DR Congo: From independence to clashes-free elections

The country has had 6 leaders since its independence on June 30, 1960
Rebel leader Laurent Desire Kabila takes the presidential oath of office, 29 May 1997 at Kinshasa stadium. In October 1996, Zairean opposition leader Laurent Desire Kabila, as head of the newly formed Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, rallied forces consisting mostly of Tutsi from eastern Zaire and launched a full-scale rebellion against Mobutu, forcing him to flee the country, following failed peace talks in May 1997. On 17 May 1997, Kabila installed himself as head of state and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo by PASCAL GUYOT / AFP)

On June 30, 1960 the Democratic Republic of Congo became independent from Belgium. 

Power, at the time, was shared between president Joseph Kasa-Vubu and his prime minister, independence hero Patrice Lumumba. Their rivalry plunged the country into chaos. 

In July 1960 there was a mutiny in the army and the mineral-rich Katanga province, in the southeast, seceded with Belgian backing.

In September Lumumba was removed as prime minister after a coup by army colonel Joseph-Desire Mobutu. He was assassinated in January 1961.

Mobutu returned power to Kasa-Vubu in February 1961 and Katanga reverted to central government authority in 1963. 

Between 1964 and 1965, a communist-inspired rebellion left thousands dead.

Mobutu seizes power

Mobutu staged a second coup and imposed dictatorial rule on November 24, 1965 . In 1971 he renamed the country the Republic of Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko.

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Two years later he established a “Zairianisation” policy that involved pushing out foreign economic interests.

In 1976 the first known outbreak of Ebola virus is identified in DR Congo. It has since been hit by 10 Ebola epidemics.

In 1977-1978 Mobutu manages, with international help, to contain new secession attempts by Katanga province, renaming it Shaba. 

Mobutu’s dictatorship, which lasted more than three decades, kept the country together but smothered all opposition and may have wrecked the economy.

Mobutu flees

On May 16, 1997 Mobutu went on exile after receiving an ultimatum to step down from rebel leader Laurent Kabila, whose forces were advancing on the capital. Backed notably by Rwanda, the rebels had launched their offensive in the east around eight months earlier.

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Kabila proclaimed himself president on May 17 and renamed the country Democratic Republic of Congo.

In August 1998 a new rebellion in the east descended into a major regional conflict: Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe back government forces; Rwanda and Uganda back the rebels. 

The fighting lasted until 2003, with millions estimated to have been killed.

So far the DRC has had 6 leaders since its independence in 1960

Kabila father to son

On January 16, 2001 Kabila was murdered by a bodyguard. His 29-year-old son Joseph took over 10 days later, elected president in 2006 in the country’s first free elections since independence.

In 2011 Kabila was re-elected in a vote marred by violence and fraud.

In May 2012 the M23 movement, a mainly ethnic Tutsi rebel group, began an uprising in the eastern Kivu region that was eventually defeated at the end of 2013.

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In 2015 demonstrations broke out in Kinshasa over a bill that would delay the 2016 elections and enable Kabila to remain in office beyond his two-term limit.

In September 2016 the central Kasai region descended into violence after security forces killed a powerful local chieftain.

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