HISTORY AND POLITICS
Congo has a very turbulent political past, and though serious problems persist, the country is more stable in terms of the government. The DRC has a transitional constitution and a bicameral legislature. However, even though the DRC is officially a presidential democratic republic, its current state of instability remains far from this ideal. Today, the leader is Joseph Kabila, who became president after his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001.
European exploration of this area began in the 1870s and ended in the 1920s. The first expedition was led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley. He was one of the first Europeans to explore Africa and paved the way for future explorations, under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium. Congo was formally acquired by Leopold at the Conference of Berlin in 1885, and then the land was named Congo Free State as the private Leopold’s property. In the Free State, the local population was exploited and brutalized to produce rubber and ivory. These resources became the source of Leopold’s wealth. During 1885–1908, one million Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and diseases.
At the beginning of the 20th century, due to international pressure, the Belgian parliament became a sovereign authority ruling over the Congo. After this event, the Congo got the name Belgian Congo and was under the rule of the Belgian government.
From 1960 to 1965, the DRC was in a political crisis, when two prominent nationalists won in the elections. Patrice Lumumba’s Mouvement National Congolais won the parliamentary elections and Lumumba was elected as Prime Minister. Joseph Kasavubu from the Alliance des Bakongo was elected as President.
On June 30th, 1960, Congo got its independence from Belgium and got the name Republic of Congo. After gaining independence, provinces of Katanga led by Moise Tshombe, and South Kasai resisted the new leadership and seceded from the new republic. The Belgian paratroops and United Nations flew in as a peacekeeping force and in September 1960, Lumumba was dismissed from the office by Kasavubu. The crisis between Lumumba and Kasavubu developed. Lumumba had appointed Joseph Mobutu chief of staff of the new Congolese army, Armee Nationale Congolaise. Mobutu had enough support in the army and created an insurrection. In early 1961, Patrice Lumumba was arrested and assassinated by the Katangan forces and Belgian paratroops. A temporary government was led by technicians and Evariste Kimba. Turbulent politics continued to stir Congo’s political scene and in 1965, Joseph Mobutu overthrew Kasavubu. The United States supported him because of his anti-Communist position, the key issue during the Cold War between the USSR and the U.S.
When Mobutu became the head-of-state, a one-party system and a dictatorial regime were established in the country. There was relative stability, but human rights were constantly violated; moreover, political repression, and corruption suffused the country. Mobutu renamed some places in accordance with African nationalism: Léopoldville became Kinshasa. Born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, he modified his name to Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu was finally overthrown in 1997. From 1998 until 2003, the DRC was the center of civil war, in which Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi intervened supporting rebel factions while Angola and Zimbabwe took the side of the government. The country has been left devastated by the Second Congo War, the topic our site will further investigate. The war began in 1998 and fighting still continues in eastern Congo. The Second Congo War is one of the world’s worst conflicts because besides armed conflict, there are high occurrences of rape and other sexual violence. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence, Yakin Ertürk, who toured eastern Congo in July 2007, violence against women in North and South Kivu included “unimaginable brutality” .