The Congo Crisis: an International Perspective

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The Congo Crisis: An International Perspective

There is a need to take advantage of the change that has taken place in the Congo, however tragic that has been in its coming. – Paul Kagame
As the third largest country in Africa and blessed with a large endowment of natural resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo possesses great opportunity to develop itself into a successful nation. However, the great abuses of the Congo’s colonial rulers and the lack of central unity across its vast territory left the nascent republic to be taken advantage of by various forces, both inside and outside the country. From the first colonization of the area under King Léopold’s reign of terror as his personal colonial venture, to the Belgians rapid handover of independence after only five months notice, the position of the Congo as colonialism’s worst legacy led to the volatile state present at independence in 1960 which resulted in the Republic of Léopoldville being reduced to six years of civil war and secessionism known as the Congo Crisis. The Congo Crisis and its effect on the Congo is of utmost importance especially in respect to the First and Second Congo Wars, current conflicts which have cost millions of lives and involved up to twenty five armed groups and eight African nations. To that end, this essay will seek to analyze how outside interests effected the development of the 1960-1966 Congo Crisis and to research this internal conflict in its international context. There were several reasons behind the breakdown in order upon the Congo’s independence: the devastating treatment of the land by its colonial masters and the abrupt move towards independence with little provision made for a smooth transition of power, the lack of political unity in a government split by wider Cold War politics, European and business interest support of secessionist movements in the Congo’s resource rich, yet distant provinces and underlying ethnic disputes in this vast nation.

Today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo has a long history stretching back to medieval era native kingdoms, such as the Kingdom of Kongo, whose people had trading contacts with both European powers and the Arab/Swahili slave traders operating out of Zanzibar in East Africa. In the late 19th Century, European industrialization and the rise of new powers such as Germany led to a growing interest in acquiring African colonies, ostensibly to uplift and civilize the natives. One such “humanitarian” venture was the International Congo Society of Léopold II King of the Belgians, which like other colonial ventures was a front for the actual exploitation of Africa’s vast natural resources and population base. King Léopold began his private colonial adventure in the Congo basin when it became apparent his Belgian subjects had no interest in colonies. The king used the International Congo Society to further his ambitions in setting up the Congo as his private source of income. In his imperialistic bid for a personal colony, King Léopold commission Henry Morton Stanley to explore the Congo basin and establish trading posts in the name of the society. The competing interests of France, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Congo Society were the leading factor that led Portugal to call for and Bismarck to convene the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. It was at this historic conference, which included no native African representatives, that the rules for empire building in Africa were laid down, effectively opening the continent to the subsequent territorial scramble. The status of the Congo was one of the first issues resolved, by playing off French and German interest in free trade in Central Africa, King Léopold was able to maintain his gains and the centuries old Kingdom of Kongo was partitioned between Léopold’s newly formed Congo Free State, French Congo based in Brazzaville and Portuguese Angola. Meanwhile, the Congo Free State was organized as the private...
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