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Heads of state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1960–present)


The first President of DR-Congo

Joseph Kasavubu

Joseph Kasavubu was born sometime between 1910 and 1918 [probably in 1913] in the Mayombe district of Bas Congo Province near Tsehla, Belgian Congo. He was a member of the Bakongo ethnic group. Kasavubu did not know his father and lost his mother at the age of 4. He was raised by his older brother who sent him to a nearby Catholic mission where he was baptized in 1925. He attended Catholic schools and originally trained as a Catholic priest.

He was dismissed in 1939-1940 with the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in philosophy for reasons that were never made clear. He was nevertheless permitted to take a teacher's certificate and to work in mission schools but for such a meager pittance that the embittered Kasavubu eventually broke with the missions and got a bookkeeping job with the colonial administration in 1942.

As African political activity was not encouraged, radical Africans organised in "cultural associations", which included the Alliances des Ba-Kionho (ABAKA), led by Joseph Kasavubu. Following a violent demonstration organised by ABAKO in January 1959, The Belgian Government, alarmed at the prospect of involvement in a prolonged colonial war, adopted a policy of quickly granting the country independence. Belgium favoured the creation of a unitary state based on the centralised pattern of the colonial system. Abako and most other Congolese political groups were ethnically based and, with the exception of Patrice Lumumba's Mouvement Nationale Congolais (MNC), preferred a federal structure.

In the months leading up to independence, the Congolese elected a president, Joseph Kasavubu, prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, a senate and assembly, and similar bodies in the Congo’s numerous provinces. The Eisenhower administration had high hopes that the Republic of the Congo would form a stable, pro-Western, central government. Those hopes vanished in a matter of days as the newly independent nation descended into chaos.

The provinces of Katanga and South Kasai resolved to secede. Disagreement over Lumumba's response to the secession led to his dismissal by Kasavubu in September 1960. This was challenged by Lumumba who asked the legislature to remove Kasavubu. The political deadlockwas resolved by the intervention of the armed forces. In September 1960, Colonel Mobutu assumed control of the country and restored power to Kasavubu in February 1961. A few days later, Lumumba was murdered. Following negotiations between Kasavubu and the MNC, a new government was formed in August 1961.

The movement for the secession of Katanga had collapsed in January 1963, when its leader, Tshombe, went into exile. Kasavubu withdrew to a position from which he tried to arbitrate between the various factions and, more importantly, to remain politically alive during the period that saw the gradual erosion and eventual reconstruction of the central government's authority. He lent the cover of his legitimacy to Joseph Mobutu's first coup, thus avoiding early retirement, and then supported the return to civilian government under Cyrille Adoula (1961-1964), only to maneuver the latter out of power in favor of Moïse Tshombe when the Congo rebellion threatened to engulf the entire country.

In July 1964, Kasavubu invited Tshombe to become the interim Prime Minister, pending legislative elections. In August 1964, the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo. In March and April 1965, the Tshombe Government organised legislative elections. The coalition, led by Tshombe, the Convention Nationale Congolaise, won 122 out of the 167 seats of the legislature. An opposition bloc soon emerged called the Front Democratique Congolais and a political deadlock endued. At this point, the army led by Mobutu assumed full executive powers and on 24 November 1965 declared himself the head of the Second Republic.

Mobutu's own lack of a political base soon led him to seek a reconciliation with Kasavubu as a means of securing some sort of legitimacy for his regime. Lacking any real alternative, the deposed president gave the new regime his measured endorsement and accepted an honorary seat in the Senate. Joseph Kasavubu died on March 24, 1969 at his farm in Boma, Congo.

1st Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo


Patrice Emery Lumumba

Patrice Emery Lumumba was born in the village of Onalua in Kasai province, Belgian Congo. He was a member of the small Batetela ethnic group, a fact that became significant in his later political life. His two principal rivals, Moise Tshombe, who led the breakaway of the Katanga province, and Joseph Kasavubu, who later became the Congo’s president, both came from large, powerful ethnic groups from which they derived their major support, giving their political movements a regional character. In contrast, Lumumba’s movement emphasized its all-Congolese nature. After attending a Protestant mission school, Lumumba went to work in Kindu-Port-Empain, where he became active in the club of the évolués (Western-educated Africans). He began to write essays and poems for Congolese journals. He also applied for and received full Belgian citizenship. Lumumba next moved to Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) to become a postal clerk and went on to become an accountant in the post office in Stanleyville (now Kisangani). There he continued to contribute to the Congolese press.

In 1955 Lumumba became regional president of a purely Congolese trade union of government employees that was not affiliated, as were other unions, to either of the two Belgian trade-union federations (socialist and Roman Catholic). He also became active in the Belgian Liberal Party in the Congo. Although conservative in many ways, the party was not linked to either of the trade-union federations, which were hostile to it. In 1956 Lumumba was invited with others on a study tour of Belgium under the auspices of the minister of colonies. On his return he was arrested on a charge of embezzlement from the post office. He was convicted and condemned one year later, after various reductions of sentence, to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine.

When Lumumba got out of prison, he grew even more active in politics. In October 1958 he, along with other Congolese leaders, launched the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais; MNC), the first nationwide Congolese political party. In December he attended the first All-African People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana, where he met nationalists from across the African continent and was made a member of the permanent organization set up by the conference. His outlook and vocabulary, inspired by pan-African goals, now took on the tenor of militant nationalism.

As nationalist fervour increased, the Belgian government announced a program intended to lead to independence for the Congo, starting with local elections in December 1959. The nationalists regarded this program as a scheme to install puppets before independence and announced a boycott of the elections. The Belgian authorities responded with repression. On October 30 there was a clash in Stanleyville that resulted in 30 deaths. Lumumba was imprisoned on a charge of inciting to riot.

The MNC decided to shift tactics, entered the elections, and won a sweeping victory in Stanleyville (90 percent of the votes). In January 1960 the Belgian government convened a Round Table Conference in Brussels of all Congolese parties to discuss political change, but the MNC refused to participate without Lumumba. Lumumba was thereupon released from prison and flown to Brussels. The conference agreed on a date for independence, June 30, with national elections in May. Although there was a multiplicity of parties, the MNC came out far ahead in the elections, and Lumumba emerged as the leading nationalist politician of the Congo. Maneuvers to prevent his assumption of authority failed, and he was asked to form the first government, which he did on June 23, 1960.

A few days after independence, some units of the army rebelled, largely because of objections to their Belgian commander. Moise Tshombe took advantage of the ensuing confusion, using it as an opportunity to proclaim that the mineral-rich province of Katanga was seceding from the Congo. Belgium sent in troops, ostensibly to protect Belgian nationals in the disorder, but the Belgian troops landed principally in Katanga, where they sustained Tshombe’s secessionist regime.

The Congo appealed to the United Nations to expel the Belgians and help them restore internal order. As prime minister, Lumumba did what little he could to redress the situation. His army was an uncertain instrument of power, his civilian administration untrained and untried; the United Nations forces (whose presence he had requested) were condescending and assertive, and the political alliances underlying his regime very shaky. The Belgian troops did not leave, and the Katanga secession continued


Since the United Nations forces refused to help suppress the Katangese revolt, Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union for planes to assist in transporting his troops to Katanga. He asked the independent African states to meet in Léopoldville in August to unite their efforts behind him. His moves alarmed many, particularly the Western powers and the supporters of President Kasavubu, who pursued a moderate course in the coalition government and favoured some local autonomy in the provinces.

On September 5 President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba, but the legalities of the move were immediately contested by Lumumba; as a result of the discord, there were two groups now claiming to be the legal central government. On September 14 power was seized by the Congolese army leader Colonel Joseph Mobutu (later president of Zaire as Mobutu Sese Seko), who later reached a working agreement with Kasavubu. In October the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized the credentials of Kasavubu’s government. The independent African states split sharply over the issue.


In November Lumumba sought to travel from Léopoldville, where the United Nations had provided him with protection, to Stanleyville, where his supporters had control. He was caught by the Kasavubu forces and arrested on December 2. On January 17, 1961, he was delivered to the secessionist regime in Katanga, where he was murdered. His death caused a scandal throughout Africa; retrospectively, even his enemies proclaimed him a “national hero.”


The reasons that Lumumba provoked such intense emotion are not immediately evident. His viewpoint was not exceptional. He was for a unitary Congo and against division of the country along ethnic or regional lines. Like many other African leaders, he supported pan-Africanism and the liberation of colonial territories. He proclaimed his regime one of “positive neutralism,” which he defined as a return to African values and rejection of any imported ideology, including that of the Soviet Union.

Lumumba was, however, a man of strong character who intended to pursue his policies, regardless of the enemies he made within his country or abroad. The Congo, furthermore, was a key area in terms of the geopolitics of Africa, and because of its wealth, size, and proximity to white-dominated southern Africa, Lumumba’s opponents had reason to fear the consequences of a radical or radicalized Congo regime. Moreover, in the context of the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s support for Lumumba appeared at the time as a threat to many in the West.

Second President of the DR-Congo


Mobutu sese seko

Mobutu Sese Seko was born Joseph Mobutu in Lisala, Belgian Congo. His father was a cook, who died when Mobutu was a child, and his mother was a maid in a hotel. She used her earnings to send him to a Christian Brothers Catholic boarding school for his education. In 1949 he joined the Force Publique, an internal security force of Congolese troops but with Belgian officers, and rose to sergeant. He stayed there for seven years, leaving to become a newspaper reporter. It was in that position that he met Congolese nationalist Patrice Lumumba, and Mobutu was so taken with him that he joined Lumumba's political party, the Congolese National Movement (MNC).

When the Congo became independent on June 30, 1960, a coalition government led the country, with Lumumba as Prime Minister and Joseph Kasavubu as President. Mobutu was appointed Army Chief of Staff. Lumumba and Kasavubu then locked horns in a struggle for political supremacy, and on Sept. 14, 1960, a military coup overthrew Lumumba and installed Kasavubu as overall leader. One of the key figures in the coup was none other than Lumumba's old friend, Mobutu. It turned out that both the American CIA and the Belgian government mistrusted Lumumba, who they thought to be a Communist or at least pro-Communist, and wanted Kasavubu in power, as they believed--correctly, as it turned out--that Kasavubu and Mobutu would be more "pliable". Five years later, though, Mobutu led a coup against Kasavubu, who had just managed to oust his rival, popular Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. Upon taking power, Mobutu banned all political parties and declared the equivalent of a state of emergency, taking on almost dictatorial powers. He later formed his own party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution, which all Congolese were obliged to join. He ordered all existing trade unions to form a single union, the National Union of Zairian Workers, and placed it under the control of the government.

Although there were several uprisings and attempted coups, all were swiftly and brutally put down. In 1970 Mobutu held an election in which he was the only candidate and in which voting was mandatory. Not surprisingly, he got 99% of the vote. In 1971 he began a program of "cultural awareness" and renamed the country the Republic of Zaire. He ordered all Congolese with Christian names to drop them and change to African ones, baptism of children was outlawed and Western-style clothing and ties were banned. The next year he renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Nbendu Wa Za Banga, although for convenience's sake he allowed others to refer to him as Mobutu Sese Seko. He also fostered a cult of personality in which his picture appeared everywhere, on everything from from postage stamps to the country's paper currency.

His erratic, corrupt and authoritarian rule resulted in several coup attempts and secessions. Mobutu's solution was to stage public executions of those who were real, potential or imagined threats to his regime, but he later found that it was much less trouble--and garnered much less bad publicity worldwide--if he just bought off his enemies, which he proceeded to do. He also nationalized foreign-owned firms and deported their European owners and managers. He handed the firms over to his family members and political allies, most of whom immediately robbed the companies blind, sold off their assets and kept the money. The resulting economic anarchy caused by these actions forced Mobutu in 1977 to bring the Europeans back. In that same year a force of several thousand rebels--followers of the executed Tshombe--invaded the province of Katanga from their bases in neighboring Angola. They were well-trained, motivated and led mainly by professional mercenaries from South Africa and Europe, and they swiftly and decisively routed Mobutu's ill-equipped, poorly trained, undisciplined and disorganized army. He appealed for aid from France, which airlifted several thousand Moroccan paratroopers who eventually defeated the Katangan rebels. However, a year later the rebels attacked again, but this time with more troops than before. Mobutu's ragtag army fared no better this time than it did the year before and was decisively defeated again, with many of its soldiers tearing off their uniforms, throwing away their weapons and fleeing naked into the jungles. Katanga, with its vast mineral, diamond and ore deposits, was on the verge of declaring its independence, and there was nothing Mobutu could do about it. Once more he appealed for international help against the "Communists". France and Belgium dispatched troops to put down the invasion, with the US supplying logistical and material help, and the invading forces were driven back across the border into Angola.

Despite these crises, Mobutu still had time to build up his personal wealth, which by 1984 was estimated to be at least $5 billion. While he amassed a fortune the country was going broke, and in 1989 it defaulted on loans from Belgium--Mobutu and his family and cronies having looted the country for years almost nonstop, the treasury simply ran out of money. This situation resulted in most roads, bridges and other elements of its infrastructure beginning to literally fall apart because there was no money to maintain them. Most government workers were paid sporadically if at all, resulting in tremendous inflation and a level of corruption that was mind-boggling even for Africa. The sheer scope of mismanagement, embezzlement and outright thievery by Mobutu and his cronies resulted in economists coining a new word for his form of government--kleptocracy. The cult of personality fostered by Mobutu and his government was pervasive; pictures and portraits of Mobutu were everywhere, government employees had to wear buttons with his photograph on them, and on TV broadcasts he was seen descending from the sky through clouds. He also awarded himself such titles as "Lion Warrior", "Savior of the Nation" and "Supreme Combatant".

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 did not bode well for Mobutu. He had always been able to count on support by Western governments, no matter how much they disliked his domestic policies. Because of the Congo's huge size. vast mineral wealth and strategic location, he was able to paint himself as a bulwark against "the Communist menace" in Africa, and the fact that his country held vast untapped reserves of gold, silver, diamonds, timber, etc., didn't hurt, either. However, now that the Soviet Union no longer existed, Mobutu's claim to be an anti-Communist bastion in the heart of Africa was irrelevant. Under pressure from western governments and because of economic problems and internal disturbances, Mobutu ended the ban on political parties and brought opposition figures into the government. Despite his attempt to co-opt the opposition by playing different factions against each other, however, the main opposition parties joined in one single organization in 1994, forcing him to appoint one of their members as his Prime Minister. In addition, Mobutu's health began to deteriorate, and he started to spend more time in Europe for medical treatment. In 1996 Tutsi rebels took advantage of one of his absences by launching a rebellion and taking control of the western half of the country. Other rebellions were launched from eastern Zaire, and in 1997 the combined rebel forces defeated Mobutu's army and took Kinshasa, the capital. Mobutu fled to neighboring Togo and then to Morocco, where he took permanent residence.

On Sept. 7, 1997, he died of prostate cancer in Rabat, Morocco

Third President of DR-Congo


Laurent Desire Kabila

Laurent-Désiré Kabila, or Laurent Kabila, was born in 1939 and was murdered on January 16, 2001. Beginning in May 1997, he was the leader of a rebellion against the President of ZaireMobutu Sese Seko. Following this insurrection, he became President of Zaire and returned the country to its former name, The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Laurent-Désiré Kabila was born in Jadotville in the province of Katanga, a part of Belgian Congo in 1939. He came from the Luba tribe. He completed his studies in high school in Elisabethville and then studied political philosophy at a French university. He also attended the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Laurent-Désiré Kabila was born in Jadotville in the province of Katanga, a part of Belgian Congo in 1939. He came from the Luba tribe. He completed his studies in high school in Elisabethville and then studied political philosophy at a French university. He also attended the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

In 1960 when he was twenty-one, Laurent-Désiré Kabila became a leader in political movements allied to the first prime minister of independent Congo, Patrice Lumumba. In 1961 General Mobutu Sese Seko deposed Lumumba, and the Congolese government had him assassinated on January 17, 1961. In response to this Coup d’Etat, Kabila and other Lumumba’s supporters started a guerilla war with the support of Che Guevara in 1964. The revolt was suppressed in 1965 by the Congolese Army with U.S. support. General Mobutu took control of the nation in 1965, established a dictatorship, and in 1971, renamed the nation Zaire.

In 1967 Kabila founded the People’s Revolutionary Party, fighting to establish a self-sufficient (thanks to gold mining and ivory trading) Marxist territory in the eastern section of Zaire. In 1985 his guerilla movement collapsed, and he fled to Dar es Salaam where he began trading in gold.

In September 1996, Kabila returned to Zaire and, with other dissidents against the Mobuto regime, founded the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL - Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire). With the help of various tribal groups in eastern Zaire, he marched on Kinshasa, Zaire’s capital, with the intent of overthrowing Mobutu. When the president fled the capital, Kabila announced that on May 17, 1997, he was the new president of the country and promptly changed its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Kabila quickly became a dictator, prohibiting political activities and governing by presidential decrees. He placed his leading opponent, Etienne Tshisekedi, under house arrest. However, in May 1998, Kabila authorized a legislative assembly. During this supposed period of political liberalization, opponents continued to be arrested.

In August 1998, some of the Eastern Zaire groups that helped place Kabila in power now opposed him and began a rebellion against his government, accusing it of numerous human-rights abuses, including large-scale massacres of civilians, and the president’s apparent favoritism toward his own ethnic group for political posts. Furthermore, his former national allies, Uganda and Rwanda, began supporting the rebels after his forces invaded both of them in pursuit of guerilla fighters. Kabila, however, found new allies, AngolaZimbabwe, and Namibia, all of whom sent troops into the Congo in order to support Kabila repression.

On the January 16, 2001, a bodyguard shot President Laurent-Désiré Kabila in the presidential palace of Kinshasa. Two days later Congolese officials announced his death. His son, Joseph Kabila, became the next Congo president.

Fourth President of DR-Congo


Joseph Kabila

Joseph Kabila, (born June 4, 1971, Sud-Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo), army official and politician who was president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2001 until 2019.

Kabila, the son of Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila, was largely raised and educated in Tanzania. He fought as part of the rebel forces that helped his father depose Pres. Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in 1997. Laurent then assumed the presidency and restored the country’s former name, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Joseph was sent to China for additional military training. Upon his return, he became head of the country’s armed forces, with the rank of major general.


The elder Kabila’s rule was soon challenged in 1998 with a small rebellion that later expanded and involved troops from several African countries.

Shortly after Laurent was assassinated,Joseph was inaugurated as the country’s president on January 26, 2001. He inherited a country that was still engulfed in war and that, for the most part, was without a functioning government or basic services and whose economy had largely been ruined from years of conflict.

Little was known about Kabila, and the first assessment was that his father’s advisers had chosen him as a figurehead. During the following months, however, Kabila surprised many people by taking initiative and turning the policies of the government in a different direction. Less than a week after being sworn in, Kabila made his first trip abroad as president. He conferred with government leaders in France and Belgium and also traveled to the United States, where he met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and with officials of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. While in the United States, he also met with Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, who had been one of his father’s principal opponents. In a meeting in Zambia in February 2001, Kabila agreed to begin the implementation of a cease-fire agreement that had been signed in July 1999 but had not been honoured. He held talks with rebel groups, and the governments of five countries—Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia—that had troops in Congo agreed to begin their withdrawal. UN peacekeepers arrived at the end of March to monitor the cease-fire and the pullback of troops. In April Kabila dismissed the cabinet that had been held over from his father’s administration and named his own group of ministers. In December 2002 he signed an agreement with rebels to end the war and to form a power-sharing transitional government. The agreement was ratified in April 2003; later that year an interim government was formed that kept Kabila as president and named rebel leaders to vice presidential and cabinet posts.

Though Kabila made strides toward peace, his actions were not without opposition. In 2004 there were alleged coup attempts against him, but loyalist forces prevailed. Undeterred, Kabila continued in his attempts to unify the country. In 2006 a new constitution was promulgated and the country held its first multiparty elections in more than four decades. Kabila failed to secure a majority of the vote, but he easily defeated Jean-Pierre Bemba in the runoff held in October 2006. In early 2008 Kabila signed a peace agreement with more than 20 rebel groups who had been fighting in the eastern part of the country, but the truce unraveled later that year when some rebels resumed their attacks.

Kabila stood for reelection in 2011, facing 10 other candidates in the November 28 poll. His strongest challenger was former prime ministerÉtienne Tshisekedi. Kabila’s reelection bid was bolstered by his well-organized political campaign as well as a January 2011 constitutionalamendment that eliminated the second round of voting in the presidential race, therefore allowing a candidate to win without necessarily having a majority of the vote. However, many Congolese were disgruntled over Kabila’s failure to keep all of his 2006 election campaign promises, and Tshisekedi was a popular opposition figure with considerable support. The climate leading up to the election was tense and punctuated with violence, because of tensions between the parties, as well as legitimate concerns that logistical challenges would interfere with voting in remote parts of the country. Still, the elections were held as scheduled, and provisional results showed that Kabila was the winner, with 49 percent of the vote; Tshisekedi followed, with 32 percent. Several international monitoring groups characterized the polls as being poorly organized and noted many irregularities, but the results were confirmed by the Supreme Court and Kabila was inaugurated on December 20, 2011.

In his new term, Kabila faced several challenges, including postelection disputes that persisted into the next year and ongoing violence throughout parts of the country from numerous militias fighting each other as well as attacking Congolese troops and civilians. He was pressured by the international community and opposition groups to promote reform in the areas of human rights and democracy.

Kabila was the target of protests when there were suspicions as early as 2013 that he would not step down at the end of his term in late 2016 and would instead try to find a way to extend his time in office. These suspicions were bolstered after the Constitutional Court ruled in May 2016 that in the event that elections were delayed, Kabila could remain in office until a successor could be elected and installed; months later the court granted a request from the electoral commission to postpone the 2016 elections.

A presidential election was eventually scheduled for December 23, 2018. After years of speculation about Kabila’s intentions, it was confirmed in August 2018 that he would not be standing in the election and would instead support the candidacy of Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Against the backdrop of security concerns and a mysterious fire that destroyed a considerable amount of voting materials only 10 days before the polls, on December 20 the electoral commission announced that the presidential election—along with legislative, provincial, and local elections also scheduled for December 23—would be postponed until December 30. Although the elections were held that day in most parts of the country and in generally peaceful conditions, there were problems reported regarding the voting process and tabulation of votes. When the results were announced a week and a half later, Félix Tshisekedi—son of Étienne Tshisekedi, who had died in 2017—was declared the winner, followed closely by Martin Fayulu, another opposition candidate; Shadary came in third. The results, however, disagreed with a preelection poll, the tallies compiled by an election monitoring group, and leaked voting data, all of which showed Fayulu as being firmly in the lead. Fayulu and others accused Tshisekedi and Kabila of having made a deal to secure the former’s election victory in exchange for protecting the interests of the latter and his associates; representatives of both men denied the accusations. Fayulu challenged the results at the Constitutional Court, but the court upheld Tshisekedi’s victory.

Kabila stepped down on January 24, 2019, handing power to Tshisekedi—the first peaceful transition of power in Congo since the country became independent in 1960.

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