Democratic Republic of the Congo
Established as a Belgian colony in 1908, the Republic of the Congo gained its independence in 1960, but its early years were marred by political and social instability. Col. Joseph MOBUTU seized power and declared himself president in a November 1965 coup. He subsequently changed his name - to MOBUTU Sese Seko - as well as that of the country - to Zaire. MOBUTU retained his position for 32 years through several sham elections, as well as through brutal force. Ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive inflow of refugees in 1994 from fighting in Rwanda and Burundi, led in May 1997 to the toppling of the MOBUTU regime by a rebellion backed by Rwanda and Uganda and fronted by Laurent KABILA. He renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but in August 1998 his regime was itself challenged by a second insurrection again backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Troops from Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe intervened to support KABILA's regime. A cease-fire was signed in July 1999 by the DRC, Congolese armed rebel groups, Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe but sporadic fighting continued. Laurent KABILA was assassinated in January 2001 and his son, Joseph KABILA, was named head of state. In October 2002, the new president was successful in negotiating the withdrawal of Rwandan forces occupying eastern Congo; two months later, the Pretoria Accord was signed by all remaining warring parties to end the fighting and establish a government of national unity. A transitional government was set up in July 2003. Joseph KABILA as president and four vice presidents represented the former government, former rebel groups, the political opposition, and civil society. The transitional government held a successful constitutional referendum in December 2005 and elections for the presidency, National Assembly, and provincial legislatures in 2006. The National Assembly was installed in September 2006 and KABILA was inaugurated president in December 2006. Provincial assemblies were constituted in early 2007, and elected governors and national senators in January 2007. The next national general elections are scheduled for November 2011.
The economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - a nation endowed with vast potential wealth - is slowly recovering from two decades of decline. Conflict that began in May 1997 has dramatically reduced national output and government revenue, increased external debt, and resulted in the deaths of more than 5 million people from violence, famine, and disease. Foreign businesses curtailed operations due to uncertainty about the outcome of the conflict, lack of infrastructure, and the difficult operating environment. Conditions began to improve in late 2002 with the withdrawal of a large portion of the invading foreign troops. The transitional government reopened relations with international financial institutions and international donors, and President KABILA began implementing reforms, although progress has been slow and the International Monetary Fund curtailed their program for the DRC at the end of March 2006 because of fiscal overruns. Much economic activity still occurs in the informal sector, and is not reflected in GDP data. Renewed activity in the mining sector, the source of most export income, boosted Kinshasa's fiscal position and GDP growth from 2006-2008, however, the government's review of mining contracts that began in 2006, combined with a fall in world market prices for the DRC's key mineral exports inflicted major damage on the sector. An uncertain legal framework, corruption, a lack of transparency in government policy are long-term problems for the mining sector and the economy as a whole. The global recession cut economic growth in 2009 to less than half its 2008 level, but donor assistance and diligence on the part of the central bank have brought economic growth to 6% in 2010. This was after the financial crisis caused reserves to fall to less than one day's worth of imports in early 2009. The DRC signed a new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility with the IMF in 2009 and received $12 billion in multilateral and bilateral debt relief in 2010.