history_left_side_image.jpgking_leopold.jpgThere are still remnants of beautiful architecture in certain areas of Congo, formerly Zaire, left over from its colonial days. King Leopold II  of Belgium deemed the Congo Free State to be his personal playground but used brutal tactics to exact his reign and benefit from Congo’s vast resources, in particular, rubber. In 1908 the Belgian parliament seized the Congo Free State and named it Belgian Congo - a Belgian colony.

More than half a decade later, the Congolese people achieved independence and named their first Prime Minister: Patrice Lumumba. In just five short years the newly independent Republic of Congo experienced a series of conflicts and secession attempts by a few provinces until there was an inevitable crisis of leadership. Setting the trend for the next few decades of Congolese politics - the government was changed through a coup. Congo was renamed yet again, and its new President- the leader of the mutiny-  was instated: Mobuto Sese Seko.

Mobuto and his government committed unspeakable atrocities against the Congolese people during his years in power but continued to rule, through wielding power and striking both fear and fanaticism in the hearts of his people. In the aftermath of the Rwandan civil war, thousands of Hutu militia and refugees fled into the Congo after the Tutsi regained power. Mobuto faced considerable blow-back from the new Rwandan leaders for harboring these refugees, some of whom had committed horrendous genocidal acts in the smaller neighboring country. Refugee camps were hotbeds of disease and violence and were populated by both refugees and genocidaires. It was a mess.

A coalition of Congo’s neighbors who had had enough with Mobotu founded an allied rebel movement - the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaire - the AFDL - and named Laurent Kabila as its leader. In just a few short months, this rebel army ousted Mobuto and placed Kabila as the new president of the DRC.

Kabila faced significant difficulties with his presidency, as he struggled to maintain control of his vast country, maintain sovereignty apart from the nations that had helped fund his rebellion and deal with the severely destroyed social infrastructure that Mobuto had left behind. Conflict continued rampantly, several different militia factions, both Congolese and foreign, roamed the nation, pillaging and brutally raping women, without fear of punishment.

In 2001 Laurent Kabila was assassinated and his son: Joseph Kabila stepped in as the new President of the DRC, sparking shaky hope around the world for a new era of peace for Congo.

Today, Congo continues to face significant issues and is plagued with eruptions of violence from the militia groups that remain active in the country. Despite the country’s enormous wealth, little of this wealth filters down to everyday citizens. Trade in minerals and other resources in Congo is very often tied closely to war-lords, and funding the continued conflict in the country.

The destroyed infrastructure has left the country without efficient electrical, telephone or water systems and economic  and political instability has caused the job market to virtually evaporate.

Although Kabila’s policies seemed promising at first, the situation in Congo remains largely unchanged. Millions of people remain unemployed and thousands more die of preventable diseases and conflict.

Perhaps the most troubling issue facing the DRC today however is the continued use of rape as a weapon of war and its effects on women and the Congolese community as a whole...