If your only understanding of the Congo is from the famous movie of the same name, it’s time to brush up on your history of this country.
Check out some of the most important facts about the Congo.
Earliest Known Congo History
The area that is now the Congo was populated as early as 80,000 years ago. Much later, in 1482, Portuguese explorer Diego Cão was sailing on the Congo River and found the land that is now called the Congo.
The area had precious natural resources, such as cotton and rubber, and garnered the interest of many European countries.
In particular, King Leopold II of Belgium made plans to colonize the area in 1870. He gave it a new name – Belgian Congo – and then gave some of the land away to the French (later to become the Republic of the Congo). Together, the Belgian and French began to sell the natives of Congo into the slave trade.
The Independence of Congo
As many colonies eventually do, the Congo worked toward independence after centuries of oppression. In 1960, the people of the Congo successfully gained independence. A general election was held, which resulted in Joseph Kasavubu being elected president and Patrice Lumumba prime minister.
However, soon afterward, Colonel Joseph-Désiré Mobutu led a coup with some of the Congolese military members, which resulted in internal conflict in the country. Eventually, the followers of both Colonel Mobutu and President Kasa-Vubu killed Prime Minister Lumumba.
Wars Forever Mark the Congo’s History
In 1965, Colonel Mobutu declared himself president, overthrowing Kasavubu. He changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in 1971 he again changed it to the Republic of Zaïre. Not surprisingly, the country continued to be unstable throughout the more than 20 years he remained in office.
After years of President Mobutu putting off reform to create a democracy, the people resisted, resulting in the First Congo War in 1996. When the president was out of the Congo for a short time, the Tutsi rebels captured much of eastern Zaïre with the support of Rwanda. In 1997 Mobutu fled Zaïre, and the country reclaimed its name of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Once Mobutu had left office, Laurent-Désiré Kabila became president. Soon after, armies from Uganda and Rwanda invaded Congo territory in order to pursue Interhamwe soldiers, who were the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Kabila was enraged that Rwanda sent troops across the border, and soon an all-out war broke out, involving six more neighboring countries.
The Second Congo War was referred to as Africa’s World War. Even after signing the Lusaka Peace Accord, the fighting continued.
President Kabila was killed by his bodyguard in 2001, at which time his son Joseph came into power and reached an agreement with troops in Uganda and Rwanda. Consequently, troops sent in by those countries and by the United Nations could retreat.
Major Political Changes Make History in the Congo
President Joseph Kabila continued his efforts to keep the peace in the Congo, putting four vice presidents into power in 2003. This allowed each party to have a representative in government. In 2006, the Congo had its first democratic and multiparty elections in decades.
President Kabila was re-elected that year, and again in 2011. But unfortunately, much of the Congo is still politically unstable, with many rebel groups creating violence in eastern Congo.
Facts About Congo
- Official Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Capital: Kinshasa
- Population: 77,433,744
- Land Area: 905,600 square miles
- Major Religion: Christianity
- Major Languages: French
- Life Expectancy: 55 years (male); 58 years (female)
- Main exports: copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, coffee, crude oil