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History of THE Congo

From origins to the Congo Free State


The area which today bears the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been populated for at least about 200,000 years according to discoveries of cut stones at the sites of Mulundwa (Katanga), Katanda and Senga (Kivu). Archaeological remains of homo sapiens (bones, harpoon points, quartz tools) have been discovered in Ishango in Virunga National Park and dated between 25,000 and 20,000 years ago. Bantu peoples from an area between eastern Nigeria and the Grassfields of Cameroon came to settle as early as 2600 BC. AD


Great kingdoms Luba, Lunda, Kongo were formed between the first centuries after Jesus Christ and before the 15th century when the first Portuguese arrived on the Atlantic coast. These kingdoms have an elaborate hierarchical structure, with a rich musical culture and well-rooted traditions. In addition, many populations lived together in more or less self-sufficient chiefdoms. From this time, we see these kingdoms burst under the impetus of the slave trade and the emergence of new power relationships that will lead to colonization. Portuguese Jesuits Christianize the kings and peoples of Kongo. Maize and cassava crops imported from America are spreading. The first European map of the region is due to the Venetian explorer Alvise Cadamosto in the service of Portugal (16th century).


Between 1874 and 1877, Henry Morton Stanley, British explorer, penetrated equatorial Africa, hitherto 'terra incognita' for Europeans. On his pirogue, he descends the Congo River, the main route of entry, and maps the area. Between 1879 and 1884, the explorer made a second trip through the Congo, but this time up the river. Its mission is to create posts on behalf of the African International Association (AIA), which is chaired by King Leopold II. The Association declares to pursue a scientific and philanthropic objective: it is to continue to map the region and to fight against slavery, in particular by buying slaves from Afro-Arab merchants in order to free them. It also concludes treaties with the customary chiefs met.

In 1884-1885, during the Berlin Conference, the great European powers recognized the International Association of Congo (AIC successor to the AIA). Behind it, it is its President, King Leopold II who sees himself recognized for his authority over a gigantic territory in Central Africa. This territory, cut up by Stanley, and still largely unexplored by the Western world, became the "Independent State of the Congo" (1885).


The Independent State of the Congo (1885-1908)


It is a story unique in its kind as that of all these Belgians who, with the Congolese, created the Congo from scratch and developed this immense country, eighty times Belgium!


It all started with Leopold II, King-Sovereign of the Independent State of the Congo, an extraordinary personality who is the founding father, as the Congolese themselves readily admit. Like the other colonial powers, it worked to develop its natural resources. He, however, unlike these, wanted to immediately add a humanitarian dimension to his intervention, by putting an end to the tribal wars and the raids of the slavers who emptied the country of its living forces.


It was also under his leadership that the first schools and hospitals were created and that programs to eradicate yellow fever, sleeping sickness and malaria were launched. gradually establishing the rule of law with an independent judging organization. He took special care to provide the country with the infrastructure essential for its economic development and had the first railway built giving access to the Atlantic coast, without which "the Congo was not worth a penny".


During the Congo Independent State (EIC) period, uncontrolled agents, believing themselves to be immune from prosecution when isolated, far away and producing 'results,' abused and even heinous crimes against the indigenous population. When these crimes were documented, Leopold II took the initiative in 1904 to set up an independent international commission to verify on the spot the accusations of mistreatment launched against the regime in place and to formulate all the recommendations to prevent new ones. abuse, remedy deficiencies and to improve the lot and rights of the indigenous population. The Commission of Inquiry, while recognizing achievements in particularly laudatory terms, as follows;

"When traveling in the Congo we make the comparison between the old state, which we know from the accounts and descriptions of the explorers and the current state, the impression we get come from admiration and wonder … Today security reigns everywhere in this immense territory… One wonders by what magic power or what powerful will, seconded by heroic efforts, one could thus transform, in a few years, the face of the earth… Nonetheless stigmatized in detail undeniable abuses and a number of actual deficiencies.


Despite the severe conclusions of this report, Leopold II did not hesitate to have it published - in full - in the Official Journal of the Independent State of the Congo. He ensured that the perpetrators of the abuses were prosecuted and immediately followed a series of radical measures by issuing no less than 24 decrees to this effect. The results were not long in coming and were commensurate with the measures taken: sanctions, intensification of control measures and strengthening of the rights of the Congolese. The Congolese population being considered as having to be protected and participate fully in its development, all the texts of the decrees were kneaded with this will, all the reforms went in this direction.


To illustrate the above, we have this tasty letter, addressed in 1907 by Chief Manangame of Avakubi to an officer of the Public Force, where he said to him: "In the time when the Arabs were the chiefs, they took our women and children and sold them as slaves. They ruthlessly looted the country and burned the villages. White never burns villages and if we go to his house with chickens and bananas, he always pays us for everything. He pays well also for the Mupira (rubber). White has eliminated the slave trade. But we black men, we still want white people to leave, because they force us to keep the roads in good condition and we can no longer do the war against the neighbors and we cannot even eat the prisoners anymore, because if we eat them, we are hanged! ... "


The lively controversies, both national and international, which have marked the practices in force in the Independent State of the Congo notwithstanding a body of legislation concerned with the Congolese, and which were candidly exposed in the report of the international commission of inquiry, have ended by persuading King Leopold II to cede his state to Belgium. The Sovereign asked on December 13, 1906, to the Belgian Government to seize the House of Representatives of a Convention of resumption of the EIC by Belgium. It will not be until August 20, 1908, that the Chamber adopts the law effecting the transfer to Belgium of the EIC, and after long and tumultuous debates, by 83 votes against 54 and 9 abstentions. The Senate, in turn, approved the law by 63 votes to 24 with 11 abstentions. The EIC became the Belgian Congo on November 15, 1908.


The Belgian Congo (1908-1960)

Thanks to the intensive and effective engagement of the Belgians working with the Congolese since the takeover of the Congo by Belgium in 1908 until its independence proclaimed on June 30, 1960, the Belgian Congo has experienced 52 years of spectacular progress in the well-being of its indigenous population. The "pax Belgica" maintained thanks to a very light security device and based on a consensus with the Congolese notables and the progression of shared prosperity in real development, the almost complete free education at the primary level, widespread in the secondary and the creation of two universities, free medical treatment for the most remote places in the country, the development of agriculture with the introduction of new crops, the industrial exploitation of mining products, a surplus trade balance, monetary stability, etc. are all reasons for pride in what the collaboration of Belgians and Congolese has made it possible to achieve in such a short time with optimal and sustained investment in men and resources!


And all this was accomplished thanks to the daily efforts of all those who devoted themselves body and soul to it, despite the very serious economic crisis of the 1930s and the two world wars that marked this era. Let us note with pride on this subject that the very first two victories won by the Allies during these conflicts were won by the valiant officers and soldiers of the Belgian Congo Public Force, in Tabora (Tanganyika) in 1916 and in Saio (Abyssinia) in 1941.


Immediately after the Second World War, very strong international anti-colonial pressure, reinforced by the conferences of Bandoeng and Accra as well as by the hegemonic rivalries combined of the two rival superpowers in the Cold War that were the USA and the USSR at that time. , became widespread in countries under colonial tutelage.

The colonial system provided only for a very gradual transfer of responsibilities and sovereignty to the Congolese people. (See the 'Van Bilsen Plan' of 1955 which provided for the political emancipation of the Belgian Congo after a period of thirty years). But the new Congolese leaders, elected on the basis of glowing promises, eager for immediate independence despite a notorious lack of preparation wanted, like their peers elsewhere in Africa, to obtain without further delay the sovereignty of their country. This firm insistence marked the controversial way in which the fate of the Congo was settled during the Brussels Round Table Conference in 1959.


The independence granted in June 1960 allowed Belgium and the Congo to avoid a guerrilla war that could only have been disastrous for all parties, as evidenced by the historical cases of the Netherlands in Indonesia, of France in Indochina and Algeria, the United Kingdom in Rhodesia and Kenya, Portugal in all its colonies…


Despite the vicissitudes of the post-independence period, the continued presence of Belgians who still work in the Congo today and the beneficial presence of a dynamic Congolese diaspora in Belgium are promising. Whether it was these missionaries who chose to stay there, against all odds, or even these teachers, doctors, agronomists, advisers, technicians in public or private companies, as soldiers in charge of training an elite battalion within the FARDC, or as cooperators in successful NGOs that are genuinely concerned with improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of this magnificent country, and here, it is the new Belgians and Congolese from the diaspora in Belgium, who have brought their know-how and their dynamism in practically all the sectors of our society, they thus contribute to keep very alive the bonds which have united us for so many years, Belgians and Congolese!


Testimony of André de Maere, Territorial Administrator in the Belgian Congo



The Democratic Republic of Congo (1960-…)


Key dates since independence




On June 30, the Belgian Congo achieved independence. Power is shared between Joseph Kasa-Vubu, President, and Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister.

On July 5, a mutiny broke out among Congolese troops of the Belgian-supervised Public Force.

On the 11th, the rich mining province of Katanga (south-east) seceded, led by Moïse Tschombé, with the support of colonial powers and the United States. The Kasai also detaches from the central power of Lumumba.

Quickly, the country sinks into chaos, revealing the unpreparedness of the Congolese elites and the incompetence of Lumumba in broad daylight.



The following troubled period was marked by the dispatch of peacekeepers and the assassination of Lumumba on January 17.



Tshombé finally renounces secession and becomes prime minister of Kasavubu a year later. Katanga returns under the authority of the government.



A vast rebellion (Simba ") of communist inspiration ignites the country and initially targets essentially all the Congolese educated or occupying managerial positions, making hundreds of thousands of innocent victims among the Congolese civilian population. When this rebellion also attacked expatriates, Belgian troops, with the support of the Americans and the British, at Tshombé's request, launched Operation Dragon and jumped on Stanleyville and Paulis, releasing 1,500 Western hostages.


On November 24, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, army commander, overthrew President Kasa-Vubu and took power.



Mobutu renames the country's Republic of Zaire and takes the name of Mobutu Sese Seko. He relies on his party-state of the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR). The dictator sets up a system of repression and corruption for his benefit.



Mobutu established "Zairianization", a policy of national preference consisting of driving out foreign economic operators and appointing Zairians in their place.
From 1973, the country was hit by an acute economic crisis, caused by falling copper prices and rising oil prices. Corruption is spreading and inflation is rampant while Mobutu privatizes many companies in his name or in the names of those close to him. The country produces significant quantities of coffee for export but does not cover its food needs, Mobutu imports cereals and meat from South Africa and Rhodesia instead of modernizing the country's agriculture which, considering its climate, could easily support itself. In the 1980s, the Congolese economy turned into a slump: GDP grew weakly while population growth exploded.


In 1981, the IMF granted Zaire a loan of $ 1.2 billion to facilitate the "recovery" phase of the economy. The government then dismissed 35,000 civil servants. More than thirty public enterprises are privatized. In September 1983, the currency was devalued by 99.5%. In the early 1980s, one in two children died before the age of five. The average monthly salary for a worker is just over $ 10, while a 45 kg bag of cassava costs $ 52. Self-subsistence farming has therefore largely developed to represent 20% of GDP in 1979, against 12% in 1976.



The Ebola virus, which can cause hemorrhagic fever, is identified for the first time in Zaire. Since then, the country has experienced ten Ebola epidemics, the last of which, in progress, has already killed nearly 300 people.



Mobutu tries to reconnect with foreign companies and manages to contain, with foreign aid, attempts to secede from Katanga, renamed Shaba. In Kolwezi, French and Belgian paratroopers evacuate foreign nationals.



Riots caused by soldiers who have been without pay for a long time broke out in Kinshasa. Mobutu's regime is becoming more and more fragile. Attempts to liberalize the regime do not resolve the economic crisis. The country can no longer assume the debt service. Public services and GDP collapse, runaway inflation ruins purchasing power (+ 9,769% in 1994). On September 21, unpaid soldiers looted stores in Kinshasa and other cities. On September 25, a Belgian and French military intervention of 1,700 paratroopers evacuated foreigners.



New looting scenes, from January 28 to 30, in the capital, much more violent: there are about a thousand dead including the French ambassador. Belgium ends its cooperation. Mobutu ruined his country, which was in the top 30 in the world 30 years earlier.



In July, the victory in neighboring Rwanda of the RPF rebels, the Tutsi majority, put an end to the genocide. Over a million Hutu Rwandans take refuge in Zaire.



On May 17, Laurent-Désiré Kabila proclaims himself head of state, after eight months of a rebellion from the east, supported in particular by Rwanda and Uganda, which drives out Marshal Mobutu. It renames the country Democratic Republic of Congo.



In August, the proclaimed president Kabila broke with those who helped him seize power (Rwanda and Uganda). A new rebellion broke out in Kivu (East) before degenerating into a regional conflict, opposing government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, to rebellions supported by Rwanda and Uganda. The war will continue until 2003.



On January 26, Joseph Kabila succeeds in his murdered father. He was elected president in 2006 in the first free elections since independence with 58% of the vote (for 42% to Jean-Pierre Bemba), then re-elected in 2011 during elections marked by violence and massive fraud.



In May began in Kivu the rebellion of the March 23 Movement (M23), mainly composed of former Congolese Tutsi rebels. This rebellion was defeated in late 2013.



In September, Kasaï (center) turned violent after the death of customary chief Kamwina Nsapu killed by the security forces.

December 31: a political agreement allows Kabila to stay until elections scheduled for late 2017, but the poll will be postponed at the end of 2018. Several demonstrations demanding his departure are severely repressed. His last mandate was characterized by the impoverishment of the population, a decline in state services and an appropriation of profits for those close to him.



On October 5, the Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, who "repairs" raped women victims of conflicts in Kivu, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.



Following an election for which the CENI never published the detailed results, but for which data leaks show a large victory for candidate Martin Fayulu, the Constitutional Court proclaims Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo winner of the presidential election and is inaugurated on January 24. An alliance based on a secret deal with the outgoing president, whose party is allocated a large majority of seats by the CENI, confirmed by the Constitutional Court, forms the basis of the power of the legislature in place.


The new President quickly set to work, trying to put his country back in working order with the support of international partners including Belgium, with whom he had forged strong friendly ties, calling it his "second homeland".

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