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Democratic Republic of Congo Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

The Democratic Republic of Congo located in Central Africa, formerly known as Zaire, is the continents fourth largest country and 11th largest in the world. By area, Congo is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa and second largest in Africa. With a population of over 89 million people, Congo is the world’s largest French speaking country in the world. The Congo is widely considered one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources, its untapped deposits of raw materials are estimated to be worth over 24 trillion dollars.

Early history of Democratic Republic of Congo

Centered in the Congo Basin, the territory of Congo was first inhibited by Central Africans Foragers, also known as Forest People of Central Africa, roughly 90,000 years ago. The earliest of these inhabitants were thought to be migrants from West and East Africa and mostly subsided on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The Central Africans were divided in roughly three geographical groups, the Western Bambenga, the eastern Bambuti, and the central and southern Batwa. The Central Africans would reign over Congo Basin until roughly 6,000 years ago when they were absorbed or displaced by the immigration of Central Sudanic tribes and later the Bantu about 3,000 years ago.

Forest People of Central Africa

In anthropological literature they are described as “pygmies” for their short stature, are assumed to be descended from the original Middle Stone Age expansion of anatomically modern humans to Central Africa. Most modern Pygmy groups are only partially foragers and partially trade with neighboring farmers to acquire cultivated foods and other materials.

A total number of about 900,000 Pygmies are estimated to be living in the Central African forests and about 60% are believed to be in the Central Republic of Congo.

Various hypotheses have been proposed to explain the short stature of the Forest People of Central Africa, the two most widely accepted include adaptation to significantly lower average levels of ultraviolet light available beneath the rainforest and the lesser availability of protein-rich food sources in rainforest environments.

Bantu Expansion

The Bantu expansion refers to the migrations of the original Bantu speaking group of migrants roughly about 3,500 years ago, from West Africa into Sub-Saharan Africa. In the process the Bantu speaking settlers displaced or absorbed the inhabitants of Central Africa. The primary evidence of expansion lies in the linguistic core of the Bantu languages, which comprises of languages originating from Cameroon and Nigeria, West Africa.

The expansion is believed to have taken place between 3,000 and 2,000 years ago into two main waves, the first proceeding directly east towards East-Africa, and the second and largest went south along the African coast towards Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and as far south as South Africa.

Kingdom of Mapungubwe

By the 11th century large scale powerful Bantu-speaking states began to emerge, one of the first was the Kingdom of Mapungubwe sometime between 1075 – 1220 AD. The kingdom was likely divided into a three-tiered hierarchy with commoners inhabiting low-lying sites, district leaders occupying small hilltops, and the capital at Mapungubwe hill as the supreme authority. Life in Mapungubwe was centered on family and farming.

Kingdom of Zimbabwe

Roughly around the collapse of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, around 1000 AD, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe grew to a powerful city-state located in modern-day Zimbabwe. The rulers of Zimbabwe brought stonemasonry traditions of the Mapungubwe and constructed elaborate stone buildings and walls. Just like the Mapungubwe they also had a three-tiered class structure. The Kingdom gained wealth by taxing other rulers throughout the region. The Kingdom at its height had over 150 tributaries, becoming much larger than their predecessors. The Kingdom was the dominant ivory and mined minerals like gold, copper, and iron.

Mutapa Empire

Established roughly around 1400 AD, the Kingdom overtook the Kingdom of Zimbabwe and became a vast empire that covered territories from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, through South Africa. The empire had a well-trained army but grew rapidly by inviting other states to join the empire and offered membership to its Great Council of the Empire if they did not resist. The empire had an agricultural economy at its core with mining operations that fueled trade and the empires wealth. By 1450 the empire divided into smaller Kingdoms.

Colonialization of Democratic Republic of Congo

Belgium exploration of the Congo began in the late 1800’s and by 1885 King Leopold II acquired the rights to the Congo at the Conference of Berlin renaming it the Congo Free State. Leopold regime began various infrastructure projects aimed at making it easier to extract resources from the colony. The colony became a producer of rubber specifically for automobile tires. To enforce rubber quotas, the army, the Force Publique made it common practice to cut of the limbs of the natives if rubber quotas were not met.

From 1885 to 1908 millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease. In some areas the population declined by nearly half. Due to international pressure the Belgian parliament took over the Congo Free State from King Leopold II in 1908 and renamed it the Belgian Congo, but administrators and the kings private army remained in charge.

Independence of Democratic Republic of Congo

In May 1960 a growing nationalist movement led to the independence and first parliamentary elections, Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister and Joseph Kasavubu became President. Shortly after independence the Kings private army the Force Publique mutinied and two other regions began secessionist struggles against the new leadership. On September 5, 1960 President Kasavubu dismissed Prime Minister Lumumba leading to a constitutional crisis and eventual leadership of Joseph Mobutu, Chief of Staff of the Congo Army, in January of 1961. Mobutu was aided in the coup by financial support from the United States and Belgium, because of his opposition to Communism.

Mobutu created a single-party system and declared himself head of State and in 1971 renamed the country the Republic of Zaire.

By 1996, following the Rwandan Civil War and genocide, Rwandan Hutu militia forces fled to eastern Zaire and used refugee camps as a base for incursions against Rwanda. Eventually a coalition of Rwandan and Ugandan armies allied with opposition figures Laurent-Desire Kabila, invaded Zaire to overthrow the government of Mobutu and ultimately to control the mineral resources of Zaire, launching the First Congo War. In 1997 Mobutu fled the country after his army was defeated but infighting amongst the coalition forces led to the Second Congo War, a war that is ongoing to this day, a war which has been described as the bloodiest war since World War II with estimates of upwards of 5 million dying of violence or disease.

Economy of Democratic Republic of Congo

The economy of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a mixture of forestry, agricultural, and industrial sector extraction of natural resources that makes up the nation’s 48 billion-dollar GDP.


The Congo’s petroleum reserve is by far the country’s major revenue earner. The petroleum industry accounts for 70% of exports and 45% of GDP. The oil sector is dominated by the French company Total which accounts for 70% of the country’s annual oil production.


Agricultural is the second largest portion of the Congo’s economy and accounts for 75% of the workforce sector. The country rich of agricultural resources produces rubber, cereals, coffee, cotton, rice, yams, sweet potatoes and many other vegetables.


The industrial sector battered by an ongoing conflict since the country’s independence in 1960 has not developed but can an economic boom for the young nation. Mineral deposit reserves estimated to be well over 24 trillion dollars can ascend the Congo’s economy to global leader.

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