Congo Essay, Research Paper
Before the period of colonial conquest, which officially began with the drafting of
the Treaty of Berlin in 1885, the country was organized into different kingdoms: the
Balkins, Baluba, and Balunda empires, the Kongo Kingdom, and many other groups
and societies. The period of colonial conquest began during the 19th century when
King Leopold II of Belgium acquired the Congo Basin under the Treaty of Berlin. He
was recognized by the European powers as the sovereign of the Independent State of
Congo. By the mid-1890?s Leopold established control in most areas and aggressively
pursued development plans for the exploitation of natural resources. Lacking sufficient
funds to continue development, Leopold requested loans from the Belgian Parliament,
which annexed the Congo in 1908, making it the Belgian Congo.
Although such atrocities were committed during Leopold?s reign, the Congo was
still dependent upon European dominance. The colonial administration gave no
significant roles in the government to Africans. Economic expansion from the sale of
strategic mineral resources during World War I and II and the Korean War led to a
general transformation of Congolese society. In spite of an increased society, active
participation in the colonial political system by Africans did not occur until 1957.
This decentralization and regionalization of the Belgian colonial structure created
an ethnically divided and politically silent African elite. Unlike many Africans under
British and French rule, the Congolese lacked a national ideology. The ethnic
association of the Kongo people was the basis for the formation of one of the first
African political parties. It was not until the 1958 when the Movement National
Congolese formed and began to work towards independence. Fast-growing political
unrest led to independence on June 30, 1960.
Under Joseph Kasavubu as president and Patrice Lumumba as prime minister,
turmoil wracked the post-independence government as they struggled for control. The
lack of central authority provoked the disunity that existed throughout the country, as
regional warlords compete with the official government for control of the country. In an
attempt to gain foreign economic and military support to hold the country together,
Prime Minister Lumumba turned to the United States and the powers of Western
Europe, but his overtures were rejected. Lumumba then turned to the Soviet Union.
Eager to gain a foothold in Central Africa, the Soviet Union supplied military and
economic aid to Lumumba, in which he in turn used to attempt to put down revolts
throughout the country. Wary of Lumumba?s growing authority, President Kasavubu
appealed to the United States and Belgium for support against Lumumba, charging that
the primeminister was turning the Congo over to the Soviet Union. As the two leaders
fought for power, ethnic tension spread throughout the country and a secessionist
movement evolved in Lubumbashi, the capital of the southeastern province of Shaba.
Less than four months after gaining independence, the Congo began to slip onto a
state of anarchy.
Into this fray stepped army chief of staff Col. Joseph Mobutu, who seized control
in 1960 with the firm backing of the army. Mobutu ousted Kasavubu and Lumumba,
and ordered the expulsion of all Soviets fromn the Congo. In doing so, Mobutu won the
favor of many Western governments. More praise followed in 1961, when Mobutu,
having reestablished order in the government, returned Kasavubu to power.
In January of 1961, the outcast Lumumba was assassinated. Supporters of
Lumumbu fled to the southeastern part of the country and initiated an insurgency
against the Congolese government. No leader emerged to take the place of Lumumba,
however, and the Marxist movement became widely factious. While many guerrillas
continued to struggle under the banner of Lumumba?s primarily Nationalist philosophy,
others embraced a more radical Marxist path.
By 1965, as rebellions continued to arise in the southern and southeastern parts
of the country, power struggles once again erupted between Kasavubu and his
advisors. Joseph Mobutu, who had stayed in the shadows during four years,
emphasized the history of political instability in the Congo and he employed the threat
of Soviet influence in the Congo to win strong financial and military backing form the
United States. Backed with western money and arms, Mobutu attempted to crush the
guerrilla movements in the east and south. Despite those efforts, however, these
guerrilla movements remained a lingering threat to Mobutu?s government.
While initiating economic and monetary reforms, Mobutu consolidated his power
by establishing a presidential system with a strong centralized government. In 1971
Mobutu designed a series of measures to erase the vestiges of colonial rule and
establish a new sense of nationalism within the country. Part of the authenticity
campaign involved the renaming of streets and cities. Mobutu renamed the country
itself, leaving the title of the Congo, a remnant of Belgian rule, to the Republic of Zaire.
Along with the cultural changes instituted by Mobutu during the authenticity
campaign, he also reconstructed many facets of Zairian economic and social life and
proceeded to nationalize key industries. African folk myths and legends were employed
by the state to legitimize Mobutu?s rule. When support could not be won with
manufactured myths, force was used to institute a reign of terror in Zaire, turning the
country into an autocratic state with Mobutu at the helm.
The renewal of antigovernment rebellions in 1978 prompted Mobutu to turn once
again to the United States for military and financial support. Fear of Marxist revolution
in Zaire, of of another Zairean overture to the communist bloc, prompted to renew aid to
Mobutu?s government. Throughout the 1980?s, this same concern over the possible
spread of Communism into Zaire prompted the United States to back Mobutu in spite of
his domestic policies.
By the 1990?s, dedcades of economic mismanagement and political corruption
had led to chaos marked by riots, massacres, and mutinity.