The Economy and History of Congo

Posted: February 16, 2013 in Congo
Tags: , ,

By Natalie Bush

The Economy:

For information regarding the economy of Congo, I referred to the African Economic Outlook. Their website,, provided detailed information for 53 out of the total 54 countries in Africa, excluding Somalia. The results I found were certainly alarming, but also expected from a country undergoing such chaotic times.

The budget deficit increased in 2011 to 6.3% of GDP. Projected slower growth and the uncertain political situation mean that it is expected to reach 7.8% of GDP in 2012, while inflation is expected to rise to 15.1%, the website cited.

Personally, I do not believe the GDP percents do their justice. To better understand the amount of poverty in the country, which has no social protection policy, it is important to put it into perspective. The poorest country in the entire world, Haiti, has 77% of residents living in poverty. In Congo, the African Economic Outlook reports 70.5% of the population is affected by poverty. In contrast, in the United States, the current poverty rate is at a record high with 15.1% of individuals living below the poverty line (Fox Business).

In addition to this, the younger population is struggling significantly with trying to find work, with urban areas particularly affected. More than 70% of the young have no jobs. While many choose to study at a university, once they graduate they are faced with the same problem as those who did not attend school. Of the 9,000 graduates from Congolese universities each year, less than 100 of them find work, according to the African Economic Outlook. This shortage of jobs has serious consequences for the youth. As Tony Judt states in Ill Fares the Land, inequality (including poverty) is linked to social problems of health, crime and mental illness. These young people who are being raised in impoverished environments face serious issues as they grow.


Fox Business

African Economic Outlook

The History

A timeline of Congo history consists of wars and conflict. After gaining their independence from Belgium in 1960, a civil war pursues. The country faced an army rebellion. As rich as the country is in natural resources such as cobalt, fighting for these precious minerals cause significant conflict.

Less than a year later, in 1961 the first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, was kidnapped and murdered by troops loyal to army chief Joseph Mobutu, as noted by BBC News.

When Mobutu eventually seizes power in 1965, he renames the country. Zaire becomes the new name and a country filled with more corruption.

In 1997, neighboring country, Rwanda, invades Zaire in an attempt to rid it of extremist Hutu militias. BBC News cites this invasion provides a boost to the anti-Mobutu rebels, leading them to capture the capital and install Laurent Kabila as president. Kabila renames the country to its present name, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Even under a new name, Congo cannot escape its troubles. A rift between President Kabila and his former allies spark a new rebellion, backed by Rwanda and Uganda. To counter, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe take Kabila’s side, turning the entire country into a vast battleground, as noted by BBC News.

In May of 2001, a US refugee agency states the war has either directly or indirectly killed 2.5 million people since August of 1998.  Since then, other reports including BBC News, have cited an estimated three million lives have been lost due to the war, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. BBC News states the war has been, “…the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades.”

Most recently, in mid-November, a new wave of fighting erupted between the rebel group, M23, and the Congolese Army. Shortly after, the Congolese Army collapses and the M23 take over one city after another, including Goma, the country’s most vital trade hub, as noted by the NY Times. Riots then erupt throughout the country, demanding President Kabila to be forced out of office.

This type of violence has been frequent since the controversial reelection of Joseph Kabila in 2011. Surrounding the election, there is much belief ballots were tampered. For instance, polling stations were burned to the ground turning thousands of ballots into ashes.

It’s important to note, some argue the current situation is merely a continuation of historical patterns of exploitations established under Leopold II during Belgian colonial rule. One Canadian website, Get Loud, states the colonial era in Congo, beginning in the late 1800s, began the trend of natural resource exploitation by an elite few to the serious disadvantage of the vast majority of the Congolese people. This trend has persisted throughout the past century.


BBC News

NY Times

Get Loud


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