Zaire for 26 years. Today it offers programs in anthropology, geology, history, information sciences, languages, linguistics, law, philosophy, sociology, engineering, and trade & public health.
In eastern DRC and USAID’s Accelerated Learning Programs (ALPs) are extremely effective in providing education opportunities to out-of-school youth. ALPs compress the equivalent of the six-year primary program into three years, allowing students to re-enter the formal education system at the secondary level or qualify for vocational training.
This arrangement provided the blueprint for the Mobutu government’s steady acquisition of private economic concerns—heralded as the “Zairianization” of the economy. Mobutu appropriated the income from new state enterprises, using it to amass a huge personal fortune and to create a vast patronage network. In the 1970s and ’80s, he also portioned out control over state enterprises to shifting networks of associates whose loyalty he needed. He offered concessions to foreign private enterprises as well. Increasingly, the economy became an adjunct of Mobutu’s political machine.
At first, international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as well as Mobutu’s allies in the West, turned a blind eye to his personal appropriation of the economy and the associated declines in productivity and exports. The fall in copper prices in the mid-1970s, however, led to audits of state enterprises that revealed high levels of embezzlement. Nonetheless, Mobutu remained an important Cold War ally for Western countries, and for the next 20 years international financial institutions and his Western allies continued to find ways to keep the sinking economy afloat. Yet as the economy became less and less productive, funds directed toward the maintenance of Mobutu’s national, regional, and local patronage networks were becoming insufficient. Both state managers and private owners of enterprises increasingly resorted to extortion and force to maintain their wealth.
In the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and heightened demands for democratic reform worldwide, Mobutu’s Western allies finally pressed for reforms in Congo. By this time, however, the country was in crisis. Between 1990 and 1995, the economy demonstrated a negative annual growth rate of –8.42 percent. In the early 1990s the value of the national currencysank to remarkable lows. Average per capita income, which continued to fall drastically, was more than halved between 1990 and 2000 to become one of the lowest in the world.
The DRC is still recovering from a series of conflicts that broke out in the 1990s creating a protracted economic and social slump. The Government has launched sectoral reforms to strengthen governance and transparency in the extractive industries (forestry, mining, and oil sectors) and to improve the business climate. Currently, almost all contracts signed by the Government are accessible to the public. The DRC participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and regularly publishes reports on revenues from natural resources. However, systematizing the procedures necessary for a competitive process in awarding mining, oil, and forestry contracts requires additional efforts on the part of the Government.
After sharply increasing to almost 9% in the 2013-2014 period, the GDP growth rate of the country, decelerated to 6.9% in 2015, then to 2.4% in 2016, its lowest point since 2001. This slump is mainly due to declining prices and a shrinking global demand for raw materials exported by the country, particularly of copper and cobalt, which account for 80% of its export revenue.
$66.15 billion (2016 est.)
$64.6 billion (2015 est.)
2.4% (2016 est.)
6.9% (2015 est.)
$800 (2016 est.)
$800 (2015 est.)
8.4% of GDP (2016 est.)
16.3% of GDP (2015 est.)
services: 45.9% (2017 est.)
DRC is one of the largest countries in the world: this central African state is roughly the size of Western Europe but only one per cent of land is under cultivation. The country hosts half of all of Africa’s forests and has significant deposits of gold and the highly-prized mineral coltan. Most of the country’s natural resources and people are found in the southern grasslands, while the northern and central regions are largely forested. Farming is predominantly low-input and subsistence-based, with little commercial activity, particularly in the wake of the civil war. About 70 per cent of the population live in rural areas, and around 40 million people depend on farming for their livelihoods. Despite this, agriculture contributed some 45 per cent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2006 – down over ten per cent on 1997. Important food crops are plantain, maize, cassava, groundnut and rice. Cash crops, usually grown on plantations by smallholders, include coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, cotton and rubber. Palm oil products and quinquina (a bitter, alcoholic drink containing quinine) are also produced for domestic and export markets.
The livestock sector is largely undeveloped, with small numbers of cattle, pigs, goats and chickens. Livestock populations have suffered significantly since the civil war, when many farms were looted and the animals stolen. With the Congo River and its many major tributaries, and four of the continent’s Great Lakes on its eastern border, DRC’s fisheries sector holds great potential. But the fledgling industry also suffered during the war, when many fish farmers abandoned their ponds. The country’s seaport at Banama in the southwest has potential to be developed for commercial sea fishing.
Despite being an agricultural exporter prior to independence in 1960, farming in DRC has been through long periods of stagnation and decline. Currently, the sector is growing at two per cent per year, but this is slower than the increase in population. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has blamed the government’s lack of support for agriculture for continuing food insecurity in the country.
Many farmers have struggled to gain access to credit and there has been a prolonged lack of both public and private investment in agriculture, as well as in the country’s energy and transport infrastructure. Many roads in both rural and urban areas have fallen into disrepair and energy provision in the countryside is extremely limited, while the lucrative mining industry has drawn agricultural labour away from the fields and into the mines. These factors, combined with the destabilising effects of war, have also contributed to widespread hunger. Recent global food price rises have hit the import-dependent DRC hard.
Despite a wealth of underexploited forests, fisheries and farmland, it is likely that conflict, inadequate government support for farming and ongoing instability will ensure that this potential remains untapped. Without security and stability, foreign investment will continue to be hampered and infrastructure projects will not see the light of day. DRC has greater potential than many of its African neighbours to lift its population out of extreme poverty, but its agriculture sector needs wholesale reform, with the support of the government and the private sector. Before any of this can be achieved, however, the country must first find peace.
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Manufacturing accounts for a small proportion of the Congolese GDP. The sector has been hampered by a variety of factors, including difficulty obtaining machinery and spare parts and an unreliable electricity supply. Manufacturing industries can be classified into two main categories. Consumption industries produce processed foods, beverages, cigarettes, cloth, printed material, hosiery, shoes and leather, metallic fabrics, and such chemical products as soap, paints, rubber, and plastics. Supply and equipment industries include spinning and weaving plants, chemical factories, and facilities to produce machinery, transport materials, nonmetallic minerals, and wood products. A petroleum refinery, opened in 1968, operates near Moanda.
The heaviest concentration of hydroelectric consumption is in the mining areas and in Kinshasa. A hydroelectric dam was completed in 1972 on the lower Congo River at Inga Falls. After completion of the second stage of the dam in 1982, its hydroelectric capacity had grown almost eightfold, with its potential estimated at nearly 15 times that total. In spite of the dam’s massive potential, however, the poor condition of necessary equipment has made electric shortages commonplace, and much of the population is without reliable access to electricity. The majority of Congolese depend on firewood as a source of domestic fuel. Neighbouring Republic of the Congo has been linked to the country’s power grid since the 1950s.
Banking and Finance
The Central Bank of the Congo is responsible for developing and maintaining the Congolese franc, which serves as the primary form of currency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2007, The World Bank decided to grant the Democratic Republic of Congo up to $1.3 billion in assistance funds over the following three years. Kinshasa is currently negotiating membership in the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa(OHADA).
The Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources; its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion. The Congo has 70% of the world’s coltan, a third of its cobalt, more than 30% of its diamond reserves, and a tenth of its copper.
Despite such vast mineral wealth, the economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has declined drastically since the mid-1980s. The African country generated up to 70% of its export revenue from minerals in the 1970s and 1980s, and was particularly hit when resource prices deteriorated at that time. By 2005, 90% of the DRC’s revenues derived from its minerals. The country’s woes mean that despite its potential its citizens are among the poorest people on Earth. DR Congo consistently has the lowest, or nearly the lowest, nominal GDP per capita in the world. The DRC is also one of the twenty lowest-ranked countries on the Corruption Perception Index.
The national central bank, the Bank of Congo, is located in Kinshasa, as are numerous commercial, savings, and development banks. There are also mortgage and credit banking institutions. Totally foreign-owned banks include U.S., British, and French institutions as well as the International Bank for Africa in Congo. The penetration of the banking system in Congo is extremely low, however, and only a fraction of Congolese citizens maintain bank accounts; the majority of transactions within the dominant informal sector are settled in cash. In 1998 the Congolese franc replaced the new zaire as the country’s official currency, but the new tender was seriously devalued by the country’s years of civil conflict. New notes were introduced in 2003.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the world’s largest producer of cobalt ore, and a major producer of copper and diamonds. The latter come from Kasai province in the west. By far the largest mines in the DRC are located in southern Katanga province (formerly Shaba), and are highly mechanized, with a capacity of several million tons per year of copper and cobalt ore, and refining capability for metal ore. The DRC is the second-largest diamond-producing nation in the world,and artisanal and small-scale miners account for most of its production.
At independence in 1960, DRC was the second-most industrialized country in Africa after South Africa; it boasted a thriving mining sector and a relatively productive agriculture sector. The First and Second Congo Wars began in 1996. These conflicts have dramatically reduced national output and government revenue, increased external debt, and resulted in deaths of more than five million people from war and associated famine and disease. Malnutrition affects approximately two thirds of the country’s population.
Following the peace accord in 2003, the focus returned to mining. Rebel groups supplied international corporations through unregulated mining by soldiers, locals organized by military commanders and by foreign nationals. The political framework was unstable. In 2009 the DRC signed a loan contract with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $12 billion of debt relief in 2010. The loan included trade conditions, such as liberalization of the diamond trade. At the end of 2012 the IMF suspended the last payments, because of a lack of transparency in the DRC’s process for awarding mining contracts. The mining sector has since expanded, but commodity prices have declined and this has hampered the DRC’s progress.
Much mining has been done in small artisanal mining operations, sometimes known as Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM). These small-scale mines are unregulated, with high levels of child labor and workplace injury. They can occur within protected areas, and around endangered or threatened species. As of 2008 many ASM operations existed for minerals such as coltan. ASM operations employ a significant portion of the DRC’s population; estimates range up to one fifth of the population, or 12.5 million people. Problems stemming from artisanal mining include disruption of families, mining-related illnesses, environmental damage, child labor, prostitution and rape.
Since the country’s main economic resource is its mineral deposits; mining produces almost nine-tenths of total exports. The abundance of minerals in Katanga province was among those factors that attracted European powers to Congo in the 19th century. Minerals found in Katanga include copper, cobalt, zinc, cassiterite (the chief source of metallic tin), manganese, coal, silver, cadmium, germanium (a brittle element used as aemiconductor), gold, palladium (a metallic element used as a catalyst and in alloys), uranium, and platinum. The region west of Lake Kivu contains cassiterite, columbotantalite, wolframite (a source of tungsten), beryl, gold, and monazite (a phosphate of the cerium metals and thorium).
Lake Kivu also harbours vast reserves of methane, carbonic, and nitrogen natural gases. There are deposits of iron ore and gem-quality diamonds in south-central Congo, while the central regions are rich in industrial diamonds. In the northeast there are gold, coal, and iron-ore deposits; there are prospective deposits of gold, monazite, and diamonds in the northwestern regions as well. Coastal Congo contains bauxite, gold, and offshore deposits of petroleum. The limestone deposits that occur throughout the country are considered to be among the richest in Africa.
Congo’s forest reserves cover more than half of the country and are among the largest in Africa. Wild game supplements the local diet and is an important item in local commerce. Rivers, lakes, swamps, and ocean contain vast reserves of fish. It is estimated that the country’s hydroelectric resources make up about one-eighth of global capacity and perhaps half of Africa’s potential capacity. This tremendous potential comes from the many rapids along the rivers of the Congo system. Thermal energy can be derived from the forests and coal and petroleum deposits.
Archaeological evidence of and research on past societies in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) formerly known as Zaire are scanty, in no small part because of the tropical climate and the rain forest covering most of the northern half of the DRC and encompassing much of the Congo River basin. Nonetheless, equatorial Africa has been inhabited since at least the middle Stone Age. Late Stone Age cultures flourished in the southern savanna after ca. 10,000 B.C. and remained viable until the arrival of Bantu-speaking peoples during the first millennium B.C. Evidence suggests that these Stone Age populations lived in small groups, relying for subsistence on hunting and gathering and the use of stone tools. Some of these groups may have remained long enough in one vicinity to be considered permanent residents, but others moved, following game along the extensive river network and through the rain forest.
The development of food-producing communities in the DRC is associated with the expansion of Bantu-speaking peoples. In a long series of migrations beginning ca. 1000 B.C. and lasting well into the mid-first millennium A.D., Bantu speakers dispersed from a point west of the Ubangi-Congo River swamp across the forests and savannas of modern DRC. A northern group moved north- eastward around the swamp and across the northern regions of DRC and setded in the forest zone. Meanwhile, other groups moved south and southwest, the former then migrating up the Congo as well as into the inner part of the Congo Basin, while the southwestern Bantu-speakers spread into modern Gabon, Congo, and lower DRC.
It was apparently after these movements that Bantu speakers spread south and southeastward across the southern DRC savannahs as far as present-day Angola and Zambia, thereafter continuing to expand into eastern and southern Africa. These migrating groups generally brought with them a technology superior to that of the existing inhabitants. The Bantu speakers were better able to exploit an area ‘s resources through the practice of agriculture, based on yam and oil palm cultivation, and, as time went on, by adopting iron tools and technology.
Bantu-speaking peoples settled in the rain forests and southern savannas. Non-Bantu-speaking peoples are found in the grasslands north of the forest. Information on the settlement dates and routes of migration of these peoples remains vague at best, but they seem to have dwelt at first in the northern grasslands and only later penetrated the forest. Since perhaps late in the first millennium B.C., they have intermingled with the Bantu-speaking groups who preceded them, in the process creating a complex ethnic mosaic
The significance of some of these peoples extends beyond purely linguistic considerations. The peoples speaking Central Sudanic languages brought with them a new food complex involving cereal cultivation and herding. A related food pattern based on cereals and hunting was separately introduced to southeastern DRC from East Africa after ca. A.D. 100. Cereal cultivation, hunting, and herding were much better adapted to conditions in the savannas than the oil palm and yam farming that the Bantu speakers had brought with them, and, hence, spread rapidly, especially in the southern grasslands.
State Systems Versus Segmentary Societies
DRC ‘s precolonial past is characterized by considerable complexity. A diversity of social aggregates developed in DRC, ranging from the small, autonomous groups of hunters and gatherers of the Ituri Forest in the northeast to the centralized chiefdoms and large-scale state systems of the savannas, from the settled village communities of the interior to the predominantly Muslim and Arab trading communities of the eastern region. In order to bring a measure of coherence to our understanding of this otherwise confusing mix of peoples and cultures and to appreciate their enduring political, economic, and social legacies, it is important to specify the broad criteria by which they can best be differentiated from each other. One criterion is the size and scope of the societies concerned; another concerns the ways in which power was distributed between rulers and ruled; a third focuses on the different impact of early Westernizing influences on their traditional social systems.
The first and most obvious distinction to be made between the various peoples who first populated the area of DRC is between the small-scale, segmentary societies of the rainforest zone and the state systems of the savannas. Segmentary societies, which may be defined as societies that are divided into a number of units, such as lineage or clan groups, which are structurally similar and functionally equivalent, were widely distributed across the interior north and south of the great bend of the Congo River. Most of the peoples of the rainforest area were organized into village communities, under the leadership of chiefs or of dominant clans or lineages. Some of these communities were able to absorb or conquer neighboring villages and thus develop into sizable chiefdoms.
A classic example of such fragmentation is offered by the various communities loosely referred to as the Mongo people, who occupied most of the central basin. Divided as they were into congeries of smaller communities (Ntomba, Mbole, Kutu, etc.), they had nothing resembling a unifying political focus. Their social boundaries were generally coterminous with village groups. The same applies to the so-called gens d ‘ eau (water people), a generic term coined to designate the Bobangi, Lobala, Ngiri, and neighboring groups who lived along water courses to the north of the Congo River. Most of the peoples between the Congo and Ubangi, however, such as the Ngbandi, Ngbaka, Banda, and Ngombe, pos- sessed lineage-based systems that were more hierarchical than those found farther south. Finally, to emphasize the great diversity among the peoples and their social organization in this region, the Zande and the Mangbetu, who lived in the far northeast, were organized into states.
A different picture emerges from the history of the southern savannas, the traditional habitat of several large-scale societies with centralized political systems, variously described as kingdoms, empires, and chiefdoms, that emerged between 1200 and 1500 A.D.. These include the Kongo, Lunda, Luba, and Kuba state systems, all of which shared certain common features, such as a centralized structure of authority. As recent historical research suggests, territorial expansion of the original nuclear kingdom involved various methods, ranging from armed raids and military occupation to more peaceful forms of interaction. Yet in each case, the end result was the creation of large-scale political entities that were far more capable of concerted action than the segmentary societies of the rain-forest zone.
The Arrival of the Portuguese
From the inception of Portuguese penetration into the old Kongo Kingdom in the late fifteenth century, and well into the beginning of the scramble for colonies in the nineteenth century, the Kongo monarchy was a major pawn in international struggles. These conflicts pitted the Vatican against the Portuguese crown for control of African souls, the Dutch (who began arriving on the west coast of Africa in the seventeenth century) against the Portuguese for control of the slave trade, and ultimately Spain against Portugal for sovereignty over the Portuguese Empire.
The Kongo Kingdom was the first state on the west coast of Central Africa to come into contact with Europeans. Portuguese sailors under Diogo Cao landed at the mouth of the Congo River in 1483. Cao traveled from Portugal to Kongo and back several times during the 1480s, bringing missionaries to the Kongo court and tak- ing Kongo nobles to Portugal in 1485. In the 1490s, the king of Kongo asked Portugal for missionaries and technical assistance in exchange for ivory and other desirable items, such as slaves and copperwares — a relationship, ultimately detrimental to the Kongo, which continued for centuries.
In the late fourteenth century, a group of Kongo, led by the son of a chief from the area of present-day Boma, moved south of the Congo River into northern Angola, conquered the territory, and established Mbanza Kongo Dia Ntotila (Great City of the King) as the capital of their kingdom (the capital was later moved to Sao Salvador). By the middle of the fifteenth century, the Kongo king ruled the lands in northern Angola and the north bank of the Congo. By the early sixteenth century, the kingdom was divided into six provinces, each under a subchief or governor, who also held a religious title and authority. The last really effective years of the Kongo monarchy were from 1641 to 1661, although the kingdom endured into the next century.
By the eighteenth century, however, most of the kingdom ‘s provinces (Mbamba, Mbata, Mpemba, and Soyo) had become self-governing principalities. The king, though claiming a divine right to the monarchy, had little authority beyond his capital, and internal bickerings that had surrounded his throne and further diminished his power also contributed to the weakening of the provincial chiefdoms. The history of the old Kongo Kingdom encapsulates many of the crises experienced by several other states of the savannas in their efforts to cope with the challenge of the new economic forces.
On the eve of the Belgian conquest in the late nineteenth century, Congolese societies had reached a degree of internal dislocation that greatly lessened their capacity to resist a full-scale invasion. Long before the conquest of the vast hinterland, the coastal communities had had centuries of contact with Europeans; by the time the Conference of Berlin began in 1884, on the other hand, most of the societies of the interior had yet to experience the full impact of European rule. Out of these different historical experiences emerged different self-images and cultural dispositions. That the Kongo peoples were the first Zairian people to challenge the legitimacy of the colonial state is perhaps not unrelated to their long and dramatic experience of European hegemony.
From 1840 to 1872, the Scottish missionary, David Livingstone, engaged in a series of explorations that brought the Congo to the attention of the Western world. Stanley ‘s adventures brought the Congo to the attention of Bel- gium ‘s King Leopold II, a man of boundless energy and ambition. The European occupation of Africa was well under way, but the Congo River basin remained for the most part unknown to Europeans. With no great powers contesting its control, the area appeared to present an ideal opportunity for Belgian expansion.
Leopold II founded the International Association of the Congo, financed by an international consortium of bankers. At the Conference of Berlin, held in 1884-85 to settle disputes among the European nations and in essence to partition Africa among them, thirteen powers. Separately recognized Leopold IPs International Association of the Congo, which had already adopted its own flag, as an independent entity. Shortly afterward the association became the Congo Free State. By the General Act of Berlin, signed at the conclusion of the conference in 1885, the powers also agreed that activities in the Congo Basin should be governed by certain principles, including freedom of trade and navigation, neutrality in the event of war, suppression of the slave traffic, and improvement of the condition of the indigenous population. The conference recognized Leopold II as sovereign of the new state. Shortly thereafter, in order to meet the conference ‘s legal requirement of ” effective occupation, ” Leopold II proceeded to transform the Congo Free State into an effective instrument of colonial hegemony.
” Without the railroad, ” said Leopold IPs agent, Henry Morton Stanley, ” the Congo is not worth a penny. ” Without recourse to forced labor, however, the railroad could not be built; nor could the huge concessions made to private companies become profitable unless African labor was freely used to locate and transport rubber and ivory; nor could African resistance in the east be overcome without a massive recruitment of indigenous troops. The cruel logic of the revenue imperative left the Leopoldian system with no apparent option but to extract a maximum output of labor and natural resources from the land. At the heart of the system lay a perverse combination of rewards and penalties. Congo Free State agents and native auxiliaries (the so-called capitas) were given authority to use as much force as they Waterfalls, such as this one on the Kasai River, hampered early European exploration of the interior.
Deemed appropriate to meet delivery norms, and because their profits were proportional to the amount of rubber and ivory collected, the inevitable consequence was the institutionalization of force on a huge scale. Although native chiefs were expected to cooperate, the incessant and arbitrary demands made on their authority were self-defeating. Many chiefs turned against the colonial state; others were quickly disposed of and replaced by state- appointed ” straw chiefs. ” Countless revolts ensued, which had an immediate effect on the scale and frequency of military expeditions. As the cost of pacification soared, Leopold II declared a state monopoly on rubber and ivory. The free trade principle that had once been the cornerstone of the Congo Free State thus became a legal fiction.
Reduced to its essentials, Belgian paternalism meant that basic political rights could be withheld indefinitely from Africans as long as their material and spiritual needs were properly met. Paternalism drew its rationale from a vision of Africans as essentially ” big children, ” whose moral upbringing required a proper mixture of authority and dedication. Its essence is perhaps best captured in the opening sentence of a celebrated work by a former colonial governor general, Pierre Ryckmans: ” Dominer pour servir (Dominate in order to serve. . . . This is the only excuse for colonial conquest; it is also its complete justification.). “
The darker side of this paternalism was the political control and compulsion underlying Belgian colonial policies. Extensive restrictions affected Africans in their everyday life — ranging from prohibition of the purchase of liquor (until 1955) to stringent police surveillance and curfew regulations in the urban centers, and from compulsory crop cultivation to various forms of administrative and social regimentation in the countryside.
The colonial government believed that Africans could be ” civilized ” through agricultural as well as industrial labor. Agricultural programs began as early as 1917, when the administration first required Africans to raise certain designated crops. The crops most often raised were cotton for export or food crops for towns and mines within the colony, neither of which threatened European interests, nor did either ensure the health and well-being of the indigenous population.
In the political realm, Belgian policy was theoretically to respect the authority of African chiefs and political leaders, permitting Africans to be ruled by their own customs unless these customs were judged disruptive of public order or harmful to development. Colonial administrators divided the entire Belgian Congo into chiefdoms Traditional tombs in Bas-Zaire Region Courtesy Zaire National Tourism Office
The colonial state was, of course, the pivotal element in this coalition of interests, because of its unchallenged monopoly of force and highly visible administrative presence. From the time of its creation in 1888 until its dissolution in the wake of the 1960 mutiny, the Force Publique provided the colonial state with a formidable instrument of coercion, whose reputation for brutality was well established.
Adding to the weight of the European hegemony, a system of native tribunals and local councils was introduced in the 1920s to enlist local chiefs in administration of the colony. Few of the chiefs, however, claimed as much as a glimmer of legitimacy, as most of them acted as the agents of the colonial state. Ultimate control over local affairs always rested with Europe- an administrators. Equally restrictive of African participation was the system of administration prevailing in urban sectors, the so-called centers extra coutumiers. Not until the post WWII years was this complex system of inter- locking structures among the colonial state, the church, and big business much called into question. The decisive factor then was the intrusion of metropolitan politics into the colonial arena, following the election in 1954 of a Socialist- Liberal cabinet in Brussels whose anticlerical program had a profound effect on colonial policies.
Lumumba and the MNC
In the welter of political formations that appeared after the Belgian declaration of January 13, 1959, at least one party stood as the standard-bearer of pan- territorial nationalist aspirations: the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais — MNC). Technically, the MNC was formed in August 1956. Its declared objective was to ” pursue the political emancipation of the Congo, ” while fostering among its members ” a consciousness of their national unity and responsibilities. ” Although the party never disavowed its commitment to national unity, not until the arrival of Patrice Lumumba in Leopoldville in 1958 did it enter its militant phase.
There can be little doubt that the MNC owed a great deal of its success to Lumumba ‘s charisma, to his uncanny ability to galvanize crowds, never more impressive than when venting the collective grievances of his followers against Belgian colonialism. His undeniable talent as a political organizer and an activist, coupled with his passionate commitment to the idea of a united Congo— perhaps reflective of his Tetela origins, the Tetela being a relatively small group located in Kasai.
As time went on, led by Jason Sendwe, Katanga from south set up their own political organization, the Association of the Luba People of Katanga (Association des Baluba du Katanga — Balubakat), soon to enter into an alliance with Lumumba ‘s branch of the MNC. Despite strong cultural affinities between the two groups, the Luba-Kasai went their own way, directing their loyalties to the Federation of Kasai (Federation Kasaienne — Fedeka). Their political aloofness was in large part motivated by the rift in Kasai between the MNC -Lumumba and the MNC-Kalonji, identified, respectively, with Lulua and Luba elements in the Kasaian arena.
The victory of the MNC-Lumumba in the May 1960 national legislative elections transformed the alliance between European settlers and Conakat into an increasingly close partnership, and Conakat ‘s relationship with Balubakat into a protracted trial of strength. The conflict with Balubakat began with the provincial elections of May 1960, when Conakat won twenty-five seats, Balubakat twenty-two, and independents the remaining thirteen. Although Balubakat appealed the results, the Belgian magistrate rejected the appeal, and after the thirteen independents joined Conakat, the latter emerged with a solid majority in the Katangan provincial assembly. On June 1 , the Balubakat deputies walked out of the assembly, depriving it of the necessary quorum to start its deliberations. At this point, the provincial governor, yielding to the urgings of European settlers, appealed to Brussels to promulgate an amendment to the constitution, the Fundamental Law, which had been enacted on May 19. On June 15, despite the prophetic warning of Balubakat that ” the promulgation of (the amendment) would inevitably lead to civil war after June 30, ” the Belgian parliament nevertheless enacted the amendment, thus making it legally possible for Conakat to gain full control of the provincial institutions.
The Assassination of Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba was the central figure in Congo’s struggle for independence from Belgium. Lumumba was one of a new generation of Europeanized middle Class évolués’ of urban background. The ‘évolués’ formed the core of an African Nationalist Movement in Belgian Congo in the 1950s. Several parties together formed the Nationalist Movement in Congo, the most prominent among them being the Mouvement National Congolais MNC. By 1959, Lumumba had become the most important figure within the MNC and became the first elected Prime Minister of Congo after its independence in 1960. However, he was removed from the position of Prime Minister in September 1960, by President Kasa Vubu less than three months after he was elected PM. On September 14, 1960 both the President and Lumumba were deposed in a coup by Colonel Mobutu and Lumumba was placed under house arrest. On the night of 17th January 1961, Patrice Lumumba, the most important architect of Congolese independence was assassinated near Elizabethville under mysterious circumstances. Various versions of his death have been put forward which implicate Western agencies for his death.
Belgian involvement in the entire affair is clear without a doubt with the direct involvement of Belgian soldiers in the assassination of Lumumba and the Belgian government directly involved in the transfer of Lumumba to his Katangese executioners. It can be argued that the Belgians mentioned, were at the time employed in the service of Katangese authorities, however, it is clear that Belgium had commercial and strategic interests in both Katanga and South Kasai and both these secessionist Ashutosh Singh “Foreign Role in the Assassination of Patrice Lumumba” provinces had Belgian support, It is not a coincidence that Belgian mercenaries like the infamous Julien Gat were in the employment of both these provinces in leading positions. Moreover, it is proven that Lumumba was transferred to Katangese at the direct behest of the Belgian government.
The US on the other hand had more of an ideological problem with Lumumba as the latter was seen to have a Soviet tilt. The United States did not have as many direct mining and financial interests in the Congo as Belgium did, nevertheless, the dictates of the cold war meant that the US had to stand by its NATO ally; however, because of these differences of interests, the US was never as proactive as Belgium in manipulating affairs within Congo. This is not to say that the US was favorably inclined towards Lumumba; on the contrary, the CIA under the Eisenhower government actively put in place plans to assassinate Lumumba who was considered a dangerous radical. Nevertheless, Belgium, a nation with far fewer intelligence resources than the CIA manipulated and created opportunities to assassinate its most dangerous foe while the US could not find a suitable opportunity to do so or felt that the potential fallout of Lumumba’s assassination would be more destabilizing for the region.
Belgium was on the other hand absolutely desperate to hold on to the mineral wealth of the nation which was once its only colony. In doing so, not only was International Law thrown to the winds but the removal of Lumumba who was a man for the people, was replaced by the Western backed government of Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu’s rule was a classic kleptocracy wherein the nation’s resources were completely exploited for the personal benefit of a small ruling elite. This was to have long term consequences not only for the people of Congo, and its stability, but also for the Central African region at large.
The Current State of DRC
Since the assassination of Lumumba, the Congo has faced many crises, including the brutal 32 year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, backed and funded by the United States State Dept and the CIA. Mobutu amassed a wealth that some say is in the billions while most of his country was in dire conditions, and yet he was still backed by the west. Some estimates put the death toll from war related causes as high as 6 million between the years of 1998 and 2007, and there have been hordes of casualties that have continued to mount to the present day. The crises in the Congo amount to what should be considered the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the 20th and even 21st century, and has resulted in the presence of the largest UN Peacekeeping Contingent on the planet. Despite this, the situation in the Congo remains one of the most under-reported in the world, especially in the Western part of the country.
Kabila was assassinated in 2001. His son Joseph Kabila succeeded him and called for multilateral peace-talks. UN peacekeepers, MONUC, now known as MONUSCO, arrived in April 2001. In 2002 and 2003 Bemba intervened in the Central African Republic on behalf of its former president, Ange-Félix Patassé. Talks 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. A transitional government was set up until the election was over. A constitution was approved by voters, and on 30 July 2006 DRC held its first multi-party elections. An election-result dispute between Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba turned into an all-out battle between their supporters in the streets of Kinshasa. MONUC took control of the city. A new election took place in October 2006, which Kabila won, and on December 2006 he was sworn in as President.
In 2015, major protests broke out across the country and protesters demanded that Joseph Kabila step down as President. The protests began after the passage of a law by the Congolese lower house that, it also passed by the Congolese upper house, would keep Kabila in power at least until a national census was conducted. On 27 November Congolese foreign minister Raymond Tshibanda told the press no elections would be held in 2016, after 20 December, the end of president Kabila’s term, but that never happens. This reality is what the Congolese people are up against. The Congo is a nation that has been exploited to the core, and the Congolese people have constantly faced obstacles to self-determination.