Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Congo, Democratic Republic of the,



(zī`ēr, zäēr`), republic (2015 est. pop. 76,197,000), c.905,000 sq mi (2,344,000 sq km), central Africa. It borders on Angola in the southwest and west, on the Atlantic Ocean, Cabinda (an Angolan exclave), and the Republic of the Congo in the west, on the Central African Republic and South Sudan in the north, on Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania in the east, and on Zambia in the southeast. KinshasaKinshasa
, city (1984 pop. 2,664,309), capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, W Congo, a port on Pool Malebo of the Congo River. It is the Congo's largest city and its administrative, communications, and commercial center.
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 is its capital and largest city.

Land and People

Congo lies astride the equator, and virtually all of the country is part of the vast CongoCongo
or Zaïre
, great river of equatorial Africa, c.2,720 mi (4,380 km) long, formed by the waters of the Lualaba River and its tributary, the Luvua River, and flowing generally N and W through Congo (Kinshasa) to the Atlantic Ocean.
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 River drainage basin. North central Congo is made up of a large plateau (average elevation: c.1,000 ft/300 m), which is covered with equatorial forest and has numerous swamps. The plateau is bordered on the east by mountains, which rise to the lofty Ruwenzori range (located on the border with Uganda). The Ruwenzori include Margherita Peak (16,763 ft/5,109 m), the country's highest point; they are situated in the western or Albertine branch of the Great Rift ValleyGreat Rift Valley,
geological fault system of SW Asia and E Africa. It extends c.3,000 mi (4,830 km) from N Syria to central Mozambique. The northernmost extension runs S through Syria and Lebanon, the Jordan valley, the Dead Sea, and the Gulf of Aqaba.
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, which runs along the entire eastern border of the country and also takes in lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, and Tanganyika. In S Congo are highland plateaus (average elevation: c.3,000 ft/910 m; highest elevation: c.6,800 ft/2,070 m), which are covered with savanna. The high Mitumba Mts. in the southeast include Lake Mweru (situated on the border with Zambia). In addition to Kinshasa, the major urban areas include BomaBoma
, city (1984 pop. 197,617), Kongo Central prov., W Congo (Kinshasa), on the Congo River estuary. A port and railhead, it exports tropical timber, bananas, cacao, and palm products.
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, BukavuBukavu
, city (1984 pop. 167,950), capital of Sud-Kivu province, E Congo (Kinshasa), a port on Lake Kivu. It is an administrative, commercial, and transportation center. Tea and coffee are processed. The city was founded in 1901 and was formerly known as Costermansville.
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, KalemieKalemie
, formerly Albertville
, city (1984 pop. 73,528), Tanganyika prov., SE Congo (Kinshasa), on Lake Tanganyika at the mouth of the Lukuga River. It is a commercial center and a rail-steamer transfer point, handling goods moving between the Congo and Tanzania.
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, KaminaKamina
, city (1984 pop. 171,008), Haut-Lomami prov., S Congo (Kinshasa). It is an administrative and transportation center. A major military airfield is located there. Kamina was used by the Belgians as a center for interventionist actions in the early months of the Congo's
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, KanangaKananga
, formerly Luluabourg
, city (1984 pop. 298,693), capital of Kasai-Central prov., S central Congo (Kinshasa), on the Lulua River. It is the commercial and transportation center of a region where cotton is grown and diamonds are mined.
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, KisanganiKisangani
, formerly Stanleyville,
city (1996 est. pop. 500,000), capital of Tshopo prov., N central Congo (Kinshasa), a port on the Congo River. The city is the terminus of steamer navigation on the Congo from Kinshasa and is a transportation center for NE Congo.
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, KolweziKolwezi
, city (1984 pop. 416,122), Haut-Katanga prov., SE Congo (Kinshasa). It is a center for copper and cobalt mining. There are copper-ore concentration plants, a zinc refinery, and a brewery. Rebels attacked the city in 1978, flooding the mines.
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, LikasiLikasi
, formerly Jadotville
, city (1984 pop. 213,862), Haut-Katanga prov., SE Congo (Kinshasa). It is a major industrial, mining, and transportation center. Copper and cobalt are mined and refined, and cement, chemicals, and beverages are manufactured.
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, LubumbashiLubumbashi
, city (1984 pop. 564,830), capital of Haut-Katanga province, SE Congo (Kinshasa), near the border with Zambia. The second largest city of the country, it is a commercial and industrial center.
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, MatadiMatadi
, city (1984 pop. 138,798), Kongo Central prov., W Congo (Kinshasa), on the Congo River. With one of the largest harbors in central Africa, Matadi is the main port of the country. Situated c.
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, MbandakaMbandaka
, formerly Coquilhatville
, city (1984 pop. 137,291), capital of Équateur prov., W Congo (Kinshasa), a port on the Congo River. It is a commercial and transportation center and has tanning and fishing industries.
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, and Mbuji-MayiMbuji-Mayi
, formerly Bakwanga
, city (1984 pop. 486,235), capital of Kasai-Oriental prov., S central Congo (Kinshasa), on the Sankuru River. A commercial center in Luba country, it handles most of the industrial diamonds produced in the Congo.
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The population of Congo comprises approximately 200 ethnic groups, the great majority of whom speak one of the Bantu languages. In addition, there are Nilotic speakers in the north near South Sudan and scattered groups of Pygmies (especially in the Ituri Forest in the northeast). The principal Bantu-speaking ethnic groups are the Kongo, Mongo, Luba, Bwaka, Kwango, Lulua, Lunda, and Kasai. The Alur are the main Nilotic speakers. In the 1990s, Congo also had an influx of immigrants, particularly refugees from neighboring countries. In 1985 over half the population was rural, but the country is becoming increasingly urbanized.

French is Congo's official language, but it is spoken by relatively few persons. Swahili is widely used in the east, and Lingala is spoken in the west; Tshilaba is also common. About 50% of the inhabitants are Roman Catholics and 20% are Protestants. A substantial number are adherents of Kimbanguism, an indigenous Christian church. Many also follow traditional religious beliefs, and about 10% are Muslims.


Congo's mineral wealth is the mainstay of the economy, but the development of the mining industry has occurred at the expense of commercial agriculture. The economy's growth spurted under Belgian control in the 1950s, slowed considerably during the country's postindependence troubles in the early 1960s, accelerated again in the late 1960s when political stability returned, and then generally declined beginning in the 1970s, when the nationalization of major industries resulted in a reduction of private investment. For a decade beginning in the early 1990s much of the economy was in a state of collapse, but with the end of most of civil warfare that devastated Congo, economic stability improved in the early 2000s and foreign investment is again occurring.

Although only 3% of the nation's land area is arable, a substantial part of the labor force is engaged as subsistence farmers. The principal food crops are cassava, bananas, root crops, corn, and fruits. Coffee, sugarcane, palm oil, rubber, tea, quinine, and cotton are produced commercially, primarily for export. Although agricultural production satisfied domestic demands before independence, Congo has become dependent on food imports. Goats, sheep, and cattle are raised.

Mining is centered in in SE Congo (the former Katanga prov.); products include copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, uranium, cassiterite (tin ore), coal, gold, and silver. Diamonds are mined in S central Congo. There are major deposits of petroleum offshore near the mouth of the Congo River. About 75% of Congo is covered with forest containing ebony and teak as well as less valuable woods.

Kinshasa and Lubumbashi are the country's most important industrial centers. Industries produce processed copper, zinc, and cassiterite; refined petroleum; processed foods and beverages; and basic consumer goods such as clothing and footwear. The numerous rivers of Congo give it an immense potential for producing hydroelectricity, a small but significant percentage of which has been realized. The chief hydroelectric facilities are situated in the southeast and produce power for the mining industry; another major project is located at Inga, on the Congo River near Kinshasa.

Rivers form the backbone of the country's transportation network; unnavigable parts of the Congo River (e.g., Kinshasa-Matadi and Kisangani-Ubundi) are bridged by rail lines, but the rail and road network in Congo is both very limited for a nation of its size and in disrepair in a number of sections as a result of the civil war. Matadi, Boma, and Banana can handle oceangoing vessels. E Congo is linked (via Lake Tanganyika) by rail with the seaport of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The country's export earnings come almost entirely from sales of primary products, which are vulnerable to sharp changes in world prices. Since 1994 diamonds have become the country's leading export as a result of a decline in the production of copper (once the leading mineral product in terms of value). Petroleum also accounts for a substantial portion of export earnings. Other important exports are coffee, cobalt, palm products, and rubber. The leading imports are foodstuffs, machinery, transport equipment, fuels, and consumer goods. The country's principal trade partners are Belgium, the United States, South Africa, and France.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo is governed under the constitution of 2006 as amended. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected and may serve two five-year terms. There is a bicameral legislature. The National Assembly has 500 members, who serve five-year terms; the majority (439) of the members are elected proportionally, the rest directly. The prime minister is chosen from the party or coalition that controls the assembly. The Senate has 108 indirectly elected members, who also serve for five years. Administratively, the country is divided into 25 provinces and one city (Kinshasa).


Early History

The indigenous inhabitants of the region of the Congo were probably Pygmies, who lived in small numbers in the equatorial forests of the north and northeast. By the end of the 1st millennium B.C., small numbers of Bantu-speaking people had migrated into the area from the northwest (present-day Nigeria and Cameroon) and settled in the savanna regions of the south. Aided by their knowledge of iron technology and agriculture, the Bantu-speakers migrated to other parts of the Congo and Africa, at the same time developing new, related languages. From about A.D. 700 the copper deposits of SE Congo were worked by the Bantu and traded over wide areas.

By about 1000 the Bantu had settled most of the Congo, reducing the area occupied by the Pygmies. By the early 2d millennium the Bantu had increased considerably in number and were coalescing into states, some of which governed large areas and had complex administrative structures. Most of the states were ruled by a monarch, whose authority, although considerable, was checked by a council of high civil servants and elders. Notable among the states were the kingdom of KongoKongo, kingdom of
, former state of W central Africa, founded in the 14th cent. In the 15th cent. the kingdom stretched from the Congo River in the north to the Loje River in the south and from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to beyond the Kwango River in the east.
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 (founded in the 14th cent.), centered in modern N Angola but including extreme W Congo and a Luba empire (founded in the early 16th cent.), centered around lakes Kisale and Upemba in SE Congo.

Also included among these states were the Lunda kingdom of Mwata Yamo (founded in the 15th cent.), centered in SW Congo; the Kuba kingdom of the Shongo people (established in the early 17th cent.), located in the region of the Kasai and Sankuru rivers in S Congo; and the Lunda kingdom of Mwata Kazembe (founded in the 18th cent.), located near the Luapula River (which forms part of the present Congo-Zambia boundary). Through intermarriage and other contacts the Luba transmitted political ideas to the Lunda, and numerous small Luba-Lunda states (in addition to those of Mwata Yamo and Mwata Kazembe) were established in S Congo. The Kuba kingdom was noted for its sculpture and decorative arts.

European and Arab Contacts

In 1482, Diogo Cão, a Portuguese navigator, became the first European to visit the Congo when he reached the mouth of the Congo River and sailed a few miles upstream. Soon thereafter the Portuguese established ties with the king of Kongo, and in the early 16th cent. they established themselves on parts of the coast of modern Angola, especially at the court of the king of Ndongo (a vassal state of Kongo). Portuguese trade with the African kingdoms including ivory and other goods and slaves. About four million slaves ultimately were shipped to the Americas, amounting to some 30 percent of the Atlantic slave trade. The Portuguese had little influence on the Congo until the late 18th cent., when the African and mulatto traders (called pombeiros), whom they backed, traveled far inland to the kingdom of Mwata Kazembe.

In the mid-19th cent., Arab, Swahili, and Nyamwezi traders from present-day Tanzania penetrated into E Congo, where they traded and raided for slaves and ivory. Some of the traders established states with considerable power. Msiri (a Nyamwezi) established himself near Mwata Kazembe in 1856, soon enlarged his holdings (mainly at the expense of Mwata Kazembe), and was a major force until 1891, when he was killed by the Belgians. From the 1860s to the early 1890s, Muhammad bin Hamad (known as Tippu Tib), a Swahili Arab trader from Zanzibar, who was also part Nyamwezi, ruled a large portion of E Congo NW of Lake Tanganyika. In the 1870s, on the eve of the scramble for African territory among the European powers, the territory of the Congo had no overall political unity.

The Congo Free State

Beginning in the late 1870s the territory was colonized by Leopold IILeopold II,
1835–1909, king of the Belgians (1865–1909), son and successor of Leopold I. His reign saw great industrial and colonial expansion. In 1876 he organized, with the help of H. M.
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, king of the Belgians (reigned 1865–1909). Leopold believed that Belgium needed colonies to ensure its prosperity, and sensing that the Belgians would not support colonial ventures, he privately set about establishing a colonial empire. Between 1874 and 1877, Henry M. StanleyStanley, Sir Henry Morton,
1841–1904, Anglo-American journalist, explorer, and empire builder, b. Denbigh, Wales. He grew up in poverty and came to America as a worker on a ship, which he jumped (1858) in New Orleans.
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 made a journey across central Africa during which he found the course of the Congo River. Intrigued by Stanley's findings (especially that the region had considerable economic potential), Leopold engaged him in 1878 to establish the king's authority in the Congo basin. Between 1879 and 1884, Stanley founded a number of stations along the middle Congo River and signed treaties with several African rulers purportedly giving the king sovereignty in their areas.

At the Conference of BerlinBerlin, Conference of,
1884–85, international meeting aimed at settling the problems connected with European colonies in Africa. At the invitation of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, representatives of all European nations, the United States, and the Ottoman Empire
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 (1884–85) the European powers recognized Leopold's claim to the Congo basin, and in a ceremony (1885) at Banana, the king announced the establishment of the Congo Free State, headed by himself. The announced boundaries were roughly the same as those of present-day Congo, but it was not until the mid-1890s that Leopold's control was established in most parts of the state. In 1891–92, the Katanga area was conquered, and between 1892 and 1894, E Congo was wrested from the control of E African Arab and Swahili traders (including Tippu Tib, who for a time had served as an administrator of the Congo).

Because he did not have sufficient funds to develop the Congo, Leopold sought and received loans from the Belgian parliament in 1889 and 1895, in return for which Belgium was given the right to annex the Congo in 1901. At the same time Leopold declared all unoccupied land (including cropland lying fallow) to be owned by the state, thereby gaining control of the lucrative trade in rubber and ivory. Much of the land was given to concessionaire companies, which in return were to build railroads or to occupy a specified part of the country or merely to give the state a percentage of their profits. In addition, Leopold maintained a large estate in the region of Lake Leopold II (NE of Kinshasa).

Private companies were also established to exploit the mineral wealth of central and SE Congo; a notable example was Union Minière du Haut-Katanga, chartered in 1905. The Belgian parliament did not exercise its right to annex the Congo in 1901, but reports starting in 1904 (particularly by Roger CasementCasement, Sir Roger David,
1864–1916, Irish revolutionary. While in British consular service, he exposed (1904) the atrocious exploitation of wild-rubber gatherers in the Congo (thus helping to bring about the extinction of the Congo Free State in 1908) and later
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 and E. D. Morel) about the brutal treatment of Africans there (especially those forced to collect rubber for concessionaire companies) led to a popular campaign for Belgium to take over the state from Leopold. After exhaustive parliamentary debates, in 1908 Belgium annexed the Congo.

The Belgian Congo

Under Belgian rule the worst excesses (such as forced labor) of the Free State were gradually diminished, but the Congo was still regarded almost exclusively as a field for European investment, and little was done to give Africans a significant role in its government or economy. Economic development was furthered by the construction of railroads and other transportation facilities. European concerns established more large plantations, and vast mining operations were set up. Africans formed the labor pool for these operations, and Europeans were the managers. By the end of the 1920s, mining (especially of copper and diamonds) was the mainstay of the economy, having far outdistanced agriculture. Some of the mining companies built towns for their workers, and there was considerable movement of Africans from the countryside to urban areas, especially beginning in the 1930s.

Christian missionaries (the great majority of whom were Roman Catholic) were very active in the Congo, and they were the chief agents for raising the educational level of the Africans and for improving medical services. However, virtually no Africans were educated beyond the primary level until the mid-1950s, when two universities were opened. A noteworthy indigenous religious movement was that of Simon Kimbangu, who, educated by Protestant missionaries, around 1920 established himself as a prophet and healer. He soon gathered a large following and, although not explicitly anti-Belgian, was jailed in 1921 by the colonial government, which feared that his movement would undermine its authority. The Belgians outlawed Kimbangu's movement, but it continued clandestinely and became increasingly anti-European.

The Independence Movement

In 1955, when demands for independence were mounting throughout Africa, Antoine van Bilsen, a Belgian professor, published a "30-Year Plan" for granting the Congo increased self-government. The plan was accepted enthusiastically by most Belgians, who assumed that Belgian rule in the Congo would continue for a long period. Events proved otherwise.

Congolese nationalists, notably Joseph KasavubuKasavubu, Joseph
, 1917?–1969, African political leader, president of the Republic of the Congo (1960–65, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). He studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood but did not complete his training.
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 (who headed ABAKO, a party based among the Kongo people) and Patrice LumumbaLumumba, Patrice Emergy
, 1925–61, prime minister (1960) of the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). A member of the Batatele tribe, he was educated in mission schools and later worked as a postal clerk.
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 (who led the leftist Mouvement National Congolais), became increasingly strident. They were impressed greatly by the visit in late 1958 of French president Charles de Gaulle to neighboring Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo), where he offered Africans the opportunity to vote in a referendum for continued association with France or for full independence. In Jan., 1959, there were serious nationalist riots in Kinshasa, and thereafter the Belgians steadily lost control of events in the Congo. At a roundtable conference (which included Congolese nationalists) at Brussels in Jan.–Feb., 1960, it was decided that the Belgian Congo would become fully independent on June 30, 1960.

Independence and Conflict

Following elections in June, Lumumba became prime minister and Kasavubu head of state. However, the Republic of the Congo (as the nation was then called) soon began to be pulled apart by ethnic and personal rivalries, often encouraged by Belgian interests. On July 4 the Congolese army mutinied, and on July 11 Moïse TshombeTshombe, Moise Kapenda
, 1919–69, political leader in Congo (Kinshasa). He was related to the royal family of the Lunda people and received his education at mission schools.
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 declared Katanga prov., of which he was provisional president, to be independent. There were attacks on Belgian nationals living in the Congo, and Belgium sent troops to the country to protect its citizens and also its mining interests. Most Belgian civil servants left the country, thus crippling the government.

On July 14, the UN Security Council voted to send a force to the Congo to help establish order; the force was not allowed to intervene in internal affairs, however, and could not act against the Katangan secession. Therefore, Lumumba turned to the USSR for help against Katanga, but on Sept. 5 he was dismissed as prime minister by Kasavubu. On Sept. 14, Col. Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese SekoMobutu Sese Seko
, 1930–97, president of Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Born Joseph Désiré Mobutu, he returned from study in Brussels to the then Belgian Congo, joining the nationalist movement in 1956.
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), the head of the army, seized power and dismissed Kasavubu. On Dec. 1, Lumumba, who probably had the largest national following of any Congo politician, was arrested by the army; he was murdered while allegedly trying to escape imprisonment in Katanga in mid-Feb., 1961.

By the end of 1960 the Congo was divided into four quasi-independent parts: Mobutu held the west, including Kinshasa (then called Léopoldville); Antoine Gizenga, the self-styled successor to Lumumba, controlled the east from Kisangani (then called Stanleyville); Albert Kalonji controlled S Kasai; and Tshombe headed Katanga, aided by Belgian and other foreign soldiers. The secession of Katanga, with its great mineral resources, particularly weakened the national government. In Apr., 1961, Tshombe was arrested by the central government (Kasavubu was back as head of state), but he was freed in June after agreeing to end the Katanga secession. By July, however, Tshombe was again proclaiming the independence of Katanga.

In August the UN forces began disarming Katangese soldiers, and in December UN and Katangese forces became engaged in battle. Throughout 1962, Tshombe maintained his independent position and in Dec., 1962, renewed UN-Katanga fighting broke out. Tshombe quickly was forced to give in, and in Jan., 1963, agreed to end Katanga's secession. However, the national scene remained confused, and there was considerable agitation by the followers of Lumumba.

At the end of June, 1964, the last UN troops were withdrawn from the country. In desperation, Kasavubu appointed Tshombe prime minister in July, 1964, but this move resulted in large-scale rebellions. With the help of U.S. arms, Belgian troops, and white mercenaries, the central government gradually regained control of the country. Nonetheless, national politics remained turbulent and were highlighted by a clash between Kasavubu and Tshombe. In mid-1965, Kasavubu appointed Evariste Kimba prime minister. In Nov., 1965, Mobutu again intervened, dismissing Kasavubu and proclaiming himself president; Tshombe fled to Spain. (In 1967, Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria; he died in 1969.) In 1966 and 1967 there were several short-lived rebellions (notably in Kisangani and Bukavu), and in 1966 an attempted coup by Kimba was defeated.

The Mobutu Regime

In late 1966, Mobutu abolished the office of prime minister, establishing a presidential form of government. Léopoldville, Stanleyville, and Elisabethville were given African names (Kinshasa, Kisangani, and Lubumbashi, respectively), thus in effect beginning the campaign for "African authenticity" that became a major policy of Mobutu in the early 1970s. (In 1971 the country was renamed Zaïre, as was the Congo River; in 1972, Katanga was renamed Shaba—largely in an attempt to destroy the region's past association with secession—and Mobutu dropped his Christian names and called himself Mobutu Sese Seko, while advising other Zaïreans to follow suit.) By the end of the 1960s, the country enjoyed political stability, although there was intermittent student unrest.

The government was firmly guided by Mobutu, who headed the sole (from 1970) political party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR). In 1970, Mobutu, the sole candidate, was elected to a seven-year term as president. In the early 1970s he centralized the administration of the nation, encouraged the participation of foreign firms in the economic development of the country, improved relations with neighboring independent countries, and maintained good relations with the West while establishing (1972) full diplomatic relations with China. In 1973, Mobutu nationalized many foreign-owned firms in the attempt to reduce unemployment; however, the nation remained dependent on volatile world copper prices. Mobutu forced European investors out of the country in 1974 but invited them back (unsuccessfully) in 1977.

In addition to economic decline in the 1970s, the government had to contend with increasingly active political opposition. Mobutu's policy of giving members of his own ethnic group (the Ngbanda) jurisdiction over security matters led to ethnic conflicts and a succession of coup attempts between 1975 and 1978. Opposition parties grew in number and in size; one of these, the Front Libération Nationale du Congo (FNLC), organized Katangese refugees forced out of the country by Mobutu. The FNLC, working from its base in Angola, launched a rebellion in the Katanga region but was repulsed after the intervention of French, Belgian, and Moroccan troops.

Promising political reforms, the government made superficial changes to satisfy foreign aid donors, but the detention of dissidents and violent clashes between soldiers and students continued. In the early 1980s opposition groups were organized in exile and formed alliances in the hopes of overthrowing Mobutu. In 1989 the country defaulted on a loan from Belgium, resulting in the cancellation of development programs and increased deterioration of the economy. In 1990, Mobutu announced an end to single-party rule and appointed a transitional government. However, he reserved for himself the position of head of state "above all political parties" and kept substantial power in his own hands.

Rebellion and Civil War

A loss of confidence in Zaïre's government and riots by unpaid soldiers in Kinshasa led Mobutu to agree to a coalition government with opposition leaders in 1991. He retained control of a far-reaching security apparatus and important government ministries, however, and engaged in a power struggle with opposition leaders. Economic collapse continued unabated, with the national infrastructure seriously deteriorating and civil servants, often unpaid for long periods, making money through bribery and theft of government property.

The nation's problems were compounded by an influx of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees from Rwanda and a spillover of ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis into Zaïre. In mid-1994, Kengo Wa Dondo, an advocate of austerity and free-market reform, was chosen prime minister by parliament, but he was dismissed in Mar., 1997. In 1996 and 1997, while Mobutu was in Europe being treated for cancer, rebels dependent on support from Rwandan and Ugandan forces captured much of E Zaïre. The insurgents, who also received aid from Zambia and Angola, met little resistance from the ragged Zaïrean army and entered Kinshasa on May 17, 1997. Rebel leader Laurent-Désiré KabilaKabila, Laurent-Désiré
, 1939–2001, Congolese political and rebel leader. He studied at universities in France and Tanzania. returning home in 1960. He supported Patrice Lumumba, established (1967) a Marxist party, and led a group of rebels that opposed
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 was sworn in as president on May 29 and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mobutu died in Morocco on Sept. 7, 1997.

Although Kabila promised that elections would be held in 1999, he banned all political opposition, and his regime soon became repressive. His failure to revive the economy and to prevent the attacks upon thousands of Congolese Tutsis by their Hutu neighbors in the mid-1990s, as well as the revelation that his forces had probably massacred thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees during their march across the country in 1996–97, led to a fading of both internal and foreign support for his government. The eastern part of the country remained unstable, and in Aug., 1998, a group of ethnic Tutsi Congolese forces supported by Rwanda mutinied against Kabila's rule and began advancing toward Kinshasa. Although they were repulsed, the movement grew, attracting opposition politicians, former Mobutu supporters, and disaffected military leaders formerly allied with Kabila. It also threatened to widen into a regional conflict, as Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia sent troops to aid Kabila's government, while Rwanda and Uganda backed the rebels.

In July, 1999, following a peace conference in Lusaka, Zambia, the heads of the six governments involved signed a cease-fire agreement; the leaders of the two main Congolese rebel groups also subsequently signed the pact. Kabila and his allies controlled most of the east and south of the Congo, and the rebels and their supporters controlled much of the north and west. By the end of the year, however, implementation of the accord was stalled, due in part to intransigence on the part of Kabila's government, and the much-violated cease-fire was in the process of collapsing.

The United Nations approved a force to monitor the accord in Feb., 2000, but the situation in the Congo proved too unstable to permit the force to move in. Fighting erupted between Ugandan and Rwandan forces in Kisangani (as it had the year before), and Kabila's government launched an offensive in Équateur (NW Congo) and continued to resist cooperating with the United Nations and with African peace negotiators. A new agreement calling for the pullback of all forces was signed (without the participation of one of the rebel groups) in Dec., 2000.

In Jan., 2001, Kabila was assassinated, reportedly by a bodyguard, and his son, Maj. Gen. Joseph Kabila, was named his successor. Joseph Kabila's government resumed cooperating on peace negotiations, and ended the ban on political parties. Beginning in March the forces of foreign nations began pulling back from the front lines and, in some cases, pulling out from the Congo. Fighting largely ceased, although banditry by militias and fighting between tribal groups persisted in E Congo. Peace talks began tentatively in Oct., 2001, and in 2002 agreements were signed successively with one of the rebel groups, Rwanda, and Uganda, although no agreement was reached with the largest rebel force, the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy–Goma. By the end of Oct., 2002, most foreign troops had been withdrawn from the Congo. In 2010, a UN report on the years of civil war in Congo was leaked; the report accused multiple armies and militias of various serious crimes during the conflict, and indicated that the Rwandan army and its Congolese allies, Laurent Kabila's rebels, had massacred groups of civilian Rwandan and Congolese Hutus.

The government and both main rebel groups reached an accord in Apr., 2003, when they signed a peace agreement that called for a power-sharing government led by President Kabila, and an interim parliament. Despite the peace deal, fighting continued in parts of the Congo, especially between tribal groups in the east, and in June, 2003, the United Nations dispatched French-led peacekeepers to E Congo in an effort to restore order. In the same month the government and rebels agreed on the composition of the new government, which was formally established. Democratic elections were scheduled for 2005. By the time of the government's establishment it was estimated that 3.3 million people had died, directly or indirectly, as a result of the fighting that began in 1998.

The French-led peacekeepers were replaced by 10,000 UN soldiers beginning in Sept., 2003; the force was subsequently increased to 16,000. In the first half of 2004 there were two attempted coups in the country, and progress toward real peace continued to be slow during the year. By the end of 2004 rebel forces and the former Congolese army had been integrated into a unified force in name only. An uprising involving former rebels occurred in June at Bukavu in E Congo, although the rebels soon dispersed, and in December there was fighting in Nord-Kivu between former army and former rebel forces. The army forces had been sent into the area in response to threats by Rwanda to invade the region in order to attack Rwandan Hutu rebels based there. Congo accused Rwandan forces of invading and aiding the former Congolese rebels, a charge Rwanda denied, but a UN panel had accused (July, 2004) Rwanda and Uganda of maintaining armed units in E Congo and UN peacekeepers said that forces had entered Congo following Rwanda's threat to invade. The latter charge was called false, however, by a former UN employee in early 2005.

Fighting between militias and UN peacekeepers occurred in NE Congo during 2005, as the area remained unpacified and some of the militias resisted disarming. Militia forces in Katanga prov. also refused to disarm, leading to fighting there in late 2005 between them and the Congolese army. Because of the fighting and tensions within the government and logistical issues (a new constitution was not approved by the interim parliament until May, 2005) the elections scheduled to be held by June, 2005, were postponed into 2006. In Dec., 2005, however, voters approved the constitution, paving the way for electing a new government. The same month the International Court of Justice ruled that Congo was entitled to compensation from Uganda for looting by Ugandan forces during the recent civil war. The fighting in NE and E Congo continued off and on throughout 2006. The Ugandan army launched (Apr., 2006) a campaign against Ugandan rebels based in Congo and clashed with Congo's forces, prompting a protest from Congo.

Government and Ongoing Instability

At the end of July, 2006, Congo held elections for president and the national and provincial legislatures under the new constitution. Voting was largely peaceful, but the vote count was slow and marred by irregularities. Joseph Kabila won 44% of the presidential vote with a strong showing in E Congo, but failed to win the required majority; his party won 111 (out of 500) National Assembly seats and formed a governing coalition. The inconclusive presidential results sparked violence between Kabila's partisans and those of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the former rebel and interim vice president who was the runner-up (with 20% of the vote) and did well in W Congo, and violence subsequently marred campaign leading up to the October runoff. The vote count was not completed until mid-November, but Kabila was elected, with 58% of the ballots, and again he ran strongly in E Congo. Bemba rejected the result and contested it in court, despite the assessment of the election by most observers as free and fair; Bemba's challenge was rejected, and Kabila's election confirmed.

Progess was made in disbanding a number of militias in E Congo in early 2007, but later in the year fighting broke out between army units that included former Tutsi militias and Rwandan Hutu militias based in the Congo. Subsequently the Congolese army moved against the renegade Tutsi units, and Nord-Kivu was torn by off-and-on fighting in the second half of 2007. In subsequent years, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu continued to areas of recurring instability.

Meanwhile, in March deadly fighting erupted in Kinshasa between the army and Bemba's remaining forces, who had resisted disbanding. Bemba was accused of treason, while he accused the government of trying to kill him. He sought refuge in the South African embassy, and left the Congo in April.

In Aug., 2007, a border clash between Congolese and Ugandan forces occurred near the disputed Rukwanzi Island in Lake Albert; in September the nations agreed to demilitarize the island. A cease-fire agreement was signed by some of the groups in E Congo in Jan., 2008, but conflicts between some of the many armed militias there continued. In Aug., 2008, government forces attacked Congolese Tutsi positions in E Congo, and ongoing fighting led the Tutsis to withdraw from the cease-fire agreement in October. After Tutsi successes against government forces, the government accused Rwanda of sending its troops into the Congo, a charge Rwanda denied; there was evidence, however, of Rwandan support for Congolese Tutsis. Rwanda and Congolese Tutsis countercharged that the government had allied itself with Rwandan Hutu militias accused of genocide. By the end of October Tutsi forces had advanced to Goma, the capital of Nord-Kivu. Peace negotiations, mediated by Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, began in Dec., 2008.

Meanwhile, in early 2008 there was violence between police forces and a religio-political sect (Bundu dia Kongo) in W Congo.; the sect was banned in March. In Dec., 2008, after Ugandan rebels led by Joseph Kony, based in and around Garamba National Park, in extreme NE Congo, failed to sign a peace agreement with Uganda. Ugandan, Congolese, and South Sudanese forces mounted a joint campaign against the rebels' bases that continued until Mar., 2009. The operation was only partially successful. Ugandan rebels continued to attack Congolese civilians in subsequent years, and the Ugandan military also continued small-scale operations in Congo against the group. Congo troops were included in a planned Ugandan-led four-nation African Union military force to capture Kony that was announced in 2012.

A joint Rwandan-Congolese operation (Feb.–Mar., 2009) captured Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese Tutsi leader, which led to his forces integration in the Congolese army and a peace accord between the government and the Tutsi. Local militia groups also signed integration agreements, but in 2010 some former rebels accused the government of failing to honor the accords. Some rebels in Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu did not integrate, and remained a problem in subsequent months. The troops were less successful against the Rwandan Hutu militia, who resumed their attacks against civilians after the operation's end; the Hutu forces were the target of UN-supported Congolese operations in subsequent months. Both government and rebel forces were accused of criminal behavior and human-rights abuses in the conflict. The UN ended its support for Congolese government operations in Dec., 2009, amid criticism from aid agencies for heavy civilian casualties and from a UN panel for a lack of permanent results against Hutu forces, but a new UN and government offensive against the Hutu rebels began in early 2010. In Oct., 2009, ethnic fighting began in NW Congo., and by Jan., 2010, some 120,000 had fled the area, most to the neighboring Republic of Congo.

Constitutional amendments approved in Jan., 2011, generally strengthened the president's powers, and the elimination of a presidential runoff was seen as designed to aid Kabila's reelection. Kabila was declared the winner of the subsequent election, in Dec., 2011, but the vote was marred by logistical shortcomings and other irregularities and by statistically evident fraud. The second place finisher, Étienne TshisekediTshisekedi, Étienne
(Étienne Tshisekedi wa Lumumba), 1932–2017, opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He entered government service in the 1960s and helped draft the Congolese constitution (1967) that turned the country into a one-party
..... Click the link for more information.
, denounced the results and declared himself the winner, while observers declared that the election lacked credibility and that the real winner was unknown. In the parliamentary elections, Kabila's party lost a significant number of seats but remained the largest bloc; his coalition retained an overall majority.

In Apr., 2012, Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who was accused of war crimes and threatened with arrest, mutinied in Nord-Kivu with his former ethnic Tutsi rebels and established a new rebel force, M23. Facing relatively weak government resistance, the group advanced through several towns until by July it was threatening Goma, the provincial capital. Congo, the United Nations, and independent groups accused Rwanda of aiding the rebels, a charge Rwanda denied, but the United States and others called on Rwanda to end aid to the M23 rebels. In November the rebels took Goma, but withdrew after regional nations called on them to pull back. Divisions in M23 led in Mar., 2013, to Ntaganda's ouster. He fled to the U.S. embassy in Rwanda, and was turned over to the International Criminal Court, where he was convicted of war crimes in 2019. Also in March the United Nations approved the creation of a UN Intervention Brigade for the Congo with a broader mandate to actively enforce the peace.

In mid-2013 there was renewed fighting between the army and M23, and beginning in August the UN's Intervention Brigade supported army forces against M23. During the first half of 2013 there also were a number of clashes between the army and local militias in E Congo. M23 suffered of a serious of defeats in Oct.–Nov., 2013, and declared an end to their rebellion; a peace agreement was signed in December, but in Apr., 2015, it was reported that possible former M23 members were again present in Nord-Kivu. Beginning in mid-2013, the Ugandan Islamist rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) was active in Nord-Kivu, and attacks by and clashes with the ADF continued into 2020, with Congolese and Ugandan forces conducting joint operations against the ADF in 2018. In Dec., 2013, government and UN forces began operations against Rwandan Hutu rebels based in E Congo, and the government crushed attacks in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Kolwezi by supporters of a self-styled religious prophet, Joseph Mukungubila. Congolese and UN operations against local militias and foreign armed groups in E Congo continued into 2020; the region was marked by an increase in militia violence beginning in 2017, and the UN peacekeeping forces' mandate was extended several times. Both Rwanda and Burundi have been accused at times of sending troops in support of various militias.

In 2014, Kabila supporters sought to amend to the constitution to permit him to seek a third term. Though those efforts were not successful, the formation (Dec., 2014) of a government that included some opposition members and a proposal to hold a census before the next elections were seen by some in the opposition as part of Kabila's maneuvering remain in office after the expiration of his term in 2016; the census proposal led to violent protests in Jan., 2015. Those suspicions were reinforced by delays in progressing toward local, provincial, and other elections, slated to occur before the presidential election. The delays were aggravated by the division of Congo's 11 provinces into 26, a plan mandated in 2006 but not put into effect by Kabila until 2015.

In September several senior political allies of Kabila who called on him not to extend his rule were dismissed from their posts. The year ended without the holding of local and provincial elections, originally planned for Oct., 2015. In May, 2016, Congo's constitutional court ruled that Kabila could remain in office if the presidential election were delayed. Also that month, the government accused Moïse Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga and an opposition candidate for president, of hiring foreign mercenaries, a charge apparently based on the fact that a security advisor to Katumbi was a former U.S. soldier, and the following month he was convicted of fradulently selling a property. Clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces in Kinshasa left several dozen dead in September and opposition parties' headquarters were torched.

In October, the constitutional court approved delaying the presidential election until Apr., 2018, and Kabila supporters and some minor opposition groups reached a power-sharing deal to extend the president's term. In December Catholic bishops negotiated a similar agreement between more significant opposition groups and Kabila supporters that called for Kabila to step down and elections to be held by the end of 2017, but it was unclear if Kabila would adhere to the accord. Negotiations became more complicated after opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi died in Feb., 2017, and Bruno Tshibala, who was expelled from Tshisekedi's party after his death, was appointed prime minister in April. A cabinet was formed in May that included a number of opposition leaders, but the main opposition bloc denounced the government for violating the December accord. In July, the electoral commission president said that a presidential election would likely not occur in 2017. The date subsequently was pushed back to Dec., 2018. A number of prominent opposition figures were barred in 2018 from running, and Kabila did not attempt to seek a third term.

Meanwhile, in mid-2016, a local leader in Kasai-Central prov., Kamwina Nsapu, began a rebellion against the central government. Kamwina Nsapu was killed in August, but his militia escalated its attacks, which spread to other provinces in the Kasai region; the conflict only ended toward the end of 2017. Government forces were accused of indiscriminate killings, and the militia was also accused of war crimes; several thousand persons were reported to have been killed.

Attempts to unite the opposition around a single presidential candidate—businessman Martin Fayulu Madidi—failed, and Fayulu, opposition leader Félix Antoine TshisekediTshisekedi, Félix Antoine,
1963–, political leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, son of longtime opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi. Elected to the Congolese parliament in 2011, he refused to take his seat because he did not recognize his
..... Click the link for more information.
, and regime hardliner Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary were the major candidates. The Dec., 2018, election was marred by irregularites, and several opposition strongholds were excluded from the voting due to an Ebola outbreak and ethnic unrest. In January, Tshisekedi was declared the winner. The Catholic church, which had deployed some 40,000 election observers, supported Fayulu's claim that he had won, but the constitutional court affirmed the reported results and rejected Fayulu's request for a recount. The Kabila's coalition won a majority of the seats in parliament.

In May, Tshisekedi named Sylvestre Ilunkamba Ilunga, a technocrat seen as aligned with Kabila, as prime minister. The Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri prov. worsened in 2019, aggravated in part by rebel militia attacks on health workers and facilities, ethnic volence, and by local mistrust of health workers. By June, 2020, when the outbreak ended, 2,280 people had died from Ebola; rebel attacks and ethnic violence continued to be a serious problem in the region. In Decemeber the president broke with Kabila, and subsequently he sought to form a new cabinet.


See C. Young, Politics in the Congo (1965); R. Anstey, King Leopold's Legacy: The Congo under Belgian Rule, 1908–1960 (1966); R. W. Harms, River of Wealth, River of Sorrow: The Central Zaïre Basin in the Era of the Slave and Ivory Trade (1981); T. M. Callaghy, The State-Society Struggle: Zaïre in Comparative Perspective (1984); F. S. Bobb, Historical Dictionary of Zaïre (1988); D. Northrup, Beyond the Bend in the River: African Labor in Eastern Zaïre, 1865–1940 (1988); J. M. Elliot and M. M. Mervyn, Mobutu Sese Seko: People, Politics, and Policy (1989); A. Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost (1998); G. Prunier, Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (2008); S. Autesserre, The Trouble with the Congo (2010); J. K. Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011); D. Van Reybrouck, Congo: The Epic History of a People (2014).

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