| Republic of Zaire|
République du Zaïre
|Flag||Coat of arms|
“Paix — Justice — Travail” (French)
(“Peace — Justice — Work”)
(and largest city)
4°24′ S 15°24′ E
|Official language(s)||French (Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, and Tshiluba are working languages)|
- Prime Minister
- Governing party
Gen. Donat Lieko Mahele
College of Commissioners
- Congo Free State
- Belgian Congo
- Second Republic
- Third Republic
November 15, 1908
June 30, 1960
November 25, 1965
October 27, 1971
April 24, 1990
- Water (%)
905,351 sq mi
- July 2008 estimate
- 1984 census
- Per capita
- Per capita
|HDI (2005)||0.220 (low)|
|Currency|| Zaire (|
- Summer (DST)
|CET, EET (UTC +1 to +2) |
not observed (UTC +1 to +2)
From 2000 B.C. to A.D. 500, waves of Bantu migrations moved into what is now Zaire from the northwest, adding to and displacing the indigenous Pygmy populations (also known in the region as the "Bitwa" or "Twa") into the southern regions of modern Zaire. Subsequent migrations from the Darfur and Kordofan regions of Sudan into the northeast, as well as East Africans migrating into the eastern Congo added to the mix of ethnic groups. The Bantus imported agriculture and iron-working techniques from West Africa into the area, as well as establishing the Bantu language family as the primary set of tongues for the Zairians. In the fifth century, a society began to develop in a region that initially encompassed only a 200 kilometer (125 mi) area along the banks of the Lualaba River in the modern day Shaba Province. This culture, known as the Upemba, would eventually evolve into the more significant Luba kingdom.
The process in which the original Upemba societies transitioned into the Luba kingdom 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 kilometers (930 mi), all the way to the Indian Ocean). By the 1500s, the kingdom had an established strong central government based on chieftainship.
The Congo Free State (1870-1908)
European exploration and administration took place from the 1870s until the 1920s — first by Sir Henry Morton Stanley who undertook his explorations mainly under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium, who desired 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. The Congo territory was acquired formally by Leopold 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 undertaking various development projects, such as the railway that ran from the coast to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), which took years to complete. Nearly all these projects were aimed at increasing the capital Leopold and his cohorts could extract from the colony, leading to atrocious exploitation of Africans. In the Free State, the local population was brutalized in exchange for rubber, a growing market with the development of rubber tires. The selling of the rubber made a fortune for Leopold, who built several buildings in Brussels and Ostend to honor himself and his country. During the period between 1885 and 1908, between five and fifteen (the commonly accepted figure is about ten) million Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and diseases. A government commission later concluded that the population of the Congo had been "reduced by half" during this brutal period. To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique (FP) was called in. The FP was an army, but its aim was not to defend the country, but to terrorize the local population. 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 disturbingly widespread. There were international protests, however, spearheaded mainly by E. D. Morel and British diplomat/Irish patriot Roger Casement, whose 1904 report on the Congo condemned the practice, as well as famous writers such as Mark Twain. Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness also takes place in Congo Free State. In 1908, the Belgian parliament, which was at first reluctant, bowed to international pressure (especially from Great Britain) by taking over the Free State from the king as a Belgian colony. From then on, it became the Belgian Congo.
The Belgian administration: Belgian Congo (1908 – 1960)
As soon as the Belgian Government took over the Congolese Administration from King Leopold II, the situation in the Congo improved dramatically. Economic and social changes transformed the Congo into a model colony. Hospitals and primary and high schools were built, and many Congolese had access to them. Even the ethnic languages were taught at school, a rare occurrence in colonial education. Doctors and medics achieved great victories against the sleeping sickness. The Administration continued with the economic reforms with the construction of railways, ports, roads, mines, plantations, industrial areas, etc. In the 1950s, life expectancy was around 55 years; today it is 51.
The Congolese, however, lacked political power. Everything was decided in Leopoldville and Brussels. The Belgian Colony-secretary and the Governor-General (the leader of the colony) had absolute power, while the people had none. Among the Congolese people, the resistance against this lack of democracy grew. In 1955, the upper class in the Congolese civilization, the so-called “évolués,” initiated a campaign to end the inequality.
During World War II, the small Congolese army achieved several victories against the Italians in North Africa. The Belgian Congo, which was also rich in uranium deposits, supplied the uranium that was used by the USA to build the atomic bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the end of World War II.
Political crises (1960-1965)
In May 1960, the MNC party or Mouvement National Congolais, led by Patrice Lumumba, won the parliamentary elections, and Lumumba was appointed Prime Minister. Joseph Kasavubu, of the ABAKO (Alliance des Bakongo) party, was elected President by the parliament. Other parties that emerged include 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).
The Belgian Congo achieved independence on June 30, 1960 under the name Republic of the Congo (République du Congo). As the French colony of Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) also chose the name Republic of the Congo upon receiving its independence, the two countries were more commonly known as Congo-Léopoldville and Congo-Brazzaville, after their capital cities. In 1964, the government changed the country's official name to Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shortly after independence, the provinces of Katanga (with Moise Tshombe) and South Kasai engaged in secessionist struggles against the new leadership.
Subsequent events led to a crisis between President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba. On September 5, 1960, Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba from office. Lumumba declared Kasavubu's action "unconstitutional" and a crisis between the two leaders developed.
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 sentiment sufficient to inspire mutinous action. With financial support from the United States and Belgium, Mobutu made payments to his soldiers in order to generate their loyalty. The aversion of Western powers towards communism and leftist ideology in general 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, supported by the Belgian government's desire to retain rights to mine for copper and diamonds in Katanga and South Kasai and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's desire to remove any leftist sympathizers in the region, assassinated Patrice Lumumba. Amidst widespread confusion and chaos, several governments led by technicians (College des Commissaires), Joseph Ileo, Cyrille Adoula, Moise Tshombe, and Évariste Kimba, took over in quick succession.
Following 5 years of extreme instability and civil unrest, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, now Lieutenant General, overthrew Kasavubu in a 1965 Central Intelligence Agency-backed coup d'état. He had the support of the US because of his staunch opposition to Communism, which would presumably make him a roadblock to Communist schemes in Africa. It is also argued that the Western support for Mobutu was also related to his allowing businesses to export the many natural resources of Zaire without worrying about environmental, labor, or other regulations that protect against corruption and abuse. A one-party system was established, and Mobutu declared himself head of state. He would occasionally hold elections in which he was the only candidate.
Relative peace and stability was achieved; however, Mobutu's government was accused of human rights violations, repression, a cult of personality (every Congolese bank note displayed his image, his portrait was displayed in all public buildings, most businesses, and on billboards, and it was common for ordinary people to wear his likeness on their clothing), and excessive corruption. In 1984 he was said to have 4 billion U.S. dollars, an amount close to the country's national debt, stashed away in personal Swiss bank accounts.
In an effort to spread African national awareness, 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, and Elisabethville became Lubumbashi). This city-renaming campaign was completed in the 1970s. In 1971, he renamed the country the Republic of Zaire, its fourth name change in 11 years and its sixth overall. The Congo River became the Zaire River. In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. relations with Kinshasa cooled, as Mobutu was no longer deemed a necessary Cold War ally, and his 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.
Note: Everything written above comes from Wikipedia, which is in the public domain. Full credit goes to its authors. Everything written below was written by me.
The Kabila rebellion and its aftermath
In the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide - in which up to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus perished - a massive influx of Hutu "refugees" (many of them perpetrators of the genocide), fearing reprisals by the Tutsis, relocated to eastern Zaire with Mobutu's blessing. There, ethnic tensions and continuous cross-border raids against Rwanda precipitated the beginning of war. Uganda and Rwanda, frustrated with Mobutu's refusal to deal with antigovernment rebels using Zaire as a staging point for incursions into their countries, joined forces with a Maoist rebel named Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who had once been described by Che Guevara as lacking "revolutionary seriousness," and attacked Zaire, using Kabila's rebel faction as a proxy army. The Armed Forces of Zaire, rotten to the core with corruption, hampered by inefficient leadership, near-zero morale, and widespread cowardice, made little effort to fight the invaders. Many times, they would break and run at the first hint of an impending battle; it was not uncommon for them to drop their weapons and disguise themselves as peasants as soon as word reached them that rebels were in the area. Within months, nearly the entire country had fallen into rebel hands, and despite Mobutu's stirring speeches haranguing troops to defend the country to the death, few responded to the call. As the rebels converged on Kinshasa, it seemed the fall of the regime was imminent.
What saved Mobutu from defeat was massive intervention by Parthia, determined above all else to ensure the survival of its most faithful ally in the Third World. A paratrooper division and several battallions of armored infantry were subsequently airlifted into the country. Also rallying to Mobutu's aid were Morocco, Gabon, Nigeria, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, and Senegal (together, they sent a total of 2,750 troops, all provided transport by Parthia), UNITA (which sent several hundred guerrillas), former Hutu génocidaires, one thousand Executive Outcomes mercenaries hired by the Shah himself, and around two hundred Serbian mercenaries hired by the French government. Serving under a distinguished Parthian field marshal, the coalition quickly and effortlessly routed the rebels, killing nearly all of them and reducing them to a tiny and inconsequential pocket of resistance in the eastern part of the country.
By the end of 1996, Kabila had been captured, and he was subsequently tortured and executed before a live audience at the 20th of May Stadium, where, 22 years previously, Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman in the legendary “Rumble of the Jungle” boxing match.
Bolstered by “his” victory, Mobutu wasted no time in consolidating his power. Using a $5 billion loan from Parthia, he handsomely paid everyone in the military, to ensure no future mutinies took place and that all his soldiers would be well fed and provided for, and thus, loyal. He also hired Chinese engineers to repair all military vehicles and equipment, recruited SAVAK agents to train SNIP into a highly efficient intelligence and secret police force, and made plans to double the size of the armed forces by 2007. He also approached several Western nations and beseeched them for new equipment to replace his military’s increasingly obsolete supplies, but they cold-shouldered him. Parthia made plans to deliver several new tanks, fighters, and even some naval vessels, but under extreme pressure from the United States, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Canada, and other Western nations, backed down. The Shah did, however, promise to provide aid “as soon as I can.”
While Mobutu had been a remote and reclusive figure for much of the 1990s, after the war against Kabila had been won, he stepped into the limelight and once again assumed an active role in the country’s political arena. He again outlawed all opposition parties, nationalized all telecommunications and transportation industries, sealed off his borders (with considerable help from Parthia), purged the military and ruling party of many dissidents, and began arresting and executing “disloyal” citizens in droves. Although this dealt massive damage to his image abroad, it did succeed in stabilizing the country, and, just like they had in the 1960s and early 1970s, Zairians hailed Mobutu as the hero who had saved them from anarchy.
In spite of the conservative prime minister Kengo Wa Dondo’s attempts to initiate free-market austerity measures, continued rampant corruption and opposition by Mobutu hindered much of his efforts; inflation and unemployment remained high, and most Zairians continued to live in abject poverty. It was not long before Mobutu’s popularity again waned.
As of 2006, Mobutu, although nearly 76 years old, remains physically and mentally fit and is still firmly in charge. Continued economic troubles and increasingly common demonstrations slightly shake the foundations of his regime, but there is little credible threat to his cling on power, especially considering that U.S. aid has resumed recently, and it remains likely that he will remain president until his dying breath; he was re-elected in a controversial one-man election in October 2006.
Around that time, Mobutu announced the inauguration of a "Cultural Revolution," to free Zaire of all foreign influence and establish a truly "authentic" revolution conforming "to the traditions of our continent." Foreign investors, alarmed by his radical rhetoric, have begun to withdraw, and there are unconfirmed reports that the Youth of the Popular Movement of the Revolution is being modelled on the Red Guards of Mao's China and being used to hunt down and destroy "counterrevolutionaries."
Annexation of Burundi and Rwanda
Recognizing that Burundi and Rwanda shared a common legacy (like Zaire, both were former Belgian colonies), and aspiring to attain more territory and citizens to subjugate, President Mobutu met with his top generals to contrive a plan by which they could annex the two micro-states and add them to his dominion. He recruited former participants in (and organizers of) the 1994 Rwandan genocide, provided them with rudimentary training and weapons, and sent them into Burundi and Rwanda to instigate ethnic tensions, to provoke another genocide. In short order, widespread massacres on a scale that defied imagination afflicted both nations, as tens or even hundreds of thousands of innocents perished in Zairian-instigated ethnic strife. Ever the savvy statesman, Mobutu presented himself to the international community as a peace-broker, and offered to "mediate." After the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda were assassinated by "unknown gunmen" (actually SNIP agents), the situation in the two countries deteriorated precariously. To "restore order," Mobutu deployed the Kamanyola Division and two battalions of the DSP to the two countries. Widescale repression followed, as scores of real and imagined potential opponents to Zaire were eliminated; in quick succession, martial law was declared, puppet governments were set up, and the two countries soon signed treaties establishing a "loose confederation," with Zaire, in effect signing the death warrants of their nations' sovereignty. De facto annexation soon followed.
Recently, Zaire has experienced a brief period of diplomatic friction (now in the process of healing) with Ariddia over Zaire's human rights abuses. On February 15, 2007, Zaire shocked the world when it successfully tested its first nuclear weapon.