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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The History of Congo Took Two Directions

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The History of Congo Took Two Directions

The history of Congo, in equatorial Africa, has taken two directions: the Republic of the Congo, once a French colony; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to its south, formerly under the control of Belgium.

The biggest difference between these two countries which separately became independent in 1960--although both are beset by poverty, high incidences of A.I.D.S. (well over four percent of total populations), and extremely youthful median age figures at about 16 years--is in the area of political stability.

Although the Republic has had its share of problems since 1960, including more than 25 years under Marxist rule, few places on planet earth have been the site of more political unrest, civil war, strife, and abuse of human rights since that time than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire and, before that, the Belgium Congo. And the main reason for that recent strife was a despot ruler named Joseph Desire Mobutu who ruled 32 years prior to 1997.

The Republic of the Congo is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, while the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo is about one-fourth the size of the U.S.

Indigent populations in both countries were Pygmies. Still, hundreds of ethnic groups, many derivatives of various Bantu tribes, followed them into those areas of west and central Africa; still speak many languages; and in large degree have displaced Pygmies.

It was during the Conference of Berlin in 1885 when Congo and what’s now Angola were divided between France, Portugal, and Belgium.

France assumed sovereignty over territory that included what became the Republic of the Congo, formerly Middle Congo. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa from Middle Congo, Gabon, Chad, and modern Central African Republic. In 1960, French Equatorial Africa split into separate countries, including what’s now the Republic of the Congo.

And from 1885 until 1908, what’s now the Democratic Republic of the Congo became a killing grounds far worse than Mobutu would impose. During those years, King Leopold II of Belgium, ruling from Belgium, imposed such inhumane tactics on the Congolese people to gain ivory and rubber that the nation’s population dipped from about twenty-five million to about nine million.

Key dates and events in the history of the Congo include:

* Pygmies earliest known inhabitants

* 1482 Portuguese discover Congo River, launch slave trade

* 1885 Conference of Berlin divides territory between France, Portugal, Belgium

* 1885-1908 Tyrannical rule of King Leopold II of Belgium; Democratic Republic of the Congo’s population dips from 25 million to nine million

* 1908 France organizes French Equatorial Africa which includes what’s now the Republic of the Congo

* 1960 Democratic Republic independent of Belgium; Republic independent of France

* 1997 Coup in Republic empowers socialist Sassou-Nguesso, in power in 2009

The history of Congo is replete with centuries of violence, avarice, and greed, as witnessed today where countless African children are trafficked in forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.

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