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History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

More information on the history and background as to the context of the conflicts in the DRC.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the second-largest country in Africa and has been the centre of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts for decades. Ongoing fighting between rebel groups and government forces, systemic corruption, years of mismanagement of the country's resources and recurring health crises like COVID-19, cholera, measles and Ebola, have left DRC in a severe humanitarian crisis. It is estimated that 27 million people are experiencing poverty and food insecurity – the highest number in any African country. 

DRC is rich in natural resources like oil, diamonds, gold and other precious metals, yet over half of its population live in extreme hardship. In recent months, renewed fighting between rebel groups and the DRC’s army has further exacerbated decade-old tensions throughout the country’s insecure East. 

Over 5 million children and adults in the DRC are currently displaced, facing poverty, violence, and psychological trauma. Many are forced to flee their homes due to the extreme actions of armed groups and militia. 

What is the DRC?  
The DRC stands for Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire.  

Why is it a republic?  
Following a constitutional referendum involving Belgium and political activism from Congolese people, Zaire became the DRC in 1965. Then in 1997, President Kabila formally changed the country's name after overthrowing the previous regime of Mobutu. 

What is the population in the DRC? 
108 million 

What are the official national languages of the DRC? 
French, Kituba (Kikongo), Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba

What is the capital city of the DRC? 

*Red pins show areas where we work. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo Today

The most recent war in Eastern Congo officially ended in 2003, but ongoing fighting in the East of the country has intensified in recent months, fuelling regional tensions. Armed groups operating in the Kivu and Ituri provinces have launched increasingly brutal and large-scale attacks on civilians, resulting in cross-border involvement, worsening Rwanda-DRC relations. These renewed tensions between armed groups means that more children will be at risk of recruitment and the situation threatens to exacerbate an already dire and critically underfunded humanitarian crisis. Today, the DRC is the scene of one of the world’s most neglected crises. Millions of people are in need of humanitarian aid and the threats facing families and children, and those who have become separated whilst fleeing, are growing by the day. 

History of DRC

Brief historical summary of key events.


Period from 1960-1965

During this period, the Congolese people achieve independence. Congo Free State becomes the Republic of Congo. A political crisis breaks out following the departure of Belgium. Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the DRC is murdered.


Period from 1965-1990

Joseph Mobutu seizes power during a coup, renaming the country Zaire, and ruling it for decades. His reign is marked by corruption and increasing economic struggle.



The ethnic cleansing of Hutus in Rwanda forces over 1 million Hutus to flee to eastern DRC.


Period from 1996-1997

First Congo War breaks out as armed groups from Rwanda capture eastern Zaire, joined by anti-Mobutu rebels from Uganda. Armed groups advance on Kinshasa, they overthrow President Mobutu. Zaire officially becomes the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).


Period from 2002 - 2003

Congo and Rwanda sign peace deal following the Rwandan genocide, and Uganda and Congo sign peace accord for the removal of Ugandan troops.



War Child begins operations in DRC to provide support for children with wellbeing and psychological support.


Period from 2008 - 2018

Kabila gains another term as President and DRC is declared a ‘mega-crisis’ as conflict forces 1.7 million people to flee their homes. 11 countries sign peace deal to end the conflict and armed group declares a ceasefire.



Felix Tshisekedi is President. 11 African countries sign agreement in Ethiopia to end conflict across Africa. Armed forces are defeated by the Congolese army, but this period saw the highest number of displaced people following an increase in violence.

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