San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Economy and Political Economic History
of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
formerly Zaire

The Congo as a Nation

The Congo should never have been a nation. King Léopold II of Belgium put together a Frankenstein monster of a nation and it is small wonder that things have turned out so badly for it. Basically the area that became the Congo was the territories of central Africa which had no promise of immediate profit. King Léopold II of Belgium induced the community of nations to accept his acquisition of the region as his personal property under the name the Congo Free State. No matter what name is applied there is no sense to it as a polity.

About a million years ago the area that is now Congo was an enormous lake, virtually an inland sea. The level of the lake was several hundreds of meters above the ocean and when a break-through was made near where the mouth of the Congo River is now, the lake drained out leaving swamps. Humans came into the region about 12,000 years ago and the descendants of those early settlers are the Mbuti (pygmies) of the Ituri Forest.

Settlers speaking languages of the Bantu family came into the region about two to three thousand years ago. The homeland of the Bantu language is the region which is now eastern Nigeria. The Bantu tribes lived by the cultivation of yams and oil palm trees. In the early centuries BCE people of the Sudan migrated into the region bringing with them cattle-raising and cereal grain cultivation.

The anthropologist George P. Murdock maintains that the arrival of banana cultivation around 1000 AD gave the people a food source that fueled a population explosion and led to the expansion of Bantu-language-speaking tribes throughout central and southern Africa. Banana cultivation was brought to East Africa from Southeast Asia by Malay traders.

European Contact

Major Tribal Kingdoms
in the 16th Century

The Portuguese landed on the west coast of southern Africa in the 1480's. Diogo Cão located the mouth of the Congo River in 1483. The Portuguese made contact with the Kongo people. They brought back stories to Portugal about how sophisticated was the Kongo Empire and in 1485 the Portuguese explorers brought some aristocrats of the Kongo Empire to Portugal for a visit. The Kongo king later requested Portugal to send representatives to introduce Portuguese technology to the Kongo. Through the intermediation of the Kongo Empire the Portuguese drained the region of slaves for Brazil and the rest of the Americas. The Portuguese ultimately laid claim to the territory which became known as Angola. The first African slaves to enter the Virginia Colony of British America were from Portuguese Angola.

The Congo River was a powerful river carrying a volume of water second only to the Amazon River. The Congo is not navigable very far from the ocean because the river drops hundreds of meters in the space of a few hundred kilometers. Beyond the cascades the Congo is wonderfully navigable but that required ships to built in the interiors. That was not known in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries so no European power was interested in gaining control of the Congo River basin. It was not until late in the nineteenth century that any power was interested in the territory of the Congo.

The Congo Free State

Belgium is a small nation but it had notable accomplishments. Belgium was the second nation, after Britain, to go through the industrial revolution. It may have had dreams of expanding into a colonial empire. Portugal after all was a relatively small country but it had been an imperial power. There were not many places left with which to build an empire and the opportunities were narrowing since the newly united German Empire was aggressively acquiring the unclaimed territories of Africa.

The king of Belgium, Léopold II, started to explore the possibilities of gaining control of the Congo Basin region. In 1876 Léopold was instrumental in organizing the International African Association and the International Association of the Congo with the stated purpose of promoting exploration and colonization. The Association financed an expedition by Henry Morton Stanley, an American journalist to travel to the upper reaches of the Congo River. Stanley was not only given the assignment of exploring the Congo but to negotiate treaties with the African chieftains he met on the way. These treaties not provided for trade but also for political association. Léopold hoped to tie the independent kingdoms together into some political unit.

French explorers entered the region north of the Congo River and France asserted a claim to territory that at one time was called Congo-Brazzaville and is now the Republic of the Congo. This action by the French was prompted by the activities of Léopold's agents in the Congo, but it in turn prompted an acceleration of Léopold's efforts to gain control of the region circled by the Congo River. Léopold transformed his International Association of the Congo into the Congo Free State. This was to be a sovereign nation with Léopold as its monarch. In effect the Congo was to be his personal property.

In 1885 there was a conference in Berlin to deal with European control of African territories. Léopold was able to get the major nations to accept his Congo Free State. The Berlin Treaty gave international legal status to his Free State. On his part Léopold promised to be a benevolent ruler but there was no enforcement mechanism so Léopold's promises were absolutely meaningless.

Léopold was a rich man but the funds required for the exploitation of the resources of the Congo were beyond his means. The funds for the development of the Congo had to be extracted from the Congo and Congolese themselves. He created a personal army called the Force Publique to carry out his demands.

It happened that a boom had developed in rubber. The major source of rubber was the latex (sap) of the rubber trees of the Amazon rain forest. It was discovered that rubber could be produced from the latex of a large vine growing in the Congo forests. The latex from the rubber trees in the Amazon was harvested by catching the flow from incisions in trees. That process did not kill the tree. The latex from the vine in the Congo had to be harvested after cutting the vine completely thus killing the vine. The rubber industry for the Congo was thus doomed to a short life. The life became even shorter when the British were able to take seeds of the Amazon rubber trees to Malaya and elsewhere and create rubber tree plantations.

During the heyday of the rubber industry in the Congo Léopold's agents were demand communities supply a quota of rubber. The penalties for not meeting the quota were severe.

Léopold management of the Congo Free State was extremely penurious. Members of the Force Publique were required to demonstrate that they were not using their guns except in extreme conditions that required the shooting of Congolese. To enforce this the Force Publique soldiers were required to present to their superiors a severed hand for each cartridge expended. When those soldiers had used cartridges without killing anyone they complied with the regulation by cutting off the hands of living Congolese. Thus arose the horror of Léopold's hand maiming in the Congo.

The Belgian Congo

The horrors of Léopold's ruleof the Congo Free State became known internationally and in 1908 the Belgian government made the Congo its responsibility as a colony rather than its being the personal property of Léopold. It continued in that status until 1960 when internal turmoil in the Congo force Belgium to grant independence.

(To be continued.


The period following independence was so chaotic and the cast of political figures so complex that it is first necessary to give short biographies up to the time of independence of the principal actors in the drama. But first there are two observations to make about native societies.

The village or tribal chief was a figure of totalitarian power over the members of his community. The chief was not only a political figure but also a religious leader and furthermore he was usually the principal business figure of the community. When national politicians took advantage of their political position and engaged in business this was not viewed as corruption as the Westerners saw it. In a very definite sense 20th century socialism was merely a version of tribalism or feudalism. Socialism's appeal for the political leaders was that it justified their total control of the economy.

Another observation is that the Western treatment of Congolese as tribal may have been misleading. In times of trouble and danger tribal affiliation may be important but at other times a tribal identification may be more of a burden and in those times people may have avoided tribal identification and sought national identification.

The Principal Political Figures
in the Congo After Independence

Patrice Lumumba


Patrice Lumumba came from a very small tribal group called the Tetela (Batetela). If a political figure belonged to one of the large tribal groupings it would be difficult for him to gained the support of his tribe's traditional enemies and rivals, but the members of the large tribal groups could support a candidate of a small tribal group without qualms. Thus the candidates who supported national unity generally had to come from small tribal groups, as Lumumba had.

Patrice Lumumba was born in 1925 and attended Protestant missionary schools. There was a special status for native Congolese who had assimilated European culture. They were called évolués. Lumumba sought and was granted the status of évolué and joined a club of évolués in the city of Kindu-Port Empain. He wrote essays and poems for Congolese journals. He applied for and was granted Belgian citizenship.

He moved to Leopoldville (Kinshasa) and began a career in the post office as a clerk. Later he was promoted to accountant for the post office in Stanleyville (Kisangani).

In 1955 he became the president of a regional union of Congolese government employees. He then became active in the Congo branch of the Belgian Liberal Party. That political activity secured him an invitation to visit Belgium for a study tour.

Lumumba went to Belgium in 1956 for that study tour at age 31 and there he met other politically active Congolese. One of those he met was Mobutu who was then about age 26.

When Lumumba returned to the Congo there was a personal disaster awaiting him. He was charged and convicted of embezzlement from the post office and sentenced to a year in prison.

When Belgium announced in 1959 that independence would come in 1960 people began organizing political parties. There was a party called the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) which had been formed in 1956 but had not had much success. When Patrice Lumumba moved to Leopoldville (Kinshasa) in 1958 he joined and galvanized it into action with his oratory. He had charisma. However his rhetoric was too radical for some in the party and they left to form new party. Nevertheless in the election in May 1960 Lumumba's MNC gained a stunning majority in Stanleyville (Kisangani) and a plurality in the national election. While the MNC did not by any means gain a national majority its showing was indicative of a substantial support for national identification and a rejection of ethnicity-based politics. The Belgian authorities then named Lumumba the prime minister of the country and set in motion a poltical drama of epic proportions.

Joseph Kasavubu

Joseph Kasavubu was born in 1910 and was of the Ba-Kongo (Kongo tribal grouping). He was educated in Catholic missionary schools and became a teacher before joining the civil service. He eventually became chief clerk in his governmental unit.

In the 1950's he started political activity working toward independence. He favored a federation of regional polities which would allow a significant degree of autonomy for ethnic groupings such as the Ba-Kongo. He organized and was president of the cultural-political party called ABAKO (the Alliance des Ba-Kongo). In 1957 Belgium permitted local election and the ABAKO candidates swept the election in Leopoldville (Kinshasa). At independence Kasavubu was made president of the Congo by the Belgians. It was an uneasy situation with Kasavubu president and Lumumba prime minister of the Congo.

Joseph-Désiré Mobuto a.k.a. Mobuto Sese Seko

Mobuto, the dictator of the Congo/Zaire, was born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu in 1930. His father was a cook for the colonial magistrate of a little town on the Congo River. His family was migrants to that town from a small ethnic enclave some distance away near the national border. His father's uncle however was a famous warrior with the name Sese Seko Nkuku wa za Banga which means all conquering warrior who goes from triumph to triumph. Mobutu was given this name in addition to his French first names.

Since Mobuto's family belonged to a minor ethnic group alien to the town in which he lived and his father worked in the household of a European it was easy for Mobutu to abandon his ethnicity and become assimilated into European culture. Mobutu went to church schools and although having high native intelligence he did not get along well with the church authorities. Without the certification of the church authorities Mobuto could not acquire the status of évolué and Mobuto's abrasive relationship with the church authorities was interfering with his attainment of évolué status and the pursuit of a career in government.

Mobuto joined the army. Because he had excellent command of French he was assigned administrative duties. He rose to the rank of sergeant-major, the highest rank a Congo native could attain. In 1956 he left the army.

Mobutu then embarked upon a career as a journalist and editorial writer. Pursuing this career he traveled to Belgium. In Brussels Mobutu met Patrice Lumumba and became acquainted with him. This was a significant relation.

When Lumumba became Prime Minister of an independent Congo he made Mobuto the Chief of Staff of the army. This became Mobutu's base for his rise to political power.

Moïse Tshombe


Moïse Tshombe was born in 1919 in Kusumba in the Belgian Congo to a family of the Lunda tribal grouping. His family was wealthy and in business but Tshombe was not successful in business so he turned to politics. He served in regional government in Katanga province. There was a cultural-political party called Conakat (Confédération des Associations Tribales du Katanga) which Tshombe became president of in 1959. Conakat was also supported by the powerful Belgian mining monopoly in Katanga, Union Miniére du Haut Katanga

The Independence Debacle

In the late 1950's the Belgian government asserted that it was implementing a program that would bring independence in about five years. Long before that schedule was completed there was widespread rioting in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) which forced Belgium to announce a firm date for independence, June 30, 1960. There was to be elections for a national government in May of 1960.

A multitude of political parties contested the May 1960. There was no clear victor or coalition that could elicit widespread support so the Belgians simply gave the prime ministership to the leader of the party that received the largest number of votes. It is difficult to see what they could have done otherwise, but it is also clear that that solution was bound to produce turmoil. The party receiving the most votes was the MNC party led by Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was a firebrand orator of considerable charisma, but the vast majority of the Congolese did not vote for him. His personality was such that he could be expected to use fully the political power he was given.

The structure of the government organization decreed by the Belgians involved there being a figurehead president but with most of the executive power residing in the prime ministership. The presidency was given by the Belgians to Joseph Kasavubu, a mature politician with an ethnic base of power, the Kongo people of region near the coast including the capital. Lumumba's power base was not ethnic but was concentrated in Stanleyville (Kisangani). Kasavubu was not a figurehead type of politician. Lumumba was not someone who inspired confidence for his caution and judgment.

The Force Publique, the colonial army, was supposed to be the one institution of national unity but it was unstable. The office corps of the Force was non-Congolese, recruited from Belgium and other Western nations. The ranks were filled with recruits from Congo tribal groups thought to have a martial tradition. With independence the soldiers of the Force expected to replace the non-Congolese officer corps, but that was not what occurred upon political independence. The Congolese soldiers found that they were still to be under the command of the people who had been the agents of colonial domination. Confronted with this situation the Congolese troops rioted in July of 1960.

Less than a week after official independence the Province of Katanga and a major portion of Kasai Province seceded. Katanga was the province of mineral riches. When people spoke of the rich natural resources of the Congo they were primarily referring to the riches of Katanga. The major source of finance for an independent Congo was Katanga. The secession of Katanga was led by Möise Tshombe, the leader of Conakat, a political party based among the Lunda people but with the backing of the Belgian mining monopoly and the Belgian settlers in Katanga. Almost immediately Belgium sent troops into Katanga supposedly to protect Belgian citizens but in actuality to back the secession.

Politicians such as Joseph Kasavubu saw the country falling apart and the single agent of national order, the Force Publique, in mutiny. To make matters even worse the prime minister was a hothead in his mid-thirties with no real governmental experience and a criminal record of conviction for embezzlement of public funds.

Kasavubu and Lumumba could however agree upon one thing, the need to end the secession of Katanga. They called upon the United Nations to send troops to occupy Katanga. When the U.N. was not forthcoming upon their request Lumumba took the one step that could make the political situation in the Congo, as bad as it was, even worse. Lumumba requested aid from the Soviet Union. It did not take much imagination to see what would happen if their were Soviet personnel on the loose in the Congo.

Lumumba took quick action to settle the problems of the army. He dismissed the Belgian commander and immediately Africanized the officer corps. In effect, he fired the existing officer corps. Futhermore he promoted all of the soldiers to the next higher rank. The name of the army was also changed. The Force Publique became the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC). Lumumba at that time also appointed Joseph-Désiré Mobutu as chief of staff of the ANC.

Kasavubu took the only step that he could. He dismissed Lumumba as prime minister and appointed Joseph Ileo as prime minister. Lumumba on his part did not accept his dismissal. He dismissed President Kasavubu. There therefore were two governmental structures trying to run the country. On September 14, 1960, only two and a half months since independence, Chief of Staff of the army, Joseph Mobutu, announced he was taking control of the government for the rest of the year. Mobutu immediately expelled the Soviet and East European diplomatic corps. He also released political prisoners.

Mobutu tried to give some legitimacy to his governing of the Congo by setting up a College of Commissioners composed of college graduates. This gesture of legitimacy was not accepted domestically or internationally.

Lumumba at that point was definitely a loose canon and had to be suppressed. In November, Lumumba left Kinshasa to go to Kisangani, the base of his support, to set up an alternative national government. He was arrested and sent to Katanga where the regime of Tshombe executed him in January of 1961. When Lumumba's execution was publically announced in mid-February there was wide-spread rioting in the eastern part of the Congo. An alternate government for the Congo was created in Stanleyville (Kisangani) by Antoine Gizenda, who had been vice prime minister under Lumumba. Gizenga's government received recognition by some African nations and some Soviet-bloc nations also recognized it. In early February, 1961 Mobutu allowed Joseph Ileo in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) to try to form a parliamentary government as prime minister.

The Congo in 1961 was effectively divided into four polities. There were two ostensible national governments, one in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) and one in Stanleyville (Kisangani). There were two secessionists states, one in Kitanga under the leadership of Möise Tshombe and another in Kasai. The one in Kasai under the leadership of Albert Kalonji had the unusual name of the Independent Mining State of South Kasai. Below is a map showing the territories of these four states labeled with the name of its principal political leader.

The Katangan Secession

In an alternate universe in which the disparate regions of central Africa were not cobbled together into the artificial entity of the Belgian Congo the province of Katanga might have become an independent state of the Lunda tribal group. Even under Belgian control Katanga was administered separately and was given a considerable degree of autonomy.

In the Congo Free State and for a brief time in the Belgian Congo the province of Katanga was administered by a private company entitled the Special Committee of Katanga. Shortly after the Belgian government took over political control of the Congo Free State in 1908, a vice governor general was appointed to administer the province separately from the rest of the Belgian Congo. This situation prevailed until 1933 when Katanga was brought under the central administration of the Belgian Congo in Léopoldville.

When the Force Publique rebelled shortly after independence Moïse Tshombe declared Katanga an independent state. The Belgium government privately supported this secession but did recognize Katanga's independence publically. This support consisted of military suport as well as technical and financial support. The Belgian government helped recruit mercenaries to convert the Katangan police force into a military security force. The Belgian government even arranged for the writing of a constitution for Katanga by a Belgian academic.

Despite their efforts the Katangans were not able to gain diplomatic recognition by any country, not even by Belgium. The United Nations passed resolutions disavowing any acceptance of secession from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. First the UN called for the removal of foreign mercenaries and advisers from the Congo. When Tshombe refused to comply the UN troops tried to use military force. When the UN shifted from operations intended to drive out mercenaries to actions involving the capture of Katanga by force the operation failed. The UN then shifted back to negotiations until a UN helicopter was shot down on Christmas Eve 1962, supposedly by the Katangans. The UN forces captured key points in Katanga and in January 1963 Tshombe announced that the secession was terminated.

The problems for the Katangan state were not all external. Tshombe and the Katangans once they had their own state began to think in terms of excluding the non-Lunda elements, what in more recent years has come to be known as ethnic cleansing. Primarily the non-Lunda elements were the people of the Luba group who had occupied the northern part of Katanga province.

The Katangan secession lasted two and half years.

The Administrative Divisions

Note that this was before the separation of Rwanda and Burundi from the rest of the Belgian Congo.

The Years of the First Republic, 1960-1965

Given the culture of village chieftainship, the disparate ethnic groups and the lack of political experience of its emerging leaders it is no surprise that the Congo has gone through many years of political chaos. The first five years were particularly stormy. It was particularly unfortunate that Patrice Lumumba was given the prime ministership by the Belgian authorities. He was charismatic and his party did obtain a plurality of 33 seats out of 137 (24%) in the first parliamentary election, but other politicians receiving the prime ministership as a result of obtaining a mere plurality would perhaps have accepted that they did not have a mandate and would have worked to build consensus. But compromise and moderation were not part of Lumumba's nature. His was more of a Leninist personality. When Lumumba was not able to induce the U.N. force to invade and capture control of Katanga he called for Soviet aid. Other Congolese politicians recognized what the introduction of Soviet forces into the Congo imbroglio would mean. When Kasavubu dismissed him as prime minister it was the right thing to do, but given Lumumba's nature he provoked a constitutional crisis by attempting to fire Kasavubu and when that failed he attempted to set up an alternative government in Stanleyville (Kisangani). Lumumba whose one fixed idea was the maintainance of a unitary centralist government had split the nonsecessionist territory of the country into two parts. What a disaster Lumumba was for the Congo! For more on Lumumba see Lumumba and his legacy.

In the constitutional crisis the legislature refused to side with either Kasavubu or Lumumba hoping that the two could work out a compromise. When Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as prime minister he also several others including the vice prime minister Antoine Gizenga. Kasavubu also promoted Mobutu from chief of staff to head of the army.

Mobutu had been using his position as chief of staff to enhance his control of the army. He removed officers whose loyalty to him he could not count on and replaced them with those he count on. Mobutu's previous career in the army was in the paymaster's office and he was more of a military bureaucrat than a career military officer.

The constitutional crisis gave Mobutu the justification for taking control of the government on September 14, 1960. He asserted that his taking of control was not a military coup d'etat and the country would be ruled by a College of Commissioners and only until the end of the year.

Gizenga left Léopoldville (Kinshasa) in November 1960 to create an alternate government in the east in Stanleyville (Kisangani) and Lumumba soon joined him. The exact nature of what happened next is uncertain. Lumumba was arrested in Stanleyville and transported to Katanga where he was killed sometime in January of 1961. Moïse Tshombe is usually blamed for Lumumba's execution but that was never established.

Lumumba's death was not announced publically until about a month after in happened. At that time, in February of 1961, there was wide spread rioting in the eastern region. Mobutu dissolved his College of Commissioners and let Joseph Ileo try to form a government in the elected legislature. Not much came of this and the first half of 1961 involved a number of conferences attempting to establish a compromise which would end the secessions. Finally at the beginning of August 1961 the legislature elected, by unanimous vote, Cyrille Adoula as its prime minister.

Adoula attempted to placate those who sought regional autonomy by creating 21 smaller administrative units to replace the traditional six provinces. These smaller units were called provincettes. This scheme might have worked if the provincettes corresponded to ethnic divisions but they didn't. Instead the delineations of the provincettes divided some ethnic groups between provincettes and combined disparate groups into the same provincette. Rebellions continued and five of the provincettes came under the control of rebelsl and another five were threatened by rebels.

The secession of Katanga was ended in January of 1963 by an invasion of U.N. In September the parliament was dissolved. This ended the legislative chaos but prompted some political leaders to organize yet more rebellions. The U.N. announced it would withdraw its forces in June of 1964. Local politicians recognized what that would mean and therefore started organizing their own militias to take control of their areas. Political leaders who had been living in other countries returned to the Congo to organize their revolutionary movements.

Rebellion and Revolution in the Congo, 1963-1965

There were a number of rebellions in the eastern Congo but the one which received the most publicity was the one whose soldiers were called Simbas, from the Swahili word for lions. In the press these rebels were depicted as half-naked savages high on local drugs who fought the central government forces with spears and won because they believed that they had been made invulnerable to bullets. Some elements of the depiction were valid but in reality the Simbas were the soldiers recruited by Gaston Soumialot, an agent of the National Liberation Council (Conseil National de Libération CNL). The CNL had been created by members of Lumumba's party in the parliament who moved across the Congo River to Brazzaville when the parliament was dissolved.

Soumialot went to the eastern Kivu province near the border with Burundi. He recruited soldier there and also among the Tutsi refugees from Rwanda. The Simbas did believe that they had been given protection from bullets. The people in the outside world must have been puzzled as to how the Simbas could believe they were invulnerable to bullets when they must have witnessed some of their soldiers getting shot. The answer is that the Simbas were told that their magical protection would work only if they did not violate certain rules. One of those rules was that they were not supposed to steal anything. The Simbas tried to avoid violating this rule by intimidating their victims into ostensibly giving loot to them whereupon the Simbas thanked them. When the Simbas saw someone getting shot they must have concluded that that Simba had violated one of the strictures imposed upon them.

Some photographs that are available show the Simbas dressed in military uniforms and appear much the same as other soldiers. Others show them dressed in European garb but none show them having returned to native dress of region. The Simbas committed horrible atrocities but so did other soldiers. It seems atrocities are a special element of civil war. Certainly that was an aspect of the American Civil War.

The Simba soldier of Soumialot captured the eastern half of the Congo north of Katanga and, in particular, captured the second largest city of the Congo, Stanleyville (Kisangani). Soumialot then called his forces the National Liberation Army (Armeé Nationale de Libération ANL).

The national government was not able to put down this insurrection until recalled Moïse Tshombe from exile in July of 1964 and made his head of government. This was a brilliant piece of politics. Tshombe utilized his Katangan militia and recruited mercenaries to beef up the national army. One by one the national army recaptured the towns under ANL control. At the beginning of November of 1964 the revolutionary government in Stanleyville (Kisangani) decided to use the Europeans still in Stanleyville as hostages in any future negotiation with the national government. The Simbas were executing people, mainly Africans but also some Europeans, in Stanleyville. This prompted the paratroop rescue mission for Stanleyville called Dragon Rouge. Six hundred Belgian and American paratroops were landed in the city as the national army attacked the borders of the city. The Simbas' ANL was routed and fled from the city.

Tshombe organized political party to capitalize on his role in defeating Soumialot's Simbas. It was called the National Confederation of Congolese Associations (Conféderation Nationale des Associations Congolaises, CONACO). CONACO was a political success. It won 122 out of 167 seats in the March 1965 elections for the national legislature. Tshombe should have been appointed the prime minister, but the president, Joseph Kasavubu, in an act of irresponsible blockheadedness appointed an anti-Tshombe legislator name Évariste Kimba. The legislature blocked Kimba's assumption of the office of prime minister by a vote of no-confidence (121 to 134). This should have shown Kasavubu that he could not impose an alternate candidate, but it did not. Kasavubu again nominated Kimba. The national government had reached an impasse.

On November 24th of 1964 Mobutu met with the high commanders of the national army. On November 25th the committee of the army commanders announced that the army was taking control of the government. Kasavubu was removed from his position as president of the country and Mobutu was made head of state.

The Long Reign of Mobutu

The politicians of the first years of an independent Congo seemed to have assimilated the notion of democracy in the sense of the selection of leaders by election. What they did not seem to accept is the concept of constitutionality. Once in power they seemed to feel that they could do whatever they wanted to do.

Mobutu came to power as an agent for creating stability amongst the political chaos of the Congo Democratic Republic. In power he supported the notion of a corporatist state economy; i.e., private enterprise with government regulation and large-scale project carried out by the state. A state project upon completion created a parastatal to operate the completed project. The parastatals were public enterprises which were supposed to function in the public's interest. Over time the state projects came to dominate the formal economy, but they were inefficient and costly.

The economy under Mobutu came to resemble socialist central planning. Initially the issue was government control over foreign-owned busineses such as Union Miniére du Haut-Katanga (Mining Union of Upper Katanga). The Mining Union of Upper Katanga was nationalized in 1967.

In 1971 Mobutu changed the name of the country to Zaire on the basis that the name Congo had too many terrible connotations.

Eventually (in November of 1973), Mobutu called for the nationalization of business enterprises. This was a process that he called Zairaization. In other countries this process was called Africanization. Mobutu asserted

Zaire is the most exploited country in the world. … That is why farms, ranches, plantations, concessions, commerce and real estate agencies will be turned over to sons of the country.

However the sons of the country seemed to be limited to about 300 people who constituted the political elite. Army officers, judges, regional administrators and even embassadors were not part of this elite.

Zairianization also involved replacing European personnel and managers with Zairians. Unfortunately the Zairians put into these positions did not the expertise required so production fell. When the suppliers of an enterprise reduced their production then the original enterprise had to cut back production thereby spreading the slow-down throughout the economy.

The exclusive elite Zairianization raised objections from those excluded from it so Mobutu modified the form to one in which the properties of foreigners became the property of the State. Zairians with proper qualifications and enough money could then purchase the foreign properties from the State. The resulted in a scramble to get certification for the purchase of those properties. This often required large bribes.

The end result was often that the Zairian purchaser looted the acquired enterprise and left the hull of the enterprise unattended. The new Zairian owners were not about to invest any resources in these properties because they knew that Mobutu could just as easily take the properties from them as he did to the foreigners. The formal economy under Zairianization virtually collapsed.

At the end of 1974, a little over a year after Zairiazation, Mobutu announced that party leaders who had acquired foreign properties should give them to the State. Belgian corporations that had not been Zairianized were now nationalized.

Mobutu became embroiled in the struggle for control in Angola. One of the contenders was Holden Roberto who was Mobutu's son-in-law. Angolan factions invaded Zaire and Mobutu's army was not able to expel them.

(To be continued.)

Hyperinflation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), 1987-1997

Laurent Kabila

Although Mobutu kept effective control of the country his army was rather ineffective at repelling invasions from outside of the country. Laurent Kabila organized an army heavily manned with Tutsi soldiers from Rwanda and Uganda. With that army in May of 1997 he defeated the national army and assumed command of the country. Mobutu fled to Togo and then Morocco where requested permission to enter France for medical treatment. The permission was not granted and Mobutu later died of prostate cancer.

The exit of Mobutu left Kabila with the opportunity to correct the miserable policies of his predecessor. Kabila played down his previously Marxist ideology but people who tried to negotiate with him were convinced that he remained a Marxist. Fidel Castro of Cuba hailed Kabila as a Marxist socialist. Kabila used North Koreans to help train his army and received military supplies from North Korea. But the ideology of any person who achieves absolute control of a country becomes quite hazy. The dictator does what he wants without any regard for ideology; socialism serves merely as a justification for having as complete control of the economy of a country as having political control.

Kabila's former allies, the Tutsi's of Rwanda and Uganda, broke with him and organized a rebellion in the east. Perhaps Kabila reneged upon some agreement he had made with them in return for their support in gaining control of his country.

Kabila seems to have duplicated the evils of Mobutu during his reign. He persecuted political rivals with incarcerations and beatings to keep them out of politics. International organizations who had hoped that he would bring order and stability found that it was difficult to overlook the civil rights abuses. Kabila maintained Mobutu's level of corruption as well. He made his son, Joseph Kabila, the head of the army despite the fact that he did not speak French, the national language of the country.

Laurent Kabila's end came in a gun battle at his home in which one of his guards shot him in an attempted coup d'etat. Joseph Kabila, the son of Laurent Kabila, became the head of state as a result of the command he had of the army.

The Real Economy

Here are the national production statistics for Zaire:

Real GDP, Population and GDP percapita in Zaire, 1970-1995
YearReal GDP
1990 Prices
New Zaires)
New Zaires
Source: IMF Financial Statistics

In 1960 the population of the Congo was about 16 million; now it is about 40 million. Given the disaster Mobutu made of the economy one immediately wonders how the Congolese survived and multiplied. The answer is that the formal economy collapsed but there is a second, unofficial economy, sometimes called the underground economy, that thrived. It is estimated that the second economy is two to three times larger than the official economy.

The Inga Dams Hydrolectric Power Complex on the Congo River

The Election of July 2007

By 2007 the political situation in the Congo had devolved into one in which many sections of the country were victim to marauding bands of soldiers. Many people of the Congo no longer care about the supposed political objectives of the parent organizations of these marauding bands; the people want someone, anyone, strong enough to put down the marauders. That someone does not have to be an especially enlightened leader; he only has to be strong enough to end the reign of terror of the marauders.

Much of the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is in chaos. One element of that chaos is the Hutu militia which was driven from Rwanda in the middle 1990's. In 1994 the government of Rwanda which had been elected by the Hutu majority of Rwanda carried out a massacre of the minority Tutsi population of Rwanda. Eight hundred thousand Tutsis were killed before a rebel Tutusi army defeaed the Hutu army and captured control of the Rwanda government. Remnants of the guilty Hutu army fled west into Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but were not put under the control of the central government and threatened to invade re-invade Rwanda.

There are Tutsis in the eastern Congo as well, native to the area and in far greater numbers than the Hutu militia. These Tutsis are led by General Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda's forces are a threat to the central government of the Congo because he has been setting up an alternative government in the eastern Congo.

The national army and police of the Congo are in a state of near-collapse because the salaries of the soldiers are being stolen by bureaucrats at various levels of the government. The soldiers are not even getting enough to eat. It is said that the army is providing its soldiers only 15 meals per month. On top of this disasterous situation the government has been trying to defuse the rebellions in the the country by offering the rebel soldiers integration into the national army. This might be an effective strategy if the national army were not in a state of administrative chaos but under the circumstances this policy only adds to the chaos. Simultaneously with the program of integration of rebel units into the army the government has been attempting to demobilize the army. Unfortunately with the economic collapse of the country the demobilized soldiers are not finding jobs and are forced to survive by marauding.

In July of 2007 an election was held. The election was overseen by the United Nation contingent in the Congo and was judged to be reasonably fair. Joseph Kabila, the son of Laurent Kabila, received 58 percent of the vote. Kabila was the incumbent leader and the person most likely to end the political chaos of the country. So despite his past failures the people of the Congo judged him to be the best hope for the future.

HOME PAGE OF applet-magic
HOME PAGE OF Thayer Watkins