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Independence for the Belgian Congo (renamed Zaire 1971-97, and then the Democratic Republic of the Congo), was not planned. As neighboring countries moved toward independence, Congolese nationalists began to agitate as well. Rioting broke out. Belgium, which had done little to prepare for independence, envisioning it at least thirty years away, suddenly decided in 1959 to depart in a year, leaving the country in chaos that soon descended into civil war. The Congo had virtually no graduates of institutes of higher education and no administrative cadres trained to run a modern nation. The Belgian government had been one of the most cruel and exploitative, and at the independence ceremony transferring power from Belgium to the Congo, June 30, 1960, the new prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, revealed the extent of Congolese bitterness:


We are no longer your monkeys…We have known the back-breaking works exacted from us in exchange for salaries which permit us neither to eat enough to satisfy our hunger, nor to dress and lodge ourselves decently, nor to raise our children as the beloved creatures they are.

We have known the mockery, the insults, the blows submitted to morning, noon, and night because we were nègres [blacks]. We have known that our lands were despoiled in the name of supposedly legal text which in reality recognized only the right of the stronger…And, finally, who will forget the hangings or the firing squads where so many of our brothers perished, or the cells into which were brutally thrown those who escaped the soldiers’ bullets – the soldier whom the colonialists made the instruments of their domination?’ (Andrea and Overfield, 1st ed., pp. 507-8)
After the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, for thirty-two years, the Congo was dominated by Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu had been a sergeant in Belgium’s colonial army. He seized power with US and Western backing in 1965, ending a five-year civil war between pro-communist and anti-communist factions. He renamed the country Zaire and for three decades he placed it at the disposal of the CIA and other Western agencies that used it as a staging base for activities throughout the continent. In exchange he ruled with a free hand, looting some ten billion dollars from the Congo’s mineral income and depositing it in personal back accounts in Europe, while leaving most Congolese in poverty. Mobutu also played ethnic groups against one another, while he controlled his nation’s enterprises in cobalt, industrial diamonds, and copper. He gained personal control over foreign aid and investment, but spent little on social services and infrastructure. He and his army became so corrupt that his regime collapsed before a guerrilla invasion in 1997, leaving behind a devastated economy and polity. Laurent Kabila, who led the forces overthrowing Mobutu, inflamed new opposition, and within a year the Congo was plunged into continuing civil war.” ~ The World’s History

  1. How and why did the Congo gain independence? ________________________________________________________________________

  2. How did Belgian rule negatively affect the Congo? ________________________________________________________________________

  3. Why was the post-independence era fraught with difficulties? ___________________

  1. The Congo

  1. A colony of Belgium

  2. After clashes with nationalists, Belgians arranged first national election in 1960

  3. But Belgians, European and American investors, expected to continue collecting profits from Congo’s diamonds, gold, uranium, copper, etc.

  4. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba had given a speech that independence was not enough, Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil

  5. With no experience of self-rule and an empty treasury, there was turmoil

  6. After failing to get aid from U.S., Lumumba declared he would turn to U.S.S.R.

  7. U.S.A. and Belgium funneled cash to rival politicians who seized power and arrested the prime minister: on Jan. 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, he was shot

  8. The Congolese politicians who planned Lumumba’s murder checked all their major moves with their Belgian and American backers

  1. After the Assassination

  1. Four years later, one of Lumumba’s captors, an army officer named Joseph Mobutu, again with enthusiastic American support, staged a coup and began a disastrous, 32-year dictatorship

  2. Mobutu was showered with more than $1 billion in American aid and enthusiastically welcomed to the White House by a succession of presidents; George H. W. Bush called him “one of our most valued friends.”

  3. But Mobutu bled his country dry, amassed a fortune, jetted the world by rented Concorde and bought himself an array of grand villas in Europe

  4. Mobutu let public services shrivel to nothing and roads and railways be swallowed by the rain forest

  5. By 1997, when Mobutu was overthrown and died, his country was in a state of wreckage from which it has not yet recovered

  6. Since that time the fatal combination of enormous natural riches and the dysfunctional government Mobutu ignited a long, multisided war that has killed huge numbers of Congolese or forced them from their homes

  1. More Facts on the Congo

  1. While most African colonies were governed either by officials of a European country or by Africans working for European governments, King Leopold of Belgium controlled the Belgian Congo as his own personal territory

  2. His agents in the Congo used forced labor (slaves in all but name) to extract rubber, his single most profitable export

  3. By taking the women of Congolese villages hostage, Leopold had turned the men into forced labourers, with a monthly quota of wild rubber to collect

  4. Many hostages starved to death and many forced labourers worked to death

  5. Demographers today estimate that the population of the Congo fell roughly by half over the 40-year period beginning in around 1880

  6. Finally, by 1908, in return for £3.8 million, Leopold handed over control of the Congo to the Belgian state

  7. It should also be noted that one of the methods used by the king’s police enforcers for the failure of Africans to pay taxes or produce sufficient rubber was the cutting off of African hands by the white colonizers

  8. The colonization of Congo reveals the brutality of imperialism

  1. What country ruled the Congo? ________________________________________________________________________

  2. When did the Congo gain independence? ________________________________________________________________________

  3. What resources had attracted foreign investors to the Congo? ________________________________________________________________________

  4. Who was Patrice Lumumba and why was he important? ________________________________________________________________________

  5. Why did Lumumba seek aid from the Soviet Union? ________________________________________________________________________

  6. What happened to Lumumba on January 17, 1961? ________________________________________________________________________

  7. Why did this happen to Lumumba? ________________________________________________________________________

  8. Who was Joseph Mobutu and how did he rise to power? ________________________________________________________________________

  9. Describe Mobutu’s relationship with the United States. ________________________________________________________________________

  10. How did Mobutu’s reign affect the Congolese people? ________________________________________________________________________

  11. Describe the Congo after Mobutu was overthrown. ________________________________________________________________________

  12. Why did civil war begin after Mobutu was overthrown? ________________________________________________________________________

  13. How did the colony of the Congo differ from other European colonies? ________________________________________________________________________

  14. What was an important commodity in colonial Congo? ________________________________________________________________________

  15. How did the Belgians ensure that colonial Congolese were forced to labor? ________________________________________________________________________

  16. What do demographers note about the population of the Congo during colonialism? ________________________________________________________________________

  17. What happened in 1908 in the Congo? ________________________________________________________________________

  18. Why was the Belgian Congo one of the worst colonies in the colonial period? ________________________________________________________________________

[Patrice Lumumba], a slight, goateed man with black, half-framed glasses…was the first democratically chosen leader of the Congo…This treasure house of natural resources had been a colony of Belgium, which for decades had made no plans for independence. But after clashes with nationalists, the Belgians hastily arranged the first national election in 1960. Lumumba spoke forcefully of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, from the ruthless theft of African land to the way that French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar ‘tu’ instead of the formal ‘vous.’ Political independence was not enough, he said; Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.” ~ An Assassination’s Long Shadow

  1. How did Lumumba challenge the attitudes of imperialists? _____________________




  1. The colonization of the Belgian Congo is noted for

  1. The spirited resistance of the Congolese people.

  2. The brutal treatment of the Congolese people by King Leopold II.

  3. A policy of free trade that encouraged merchants from all countries.

  4. The humane policies of the Belgian government toward the Congolese people.




  1. The Berlin Conference in 1884–1885 established

  1. The procedures for purchasing African lands from local rulers.

  2. The rules of military engagement for European forces overseas.

  3. That the Americas were off-limits for further European colonization.

  4. That Africa would be carved into spheres of influence similar to China.

  5. That, if a European power indicated its intention to colonize and then proceeded to occupy an African territory, it could claim that colony.




  1. Colonial rule dramatically altered the environment in which of the following places?

  1. Burma, due to rubber production.

  2. Ceylon, due to tea production.

  3. The Congo, due to rubber production.

  4. Sumatra, due to rubber production.

  5. All of above.

  1. Which of the following was not an economic motivation for imperialism?

  1. Cheap raw materials from overseas colonies were needed to sustain industrialization.

  2. Overseas colonies offered markets for manufactured goods.

  3. Overseas colonies offered a haven for the settlement of surplus populations.

  4. European and American industry needed more sources of coal.

  5. All were economic motives for imperialism.




  1. The “white man’s burden” proposed by Rudyard Kipling refers to

  1. The cost of creating and supporting an empire.

  2. The moral duty of the west to work to “civilize” the rest of the world.

  3. The cost of abolishing slavery in Africa.

  4. The need for Christian missionaries to undermine Islam in Africa and Asia.

  5. All of the above.




  1. By 1800, the Dutch Afrikaners in South Africa had established

  1. A prosperous trading center affiliated with the Dutch East India Company.

  2. A diverse economy based on both farming and mining.

  3. An independent and sovereign nation, the only European state in Africa.

  4. A settler colony based on slavery and white supremacy.

  5. All of the above.

Thesis Practice: Continuity and Change over Time

Analyze political changes and continuities in the Congo from 1880 – 1990. __________


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