For over 20 years, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been consumed by violence that has killed more than 6 million. The violence has also internally displaced more than four million people and forced close to one million Congolese to flee the country.
The DRC has a long and complicated history. The region, located in central Africa, was once known as the Kingdom of Kongo (1390 to 1857) and was a highly developed free state renowned for its trade. In the late 1400s, the Portuguese arrived at the mouth of the Congo River to partake in trading the area’s vast and rich resources. They soon turned to the highly profitable business of trading in slaves. From 1857 to 1914, Portugal claimed a good part of the area as a vassal state. During the late 1800s, France, Great Britain, and Belgium all fought for control of the land, its natural resources, and its people. In 1885 to 1908, King Leopold II of Belgium declared himself ruler of the area, which he ironically called the Congo Free State. During his rule, he plundered the region’s natural resources while terrorizing its populace. In 1908, the Belgian government seized the area from Leopold and established the Belgian Congo, which existed for more than 50 years. After an uprising of the people in 1960, Belgium released control and the area became independent.
Since that time, the area has experienced great instability. In addition to multiple tribes vying for control of the region, the United States and the former Soviet Union fought a proxy conflict in the area during the Cold War. Between 1971 and 1997, the area was known as Zaire. Zaire collapsed in the 1990s because of ethnic conflicts, the destabilization of the eastern part of the region due to the Rwandan genocide, and profound government corruption. The First Congo War was fought between 1996 and 1997. The Second Congo War (also called The Great War of Africa) lasted between 1998 and 2003and killed over three million people. Despite the War being over, the eastern region continued to have sustained conflict. In 2006, the DRC held its first free elections electing Joseph Kabila as President. Kabila was accused of extensive corruption and for a while refused to leave office, postponing multiple elections until being voted out of office in December of 2018. Félix Tshisekedi took office on January 24, 2019. Despite the recent election, the DRC faces continued violence, disease outbreak, and humanitarian abuses causing continued displacement.
Currently, refugees from the DRC are being accepted into the United States for resettlement. Last year, 9,305 individuals were accepted for placement. Because this represents only .01 percent of Congolese refugees outside of the country, many Congolese continue to try to find protection in other countries via asylum, including the United States.
Find Out More:
The BBC – DR Congo Country Profile
Human Rights Watch – An Overview of the Political crisis in DR Congo