From 1885 to 1908 the massive central African country known as the Belgian Congo was the private property of King
Leopold of Belgium who established one of the most brutal and exploitative colonial regimes of his time. Established
as a Belgian colony in 1908, Congo finally gained its independence in 1960. However, Congo's early years of
independence were marred by political and social instability. In a 1965 coup, Marshall Joseph Mobutu seized
power and declared himself president, changing the country’s name to Zaire. His infamously corrupt rule led to
a total collapse of the economy and of political control. Ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive
influx of refugees in 1994 from fighting in Rwanda and Burundi, led to the toppling of the Mobutu regime in 1997.
These refugees included Rwandan Hutu rebels fleeing into Congo to escape reprisals following the genocide against Rwanda's
Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus. The new president, Laurent Kabila, renamed the country the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC), which is still its official name today. In 1998 Kabila's regime was challenged by an insurrection backed
by Rwanda and Uganda. Other international military actors included Angola and Zimbabwe. A cease-fire was signed in July
1999, but sporadic fighting continued. Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and his son, Joseph Kabila was
named head of state. In October 2002, the Pretoria Accord was signed by all remaining warring parties to end the fighting
and establish a government of national unity.
Home to more than 60 million people from 250 ethnic groups, the DRC was devastated by the war, which began in August 1998.
It resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4 million people from violence, famine, and disease. Rebel groups have been
linked to widespread human rights abuses of Congolese civilians, including thousands of rapes. Systematic exploitation
of Congo’s vast mineral resources by rebel and national military actors largely funded the war and often included forced
labor. Hostilities between rival militias and government forces has left hundreds of thousands of people displaced from
their homes and still, 1,200 people are estimated to be dying each day in the country due to violence, hunger and disease.
The UNAID estimates that 5% of the population is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, with some provinces projecting that as
much as 20% of the population is infected.
In 2006, After 15 years of instability, the Congolese people took part in massive voter registration expressing a desire
to go to the polls to elect their leaders and start the difficult task of rebuilding their nation. To back the transition
to a democratically elected government, the United Nations has had its biggest peacekeeping mission in the country with
nearly 17,000 troops and police deployed across the country for several years with the dual role of helping to lay the
groundwork for the first free polls since independence and overseeing the disarming of forces embroiled in the 1998-2003
war. Recently, the the UN peace keeping force has stepped up its efforts to rein in the militia groups, which continue to
ravage eastern areas of the country. The DRC held its first free and democratic election in July and October 2006. Joseph
Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father Lauren Desire Kabila, was elected President and installed on December 6, 2006.
This ended a power-sharing transitional government period after the five-year civil war. The Church of Christ in Congo,
together with other churches in Africa, trained and deployed 10,610 election observers throughout the country to enhance
the credibility and legitimacy of the elections. The newly elected government is now attempting to establish legitimate rule
over this country, brutalised and impoverished by years of war.