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Last Updated : December 2004
Key Events in Congo's Post-Independence History, 1960-97.
June 30, 1960--The Republic of the Congo gains independence from Belgium. The army mutinies July 5 and Katanga province (later known as Shaba) secedes. The United Nations sends troops to protect Europeans and maintain order. (The U.N. forces leave in 1964.)
September 14, 1960--Colonel Joseph Desire Mobutu, the army's 29-year-old chief of staff, intercedes militarily in a power struggle between President Joseph Kasavubu and Premier Patrice Lumumba, and arrests Lumumba. Mobutu returns power to Kasavubu in 1961. Lumumba is handed over to Katanga rebels and soon murdered. Evidence later emerges connecting Mobutu and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to Lumumba's murder.
August 1964--The country is renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
November 25, 1965--Mobutu stages a second military coup amid a political crisis. He names himself president for five years and cancels elections scheduled for 1966.
October 26, 1966--Mobutu dismisses the premier, Leonard Mulamba, and adopts a presidential form of government, with himself as president.
1970--Mobutu May 21 establishes his Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR) as the sole political party. All citizens are obliged to join the party. Mobutu is elected president in a one-candidate poll November 1. Throughout the 1970s, political dissent is crushed.
October 27, 1971--Under an Africanization policy, Mobutu changes the country's name to the Republic of Zaire. He changes his name January 12, 1972 to Mobutu Sese Seko. Zairians are obliged to Africanize their names and adopt African dress.
1973--Under a "Zairianization" policy, the government seizes 2,000 foreign-owned businesses. Most of the nationalized companies are distributed among Mobutu and his associates. Many fail because of the new owners' inexperience. As the Zairian economy crumbles, Mobutu and his circle grow rich by skimming the profits generated by the country's mineral wealth.
March 8, 1977--Former Katangan secessionists invade Shaba from Angola, where they had been living in exile. Mobutu suppresses the rebellion with the help of troops from Morocco and military assistance from his Western allies, including the U.S. and France. French and Belgian troops help put down a second Shaba invasion the following year.
1982--Opponents of Mobutu's one-party rule form the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS); its leaders are harassed and imprisoned throughout the 1980s.
April 24, 1990--Mobutu, under pressure from the opposition, announces the creation of a multiparty democratic system. A national multiparty conference to draft a new constitution and set up elections is suspended August 15, 1991 after one week of work.
October 1990--U.S. Congress cuts direct military and economic aid because of alleged corruption and human rights abuses by Mobutu's regime. The U.S. had supplied hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Mobutu since 1965.
September 29, 1991--Mobutu agrees to form a coalition government, with UDPS leader Etienne Tshisekedi as premier. Tshisekedi is fired October 20.
1992--The multiparty conference resumes amid continuing unrest. The conference August 15 names Tshisekedi premier, heading a transitional government. The conference November 14 adopts a draft constitution setting up a bicameral parliament and a system of universal suffrage to select the president, who would hold a largely ceremonial post. Tshisekedi holds the post of premier until 1994. Elections are delayed by squabbling between Mobutu and successive legislatures.
1994--Some 1.3 million ethnic Hutus flee Rwanda's civil war and settle in camps in eastern Zaire. Among them are many of the Hutu militants responsible for Rwanda's genocidal killings.
October 1996--Ethnic Tutsis in eastern Zaire revolt when threatened with expulsion. Led by veteran guerrilla fighter Laurent Kabila and supported by several neighboring countries, the uprising grows into an anti-Mobutu rebellion. Hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees return to Rwanda. Mobutu stays at his villa in France, undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
April 2, 1997--Under pressure from UDPS protests in the capital and a rapid advance by the rebels, Mobutu approves Tshisekedi's reappointment as premier. A week later, he replaces Tshisekedi with the hard-line army chief of staff, General Likulia Bolongo.
May 16, 1997--With Kabila's army poised to take Kinshasa, Mobutu relinquishes power and flees the capital. He leaves the country the next day to start a life in exile.
May 16, 1997--Kabila declares himself head of state and changes the country's name back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
New President Joseph Kabila