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. Discovered in 1482 by Portuguese navigator
Diego Cao and later explored by English journalist Henry Morton Stanley,
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 was granted 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.
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 Désiré
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 Lieutenant
General Mobutu, by then commander in chief of the national army, again
seized control of the country and declared himself president for 5 years.
Mobutu quickly centralized power into his own hands and was elected unopposed
as president in 1970. Embarking on a campaign of cultural awareness, 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 Katangan rebels, staged in Angola, launched a series of invasions
into the Katanga region. The rebels were driven out with the aid of Belgian
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 Union pour la Democratie et le Progres
Social (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, by heightened international criticism of his
regime's human rights practices, and by 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 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. 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 Republic-Parliament of Transition
(HCR-PT) in 1994, with Mobutu as head of state and Kengo Wa Dondo as prime
minister. Although presidential and legislative elections were scheduled
repeatedly over the next 2 years, they never took place.
By 1996, the war and genocide in neighboring Rwanda had spilled over
to Zaire. Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe), who fled Rwanda following
the ascension of a Tutsi-led government, were using Hutu refugees 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 des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du 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, and Kabila marched into Kinshasa on May 17, 1997. Kabila declared
himself president, consolidated power around himself and the AFDL, and
renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.). Kabilas
Army Chief and the Secretary General of the AFDL were Rwandan, and RPA
units continued to operate tangentially with the D.R.C.s military, which
was renamed the Forces Armees Congolaises (FAC).
Over the next year, relations between Kabila and his foreign backers
deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops to leave
the D.R.C. Most refused to leave. On August 2, fighting erupted throughout
the D.R.C. as Rwandan troops in the D.R.C. mutinied, and fresh Rwandan
and Ugandan troops entered the D.R.C. Two days later, Rwandan troops flew
to Bas-Congo, with the intention of marching on Kinshasa, ousting Laurent
Kabila, and replacing him with the newly formed Rwandan-backed rebel group
called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD). The Rwandan
campaign was thwarted at the last minute when Angolan, Zimbabwean, and
Namibian troops intervened on behalf of the D.R.C. Government. The Rwandans
and the RCD withdrew to eastern D.R.C., where they established de facto
control over portions of eastern D.R.C. and continued to fight the Congolese
Army and its foreign allies.
In February 1999, Uganda backed the formation of a rebel group called
the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC), which drew support from
among ex-Mobutuists and ex-FAZ soldiers in Equateur province (Mobutus
home province). Together, Uganda and the MLC established control over the
northern third of the D.R.C.
At this stage, the D.R.C. was divided de facto into three segments,
and the parties controlling each segment 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, MONUC, 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.
On January 16, 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated and succeeded by
his son, Joseph Kabila. Joseph Kabila reversed many of his fathers negative
policies; over the next year, MONUC deployed throughout the country, and
the Inter-Congolese Dialogue proceeded. By the end of 2002, all Angolan,
Namibian, and Zimbabwean troops had withdrawn from the D.R.C. Following
D.R.C.-Rwanda talks in South Africa that culminated in the Pretoria Accord
in July 2002, Rwandan troops officially withdrew from the D.R.C. in October
2002, although there were continued, unconfirmed reports that Rwandan soldiers
and military advisers remained integrated with RCD/G forces in eastern
D.R.C. Ugandan troops officially withdrew from the D.R.C. in May 2003.
In October 2001, the Inter-Congolese Dialogue began in Addis Ababa under
the auspices of Facilitator Ketumile Masire (former president of Botswana).
The initial meetings made little progress and were adjourned. On February
25, 2002, the dialogue was reconvened in South Africa. It included representatives
from the government, rebel groups, political opposition, civil society,
and Mai-Mai (Congolese local defense militias). The talks ended inconclusively
on April 19, 2002, when the government and the MLC brokered an agreement
that was signed by the majority of delegates at the dialogue but left out
the RCD/G and opposition UDPS party, among others.
This partial agreement was never implemented, and negotiations resumed
in South Africa in October 2002. This time, the talks led to an all-inclusive
powersharing agreement, which was signed by delegates in Pretoria on December
17, 2002, and formally ratified by all parties on April 2, 2003. Following
nominations by each of the various signatory groups, President Kabila on
June 30, 2003 issued a decree that formally announced the transitional
government lineup. The four vice presidents took the oath of office on
July 17, 2003, and most incoming ministers assumed their new functions
within days thereafter. This transitional government is slated to last
until elections--the first since 1960--are to be held in 2005 or 2006.