Zaire as one of the largest and richest African countries
Zaire is one of Africa’s largest and richest countries, enjoying a huge wealth of natural resources. However, the country has suffered heavily since the past century, first from colonization, then from power struggles between its various ethnic and regional leaders, then from Mobutu’s dictatorship, and continuously from bloody civil upheavals that made it impossible for the economy to develop, and resulting in severe poverty and underdevelopment. The Congolese people have suffered a whole century of oppression and unrest due to the burdens of Belgian colonization, western neo-colonization, all which resulted in civil wars, economic underdevelopment, and military dictatorships that impede democracy in Zaire.
There are two contradicting realities about Zaire, both which happen to exist at the same time. On the one hand, Zaire is considered to be a country that is extremely rich in minerals such as gold, diamond, uranium and many others, while at the same time, it is one of the most deteriorating economies in the world, although its economy is already poor and underdeveloped. The hands of Belgium which colonized this vast country for half a century, carry the guilt of most of Zaire’s suffering today.
Zaire was like many other European colonists
Zaire was like many other European colonists, that is, ruled as it if it were owned by the colonizers. However, the difference was that Zaire was personally owned by King Leopold II of Belgium, as agreed upon by the 1878 agreement at the Berlin conference. The King also had his personal army known as the Force Publique, which was responsible to bring the country and its inhabitants under control, as well as to protect European and Belgian investments there. Belgium would not formally gain control over Zaire until 1908 when it was turned over by the King to the Belgian government which named it as Belgian Congo. Belgian rule was much more advanced, making the Congo a colony with higher standards of living, even in comparison to other European colonies in Europe. This was mainly due to two reasons. First of all, the Belgian aim to increase investments in the country which they considered as a major source of revenue. And secondly, the aim to maintain a sufficient source of cheap labor from the local Africans.
However, the Belgian paternal system of development during the colonial years was by no means aimed at developing the people of the Congo. While all these developments were achieved, the educational system was very biased, allowing only priests to reach the university. At the same time, secondary schools only graduated clerks and other minor public officers, whereas the majority of students could not reach beyond primary schools. This biased system of education, the colonialists believed would make sure that the population remained isolated from liberalism.
After World War II came to an end, winds of change began to blow over the continent. European governments were also facing pressures from the US, from liberal movements in their colonies, and from liberals at home. As a result, Belgium was forced to grant the Congo immediate independence. Apparently, the Congolese were not yet ready for such an abrupt change, and since the Belgian colonialists had organized the country in such a way that they never anticipated independence, the outcomes may have only been disastrous.
First of all, the Congo as an economy was not in any way ready to accommodate the abrupt changes that took over the country. For example, in the whole country, there was not one single graduate in economics or in any profession that would benefit the country’s basic needs. Secondly, the Belgian rule had privileged some tribes at the extent of others, and once the Belgians were out, there were no barriers to the hostilities, which was exactly what happened in 1959, especially in the rich region of Katanga which wanted to declare independence from the rest of the country shortly after the Belgians announced that the Congo would be granted independence.
Actually, the direct cause for Belgium’s move was its fear that a war similar to the Algerian war against France would break out in Congo. Indeed, the Force Publique mutinied on July 5, 1960 as a result of the governor’s policies, and right before independence, the Force Publique were already involved in massacres against the civilians. Obviously, the Force Publique were the strongest organized entity in the country after the Belgians left, and it was also obvious that they were going to reach and maintain power through violence.
Colonial intervention in Belgium never ended after Independence. Actually, in the very same year the Belgians left the Congo, their armed forces were back to fight in Katanga on Moise Tshombe’s side as he struggled from independence from the rest of the Congo. With Katanga being the richest of the Congo’s regions, the Belgians believed that their trade in Katanga would be protected if they supported the region to break loose. The Belgian intervention, however, was brought to an end only after UN intervention, but the chaos and violence were beyond repair. Zaire’s real suffering due to colonialism had just started.
Civil wars in Belgium continued right after the Belgians withdrew. After the Katanga attempt to separate, the Oriental region ruled by Gizenga followed the death of Prime Minister Lumumba. Disputes between Lumumba and President Kasavubu had earlier led to the Publique Force intervening on the President’s side. The Force Publique were led by Joseph Desire Mobutu. Mobutu had Lumumba captured and flown over to Katanga where he was executed by his rival Tshombe. The war had two direct results on the Congolese economy. First of all, destroyed the weak economy, and secondly, it divided the country among conflicting leaders, with the concentration of power in the hands of the military. Mobutu, however, did not returned power to the civil government, and the war continued through 1964. Mobutu again led the Force Publique and took over the command in the country, bringing to an end all fighting and the separation movement in the Oriental region.
Mobutu’s dictatorship was perhaps inevitable as Zaire’s civil war continued without end. However, there is evidence that the civil war was fed by external forces, particularly the US which did not want to see the leftist leader Lumumba remain in power. The US realized from the beginning that Mobutu was the best man to stabilize the country and to prevent communism from spreading in the region. The US was bewildered at the thought that the communists may come to control a rich and wealthy country such as Zaire. Thus, Mobutu who was supposed to have intervened on the Prime Minister’s side did not do that, but rather acted against the government as he took orders from the Americans.
Therefore, immediately after the disastrous outcomes of Belgian colonialism had begun to appear in Zaire, American neo-colonialism and intervention to prevent communism were also in action. In both cases, the rights and interests of the Zairian people were totally neglected and compromised. Mobutu’s dictatorship continued from 1964 until he was ousted by another military coup in 1997. To understand Mobutu’s achievements after thirty-four years in power, one needs only to look at the $4 to $9 billion he made in personal wealth upon escaping the country, and the famine, destruction, terror, bankruptcy and ethnic divisions and hatreds which were left behind him. In addition to this, Mobutu was the most favored African leader, not only for the Americans who hated communists, but also for the Belgians and French, and whose business projects and companies were well protected and maintained under Mobutu’s rule. As an example, while the 34,000 miles of roads deteriorated in the vast country, leaving only 12,000 miles of usable roads, the government only paved three to four thousand miles of roads, and these were mainly used by French and Belgian industrial projects.
To rule a country that is made up of 200 tribes, many of which are at conflict, Mobutu announced a policy of combating tribalism, which he believed was responsible for the civil conflicts in the country. Accordingly, Mobutu weakened the tribes, but favored his own province, the Equateur, which Mobutu made the main source of public officers and members of the state. 
The US, the world leaders supporting democracy and freedom for all nations, did not take into consideration Mobutu’s dictatorship. Rather, he was always one of the most favored allies and friends, and his anti-human rights and anti-democratic deeds were forever forgotten. Belgium and France reflected a similar manner in their behavior with the dictator. For example, in 1980, Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens said on an official visit to Zaire, “Oh, how I love this country, its people and its leader.”
Only when it became apparent to the Belgians, the French and the Americans that there was nothing that can be done in order to support Mobutu, did they give up on him. For example, in the early 1990s, and as Mobutu suffered from rising resistance to his rule, Wilfried Martens changed position and positively acknowledged the demands of the angry students, hence freezing all kinds of aid to Mobutu’s regime. Although this did not influence Mobutu in as much as it influenced the starving population, it made clear that the situation was changing, and that Mobutu’s days were over.
The legacy of western colonialism could only result in bloodshed and civil war. This is exactly what happened. Just as he came to power, Mobutu was ousted from Zaire with an armed coup led by Kabila. The US and the rest of the west could not but welcome Kabila, since there was no way to stop his takeover. However, all of a sudden, the US became concerned about the future of democracy and freedom in Zaire, something which never meant anything to American policymakers. However, when finding out that once upon a time, Kabila was a leftist guerrilla, it becomes easy to understand why the Americans are so afraid. However, Kabila has so far calmed the world, reflecting his capitalist tendencies as well as his intention to avoid retaliation or bloodshed. However, this could only be temporary, and the promises of preserving human rights and lives can be easily blown, as often happens in Africa.
Now that Kabila has achieved the victory he wanted, ousted Mobutu, and established peace and ended war, there are chances that he will establish a transitory government and call for elections, hence establishing democracy in the country for the first time. However, there are greater chances that he will simply replace Mobutu as a dictator. Observation continues in the US, France, Belgium and South Africa. Kabila might take too much time to decide, and he may not reflect his real intentions, as a man in power, especially that the victory was all his. For the west, Mobutu is history, and hopefully Kabila will bring the upheavals to an end. But for the Zairians, there is much more to it. It might just be the beginning of another century of violence and death.
The tribune of history might not spare Mobutu and his crimes, but Mobutu was not the criminal he was. He was simply an opportunist who came to power and left. His only fault was that it took his enemies thirty-four years to topple him. Kabila, if he turns into a dictator, will also be another Mobutu, and he will not have much to lose if he makes a comfortable retirement in Europe. Those whom the tribune of history should claim are the makers of men like Mobutu and Kabila, the Belgian, French and American colonists and neo-colonists who have directly and indirectly destroyed Zaire and its people. The outcomes of colonist rule are poverty, ignorance, and civil intolerance, not to mention trained men like Mobutu to seize power and destroy his nation. Neo-colonist powers such as the US maintained men like Mobutu in their places, making it impossible for their people to enjoy democracy or to overcome poverty. On the other hand, men like Mobutu and Kabila simply come and go. Their names differ, but their deeds are the same.
Fedarko, Kevin. “Land of despair.” Time, February 17, 1997, pp. 44-45.
Forbath, Peter. The River Congo. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977)
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Leonard, Dick. “Mobutu and the ghost of Leopold.” Bulletin, volume 3, article
78, October 10, 1991, p.20.
Marcus, Mabry. “Kinshasa’s New Kings.” Newsweek, June 2, 1997, p.21.
McCormick, Shawn H. “Zaire II: Mobutu, master of the game?” Current History,
May 1994, p.223.
Serrill, Michael. “Finally, the end.” Time, May 26, 1997, pp. 26-28.
Wepman, Dennis. Africa: The Struggle for Independence. (New York: Facts on
File, Inc., 1993).
Wilson, Henry S. African Decolonization. (London: Edward Arnold, 1994)
 Constance Jones. Africa: 1500-1900. (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1993), p.121.
 Constance Jones. Africa: 1500-1900. (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1993), p.121.
 Joseph E. Harris. Africans and Their History. (Ontario: New American Library, 1972), p.174.
 Ibid., pp. 174-175.
 Dennis Wepman. Africa: The Struggle for Independence. (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1993), pp. 106-107.
 Ibid., p.107-108.
 Henry S. Wilson. African Decolonization. (London: Edward Arnold, 1994), pp. 173-174.
 Henry S. Wilson. African Decolonization. (London: Edward Arnold, 1994), p. 174.
 Peter Forbath. The River Congo. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977), p.390.
 Peter Forbath. The River Congo. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977), pp. 392-393.
 Shawn H. McCormick, “Zaire II: Mobutu, master of the game?” Current History, May 1994, p.223.
 Kevin Fedarko. “Land of despair.” Time, February 17, 1997, pp. 44-45.
 Shawn H. McCormick, “Zaire II: Mobutu, master of the game?” Current History, May 1994, p.224.
 Dick Leonard. “Mobutu and the ghost of Leopold.” Bulletin, volume 3, article 78, October 10, 1991, p.20.
 Dick leonard. “Mobutu and the ghost of Leopold.” Bulletin, volume 3, article 78, October 10, 1991, p.21.
 Marcus Mabry. “Kinshasa’s New Kings.” Newsweek, June 2, 1997, p.21.
 Michael S. Serrill. “Finally, the end.” Time, May 26, 1997, pp. 26-28.