Magazine article African Business

Tragic History

Magazine article African Business

Tragic History

Article excerpt

The political fortunes of the country have constantly been inversely correlated with its material endowment. Early English colonisation gave way to the brutal Belgian occupation, well documented in the 1998 book King Leopold's Ghost (and latterly the film of the same name) and the inspiration for Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness. From 1885 until independence in 1960, the country suffered, even by the standards of the African colonial experience, horrific abuses, with estimates of some 10m deaths, around half of the population at the time. The country was the personal property of the Belgian monarch, King Leopold II, until 1908. Disease ravaged the country and rubber--the local production of which was labour intensive--ivory and copper were remorselessly looted.

The nationalist movement under Patrice Lumumba won power in 1960. Lumumba was elected the country's first prime minister with Joseph Kasavubu as president. Lumumba utilised Soviet support, including ground troops to regain control of the breakaway mineral rich state of Katanga, and spoke of nationalising the copper industry.

Alienated from his former ally, within months Kasavubu removed Lumumba from office and army chief Joseph Mobutu, backed by Belgium and the US, saw his opportunity to seize power. Lumumba's assassination quickly followed in 1961 and by 1965 Mobutu had suppressed various regional insurrections and consolidated his power, following the deaths of some 100,000 people, including UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold in 1961 in a suspicious plane crash as he attempted to mediate between the warring factions. …

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