Democratic Republic of the Congo – A Restless Giant

Democratic Republic of the Congo - A Restless Giant

According to, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is the largest state in black Africa, second only to Sudan in all of Africa. Very rich in mineral and agricultural resources and precious woods, this state has never known true internal peace and poverty is still widespread.

The territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is, in principle, modeled on the basin of the river of the same name, on the basis of the project which inspired the European intervention in the region at the end of the 19th century. Although the coincidence between the state and the basin has not been fully implemented, the shape of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in particular the narrowing at the mouth of the great river into the Atlantic (where the basin is almost reduced to the river course), recalls the attempt to create a political territory with ‘natural’ borders. The formation of the Congolese territory, however, was subject to a bitter dispute which involved France in particular(for the right part of the middle and lower river basin) and Portugal (for the left part of the lower basin), and this circumstance explains most of the deviations of the political border from the hydrographic one; Add to this that a large part of the layout of the borders was defined before the areometric and morphometric characteristics of the river system were fully understood, or it was negotiated by negotiation, as evidenced by the ‘geometric’ border sections with Angola and Zambia.

Waters, forests and immense wealth

The territory of Congo corresponds to the basin of the homonymous river (Congo, river), bordered to the east and south by isolated peaks (Ruwenzori, 5,109 m), by the Mitumba Mountains and by lakes (Tanganyika, Alberto and others). The climate is equatorial; the country is rich in rivers, lakes and swamps and covered with forests.

The residents belong to many different ethnic groups and speak about 400 different languages. In the forest survive the small Pygmies (130 cm of average height).

The Congolese live on agriculture (cassava, corn and rice). The few cities are along the rivers, the main communication routes. In addition to the capital Kinshasa (it is estimated that it has at least 7 million residents), the largest are Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi and Kisangani.

The mineral resources are enormous: copper, zinc, tin, diamonds and coal, but also gold, silver, uranium, tungsten, tantalum. Agricultural products exported are cotton, peanuts, coffee and sugar cane.

However, the population is poor, due to bitter internal rivalries and because the resources are exploited by foreign companies without any advantage for the indigenous residents.

A story without peace

After being under the control of Belgium for almost eighty years – which administered it in a myopic and predatory way (colonialism) – the Congo gained its independence in 1960, under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba. He opposed the attempt to detach the rich region of Katanga from the Congo, also invoking the intervention of the UN and the USSR, but was ousted from power and later assassinated (1961).

Years of political instability followed, during which the figure of General Marshall Mobutu emerged, who starting from 1965 established a dictatorial regime. He initiated an ‘Africanization’ program, under which the Congo took the name of Zaire, and maintained close relations with the United States, France and Belgium. Despite the formation of an opposition movement and some promises of democratization, Mobutu retained all powers until 1994, when a provisional government was formed. However, he recovered a certain international prestige because he welcomed one and a half million Hutus fleeing Rwanda, where there was a civil war with another ethnic group, the Tutsis.

But the Congolese Tutsis, in 1997, rebelled: Mobutu was forced into exile and replaced by the opposition leader, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. However, in the country – which went back to being called Congo – the unrest continued, also because Kabila expelled the Tutsis, thanks to which he had come to power. Then the latter, with the support of Rwanda and Uganda, unleashed a revolt, which Kabila fought with the help of some African countries (Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Chad and Sudan) and appealing to the Hutus. Thus a civil war broke out during which atrocities were committed on the civilian populations of both sides. A truce was reached in 1999, but the fighting never completely stopped, despite UN intervention.

In 2001 Kabila was killed and power passed to his son Joseph.

Democratic Republic of the Congo - A Restless Giant