Dissected by the Equator, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly called Zaire, is the third largest country on the African continent.
The country is still the ancestral homeland for over 200 ethnic groups, most descended from kingdoms established long before the Europeans arrived in the late 1800s.
The Kingdom of Luba became the most vital commercial center for the trade of ivory and other goods, and by the 16th century had emerged with a strong government. Long distance trade ultimately aided in the downfall of Luba, and in 1899 the empire was split in two before being completely absorbed into the Belgian Congo Free State.
Commissioned by King Leopold II of Belgium, Henry Stanley was the first European to explore the Congo Basin area.
Upon hearing Stanley’s report regarding the indigenous natural attributes of the land, King Leopold subsequently took control, imposing a system of forced labor that was the catalyst for the first human rights movement in the 20th century. Subsequently, he was forced to grant colonial status to the then Belgium Congo in 1908.
After gaining complete independence from Belgium in 1960, a non-stop parade of assassinations, civil wars, coups, corrupt dictators, brutal murders, rebellions and needless bloodshed plagued the land.
In 1971, President Mobutu Sese Seko renamed the country to the Republic of Zaire. Under Mobutu’s command, despite an achievement of both peace and stability, the government was responsible for severe human rights violations and a cult of personality and corruption. It was not uncommon to see citizens walk the streets wearing clothing with his likeness emblazoned on them.
Opponents began demanding for a reform in 1990, with tensions flaring by 1996 as the Rwandan Civil War and genocide poured into Zaire.
A small group of Tutsi militia invaded the country with ambitions to overthrow Mobutu, and were joined by select Zairean politicians seeing an opportunity to finally out the president.
Mobutu fled Zaire in May 1997, and revolutionary leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila named himself president in the aftermath. Zaire was reverted back to its original name of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kabila asked all foreign military forces to return to their respective countries. This mostly out of fear of a plotted coup against him to transfer the presidency to a Tutsi.
Rwandan troops responded negatively to Kabila’s request, and launched the Tutsi-led Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD). To offset Rwandan influence in the DRC, Ugandan troops created the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), which was led by warlord, Jean-Pierre Bemba. The clash of both organizations sparked a second war, further weakening the DRC’s already fragile army.
After the assassination of Kabila in 2001, his son Joseph succeeded office, and a peace deal was reached between him, the RCD and MLC. By 2003, aside from Rwanda, all foreign troops exited the DRC and the country began rebuilding itself.
Continued ethnic strife, political instability, and poor management of infrastructure has greatly impacted the country in a most negative way. Travelers are warned that journeying to the Congo (DRC) can be quite dangerous.
The economy of this land of vast, natural resources, has declined dramatically in the past few decades. Reforms are being implemented, but serious recovery is projected to be many years away.