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DR Congo - History

The area known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was populated as early as 10,000 years ago and settled in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. by Bantus from present-day Nigeria. Portuguese navigator Diego Cao was the first European known to have visited the area (in 1482), and English journalist Henry Morton Stanley later explored much of the region in the mid to late 19th century. The area was officially colonized in 1885 as a personal possession of Belgian King Leopold II as the Congo Free State. In 1907, administration shifted to the Belgian Government, which renamed the country the Belgian Congo. Following a series of riots and unrest, the Belgian Congo gained its independence on June 30, 1960. Parliamentary elections in 1960 produced Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president of the renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Mobutu Era

Within the first year of independence, several events destabilized the country: the army mutinied; the governor of Katanga Province attempted secession; a UN peacekeeping force was called in to restore order; Prime Minister Lumumba died under mysterious circumstances; and Col. Joseph Desire Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) took over the government and ceded it again to President Kasavubu.

Unrest and rebellion plagued the government until 1965, when Mobutu, by then a lieutenant general and commander-in-chief of the national army, again seized control of the country and declared himself president for 5 years. Mobutu quickly centralized power through the domination of his Popular Revolution Movement (MPR) party and was elected unopposed as president in 1970.

Embarking on a campaign of cultural awareness, in 1971, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire and required citizens to adopt African names. Relative peace and stability prevailed until 1977 and 1978 when Katangese rebels, staged in Angola, launched a series of invasions into the Katanga region. The rebels were driven out with the aid of Belgian, Moroccan, and French paratroopers.

During the 1980s, Mobutu continued to enforce his one-party system of rule. Although Mobutu successfully maintained control during this period, opposition parties, most notably the Democracy and Social Progress Union (UDPS), were active. Mobutu's attempts to quell these groups drew significant international criticism.

As the Cold War came to a close, internal and external pressures on Mobutu increased. In late 1989 and early 1990, Mobutu was weakened by a series of domestic protests, heightened international criticism of his regime's human rights practices, and a faltering economy. In April 1990, Mobutu agreed to the principle of a multi-party system with elections and a constitution. As details of a reform package were delayed, soldiers in September 1991 began looting Kinshasa to protest their unpaid wages. Two thousand French and Belgian troops, some of whom were flown in on U.S. Air Force planes, arrived to evacuate the 20,000 endangered foreign nationals in Kinshasa. Soldiers went on a similar rampage in January 1993.

In 1992, after previous similar attempts, the long-promised Sovereign National Conference was staged, encompassing more than 2,000 representatives from various political parties. The conference gave itself a legislative mandate and elected Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo as its chairman, along with Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the UDPS, as prime minister. Mobutuís opposition to the Sovereign National Conference led to the Limete Catholic Massacre on February 16, 1992, in which Mobutuís personal guards gunned down as many as 250 parishioners on their way to church. By the end of the year Mobutu had created a rival government with its own prime minister. The ensuing stalemate produced a compromise merger of the two governments into the High Council of the Republic-Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT) in 1994, with Mobutu as head of state and Leon Kengo Wa Dondo as prime minister. Although presidential and legislative elections were scheduled repeatedly over the next 2 years, they never took place.

Beginning in late 1994, the war and genocide in neighboring Rwanda spilled over to Zaire. Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe), who fled Rwanda following the ascension of a Tutsi-led government, used Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire as bases for incursions against Rwanda. In October 1996, Rwandan troops (RPA) entered Zaire, simultaneously with the formation of an armed coalition led by Laurent-Desire Kabila known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL). With the goal of forcibly ousting Mobutu, the AFDL, supported by Rwanda and Uganda, began a military campaign toward Kinshasa. Following failed peace talks between Mobutu and Kabila in May 1997, Mobutu left the country.

From Dictatorship to Disintegration

Laurent-Desire Kabila marched into Kinshasa on May 17, 1997, and declared himself president. He consolidated power around himself and the AFDL and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kabila's Army Chief and the Secretary General of the AFDL were Rwandan, and RPA units continued to operate tangentially with the DRC's military, which was renamed the Congolese Armed Forces(FAC).

Over the next year, relations between Kabila and his foreign backers deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops to leave the DRC Most refused to leave. On August 2, nationwide fighting erupted as Rwandan troops in the DRC "mutinied," and fresh Rwandan and Ugandan troops entered the country. Two days later, Rwandan troops flew to Bas-Congo, with the intention of marching on Kinshasa, ousting Kabila, and replacing him with the newly formed Rwandan-backed rebel group called the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD). The Rwandan campaign was thwarted at the last minute when Angolan, Zimbabwean, and Namibian troops intervened on behalf of the DRC Government. The Rwandans and the RCD withdrew to eastern DRC, where they established de facto control over portions of eastern DRC and continued to fight the Congolese army and its foreign allies.

In February 1999, Uganda backed the formation of a rebel group called the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC), which drew support from among ex-Mobutuists and ex-Zairian soldiers in Equateur Province (Mobutu's home province). Together, Uganda and the MLC established control over the northern third of the DRC

At this stage, the DRC was divided de facto into three segments -- one controlled by Laurent Kabila, one controlled by Rwanda, and one controlled by Uganda -- and the parties had reached military deadlock. In July 1999, a cease-fire was proposed in Lusaka, Zambia, which all parties signed by the end of August. The Lusaka Accord called for a cease-fire, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation, the withdrawal of foreign troops, and the launching of an "Inter-Congolese Dialogue" to form a transitional government leading to elections. The parties to the Lusaka Accord failed to fully implement its provisions in 1999 and 2000. Laurent Kabila drew increasing international criticism for blocking full deployment of UN troops, hindering progress toward an Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and suppressing internal political activity.





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Page last modified: 27-05-2015 19:33:09 ZULU