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Useful Notes / Democratic Republic of the Congo

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A huge Central African country located right in the middle of Africa, the DR Congo is the second largest country in Africa and has the most natural resources. The Congo River is home to a vast ecosystem of fish. The Kivu region has diamonds. Katanga is home to large supplies of copper and provided the uranium for the bombs dropped in Japan. The troubled eastern region has gold and metals used in electronics. It is home to several unique species including the okapi and bonobo. It has the second largest rain forest in the world.

Originally the Congo Free State, the area now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo has essentially gone From Bad to Worse. In precolonial times, it was the site of three kingdoms: The Kongo Kingdom, the Luba Kingdom, and the Lunda Kingdom, which were civilized societies and had an established rule of law. All of this flew out the window when Europeans came along. The Kongo Kingdom fell to the Portuguese slave trade and the Luba and Lunda kingdoms collapsed due to Zanzibar slave traders. Henry Morton Stanley's expedition to Africa to find Dr. Livingston only made matters worse. News of the source of the Congo River and the riches of Africa caught the attention of King Leopold II of Belgium. He hired Stanley to carve out a piece of the African Cake for Belgium. This began the Scramble for Africa. When the Berlin Conference was held, Leopold successfully acquired the entire country for himself. Not for Belgium, for himself. He essentially owned and ruled the entire area without oversight or accountability and... well, let's just say there were no picnics to be had. Under the exploitative rule of King Leopold II, the local population essentially became slaves to provide enough rubber to finance whatever Leopold wanted at the time. If they failed to meet the quota, the Congolese had their hands chopped off, among other things. It created an international scandal (which inspired Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, on which Apocalypse Now was eventually based) that forced Belgium to annex the Congo Free State as the Belgian Congo from Leopold in 1908. While this was agreed to be better than Leopold, it was still very harsh—Belgian colonial officials were not known for their sympathy to the locals. While they did govern with a somewhat lighter hand and had a fair bit of success turning the Congo into a "model colony" with proper infrastructure and education, they were also probably the most blatant racists of all the various colonial powers short of the genocidal ones. They made a point of distinguishing between groups of their colonial subjects even when the distinctions did not previously exist or meant something else entirely (the worst example being the changes to the differentiation between Hutu and Tutsi in neighboring Rwanda, but this happened in the Congo, as well).


After gaining independence on June 30, 1960, the country soon started falling apart. Belgian troops in the province of Katanga encouraged a secession that threatened to tear the country apart. This became known as the Congo Crisis, where the country was split into four regions. The Congo Crisis lead to the death of the Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was a socialist and openly friendly to the Soviet Union; it should come as little surprise that Lumumba's death came about after two unsuccessful assassination attempts by the CIA. His death was sponsored and requested by the Belgian and American governments. (The Soviets for their part named their "Peoples' Friendship University"—the university in Moscow catering to international students, particularly from the developing world—after him.note ) This conflict is infamous for being the one that killed Dag Hammarskjold, known as one of the best UN Secretary-Generals of all time, when his plane crashed in Zambia en route to negotiating a peace settlement. Conspiracy theories are abound.


After the takeover by Joseph Mobutu, the country would remain intact and Mobutu would later take control of the country for life in 1965. He renamed the country Zaire in 1971 and began Africanizing everything—including himself, changing his name to Mobutu Sese Seko. The name change was supposedly part of the Africanization, despite "Congo" already being a perfectly African name in its own right (deriving from the above-mentioned Kongo Kingdom). During his rule, Zaire's economy went into the toilet due to his unparalleled corruption. He also paid Muhammad Ali and George Foreman $5 million each to host the Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa. Mobutu remained in power until 1997 when troops from Rwanda and Uganda backed rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila and overthrew him. The country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo. The First and Second Congo War took place during this time. Also known as the Great War of Africa, it was the second-bloodiest conflict since World War II with around four million deaths (mostly from disease and starvation). Kabila was killed in 2001 and succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila. The conflict ended in 2002, but the country's eastern region still sees much bloodshed on a daily basis. In 2006, the country held their first elections since gaining independence.

The only time the Democratic Republic of Congo is ever mentioned in Western media is when TV shows mention how infrequently the Democratic Republic of Congo is mentioned in Western media, which is to say it is commonly used as an example of Western indifference to African tragedies (without getting into any of the specifics of said tragedies). This gives it just enough exposure to be identified as a place that's not getting enough exposure.

Thus it forms the stereotypical image of African troubles with all its common tropes potholed in the preceding description.

If you've read this far and somehow still aren't convinced the DRC is a Crapsack World, try Googling descriptions of the civil war there, including war rape.

If you want to see the lighter side of the country, the DR Congo pioneered a genre of soul music called Soukous or African Rumba [1] that spread throughout Africa in the 50s through the eighties, and even for a time found in London and Paris discos. It suffered from the war, but remains relatively popular in the DRC. More recently, the Congolese band Konono n°1 has gained worldwide popularity among indie music circles, creating and popularizing a genre sometimes known as "Congotronics", which is essentially traditional Congolese music played with homemade electronic instruments and amplification. It's about as trippy as you'd expect.

Not to be confused with the neighboring Republic of the Congo, which is located along the west side of the Congo River. To prevent confusion of the two nations, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is often called "Congo-Kinshasa", while the Republic of the Congo is "Congo-Brazzaville", after their capital cities.note  This dates back to when they were both named simply "Republic of the Congo", with the current Democratic Republic going by "Congo-Leopoldville" (based on Kinshasa's former name).

Appears in the following works:

  • Ali ends with Muhammad Ali going to Zaire and engaging in the Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman, at the behest of President Mobutu.
  • Tintin's second adventure Tintin Tintin in the Congo is a pro-colonialist comic book. It was incredibly racist and showed disregard for wildlife, showing a scene of a rhino being blown up with dynamite. Since Tintin is a Belgian comic, you can see the conflict of interest. Considered an Old Shame by its author, who later redrew the worst pages.
  • The Daily Show's America (The Book) features a section where they point out the fact that the longer and nicer sounding the country's name gets, the more terrible a place to live it is.
  • The Onion atlas, Our Dumb World, featured the Democratic Republic of the Congo as its own personal Despair Event Horizon. In a work filled with Black Comedy, it managed to be the bleakest part of the book.
  • Heart of Darkness takes place in the Belgian Congo and illustrates just what a mess it was during colonial times.
  • The Poisonwood Bible covers about forty years of Congolese history, from the beginnings of the Congo Crisis in the late '50s up to Mobutu's death and the country's renaming in 1997.
  • A significant percentage of The Nun's Story occurs in the Congo, when Sister Luke is sent there as a nurse/missionary.
  • In Tarzan of the Apes (first published in 1912) a group of African tribesmen escape the Congo Free State and establish a new village in the jungle where Tarzan lives. The 2016 film The Legend of Tarzan moved Tarzan himself to the Free State, with colonial politics driving the action.
  • Johnny Clegg's song "Congo" is meant as a pick-me-up for those living in the area.
  • John Green does a Crash Course on the DRC Congo and Africa's World War, mainly on the The Congo Wars.
  • Non-documentary film War Witch is entirely filmed in the DRC and tells the story of child soldiers.
  • Ruined is a 2008 stage play about the Congo Wars and how women are victims of violence.
  • Virunga is a documentary about conservationists in Virunga National Park and the European oil company eager to despoil the park.
  • Splinter Cell: Double Agent Version 1 and Version 2 have their 9th and 7th missions respectively take place in a hotel in Kinshasa, with Version 1 also having two sections in a warzone on the streets.
  • SEAL Team Season 2 Episode 14 has Bravo Team deployed to the DRC outside of Kinshasa to capture an Expy of notorious African warlord Joseph Kony.
  • The Siege of Jadotville, based on the event of the same name that took place during the Congo Crisis of 1961.
  • SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs has three missions in the Congolese jungle.

The Congolese flag

The sky blue field symbolizes (the still-elusive) peace, crossed by a diagonal stripe colored red with the (much-shed) blood of the fallen throughout the country's turbulent history; its yellow fimbriations symbolize wealth; and the golden star at the canton symbolizes hopes for a better future.

Alternative Title(s): Zaire


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