Africa, DR Congo, Politics

Turmoil in the DR Congo: History Repeating Itself?

Editor’s note: D.R Congo refers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire between 1971-1997. The Republic of the Congo (sometimes called Congo-Brazzaville) is a different country and is not to be confused with the DR Congo.

The history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is tragic. Abundant in natural resources, this vast nation in the Central African region should really be one of the richest in the world, yet economic mismanagement, political strife, and internal turmoil have cast the D.R Congo, as it is known, into the forgotten vestiges of history. The D.R Congo is often in the news for the wrong reasons, and this has been the case in the historical and contemporary sense and has provided fodder for the mass media and for the meddling of international governments in its affairs. Yet again it seems, there is more upheaval as anti-government protests plague the capital, Kinshasa.

Why is there always so much conflict in the DR Congo? Surely it must be a wealthy, stable country if there are so many diamonds, uranium, copper, and coltan, right?

It is a wealthy nation if you take its natural resources into account; an eye-wateringly wealthy nation, yet the D.R Congo has been terribly exploited and mismanaged by both the Western powers and the often demagogic leaders that rule the state. In order to truly understand the ins-and-outs of the DR Congo, we first must venture through the history of the nation; so it is time for a quick history lesson!

A history lesson about the Congo? We never learned anything about the Congo at school, so it can’t be that important!

Believe me, it is. The chances are, YOUR country was involved in the pillaging of the DR Congo. As disregarded as African history is, the device you are reading this story on probably full of ingredients from the D.R Congo region such as cobalt, platinum, and copper, which is all the more reason to be concerned about the history of the D.R Congo.

The chaos in the DR Congo stems back to an unlikely source, King Leopold II of Belgium. In a bizarre attempt for Belgium to acquire “a piece of the magnificent African cake” (his words, not ours!), he sent Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley to carve up a colony for the king during the ‘Scramble for Africa’. After he managed to obtain this huge piece of land for himself, he then ran the Congo Free State as it was known as a large slave labour camp under faux philanthropic pretences.

Coinciding with the invention of the pneumatic tire, Leopold II ordered enterprises’ operating in the Congo Free State to force local Congolese to tap rubber for western companies, earning the Belgian king a vast amount of money. The penalty for a local not meeting their rubber quota was the severing of their hands, and this became emblematic of the cruel tyranny within the Congo Free State. Eventually, the Belgian government had to wrestle the state off their own king when it became apparent that the atrocities had brought worldwide condemnation.

That’s awful! I guess it’s a good thing that the Belgian state took control. No more forced labour or indignity for the Congo!

Umm… No. Not quite. The continued foreign governance of what was now the Belgian Congo is part of the reason why the D.R Congo has not developed to its full potential. The exploitation continued like in any other European colony, but the focus shifted from rubber to other natural resources that we all take for granted. As mentioned previously, most of your electrical goods probably have a piece of the Congo inside of them, mined by labourers who cannot even afford the items that their own sweat and blood produces. Even when the Belgians relinquished the colony in 1960, the newly independent nation only had sixteen university graduates and was incredibly vulnerable to foreign meddling. You can guess what happened next, right?

Well, if a vulnerable country is newly independent and packed with diamonds, precious metals, and other goodies, I’m assuming that some good old fashioned western interventionism took place?

Correct! What is a vulnerable nation without western-backed interventionism, ay? The Belgian state ‘protected’ it’s own citizens by keeping their own troops in a breakaway province called Katanga, which is one of the most resource-rich parts of Africa, and the CIA assisted in the overthrow of the newly established government under Patrice Lumumba. Joseph Mobutu, a pro-western demagogue was installed as leader and the west continued to exploit the D.R Congo’s natural resources as they did before, at the expense of the Congolese people.

Thanks for the history lesson… you said it would be “short”, but what about the present? I keep seeing the DR Congo on the news and it looks like a really vulnerable state.

Well, the history lesson was to set the scene for why the DR Congo is often in the news a lot nowadays, so never underestimate history! Post-Mobutu politics has been dominated by the Kabila family, with Joseph Kabila being the incumbent since 2001, yet the Congolese constitution dictates that a president should only be limited to two terms, similar to the United States. Kabila however, is refusing to step down, and this is causing a political crisis in the country. Not surprisingly, Kabila is a pro-western leader, known for neglecting millions of the poorest Congolese whilst lining his own pockets. Doesn’t that remind you of… Mobutu? Or perhaps the governors of the Belgian Congo… Or even King Leopold II himself?

Someone needs to do something! It seems like the Congolese people have been suffering for decades!

Well, not surprisingly the western powers are doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. I mean, why would they? They have a leader in which they can bribe and manipulate so companies can access the mineral riches of the D.R Congo. This is turn, lines the pockets of Kabila, just like it did with Leopold II. In essence, not a lot has changed in over a hundred years in the region despite the potential the country has. With unstable government, however, comes paranoia amongst the top echelons of power and it appears that this has alarmed DR Congo’s former overseer, Belgium.

Ah great… Belgium. What are they so concerned about this time?

Little Belgium still has a great amount of influence in the Big Congo, even fifty-six years after independence. As their only former colony, they had many decades to gain a foothold in the country and did so with vigour, yet with the current wave of destabilization, Brussels has strongly advised its citizens to get out as soon as possible. Kabila’s government has even gone to the effort to expel five Belgian journalists reporting on the turmoil as he tightens his grip on power. Incidents such as these have strained relations between the two countries, and when relations are strained, this often incites western powers to push regime change.

As long as we continue to tap the Congo basin and the surrounding region for our electronic conveniences, the DR Congo will not progress. Unstable government and foreign meddling have been synonymous with the country, and regardless of whether it is ruled by a Belgian king, governor, Congolese demagogue or a western puppet, nothing will change. It appears that the “magnificent African cake” is still just as delicious as it was in the 1870’s when the continent was carved up for its riches.

About Peter Mossack

Peter is the CEO of Kinstream Media, and he manages the editorial board and day-to-day operations as the publisher of CrowdH. He’s a tech and news junkie, and an avid social media analyst who’s always on the lookout for new stories to cover. He has been an entrepreneur for the past 20 years and he’s now dedicated to change the news, and the world!

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