The crisis that rocked the Democratic Republic of Congo after gaining its independence has undoubtedly made the country look a laboratory of war. In fact, the period between 1960 and 1961 has been termed by many scholars as a defining moment for cold war in the third world. The country since then has been characterized by conflicts secessions, rebellions, and ethnic war.
First, it is important to note that the Democratic Republic of Congo is not only strategically placed in the heart of Africa, but it also has vast natural resources, a factor that has attracted many of the super powers who have been in competition for centuries. Mutahi notes that the country is capable of producing more than 70 % of the world’s industrial diamonds as well as 80 % of other resources which include cobalt, copper, and rubber (16).
The colonial history of DRC can be traced back to the beginning of the colonial periods when the Portuguese traders came looking for slaves. Britain later abolished slavery and realizing the unexploited riches in Congo; it decided to set up trading firms at strategic points so that by 1880s, it was already dealing in copper, palm oil, gold, and ivory. Additionally, the British provided humanitarian services and decent wages for its employees to boost the support from the natives.
It was, however, Belgium that came to become dominant and even colonize the country. During the 1885 congress in Berlin, Germany, King Leopold II was accorded the rights to have an exclusive ownership of the Democratic Republic of Congo. His aggressive personality saw him explor...
e the minerals and other natural resources for his personal gain.
When he first went into Congo, he had promised to build schools, improves the lives of the Congolese people and also liberates them from Arab Slave traders. This, however, was not the case as he went on to become one of the most revered. During his tenure, it was even reported that more than 10 million people died of starvation, forced labor while others were exterminated.
Even as he exited power, the Belgian authorities still held a controlled the country’s economy with most of the resources and agricultural products being forwarded to the world markets while the profits were only shared between themselves and some Elite Congolese. This did not go well with the rest of the population so that by the close of 1950, they became more rebellious as they sought to take charge of their destiny. This essay will examine how the superpowers tried to exert their influence in Congo and how this later affected the Congolese people.
By the beginning of 1950, the decolonization wave had taken over Africa as most of the countries began regaining power from their colonial masters. The Belgians, who viewed the Congolese as being barbaric and incapable of ruling themselves, had hoped to keep the country under its control. Their plans, however, backfired as some of the Congolese leaders led by Patrice Lumumba, an intelligent and charismatic leader demanded independence.
Two weeks after DRC was granted its independence, the country was marred by crisis mainly because the Belgian colony has ensured that Congo was
ill-equipped regarding trained professionals and college graduates. The Congolese soldiers mutinied as they demanded an increased pay as well as the removal of the Belgian soldiers from their ranks. Then came the calls for a succession of the southern mineral rich region of Katanga.
Tshombe, the secession leader, hoped to protect the region from the chaos that had rocked the nation, and he also wanted to maintain ties with Belgium still. The president and the prime minister called for the United Nations to intervene because secession would threaten the piece of the nation that had just gained independence. The United Nations Operations in Congo was formed, but they later differed with Lumumba who wanted to use the troops to prevent the secession of Katanga, a move that was opposed because the UN referred to the matter as an internal crisis.
The province of South Kasai also sought independence citing the same reasons as Katanga. Lumumba who was devastated by these unfolding sought the help of Soviet Union. A military response ensued as the Soviet Union airlifted Congolese soldiers to invade Kasai. The aftermath was quite devastating as millions of people lost their lives while others were forced to flee and seek refuge. The United States which was angered by Lumumba’s decisions opted to support Joseph Mobutu and Kasa-Vubu. Patrice Lumumba was later assassinated by forces allied to Mobutu after he was released from a house arrest.
The death prompted the UN to hold several conferences in a bid to come to an agreement with the leaders to create a Federal State that incorporated all of the Congolese provinces. This move according to Pfefferle was opposed by Tshombe who still insisted on Katanga secession (3). This opposition forced the UN forces to go on an offensive mission under the code name ‘Operation Rumpunch’ that planned to disarm the Katanga troops.
They managed to capture the Katanga military assets and neutralized the foreign mercenaries. Another operation called ‘Morthor’ was later launched after it became apparent that some of the Tshombe’s mercenaries were still in control of parts of Katanga. The operation, however, was met with lots of resistance and the United Nations Irish troops were even captured in a bid cow the battalion and also prevent resupply. The UN secretary, Dag Hammarskjold in his quest to intervene in the stand-off flew to Ndola but his plane crashed, and he died.
After Mobutu SeseSeko, a U.S backed dictator overthrew Patrice Lumumba and took over leadership amidst the Congo crisis of 1960; the country took a turn for the worst. His ascension to power marked the start of a period that was characterized by institutional corruption coupled with the misappropriation of the state’s resources (Juma 138). The impacts of corruption were mostly felt by the citizens who experienced a severe economic regime as the country’s debt hit $12 billion despite the vast wealth regarding natural resources.
The 1960 crisis was also the beginning of five-decade long internal conflicts with different entities being supported by the neighboring countries including Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia. The continued in-fighting has seen thousands of Congolese nationals seek refuge in various countries across the globe. The
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