The Democratic Republic of Congo: A brief history

Tracking Congo's troubled times.

Tracking the African country's troubled times

United Nations peacekeepers patrol in territory held by Laurent Nkunda's rebel movement near Rutshuru, 80 kilometres north of Goma, in eastern DR Congo. ((Jerome Delay/Associated Press))


Scottish explorer David Livingstone explores the Congo River and surrounding area.


King Leopold II of Belgium makes plans for colonization of Congo. He commissions former journalist Henry Morton Stanley to ink treaties with local chiefs.


Congo Free State established under Leopold after being formally recognized by European powers at Conference of Berlin.


Belgian forces annex a number of areas of the Congo basin, forcing control of trade. Congolese are pressed into forced labour to harvest rubber and ivory and to build transportation and other infrastructure. Millions of Congolese are killed by Leopold's enforcement squads.


Reacting to outcry over atrocities committed against Congolese, the Belgian parliament annexes Congo Free State. It is renamed Belgian Congo.

June 30, 1960 

The Republic of the Congo gains independence from Belgium. Patrice Lumumba, leader of the Congolese National Movement (the country's first nation-wide party), wins the first national election. He is deposed within months by army leader Joseph Désiré Mobutu and killed by secessionists on Jan. 16 of the following year. 

Displaced people wait for their names to be called at a Red Cross aid distribution point in a camp in Kibati, just north of Goma. ((Karel Prinsloo/Associated Press))
July 1960-June 1964 

Up to 20,000 UN peacekeepers are sent to the Congo after the newly independent country asks for help resisting Belgian troops. The UN Security Council asks Belgium to withdraw. In the years immediately following independence, a number of secessionists (including foreigners and Congolese nationals) clash with the provisional UN forces for control. 

November 1965 

Mobutu installs himself as president. 

November 1970 

Mobutu officially elected president in national elections. 


Mobutu changes the country's name to Zaire (and changes his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, which is usually translated as "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake" or also" the rooster that watches over all hens"). Foreign interests are nationalized. 


Most nationalized property returned to former owners. 

December 1977 

Mobutu re-elected. 


Zairian rebels launch raids from Angola and Zambia into the Katanga region of Zaire. They are repelled with the help of French and Belgian troops. 


For the first time, Mobutu allows legislative elections (although not the formation of opposition parties). 


Mobutu is re-elected president for the third time. It is his 20th year in office. 


Mobutu declares the Third Republic and promises multi-party elections. Canada is among a number of countries that cut off aid to Zaire after a group of protesting students are killed by government fighters. 


Mobutu fires newly acclaimed Prime Minister Étienne Tshisekedi (who opposes Mobutu) and replaces him with a series of puppet leaders. Western nations react by cutting off all ties with Zaire and pulling their citizens out of the country. 


While Mobutu is out of the country, Tutsi rebels take control of a large portion of eastern Zaire. With the help of Rwanda, they take the capital. 

May 1997 

Laurent-Désiré Kabila becomes president and re-names Zaire the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). The following year, troops from Rwanda and Uganda invade in hopes of removing Kabila from power. They are halted by Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean troops allied with Kabila. 

July 1999 

After more than two years of fighting, the countries involved sign the Lusaka peace accord. But the fighting continues, even despite the presence of a contingent of more than 5,000 UN peacekeepers sent to monitor the ceasefire. 

January 2001 

Laurent Kabila killed by a bodyguard and succeeded by son Joseph. Later that year, Joseph Kabila reaches an agreement for Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed troops to pull back and for the withdrawal of UN troops. By this point, an estimated 2.5 million people had died in the fighting, according to the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee. 


Separate peace deals are reached between DR Congo and Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed troops for their withdrawal. Most pull out, but pockets of soldiers remain in the country, virtually unchecked by opposition. 

April 2003

New constitution signed, providing for the installation of a provisional government agreed upon by rival factions. 

May 30, 2003 

The United Nations votes to send a multinational peacekeeping force into DR Congo. France leads a force into the Bunia region with instructions to take all necessary means to gain control. Since the pullout of Ugandan troops earlier in the month, Bunia had been racked by violence between warring tribal groups. 

June 6, 2003 

Residents of the Congolese town of Bunia cheer as French troops begin to arrive in the region. UNICEF says the hostilities are preventing it from aiding millions of people. As many as 500 people had been killed in the eastern province of Ituri in the past month. That prompted the UN to authorize a 1,400-troop force led by France to go to DR Congo to attempt to restore order. 

June 10, 2003 

The first 40 French combat troops arrive in the Congolese town of Bunia, with the aim of ending years of tribal violence. The troops will be part of a 1,400-strong international contingent that's taking shape under a mandate from the European Union and the UN. More than 600 French troops are scheduled to arrive in Bunia within a week. 

July 13, 2003

More than a month after French troops first arrived to demilitarize Bunia, the crackle of gunfire continues to break the night time silence. People have started to trickle back after a spike in fighting in May 2003 sent many streaming out. But there are still skirmishes on the outskirts of the city. Earlier in the week, the UN-mandated force was showing off how safe Bunia was; now it refuses to take journalists along on night-time patrols. 

July 17, 2003

DR Congo's two main rebel leaders are sworn in as vice-presidents in a new power-sharing government. The development is viewed as a major step toward ending a bloody civil war, but it comes amid renewed violence in the expansive African country. Jean-Pierre Bemba and Azarias Ruberwa were sworn in at a ceremony attended by thousands in the capital, Kinshasa. Also sworn in as vice-presidents were a member of the political opposition and an ally of standing president Joseph Kabila. The new government's mandate is to reunify the country, which has been torn apart by a five-year civil war.

UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, right, is greeted by Rwandan-backed rebel leader Laurent Nkunda in rebel-held town of Jomba, near the Uganda border. ((Jerome Delay/Associated Press))
May 30, 2004 

Fighting between the Congolese army and armed men loyal to a suspended military officer breaks out in Bukavu, near the border with Rwanda. Col. Jules Mutebutsi is a former officer with the Rally for Congolese Democracy, a Rwanda-backed rebel group that joined the power-sharing government. 

June 2, 2004 

Two groups of renegade soldiers seize Bukavu despite the presence of several hundred UN peacekeepers. The rebels say the region's army commander was persecuting Tutsis in eastern DR Congo. The UN Security Council condemns the seizure and Congolese President Joseph Kabila accuses Rwanda of helping the renegades. 

June 9, 2004 

Government forces retake Bukavu without firing a shot, marching into the centre of the city as residents sing, beat drums and honk horns. Troops loyal to Col. Mutebutsi fled the city the previous night.

July 27, 2006

A violent riot in Kinshasa leaves at least five people dead days before DR Congo's first free multi-party elections in 46 years. A mob attacks and kills a soldier who reportedly fired into a crowd at a campaign rally. The UN says two police officers were killed, and officials for candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba say three civilians died. 

July 30, 2006

Millions cast ballots in the first multi-party parliamentary and presidential elections since DR Congo won independence from Belgium. About 25 million people are registered to cast ballots for 33 presidential, 9,000 national legislative and 10,000 provincial assembly candidates. About 60,000 Congolese police, 17,000 UN peacekeepers and 1,000 soldiers from Europe provided security for the vote.

October-November 2008 

Fighting continues between fighters loyal to Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda, militia groups and the army. A total of between 1.4 million and two million people have been displaced since 2007 in the North Kivu province, says the UN World Food Program.

Nkunda calls a unilateral ceasefire and asks for direct negotiations with the country's government. The ceasefire comes after four days of violence as Nkunda's followers tried to take the city of Goma.

Leaders of DR Congo and Rwanda agree to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon  to help resolve the conflict.

Violence continues despite the talks and ceasefires, with reports of drunk Congo army soldiers pillaging and raping in Goma and renegade government forces looting and burning refugee camps.

The UN Security Council unanimously agreed on Nov. 20 to send 3,100 more peacekeeping troops to DR Congo. The current mission involving 17,000 peacekeepers, the world's largest UN contingent, is considered ineffective because it is spread thin in an area as large as Western Europe and unable to stop the fighting.