Skip to main content   world > africa world map
Middle East Asia-pacific Africa Europe Americas


Congo: History of a troubled land

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Congo has long been a land in which exploitation, conflict and corruption have been seen as the norm. The following is a brief timeline of the troubled country:

Late 1300s -- Establishment of Kongo Kingdom along Congo River.

1480s -- First contact with Europeans with arrival of Portuguese explorer Diogo Cam (it is Portuguese who name region Congo). Over next four centuries links with Europe steadily increase as missionaries and traders penetrate ever further into Central Africa.

1874-77 -- Sponsored by London Daily Telegraph and New York Herald, British explorer Henry Morton Stanley explores length of Congo River, returning to Europe with reports of vast untapped wealth.

1878 -- King Leopold II of Belgium forms consortium of bankers to finance exploration and colonisation of region. Stanley employed to travel up Congo and sign favourable treaties with local rulers. Stays in Africa until 1887, obtaining 450 treaties.

1884-85 -- Major European powers carve up Africa at Berlin conference, which approves creating Congo Free State (CFS) under direct rule of Leopold II. CFS becomes one of most brutal and exploitative of all African colonial regimes.

1908 -- Public outrage at treatment of native Africans leads Belgian parliament to annex CFS and rename it Belgian Congo.

1956-59 -- Growing agitation for independence by two main groups: Congolese National Movement under Patrice Lumumba, and Alliance of Kongo People under Joseph Kasavubu.

1960 -- Region gains independence from Belgium (June 30) and is renamed Republic of Congo with Lumumba as prime minister and Kasavubu as president. Almost immediately country collapses into disorder as army mutinies, Katanga province secedes and Lumumba and Kasavubu fall out. Army Chief of Staff Col. Joseph Desire Mobutu seizes power (September 14).

1961 -- Mobutu restores power to Kasavubu (February), Lumumba having been murdered the previous month. During next four years U.N. and Congolese government forces struggle to prevent country descending into anarchy.

1964 -- Country renamed Democratic Republic of Congo.

1965 -- Mobutu stages second military coup (November), naming himself president for five years.

1970-90 -- Mobutu establishes Popular Movement of the Revolution as sole political party (1970). Changes country's name to Zaire (1971) and his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko (1972). For next two decades Mobutu rules as dictator supported by Western powers, who see him as counterbalance to Soviet influence in region. Economy disintegrates as public funds diverted into Mobutu's private bank accounts.

1990 -- Mobutu announces creation of multiparty system as Western powers reign back support as Cold War ends. Coalition government formed (1991) with Etienne Tshisekedi as premier.

1994 -- Some 1.3 million ethnic Hutus flee to camps in eastern Zaire after conflict in neighbouring Rwanda.

1996 -- Ethnic Tutsis in eastern Zaire revolt. Uprising develops into wider anti-Mobutu rebellion led by Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo under Laurent-Desire Kabila.

1997 -- With Kabila's army about to enter Kinshasa, Mobutu -- suffering from prostate cancer -- steps down (May 16) and flees to Morocco, where he dies (September 7). Kabila declares himself head of state and changes country's name back to Democratic Republic of Congo.

1997-2001 -- Initial optimism after fall of Mobutu wanes as Kabila's regime faces widespread accusations of human rights abuses and corruption. Uprising in 1998 plunges country into renewed period of anarchy, exacerbated by involvement of Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

January 16, 2001 -- Kabila shot by army officer. Conflicting reports as to whether he survives attack.

U.N. votes to expand Congo military observers
December 14, 2000
African defense chiefs sign deal on Congo withdrawal
December 6, 2000

U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Lusaka Ceasefire Document
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of The Congo
Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement
Human Rights Watch 1999 report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
The International Rescue Committee
Mortality Study, Eastern Democratic Republic Of Congo
Congo Defense Fund (French)

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top