The Democratic Republic of Congo (or previously Congo-Kinshasa called by Countryaah website) has for the past two years been characterized by a contentious electoral process in 2011, and continued violence in the east of the country. Today, the situation is better than it was ten years ago, according to several political, economic and humanitarian indicators. Congo has not experienced a decline in gross domestic product per capita (GDP) since 2002. However, the country is still one of the world’s poorest, despite its large wealth of resources.
Congo spans a large area of Central Africa and contains extensive rainforest and rich mineral deposits. The population of just over 70 million is composed of several ethnic and linguistic groups. The country has a long history of political mismanagement, poverty and armed conflicts both under colonial rule and as an independent state.
Before colonization, various kingdoms existed within the borders of today’s Congo. The Kingdom of the Congo, in the southwest, was the most prominent. From the 1870s, European exploration and control of parts of today’s Congo began, with expeditions funded by Belgian King Leopold II. Leopold formalized control of the Congo during the Berlin Conference in 1884/85, and made the “Free State of Congo” his private property. Leopold’s rule included extensive slave labor, mass murder and exploitation of natural resources, and in 1908 international pressure led to the Belgian state taking control.
An independent Congolese state was established on June 30, 1960. The nationalist movement, led by Patrice Lumumba, won the parliamentary election months before decolonization, and Lumumba was appointed prime minister. The decolonization process was rapid and violent, with disengagement wars in Katanga and South Kasai and interference by international forces. Lumumba was deposed and later murdered. In the chaos, Army Chief Joseph Mobutu finally took power. Mobutu ruled the country, which he renamed Zaire in 1971, until 1997. Mobutu’s government was associated with corruption and the dismantling of already weak state institutions. The economic and political power of the regime was weakened during and toward the end of the Cold War.
Mobutu first managed to maneuver attempts at democratization, but rebellion and civil war in 1997 led to his downfall and the deployment of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The backdrop was unrest and conflict in eastern Congo, with participation in the campaign against Mobutu from other states such as Uganda, Rwanda and Angola. The “Second Congo War” broke out in 1998 after problematic relations between Kabila’s regime and various groups in the Congo, as well as Rwanda and Uganda interference, resulted in open conflict. Several African countries were withdrawn on both sides. Between four and five million people are estimated to have lost their lives in the protracted war that followed. This figure includes victims of hunger disasters and epidemics that arose as a result of the war.
Kabila was killed in 2001, and his son Joseph took over. Joseph Kabila is still president. He led the transitional government after the official end of the war in 2002-2003, and won the elections in 2006 and 2011. The last parliamentary and presidential elections took place in November 2011. Kabila won the presidential election with 48.9 percent of the vote, while Etienne Tshisekedi got 32.3 percent. The election result was disputed, and political turmoil and violence left its mark on the election. The Tshisekedi did not acknowledge the defeat, but urged security forces and bureaucrats not to obey Kabila, and even promised him a bounty. Initially, a second round of elections was to be held, but the election laws were changed after the first round.
Thus, the choice cannot be considered free and fair. In general, there is a lack of protection of political and civil rights in the country. According to 2011 figures from the Freedom House index for civil and political rights, Congo has the second lowest score. Freedom of speech is formally guaranteed in the Constitution, but attacks on journalists and human rights activists, both from the government and from non-governmental groups, often make this guarantee little worthwhile in practice.
Economy and natural resources
Congo was a poor country at the time of its liberation in 1960. The country experienced moderate economic growth during its early years as an independent state, but had a sharp decline from the mid-1970s. This was primarily due to Mobutu’s kleptocratic politics and economic governance. The country’s education system, health care and infrastructure were neglected, and the country’s GDP per capita was reduced by about three-quarters from 1970 to 2000.
At the last survey, in 2006, 88 percent of the country’s population lived below the World Bank poverty line of $ 1.25 a day. The country has an extensive unofficial economy where income is not registered and has experienced some economic growth since 2002. About half of the population feed on agriculture. Coffee, palm oil, rubber, cassava, corn and rice are essential products. The country has some industry, including textiles and footwear.
Congo is rich in minerals and is one of the world’s largest producers of cobalt, copper and industrial diamonds. Congo is also the world’s largest producer of carbon, an important ingredient in mobile phones and computers. There have been major problems related to clarification of contracts and ownership of various mineral deposits, to illegal mining by national and international players, and to security and transport. If these problems are resolved, Congo is at a potential source of reducing poverty problems. However, whether the resource revenues will be invested to improve the lives of the inhabitants is uncertain, and the resources wealth can, as before, also motivate actors for conflict actions and prolong ongoing conflicts.
Conflicts in Eastern Congo
Today’s ongoing and latent conflicts in Eastern Congo originate in the two Congo wars, and are many and complex. The Congolese state lacks control over large areas, especially east of the country. The UN has an established mission for security in the Congo (MONUSCO). An important element is the United Nations Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Program (GDR). For example, the process of integrating soldiers from various rebel groups, such as the Conseil National pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP) into the Congolese army, has been central in recent years. Together with the Congolese army, MONUSCO also launched military operations to disarm the Rwandan Force Democratique pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which has been based in Congo since the 1994 Rwanda genocide. These processes have not been without problems, and armed rebel groups are sources of continued conflict in eastern Congo. Estimates indicate that 1.7 million people are on the run internally in the country, and rape, murder and looting are still committed regularly.
With unsuccessful military operations against rebel groups and a failed attempt to integrate CNDP into the army as a backdrop – in April 2012, former CNDP soldiers broke out and formed the rebel group M23 – President Kabila has announced that the government’s priority is the security of the civilian population in the east. The M23’s relatively simple takeover of the important city of Goma in November 2012 indicates that the government either cannot or will not follow up this announcement in practice.