Saturday, February 21, 2009

The History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Congo is a vast region in Africa. It is located right after that big top of the Continent, where the coast sinks in again - that is where the Congo rives flows. The Congo river is on both the South and the north hemisphere, which means one part of it is always in the dry season and the other always in the wet season; it doesn't change much in water level throughout the year. Much of the area has jungle and wild rubber vines grow there. There are two Congos - Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo. They are right next to each other. The Republic of the Congo was a French colony. This is about the other country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the 1800's there were villages, nomadic people, and some small kingdoms. These were not savages, but people with a culture. They had art and language, but not written language. Europe was curious about this vast area that was left blank on their maps. Henry Morton Stanley had low class beginnings in England but took on a new name and life in America. He became a journalist and went to foreign places to write. He became famous for taking up an expedition into Africa to find a fellow white man. His writing soon inspired exploration of the Congo region and slowly the map began to be filled in.

King Leopold II of Belgium was unhappy because he felt he deserved more than this tiny country to rule. He wanted a colony and the riches that come with it. In order to get one he spent years tricking people into thinking he wanted to help the African people to become cultured and educated, while in reality he was moving in forces to take over the region. There was a meeting of European powers to decide who should control which parts of Africa; it was called the Berlin conference. King Leopold (not his country, Belgium) soon owned what he called "the Congo Free State". The United States soon recognized this as a real country and other countries followed suit.

King Leopold ordered natives to be chained up and forced to work. When rubber became a major product he ordered his army, the Force Publique, to capture women and children to hold for ransom until the native men brought back certain amounts of rubber. Africans were killed for sport and for resisting the Force Publique. Many Africans died. The soldiers had to prove that they used their bullets on natives and didn't waste them; so for each bullet used they had to turn in a hand cut from the body of a native. Sometimes they cut hands from people who were not dead. There were many uprisings but the Force Publique just had more firepower and defeated the country. In the 40 years that King Leopold controlled the area the population went from 20 million to 10 million.

Visitors were very limited. There was a monopoly of importing and exporting by a company that employed a man named E.D. Morel as their accountant. E.D. Morel was to become the most important person in the protest of the horrors in the Congo. He realized what was happening and gave up his life to work for the cause and to make people aware of the situation in the Congo- that is, slavery and mass torture/murder. Eventually King Leopold (who had become very very rich) was pressured internationally to give his colony to Belgium, which people hoped would have just rule instead of a one man regime. Unfortunately not much changed in the Congo. Morel wanted Africans to own their own land again, but most Europeans saw this as a far too radical idea. (Congo from 1885 to 1908 Source: King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild)

The Congo was granted its independence in 1960. There were almost no educated natives, and the Europeans who were living there fled - leaving many job openings that could not be filled. The new government elected a prime minister named Lumumba and a President named Kasavubu. Lumumba gave a famous speech on the day of independence that was very anti-colonialist. Some say that is what sealed his doom, others say it was his refusal to increase the pay of the army. I think it was his politics - he wanted Congo for the Congolese. He refused to give a monopoly to the Europeans and Americans, and he wanted to stop the mistreatment of his people. This sounded a little too liberal to the U.S., which had just come out of the Cold War and was afraid of communists. Unfortunately many Belgian Force Publique officers had stayed in the new army. The Belgians and the United States conspired to over throw the new government by putting the chief of staff of the army, Joseph Mobutu, in charge. Soon the army started to up rise and Lumumba was killed by the the United States C.I.A.. The coup worked after 5 years of civil unrest. After that Mobutu let outside companies come in and exploit the people and the resources of the country, become wealthy himself. He renamed the country Zaire, and renamed many cities and rivers. He embezzled most of the countries funds and left the roads and structures to decay.

In 1996 people from the near by country of Rwanda spilled into "Zaire" (the Congo). There was a bloody genocide going on in Rwanda, along the ethnic lines of Hutus and Tutsis. The same conflict was sparked in Congo and Hutus joined the Zaire's army to attack the Tutsis in the Congo. The Tutsis took up arms against the ruler, Mobutu, and were joined by many other groups (led by a man named Kabila). In 1997 Mobutu was forced to flee the country, which was having a civil war, and Kabila named himself President. All the names of cities and places reverted to their original ones.

A second civil war started only a year after. Rebels who didn't like Kabila's rule gained support from near by countries and fought the government, which also had support from other near by countries. Kabila was killed and his son, Joseph Kabila, took his place as ruler - he immediately tried to have peace talks but the war continued. The fighting went from 1998 to 2003, when Kabila had a peace talk with the rebels and agreed to share control of the government with them. In 2006 the Congo (officially called Democratic Republic of the Congo) became democratic, ratifying a constitution and having it's first ever elections. Kabila won with 45% of the vote but the elections were accused of being tampered with. A second election was tried and Kabila won with 70% of the vote - all observers from outside the country said it was a fair election but the losing party said it was not fair.

The nation is new and there is still much fighting, which the government can not control. The near by countries of Uganda and Rwanda have long ongoing wars - fighting and refugees are constantly coming into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is widespread famine and disease ravages the country. The war is not considered to have ended. According to time magazine it has killed over 5.4 million people - it is being called "the deadliest war in the world". (Congo 1908 to 2009 source: wikipedia ).