Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Population 56 million
Capital Kinshasa
Independence from Belgium 1960

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), known as Zare from 1971 to 1997, is sometimes also referred to as "Congo-Kinshasa". It was once the personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium, when it was known as the Congo Free State, and later a Belgian colony when it was renamed the Belgian Congo.

A vast country with immense economic resources, since 1998 the country has suffered greatly from the devastating Second Congo War (sometimes referred to as the African World War), the world's deadliest conflict since World War II.

The war claimed an estimated three million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. It has been called possibly the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades.

Its territory straddles the Equator, with one-third to the north and two-thirds to the south. As a result of its equatorial location, the Congo experiences extremely high amounts of rainfall and contains the second largest rain forest in the world (after the Amazon). The 2,733 mile long Congo River lies mostly within the territory of the country.

Recent History
The history of DR Congo has been one of civil war and corruption. In 1965 army chief Joseph Mobutu seized power, later renaming the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He turned Zaire into a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola and thereby ensured US backing. But he also made Zaire synonymous with corruption, amassing a personal fortune estimated in the billions - greater than his country’s total external debt. He was forced into exile on 16 May 1997 when his government was overthrown militarily by Laurent Kabila.

Kabila immediately assumed governing authority, but his regime was subsequently challenged by a Rwanda- and Uganda-backed rebellion in August 1998. Troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Sudan intervened to support the Kinshasa regime. A cease-fire was signed but sporadic fighting continued.

Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila, barely 30 and a political novice. The new president was successful in getting occupying Rwandan forces to withdraw from eastern Congo; two months later, an agreement was signed by all remaining warring parties to end the fighting and set up a government of national unity. Kabila heads an interim government, formed in June 2003, which includes members of former rebel groups, opposition politicans and Kabila loyalists. Planned general elections - the first since independence from Belgium in 1960 - have been delayed and are expected to be held in 2006.

The economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo—a nation endowed with vast potential wealth—has declined drastically since the mid-1980s. The war had an economic as well as a political side. Fighting was fuelled by the mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources.

(edited. Wikipedia, BBC, The Africa Guide, Bradt)
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