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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #12 of 54: Congo (Brazzaville) | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #14 of 54: Djibouti »

May 18, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #13 of 54: Congo (Kinshasa)

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 13. CONGO-Kinshasa Flag of Democratic Republic of Congo

Formal Name: Democratic Republic of Congo.
Editor's Note: (During the reign of Mobutu (1965-1997), Congo (Kinshasa) was renamed Zaire. Laurent Kabila took power in 1997 and renamed the country Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Term for Citizens: Congolese.

Capital: Kinshasa. Population: 5, 064, 000.

Date of Independence: June 30, 1960, from Belgium.

Major Cities: Lubumbashi, Kinshasa.

Geography:

Congo is located in South West Africa. Angola, Cong-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan and Central African Republic border it. Congo is the second largest country in sub-Saharan Africa with an area of 905, 567 square miles. Congo is in the heart of the rain forest belt of the world. However, savanna, grasses and woodlands cover its north and south. There are numerous lakes and rivers. The eastern part has high mountains, some rising well over 5000 meters. The climate is tropical with wet and dry seasons. Average annual temperature is 25.C.

Society:

The population is estimated at 56,000,000.

Ethnic Groups: It is estimated that there are well over 250 ethnic groups, but most of them are Bantu speaking. The largest groups are the Luba, Kongo, Mongo and Lunda.

Languages: French is the official language. Each of the ethnic groups speaks its own language. Four languages are given official status: Kikongo, Tshiluba, Lingala, and Kiswahili.

Religion: Christians 82%, Indigenous 16%, and Muslims 2%.

Education: About 80% of elementary age children go to school. About 25% of secondary age children go to secondary school. Adult literacy rate is estimated at 96.6%.

Economy: Congo is rich with minerals and natural resources. But its economic infrastructure is grossly underdeveloped. GDP estimated: $34 billion; Per Capita GDP: $120. Monetary Unit: Franc (CDF)


History and Government:

King Leopold of Belgium, in the 19th century took over the Congo as his private plantation. He undertook to work the people as slaves to produce rubber and other natural resources for him. He grew wealthy from treating Africans in a very inhumane manner. His cruelty towards Africans was such that he was forced by international outcry to relinquish control to the Belgium government. The later saw it fit not to develop education infrastructure in the Congo. Thus, upon independence in 1960, only a handful of persons had college education. Congo descended into chaos. The elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated. His rivals, Moise Tshombe and Joseph Kasavubu, for a while, ruled. A military coupe led by Joseph Desire Mobutu removed the warring civilians from office. Mobutu ruled as a tyrant until 1997, when Laurent Kabila chased him out of office. When the later died, his son, Joseph Kabila, took over, and is the current unelected president. Congo has a strong presidential system of government. Mobutu Sese Seko ruled the country as if it were his personal property. Things have not improved much since he left office. The various ethnic groups jockey for power and whoever has strong hands reins them in. When authoritarian hands are missing the various ethnic groups seek to dismantle the huge real estate called Congo. Indeed, Congo’s neighbors have their eyes on its natural resources and often interfere in Congo’s internal politics, to get whatever they could from the country. Chaos still characterizes Congo. The country is divided into twenty five administrative regions.



CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS


The area now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo was originally inhabited by the Pygmies. When the Bantus spread out from West Africa, they swept into this region and eventually mixed with the pygmies and, later, with other groups, primarily groups from Darfur and other parts of present day Sudan that moved into the area. Gradually, a Bakongo people emerged and established an empire that encompassed present day Gabon, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. That powerful empire established wonderful trading routes that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean on the East Coast of Africa. Unfortunately, with the coming of Arabs and Europeans, that empire degenerated into selling Africans into slavery, to the Arab world and to the Americas.

With the collapse of the Atlantic Slave trade in the nineteenth century, the Bakongo Empire disintegrated. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the King of Belgium, Leopold, engaged Stanley to explore the region now known as the Congo and eventually laid claim to it as his private property. He brutalized the natives and the public outcry against that brutalization eventually led to his transfer of the governing of the Congo to the Belgium government in 1908. The later seemed to have improved the lot of the Congolese a bit.
During the 1950s, a small cadre of Africans was sufficiently educated in European ways (evolues) to begin to demand that they be allowed to participate in the governing of their country. In 1960, without preparing the country for self rule, Belgium abruptly gave independence to the country and Patrice Lumumba was elected the first prime minister.

Right from the get go, Congo descended into conflicts. The President of the Congo, Joseph Kasavubu, sacked the prime minister and the premier of mineral rich Katanga province, Moise Tshombe, declared secession from the Country. The Army, under Colonel Joseph Desire, got involved, kidnapped and eventually killed Lumumba. The United Nations sent an African peace keeping army to the Congo but that not withstanding, several attempts at governing the country failed and in 1965 Joseph Mobutu declared himself the President of Congo. He ruled until 1997 when Laurent Kabila’s rebel forces, with the aid of Rwanda and Uganda, chased him out of power.

Mobutu’s reign was allegedly the most corrupt rule in even Africa. At one point, Mobutu was alleged to have over five billion dollars stashed away in foreign banks. This man, apparently, saw the country as his private property and made use of the country’s resources as he saw fit.

Congo is a vast country, the third largest in Africa. It is composed of many ethnic groups (some estimate them to be at 250, with four major ones). Groups not affiliated with Mobutu’s tribe resented his rule, and civil strife became the standard faire of the country. But as long as Mobutu presented himself as a friend of the West, particularly America (which obtained its uranium for exploding the first atomic bomb from the Congo), America supported the repressive regime of Mobutu. But with the end of the cold war, Congo was no longer of strategic importance to America. America had no more need to prop a corrupt African thief in office and, thus, Mobutu, the great thief of the Congo, was swept out of office by Kabila’s forces in 1997, and died ignominiously, as is mostly the case with Africa’s tin can dictators.

The allies of Kabila soon turned against him and the surrounding countries jumped on board to divide the spoils of war. Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and others aligned themselves with the various parities fighting for the control of the sprawling country called Congo. In 2001, Kabila was killed in an unsuccessful coup and his son, Joseph Kabila, was propped into office by the faction that thwarted the coup.
Young Joseph Kabila, he was barely thirty years old, surprised all by calling for a negotiated peace settlement of the civil war that has killed over 3 million Congolese.

In 2005, Joseph Kabila wrote a new constitution that divided the country along its ethnic lines; making each of the twenty five regions semiautonomous. The constitution was approved by the people. A national election is scheduled on April 29 to elect a new President.
Joseph Kabila appears to have brought some semblance of peace in the Congo, except the eastern part of the country where lawless militia groups still roam around, causing havoc in the county side, killing whoever they deem not supportive of their cause. The United Nations has a peace keeping presence in Eastern Congo; nevertheless, what obtains in the country is fragile peace.

Congo is a classic African case where incompetent leaders are finding it difficult to meld the various ethnic groups into a sense of nationhood. Most of these leaders are corrupt and, apparently, have failed in building a sense of nationhood in their population. Kabila seems on the right track in recognizing that each of the ethnic groups, particularly the large ones, must have some sort of autonomy to rule itself while sending representatives to a national government that looked after their joint affairs. There is simply no way peace can exist in the Congo, or any other African country, if some tribes feel oppressed by others. Let us then hope that Joseph Kabila will succeed in his endeavors.

Despite Congo’s enormous economic resources, she remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Her income per capita is US $120 (World Bank, 2006).

Kabila has loosened the grip on the media that Mobutu initiated. Criticism of the government is now permitted, but whether those criticisms are listened to is a different matter. However, media freedom is limited because the various militia groups do not necessarily take marching orders from Kinshasa and do as they please; including arresting, even killing journalists, in areas that they control.

The success of Congo Democratic Republic is the success of all African countries, for her problems is a microcosm of African countries problems: the conglomeration of many ethnic groups in a polity, groups that do not have cultural affinity hence are in constant conflict with one another. The Africa Union and other international organizations are working very hard to make Congo a success case.


Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at May 18, 2006 10:40 AM

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