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The Authoritarian Tyranny of the Congo

By Adrian Tomaszewski Dec. 14, 2023

Mingyue Xiao Art

From a golden state of prosperity to one plagued by slave labor, the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a prime example of colonization’s devastating reverberations. Since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, the country has undergone nearly 55 years of endless power struggles, degrading the human rights and economy of the Congolese. The DRC’s first peaceful transition of power following the election of 2018 lit a torch of hope in many people’s hearts before being swiftly extinguished as the Congo now faces rebel groups, secession attempts and immense economic inequality.

Mingyue Xiao Art

The Kongo Kingdom, the first centralized power in the region, formed in the late 14th century and prospered until it fell under the personal control of Belgium’s King Leopold II during the European push to colonize Africa. Leopold ruled the region with an iron fist, seeking to maximize its potential as a rubber plantation through harsh labor that carried devastating punishments such as severing workers’ hands if they underperformed. Leopold’s Congo became one of the darkest stains on European history, leaving over 10 million Congolese dead.

“Belgium’s colonial practices play a major role in the DRC’s current political climate as they left behind economic, political and social instability due to the colonizer’s consolidation of power and money,” Sophomore Melvin Najarian said.
Mingyue Xiao Art

A small mutiny in 1960 led to the creation of an independent but disunited anti-colonial government. However, seeking control of the Congo’s rich uranium deposits, the U.S. and Belgium installed a pro-western dictator in 1965. This dictatorship lasted until the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when the DRC harbored fleeing Hutu refugees from Rwanda, including extremists that played a role in massacring the Tutsi people. The resulting conflict led to two wars, the rise and fall of an interim government and finally, in 2003, the spread of relative peace and democracy. In 2018, Félix Tshisekedi assumed the presidency, marking the first peaceful transition of power in DRC history; however, the administration still engaged in authoritarianism and corruption.

Mingyue Xiao Art

Tshisekedi’s rule has also seen the resurgence of the March 23 (M23) movement, a rebellion led by anti-Hutu Tutsis in the Northeast of the country seeking increased autonomy and rights. Previously, the group took over Goma, the provincial capital of the DRC’s easternmost state in 2012, before securing a peace agreement in return for ending the violence. A resurgence of fighting in 2022 involved alleged war crimes on both sides and displaced over 70,000 people. Throughout the conflict, the DRC has blamed the Rwandan government for M23’s resurgence. Subsequent peace talks have proven unsuccessful, leading the DRC to threaten to attack Rwanda for a third time.

As a result of constant fighting, the DRC’s Great Lakes Region hosts the greatest number of refugees in Africa at nearly 6 million. Rape and extrajudicial killings have become endemic in the Eastern DRC due to conflict, and the region is prone to diseases like malaria and ebola.

“The situation in the DRC is not given much media coverage because the DRC is a country with little political and economic influence on the world stage,” Junior Jonathan Li said.

The DRC has been left crippled and impoverished due to failing infrastructure, rampant corporate corruption and authoritarianism. Child labor is widespread and, according to the World Bank, 62% of the population lives under the poverty line of $2.15 a day. Forced labor among children is nearly ubiquitous in some regions; minors conduct hazardous jobs in mines and stone quarries, as well as street vending, domestic service and agriculture. Both government forces and armed groups compel civilians to work for them; additionally, over 100 militant groups in the Eastern DRC, including M23, actively recruit child soldiers, according to The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper.

Mingyue Xiao Art

Despite being blessed with $24 trillion in mineral deposits from a vast river network and millions of acres of arable land, pervasive conflicts and the unbalanced concentration of wealth have cursed the Congolese to poverty and instability for many years to come.


About the Contributors

Adrian Tomaszewski

staff writer

Adrian Tomaszewski is a junior at Leland High School and is a staff writer for the Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys swimming, cooking, listening to music, ranting about politics to unsuspecting victims, and playing video games.

Mingyue Xiao


Mingyue Xiao is a freshman at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. She does dance, pottery and loves to read.

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