Spotlight on…the DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most populated officially Francophone country in Africa with a population of 80 million people. It borders South Sudan and the Central African Republic to the north, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to the east, Angola and Zambia to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. It is also the fourth-most populated country in Africa.

Between 1840 and 1872 Scottish explorer David Livingstone explored the Congo River and surrounding areas.  His subsequent exploration of the central African watershed was the culmination of the classic period of European geographical discovery and colonial penetration of Africa. Livingstone was one of the first Western explorers to traverse Africa between 1854 and 1856 from Luanda to Quelimane, a seaport in Mozambique right on the Indian River near the mouth opening of the Zambezi River. Central and southern Africa had never been travelled across by any Europeans at that latitude despite many failed attempts because of their vulnerability to sickness and the limited use of working animals such as horses and oxen. Livingstone always travelled light which allowed him to cover ground very quickly and ingratiated himself with local the local chieftain to reassure them that he wasn’t not going to be a threat to them.

Livingstone went missing for six years and fellow explorer Henry Morton Stanley was dispatched to go and find him. In tandem, Stanley’s European exploration of the Congo was carried out under the aegis and backing of King Leopold II of Belgium. Stanley eventually found Livingstone in Ujiji in western Tanzania uttering the now famous line “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

King Leopold formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and made the land his private property. He named it the Congo Free State. During the Free State, the colonial military unit, the Force Publique, forced the local population into producing rubber, and from 1885 to 1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of disease and exploitation. In 1908 Belgium, despite initial reluctance, formally annexed the Free State from Leopold, which became the Belgian Congo.

On June 30, 1960, the Republic of the Congo finally gained their independence from Belgium 52 years after it became the Belgian Congo. Patrice Lumumba, leader of the Congolese National Movement won the country’s first national election since independence. He is then unseated within a matter of months by army leader Joseph Desire Mobutu and killed by secessionists on January 16, 1961.

Mobutu installed himself as president of the Republic of the Congo in December of 1965 and was officially elected president in national elections in November of 1970. Between 1971 and 1973, Mobutu gradually altered the name of the country from the ‘Republic of the Congo’ to ‘Zaire’. Whilst called Zaire, the country hosted the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ boxing match between world heavyweight champion George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. This was one of the biggest fights ever held in Africa. The fight took place in the capital, Kinshasa, on October 29, 1974 and was won by Ali who won by knockout in the eighth round.

Mobutu lead Zaire until May 1997 when Laurent-Desire Kabila became president. Upon becoming president, Kabila immediately changed the name of the country back to the ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo’.

The DRC is a major player in the world’s production of cobalt, copper, diamonds, tin, gold and tantalum. Mining is the largest source of export income. In 2009, the DRC had an estimated $24 trillion in unexploited mineral deposits including significant amounts of the world’s cobalt.

In 2011, at least twenty-five international mining companies were active in the D.R. Congo. Canadian-headquartered mining companies had the highest presence, with firms such as: African Metals Corporation, Banro Corporation, First Quantum Minerals, ICS Copper Systems Ltd., Lundin Mining Corp. and Katanga Mining Ltd