The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A Peoples History

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Despite being forced into long years of exile during which he taught political science in the United States and elsewhere , he has played a part at significant moments in his country's political struggle.

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His deep knowledge of personalities and events, and his understanding of the underlying class, ethnic and other factors at work, make his book a compelling, lucid, radical and utterly unromanticized account of his countrymen's struggle. In acknowledging their defeat, he sees it and the crisis of the post-colonial state as the result of the breakdown of the anti-colonial alliance between the masses and the national leadership after independence.

This book is essential reading for understanding what is happening in the Congo and the Great Lakes region. It will also stand as a milestone in how to write the modern political history of Africa. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja is a renowned scholar of African politics and an international consultant specializing in public policy, governance, and conflict-related issues.

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Synopsis The Congo from Leopold to Kabila is the history of the Congolese democratic movement in the twentieth century. Key idea 1 of The democratic movement in the Congo emerged from an alliance between anti-colonialism factions.


The Congo Crisis began as messy decolonization but ended with international forces engineering a new status quo. Mobutu was propelled into power by the US in His rule left the Congo in moral and economic decay. Mobutu lost foreign backing after the Cold War, allowing the movement for multiparty democracy to advance.

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The CNS created a united front for democracy, but it failed to implement a framework. The conflict in Rwanda brought about Mobutu's fall from power. The First and Second Congo Wars followed. Now that conflict is over, the future of the Congo depends upon national dialogue. Final summary Start free trial to continue.

A People’s History

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Log in Log in. You don't have an account? On 22 April , the United States became the first country in the world to recognize King Leopold's claims to the Congo through a declaration by Secretary of State Frederick Frelinghuysen. With its claims to the right bank of Malebo Pool and its overall interests in Equatorial Africa, France represented a clear and present danger for Leopold's colonial scheme for the Congo.

The king out-smarted the French policymakers by offering France a first option on his Congolese possessions should the AIC at some point in the future decide to divest itself of these acquisitions. Convinced that the ambitious king would eventually fail for lack of finances and support from Belgium, the French took the bait.

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They agreed to recognize Leopold's sovereignty in the Congo in return for preemptive rights or the first option on claims to the territory should Leopold relinquish it. In , on the eve of Congo's independence from Belgium, France had to renounce this right of imperial succession. With Paris and Washington behind him, Leopold had to confront the more difficult task of winning the approval of Berlin and London for his colonial scheme. Although he was an ethnic German and a cousin to Queen Victoria of Great Britain, the king had a hard time overcoming both the disdain of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who had little patience for Leopold's grandiose pretensions, and the hostility of the British government, which feared that Belgian protectionism would threaten free trade in Central Africa.

This concern for free trade by the greatest imperial power at the time had led Britain to back Portuguese claims to the Congo. Outraged by the Anglo-Portuguese agreement and eager to improve relations with France, Bismarck took advantage of the French endorsement of Leopold's scheme to grant Germany's formal recognition of the sovereignty of the AIC on 8 November Eventually, between 22 April and 23 February , the AIC succeeded in obtaining through bilateral treaties the recognition of all the powers represented at the Berlin Conference except Turkey.

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The Berlin West African Conference, whose major focus was the freedom of navigation and commerce in the Congo basin, was held between 15 November and 26 February The interests of the AIC were effectively represented by the Belgian delegation, which remained in constant touch with King Leopold in Brussels. The American lobbyist Sanford also attended the conference as an observer for the king. Although absent, the Belgian monarch had his interests articulated by a well-orchestrated public relations campaign. At the closing ceremony, when Bismarck read a letter from the AIC informing the conference of its recognition as a sovereign state by all the powers that mattered, the delegates rose and applauded loudly.

There is no provision for this in the Berlin Act. However, the announcement and the standing ovation constituted a symbolically strong endorsement of Leopold's enterprise by the imperialist powers, which were relieved for having finally resolved the Congo question. It is evident that in addition to Leopold's ability to use money and diplomacy to achieve his aims, rivalry among the major powers, each of which did not want to lose the Congo to another major power, accounted for his victory. For them, it was preferable to cede this vast territory in Central Africa to the king of a weak and little country such as Belgium, so as to maximize the chances of having this area serve as a free-trade zone for the more developed countries.

The main question then, as it has been in the postcolonial period, is not so much who controls this resource-rich country as who should be excluded from such control. The king took advantage of this international triumph to set up his personal rule in the Congo in In April the Belgian parliament passed a resolution authorizing him to be sovereign of two independent states simultaneously. This was followed by a royal decree on 29 May proclaiming the existence of the CFS, and Leopold's official accession as king-sovereign of the Congo on 1 August.

As history would repeat itself on 24 November and on 17 May , the people of the Congo were never consulted, and played no role in the proclamation of their absolute ruler. Contrary to another widespread myth, the African continent was not partitioned at the Berlin Conference, where Europeans presumably drew up arbitrary territorial boundaries for Africa as a whole.

The Congo from Leopold to Kabila : A People's History

However, while partition was not part of the official business of the conference, more important negotiations took place behind the scenes in what amounted to preliminary partition on paper. The real scramble for Africa or partition on the ground took place after the Conference, as European powers rushed to annex African territory through conquest. They attempted to comply with a basic ground rule of the Berlin Act, according to which effective occupation was the empirical test for legitimate claims to a colonial territory.