History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Discovered in the 1990s, human remains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been dated to approximately 90,000 years ago. The first real states, such as the Kongo, the Lunda, the Luba and Kuba, appeared south of the equatorial forest on the savannah from the 14th century onwards.[1]

The Kingdom of Kongo controlled much of western and central Africa including what is now the western portion of the DR Congo between the 14th and the early 19th centuries. At its peak it had many as 500,000 people, and its capital was known as Mbanza-Kongo (south of Matadi, in modern-day Angola). In the late 15th century, Portuguese sailors arrived in the Kingdom of Kongo, and this led to a period of great prosperity and consolidation, with the king's power being founded on Portuguese trade. King Afonso I (1506–1543) had raids carried out on neighboring districts in response to Portuguese requests for slaves. After his death, the kingdom underwent a deep crisis.[1]

The Atlantic slave trade occurred from approximately 1500 to 1850, with the entire west coast of Africa targeted, but the region around the mouth of the Congo suffered the most intensive enslavement. Over a strip of coastline about 400 kilometres (250 mi) long, about 4 million people were enslaved and sent across the Atlantic to sugar plantations in Brazil, the US and the Caribbean. From 1780 onwards, there was a higher demand for slaves in the US which led to more people being enslaved. By 1780, more than 15,000 people were shipped annually from the Loango Coast, north of the Congo.[1]

In 1870, explorer Henry Morton Stanley arrived in and explored what is now the DR Congo. Belgian colonization of DR Congo began in 1885 when King Leopold II founded and ruled the Congo Free State. However, de facto control of such a huge area took decades to achieve. Many outposts were built to extend the power of the state over such a vast territory. In 1885, the Force Publique was set up, a colonial army with white officers and black soldiers. In 1886, Leopold made Camille Jansen the first Belgian governor-general of Congo. Over the late 19th century, various Christian (including Catholic and Protestant) missionaries arrived intending to convert the local population. A railway between Matadi and Stanley Pool was built in the 1890s.[1] Reports of widespread murder, torture, and other abuses in the rubber plantations led to international and Belgian outrage and the Belgian government transferred control of the region from Leopold II and established the Belgian Congo in 1908.

Following unrest, Belgium granted Congo independence in June 1960. However, the Congo remained unstable, leading to the Congo Crisis, where the regional governments of Katanga and South Kasai attempted to gain independence with Belgian support. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba tried to suppress secession with the aid of the Soviet Union as part of the Cold War, causing the United States to support a coup led by Colonel Joseph Mobutu in September 1960. Lumumba was handed over to the Katangan government and executed in January 1961. The successionist movements were later defeated by the Congolese government as were the Soviet-backed Simba rebels. Following the end of the Congo Crisis in 1965, Joseph Kasa-Vubu was deposed and Mobutu seized complete power of the country and later renamed it Zaire. He sought to Africanize the country, changing his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, and demanded that African citizens change their Western names to traditional African names. Mobutu sought to repress any opposition to his rule, which he successfully did throughout the 1980s. However, with his regime weakened in the 1990s, Mobutu was forced to agree to a power-sharing government with the opposition party. Mobutu remained the head of state and promised elections within the next two years that never took place.

During the First Congo War, Rwanda invaded Zaire, in which Mobutu lost his power during this process. In 1997, Laurent-Désiré Kabila took power and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Afterward, the Second Congo War broke out, resulting in a regional war in which many different African nations took part and in which millions of people were killed or displaced. Kabila was assassinated by his bodyguard in 2001, and his son, Joseph, succeeded him and was later elected president by the Congolese government in 2006. Joseph Kabila quickly sought peace. Foreign soldiers remained in the Congo for a few years and a power-sharing government between Joseph Kabila and the opposition party was set up. Joseph Kabila later resumed complete control over the Congo and was re-elected in a disputed election in 2011. In 2018, Félix Tshisekedi was elected president; in the first peaceful transfer of power since independence.[2]

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