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Early History (1300s - 1800s)
The Belgians (1870s - 1959)
Independence (1960 - 1990s)
War (1994 - 1999)
Failed Peace Efforts (1999 - 2003)
Transition (2003 - 2006)
A New Government but More Conflict (2006 - )

Early History


The Kongo empire, a highly structured and developed state, rules over a region that today covers parts of south-western Congo, northern Angola and a slice of the Republic of Congo. It lasts for some 500 years. 


Portuguese explorers arrive at the mouth of the Congo River establishing the first contact between the Kongo kingdom and Europe.


Atlantic slave trade impacts Kongo. Over the next 300 years, more than 5 million slaves are captured from within several hundred miles on either side of the Congo River mouth with most shipped to Brazil. In 1526, Kongo's King Afonso sends a letter to the Portuguese King João III imploring him to end the practice, stating his country is being "depopulated."


The rise of the Kuba federation, another highly structured state, in what is today southern Congo. The Kuba king was an elected figure with both men and women eligible for office. The federation lasts until 1910.


The Kongo kingdom is torn apart by internal rivalry and slavery.

The Belgians


Belgium's King Leopold II starts his colonial project in central Africa.


British explorer Henry Stanley - who navigated the Congo River to the Atlantic Ocean for King Leopold, opening it up as a trade route - gives the famous greeting "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" to a missionary who had been out of contact for some time.


Leopold announces establishment of the Congo Free State, under his direct control.


The Kuba kingdom resists against the foreign invaders, although Leopold's agents eventually enforce their authority. The Kuba continue to fight against the regime.

Late 1890s

Edward Dene Morel, a British journalist, begins to expose the brutal system of slave labor used by King Leopold to profit from Congo's rubber and ivory. A few years later, in 1904, he officially launches the Congo Reform Association, one of the 20th century's first international human rights movements, to campaign for change in Congo. 


Joseph Conrad's novella, The Heart of Darkness, based on his experience as a steamer captain on the Congo River, is published. The book details the horror of Leopold's forced labor regime.


Following immense pressure from the Congo Reform Association's campaign, Leopold sells control of Congo to the Belgian state. Later academic research finds that during Leopold's rule and its immediate aftermath, Congo's population may have been slashed by as many as 10 million people. Life for Congo's inhabitants continues with only minimal improvements.


Industrial mining of copper begins in Katanga province. Diamonds are discovered in Kasai.


Forced labor continues though less murderous then before.  Belgium government sets a requirement that all Congolese must do 60 days of compulsory labor each year.


First labor strikes in major cities which are brutally repressed.


Belgian government increases the forced labor requirement to 120 days per year.


Recognition of workers' rights and the introduction of minimum wages. 


Anti-colonial riots in Kinshasa (then called Leopoldville) with demands for independence from Belgium.


June 1960

Congo gains independence. Before the handover, Belgium robs the treasury and transfers the debt to the new Congolese government. Patrice Lumumba wins Congo's first elections and becomes the coalition government's prime minister. He attempts to steer a neutral course between the United States and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.


A secessionist movement launched in eastern Katanga province is supported by the Belgians in an attempt to garner off the rich copper belt from the Congo state. 

July 1960

The new Congolese government asks the United Nations for assistance against external aggression and to help remove Belgian soldiers and foreign mercenaries from the country. The UN authorizes one of its first peacekeeping missions in Africa, known as ONUC, which at its peak had some 20,000 peacekeepers.  

September 1960

Lumumba is removed from power and arrested in a coup d'état led by Col. Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, with encouragement from Belgium and the United States.

January 1961

Lumumba is shot by a firing squad with assistance from Belgian officials after a CIA attempt failed. His body is secretly buried but later dug up, cut up with a hacksaw, and dissolved in acid in an attempt to cover-up the crime.

September 1961

The plane carrying UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld crashes while en route to Zambia for peace talks about the conflict in Congo, killing all aboard. 


The secessionist movement is defeated, Katanga reintegrates back into Congo and the UN force withdraws.


Mobutu seizes power in a CIA-backed coup and brutally cracks down on political rivals, hanging some in public executions. He remains president of Congo for 32 years.

1966 - Mobutu nationalizes mining and redistributes foreign-country management to a local elite, mostly friends and family. He squanders and embezzles billions of dollars through trade in copper, cobalt, diamonds and coffee.


Mobutu changes his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (which translates as: The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake) and renames the country Zaire. He gains unquestioned support from the US government by siding with the US during the Cold War and allowing his country to be used as a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola.  He receives substantial US financial assistance.


American boxers Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fight the "rumble in the jungle" in Zaire. Ali, who wins the fight, says he wanted to establish a relationship between African-Americans and Africa.


With the cold war over, the US government finds its alliance with authoritarian Mobutu embarrassing. Mobutu is forced to open up the country to multiparty democracy and permits a National Sovereign Conference to discuss the transition. For some 15 months, the country's political leadership discusses the political, economic and social situation. Following the conference, Mobutu appoints a transitional government but remains president and holds on to substantial powers.


April 1994

Rwanda's Hutu extremist government orchestrates a genocide of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. When Tutsi rebels take control of Rwanda, over a million Hutu - including many of the leaders who directed the genocide - take refuge in camps across the border in Zaire.

July 1994

An estimated 50,000 people die when cholera spreads through the huge, squalid refugee camps in eastern Zaire. 

November 1994

Aid agencies stop working in the refugee camps in eastern Zaire stating that the camps are becoming increasingly militarized. Former Rwandan Hutu soldiers control access and food distribution.

November 1996 - May 1997

The Rwandan army, in support of an anti-Mobutu rebel group, the Alliance for Democratic Liberation (AFDL), attack the refugee camps in eastern Zaire and march on the capital, Kinshasa, while Mobutu is abroad for medical treatment. Tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees flee westwards into Zaire's forests pursued by Rwandan army soldiers. 

May 1997

Mobutu flees into exile. With minimal resistance, the AFDL rebels and the Rwandan army seize Kinshasa, and Laurent Kabila, the rebel leader, is installed as president. The country is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.

September 1997

Mobutu dies of prostate cancer in exile in Morocco. The government does not permit his body to return for burial in Congo.

September 1997  

The UN attempts to follow-up on the fate of the Rwandan Hutu refugees missing in the forests of Zaire and to investigate reports of their mass slaughter by AFDL rebels and Rwandan army soldiers, but are blocked by the new Congolese government. Subsequent UN attempts to investigate are also thwarted.

Late 1997

Members of the former Rwandan Hutu extremist government establish a new armed group called the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) with members inside and outside Congo.

June 1998

The UN investigation team issues a preliminary report indicating that gross human rights violations, and possible genocide, were committed in 1996 and 1997 by the Rwandan army and their AFDL allies against the Rwandan Hutu refugees.  It calls for further investigations at a more "opportune" time.

August 1998

President Laurent Kabila demands that his Rwandan army backers leave the country. Kabila purges Tutsi from his government and whips up anti-Tutsi sentiment in an attempt to show his independence from Rwanda. Less than a week later, Rwandan and Ugandan armies invade Congo, backing a hastily formed Congolese rebel group seeking to oust Kabila.

August 1998

President Kabila receives support from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola and repels an attempt by the Rwandan and Ugandan armies to take Kinshasa, though they and their allied rebel groups remain in control of large parts of eastern Congo. Fighting continues and the Rwanda Hutu militia, ALIR, joins Kabila's side.

Failed Peace Efforts

August 1999

After a year of fighting involving the armies of seven other African countries, and a host of rebel groups, a ceasefire agreement is signed in Lusaka, Zambia.  The Lusaka agreement fails to halt the fighting.

November 1999

The UN Security Council establishes a peacekeeping mission for the Congo, known as MONUC, and requests the deployment of 500 military observers to monitor the Lusaka peace agreement.

February 2000

With no peace in sight, the UN Security Council expands the MONUC mission with an additional 5,537 peacekeeping troops, but its mandate remains weak and it is unable to halt the fighting between the belligerents.

May 2000

The diamond industry launches discussion with campaign groups in Kimberley, South Africa, on how to stop the trade in conflict diamonds. In June, the UN establishes a panel of experts to investigate reports of the illegal exploitation of Congo's mineral wealth and its link with the ongoing conflict.

May 2000

Elements of the Rwandan Hutu militia, ALIR, change their name to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

June 2000

Former allies Uganda and Rwanda battle for six days for control of Kisangani, one of Congo's main cities, leaving some 700 civilians dead. A UN investigation concludes the two armies committed war crimes and calls on Uganda and Rwanda to pay reparations. No action is taken by either government. The top Rwandan officer involved in the battle, Karenzi Karake, is later appointed deputy commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

June 2000

The International Rescue Committee in the first mortality survey conducted in Congo reports that more than 1.7 million people have died in the east of the country since 1998 due to the war.

January 2001

President Laurent Kabila is assassinated by a bodyguard. After days of uncertainty, his 29-year-old son Joseph takes office. A flawed military trial later found 90 people guilty of involvement in the assassination, including some of Laurent Kabila's close allies.

April 2001

The UN panel of experts on illegal exploitation publishes its first detailed report concluding that the Congo war has evolved into a conflict for access and control over minerals. It recommends sanctions against top military officials and companies involved in the illegal trade. No action is taken.  The UN calls for further investigations.

May 2001

In an updated mortality survey, the International Rescue Committee finds the total death toll in Congo has increased to 2.5 million with huge losses among children.

January 2002

Mount Nyiragongo, a volcano overlooking the eastern town of Goma, erupts, devastating large swathes of the city and sending its 300,000 residents across the border into Rwanda to escape lava flows. Unwilling to stay in Rwanda, Goma's residents return within days.

February 2002

The Inter-Congolese dialogue begins between rebel factions and other political actors in Sun City, South Africa, to hammer out a peace deal. After 52 days, two of the main rebels groups sign an agreement, but the Rwandan-backed rebels are excluded.

February 2002

Following a Belgium parliamentary inquiry, the Belgium government apologizes to Congo for the role played by its officials in the assassination of Lumumba.

April 2002

Congo ratifies the Rome Statute becoming a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

June 2002

Human Rights Watch publishes a report "The War Within the War" documenting for the first time the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war in eastern Congo.

September 2002

An estimated 3,000 civilians are brutally massacred when rival militias clash in the hospital town of Nyankunde, Ituri district. The event marks the largest massacre of the second Congo war. Only one international newspaper reports it.

October 2002

Rwanda pulls its 20,000 troops out of Congo following pressure from the international community and a loose agreement from the Congolese government to disarm the Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whose leaders participated in the genocide. The UN Security Council authorizes an increase in peacekeeping troops to 8,600.

October 2002

The UN panel of experts on illegal exploitation publishes another report concluding the withdrawal of foreign troops is unlikely to curb the plunder of Congo's mineral wealth since "elite criminal networks" have been established to carry on the exploitation. The panel lists 85 international companies that violated international business norms in Congo.

December 2002

South Africa brokers a peace deal with the Rwandan-backed rebels paving the way for a Congolese transitional government where the rebels and the government agree to share power. The deal stipulates that Kabila remains interim president but shares power with four vice-presidents, two of whom are former rebel leaders.

April 2003

Based on its latest mortality survey, the International Rescue Committee reports that the death toll of Congolese civilians since 1998 has risen to 3.3 million, the largest civilian death toll of any war since World War II.

May 2003

Following immense diplomatic pressure, Uganda is the last foreign government to withdraw its troops from Congo. Having armed local ethnic militias in the northeast of the country, the Ugandan withdrawal creates a power vacuum and unleashes a wave of inter-ethnic fighting in the Ituri district that results in the deaths of thousands more civilians.

June 2003

At the request of the UN, European troops, largely made up of French soldiers, are urgently deployed to Ituri to protect civilians caught in brutal fighting between rival ethnic militias following Uganda's withdrawal and to support the beleaguered UN peacekeepers hunkered down in their small base in the town of Bunia.

July 2003

Human Rights Watch publishes a report "Ituri: Covered in Blood" detailing the widespread "ethnic cleansing" and human rights abuses taking place in Ituri district.

July 2003

The UN Security Council finally strengthens MONUC's mandate to permit the use of force to protect civilians at risk and authorizes an increase in peacekeeping troops to 10,800. Three months after their arrival, the EU force in Bunia is replaced by UN troops.


July 2003

The transitional government is sworn in with Joseph Kabila as interim president. Democratic elections are scheduled to be held within two years. Fighting continues in the east.   

October 2003

The UN panel on illegal exploitation publishes its final report concluding that the plunder of Congo's mineral wealth is likely to continue to fuel conflict and cause immense human suffering if national and international measures to curb it are not put in place. The panel recommends UN member states investigate 33 companies it had previously listed. The UN passes no resolutions and ends the mandate of the panel.  

March 2004

The Congolese transitional government requests the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes committed in Congo since July 2002.

May 2004

The media reports on dozens of cases of sexual exploitation abuses by MONUC peacekeepers in Congo. The UN dispatches a team to investigate the claims that later upholds a number of the allegations.

May/June 2004

Tutsi renegade general, Laurent Nkunda, with support from Rwanda, takes control of the eastern town of Bukavu (South Kivu) claiming to protect Tutsi civilians under attack. MONUC peacekeepers fail to halt Nkunda's advance. After intense diplomatic pressure, Nkunda withdraws from Bukavu four days later, but across the country MONUC staff are attacked by angry crowds protesting the UN's failure to act. 

June 2004

Failed coup attempt against President Kabila in Kinshasa led by Major Eric Lenge, who later flees with his accomplices.

June 2004

The ICC announces it will open the court's first-ever investigation on crimes committed in the Congo.  It focuses its attention on Ituri, in the northeast.

August 2004

160 Congolese Tutsi in a refugee camp in Gatumba, Burundi, are massacred by Burundian Hutu guerillas, possibly aided by other armed groups.  Congolese Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa, a Tutsi and leader of the former Rwandan-backed rebel groups, suspends his participation in the transitional government, nearly causing the peace process to unravel.  He later returns after diplomatic pressure.

October 2004

The UN Security Council authorizes an additional 5,900 troops for MONUC bringing the total number of peacekeepers to 16,431. The figure is only half of what the UN secretary-general had requested a few months earlier.

December 2004

The death toll climbs to 3.9 million dead, according to the International Rescue Committee in its fourth mortality survey. The majority of the deaths are due to lack of access to medicine or malnutrition.

January 2005

The transitional government appoints five former Ituri warlords with brutal records of human rights abuses as generals in the army. Human rights groups express outrage.

February 2005

Nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers are killed in an ambush by militias in Ituri in the deadliest assault yet on MONUC.

March 2005

Thomas Lubanga and Floribert Njabu, two notorious warlords from Ituri, are arrested in Kinshasa by Congolese authorities for alleged war crimes. 

June 2005

Human Rights Watch publishes "The Curse of Gold," a report detailing the widespread human rights abuses linked to ruthless efforts by armed groups and multinational companies to control and profit from gold mining areas in northeastern Congo. A Swiss company buying gold from Congo, criticized in the report, immediately announces it will halt its purchases.

June 2005

A Congolese parliamentary commission led by parliamentarian Christophe Lutundula submits a report which finds that dozens of mining contracts struck during the war years are either illegal or provide no benefit for the state. It recommends judicial action against senior political and corporate actors. Copies of the report for distribution to parliament go missing.

July 2005

Elections due to be held in 2005 are delayed.  Thousands of demonstrators protest in Kinshasa but are dispersed with tear gas.

September 2005

The Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) moves into Garamba National Park in northern Congo. Uganda, at war with the LRA for over 20 years, threatens to invade Congo.

October 2005

The ICC issues its first ever arrest warrants for five senior leaders of the LRA for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Uganda since July 2002.

October 2005

The UN Security Council authorizes further reinforcements for MONUC bringing the total of peacekeepers to over 17,000 - at the time, the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world. 

November 2005

The Congolese army launches a military operation in Katanga province in the south of the country to quell an insurgency led by Mai Mai commander Gedeon Kyungu Mutanda, a former ally of Kabila. Both sides commit such atrocities that locals dub the area of operations "the triangle of death." 

December 2005

Congo's new constitution is passed in a public referendum paving the way for national elections.

December 2005

The International Court of Justice finds Uganda committed human rights violations and the illegal plundering of Congo's resources while its armed forces occupied parts of the country between 1998 and 2003. It orders that compensation be paid, but Uganda fails to comply.

January 2006

Eight Guatemalan peacekeepers are killed during a highly secretive operation against the LRA in Garamba National Park in northern Congo. The operation fails to apprehend the LRA's leaders.

February 2006

The International Court of Justice rules it has no jurisdiction to rule on crimes committed by Rwanda in Congo during the 1998-2003 war.

March 2006

The ICC issues an arrest warrant for Thomas Lubanga for the war crime of using and recruiting child soldiers. Congolese authorities transfer Lubanga to The Hague where he becomes the first-ever ICC indictee in custody.

April 2006

An Ituri militia group kills a Nepalese peacekeeper and takes seven others hostage. After protracted negotiations, the peacekeepers are released a month later.

April 2006

Slow candidate registration, political wrangling and continued fighting in the east delay elections again. One of the main opposition parties, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), decides to boycott the elections, claiming they will not be free and fair.

April 2006

The UN Security Council authorizes the temporary deployment of a European Union force of 2,000 soldiers to support MONUC peacekeepers during Congo's elections.  The force stays until November 30, 2006.

May 2006

Mai Mai leader Gédéon Kyungu Mutanda and his wife surrender to UN peacekeepers effectively ending the insurgency in central Katanga. Several days later, they are handed over to Congolese judicial officials.

June 2006

Election campaigning begins in Congo's first multiparty elections in over 40 years. 33 presidential candidates compete for the top job. Joseph Kabila is the favorite to win.

June 2006

Joseph Kabila marries his long-time girlfriend, Marie Olive Lembe, in a colorful ceremony in Kinshasa broadcast live on national television improving his election chances.

July 2006

Laurent Nkunda launches a new rebel movement in North Kivu, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP).  Many of its members, including Nkunda himself, were previously in other Rwandan-backed rebel groups.

July 2006

First round of presidential and parliamentary elections. 70 percent of voters turn out to vote.

August 2006

Election results announced. President Kabila receives 45 percent of the vote, with his main rival, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, winning 20 percent. The candidate from the former Rwandan-backed rebel group wins less than 10 percent of the vote. Since neither candidate wins 50 percent, a run-off vote is scheduled. Kabila supporters are shocked at the failure to win on the first round.

August 2006

Kabila's camp orders the military into central Kinshasa. The soldiers and Bemba's security guards exchange fire, killing a number of people. Diplomats attempt to reduce tension between the two sides but while meeting with Bemba at his home, soldiers open fire, trapping the vice-president and 14 diplomats inside and destroying Bemba's helicopter. UN peacekeepers intervene and remove the trapped ambassadors.

August 2006

A joint commission is established to investigate the fighting and establish the rules of conduct for the run-off vote.  No one is held accountable for the 23 deaths during the skirmishes or for the attack on Bemba's home.  Tensions remain high.

August 2006

Nkunda's rebel troops clash with government soldiers in eastern Congo. Nkunda's area of control expands.

September 2006

Results from parliamentary polls are announced leaving Kabila's party with the biggest tally of seats, but no overall majority.

October 2006

More warlords are made colonels in the Congolese army, including Ituri warlord Peter Karim, responsible for the earlier murder and hostage taking of UN peacekeepers.

October 2006

A televised debate between the two presidential candidates, required by law, is cancelled after Kabila refuses to debate face-to-face with Bemba. Neither candidate campaigns personally, each fearing the possibility of assassination by the other side.

October 2006

The run-off vote is held between the two presidential candidates amidst high tensions in Kinshasa.

November 2006

Nkunda's rebel troops clash again with government troops in eastern Congo, and gain more ground.  UN peacekeepers push Nkunda back.

November 2006

Election results announced. Kabila wins 58 percent of the vote to Bemba's 42 percent. Bemba files a legal challenge alleging vote rigging by the Kabila camp, and more violence ensues. Kabila's victory is upheld by the Supreme Court and Bemba reluctantly accepts the decision.

December 2006

Joseph Kabila sworn in as president.

A New Government but More Conflict

December 2006/January 2007

Shortly after taking office, Kabila dispatches General John Numbi, the head of the air force, to secretly negotiate a deal with Nkunda. The two sides meet in Rwanda and agree to integrate Nkunda's rebel troops into the national army (in what is called mixage) and to permit them to stay in the Kivu provinces. Nkunda gives a vague commitment to go to South Africa.

January 2007

Bemba is elected a senator and vows to play an important role in leading a democratic opposition to Kabila.

January/February 2007

More than 100 supporters of Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK), a political religious group based in western Bas Congo province seeking a return to African authenticity and allied with Bemba, are gunned down by police and soldiers when protesting against alleged election fraud in provincial elections. Few countries denounce the violence.

February 2007

A new government is named under Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga, an elderly politician from western Congo, whose appointment is expected to appease Bemba supporters in western Congo.

February 2007

The National Assembly establishes a commission of inquiry-the first such commission in Congo's newly elected assembly-to investigate the events in Bas Congo, but political leaders hamper its work.

February/March 2007

In the east, Nkunda's CNDP rebel troops begin to integrate into the national army but the process is marred with problems.

March 2007

Bemba gives his first press interview since losing the elections, setting the tone for his opposition agenda. He criticizes Kabila for corruption and attempting to kill him.

March 2007

Bemba's 400 remaining security guards in Kinshasa refuse to join the Congolese army. The Kabila camp launches military operations. Heavy fighting between the two sides rages for three days in the capital, killing hundreds of civilians caught in the crossfire. Bemba and his family take refuge in the South African embassy. Soldiers destroy Bemba's party headquarters, arrest and torture hundreds of suspected Bemba supporters, and summarily execute 150 of them.  

April 2007

After diplomatic intervention, Bemba is permitted to leave for Portugal on medical grounds and is escorted to the airport late at night by UN peacekeepers. After his departure, more of his supporters are arrested.

May 2007

The integration of Nkunda's rebel troops into the national army collapses.  Nkunda intensifies recruitment in his zone of control and in Rwanda. He gives frequent press interviews and becomes the new face of a Rwandan-backed rebel group.

May 2007

V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women, launches a new campaign to call attention to the wide-scale sexual violence crimes committed against women and girls in Eastern Congo. Celebrities and other prominent personalities sign up.

June 2007

The government announces the establishment of a commission to review 60 mining contracts to ensure the Congolese people will benefit from the deals. Assurances that the process will be transparent quickly dissipate. 

August/September 2007

Fighting intensifies in North Kivu between Nkunda's CNDP rebels and the national army. Some 200,000 people flee their homes. The Congolese army sends more troops. A high-level meeting of key donor nations takes place in New York amidst concern that the situation in eastern Congo is deteriorating. Rwanda denies it is backing Nkunda. 

September 2007

China signs a deal with Congo providing it a loan of US$9 billion in exchange for mineral rights to Congo's copper and cobalt.

September 2007

In a meeting between the Congolese and Ugandan presidents in Tanzania, Congo agrees to undertake military operations against the LRA in Garamba National Park in the north of the country, though the Congolese government is slow to implement its commitments.

September 2007

UN human rights experts complete a report detailing serious human rights violations committed by Kabila's presidential guards during the March fighting with Bemba's bodyguards in Kinshasa.  Top UN officials decide not to publish the report.

October 2007

The Congolese government transfers a second warlord, Germain Katanga, a top military leader in an Ituri militia, to the ICC.  Katanga is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his participation in ethnic massacres.

October/November 2007

Attempts to broker a ceasefire between the government and Nkunda's rebels fail. Nkunda says he won't disarm until the Kabila government stops supporting the Rwandan Hutu militia, the FDLR. Evidence mounts that Rwanda backs Nkunda and the Kabila government supports the FDLR. 

November 2007

An agreement is signed in Nairobi, Kenya, between the Congolese and Rwandan governments. Congo agrees to stop all support to the FDLR and to start military operations against them if they refuse to return voluntarily to Rwanda.

December 2007

A Congolese army offensive with support from UN peacekeepers against Nkunda's rebels results in a humiliating defeat. Government soldiers desert frontline locations. Nkunda calls for peace talks.

January 2008

The civilian death toll continues to mount. The International Rescue Committee reports that a staggering 5.4 million people have died from conflict-related causes since 1998.

January 2008

The Congolese government organizes a peace conference in Goma. After three weeks of talks, a peace deal is signed between the government and 22 armed groups, including Nkunda's rebels. Diplomats agree to facilitate the implementation of the deal.

February 2008

The ICC arrests its third Congolese war crimes suspect. Ituri warlord Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui is arrested by Congolese authorities while undergoing military training in Kinshasa and handed over to the ICC. 

March 2008

Over 200 people are killed in a second government crackdown on the political religious movement Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) in the western Bas Congo province. Government ministers claim the BDK were armed but present no convincing evidence. Soldiers attempt to hide the evidence by throwing corpses in the river.

March 2008

The UN Human Rights Council terminates the mandate of the independent expert on human rights for Congo citing political progress and stabilization in the country.

April 2008

The ICC unseals an arrest warrant for Bosco Ntaganda, the former chief of military operations for an Ituri militia group, who joined Nkunda's ranks in 2006. Nkunda refuses to hand Ntaganda over, saying the crimes were not committed while Ntaganda was under his command.

May 2008

The ICC arrests Jean-Pierre Bemba in Belgium for war crimes and crimes against humanity his troops committed in the Central African Republic in 2002, including widespread rape.  Bemba's supporters claim the arrest is political.

June/July 2008

Peace deal between Nkunda and the government begins to unravel. Sporadic clashes between the two sides results in more displacement of civilians.

July 2008

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights launches a six-month project to document the most serious human rights violations committed in Congo between 1993 and 2003. The project is due to cover the controversial 1996-97 period when thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees disappeared.

August 2008

The British government concludes that two UK-based companies violated international business norms contributing to the brutal conflict in Congo and human rights abuses, five years after the UN panel of experts on illegal exploitation provided it with information. No criminal charges are brought against the company's executives.

September 2008

Kabila sends troops to northern Congo to begin the much-delayed containment operations against the LRA.  The LRA responds by attacking civilians, killing 160 people and abducting more than 300 children in villages close to their headquarters in Garamba National Park.

September 2008

Nkunda holds an annual meeting with his supporters. The CNDP movement expands its objectives to include the overthrow of Kabila.

September 2008

Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga resigns, reportedly for health reasons, and is replaced by Adolphe Muzito, an unknown former finance inspector.

October 2008

Nkunda's rebels capture an important military base in North Kivu.  They withdraw a few days later with huge stockpiles of weapons. Top government ministers blame MONUC peacekeepers for not doing enough to halt Nkunda's advance and whip up public sentiment against them.

October 2008

A UN group of experts investigating arms trafficking provides detailed evidence that the Congolese government continues to support and arm the FDLR, the Rwandan Hutu militia, and that Rwanda is backing Nkunda.

October 2008

Nkunda's forces capture Rutshuru and other strategic towns. The Congolese army disintegrates, its soldiers looting and raping as they flee. Nkunda's forces approach Goma, the capital of North Kivu, causing widespread panic. After pressure from Rwanda, Nkunda calls off the advance and demands face-to-face peace talks with the government.

November 2008

Nkunda's rebels, commanded by Bosco Ntaganda, massacre 150 people in the town of Kiwanja, within a kilometer of a MONUC base. Thousands more flee resulting in a deepening humanitarian crisis. Dozens of senior diplomats visit Goma and pledge more aid.

November 2008

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is appointed as the UN special envoy to help resolve the crisis. Regional and other international leaders meet for crisis talks with the UN secretary-general in Kenya. The UN authorizes 3,000 additional troops for MONUC bringing the total number of peacekeepers to over 20,000. No countries initially come forward to supply the additional peacekeepers.

November 2008

Human Rights Watch publishes a report "We Will Crush You," detailing the brutal restriction of democratic space by Kabila's government including the summary executions, arbitrary arrests and torture of opponents. The government holds a press conference denouncing the report; parliament calls for a full inquiry.

December 2008

The UN secretary-general asks the European Union to provide short-term troops for eastern Congo while awaiting the UN reinforcements. After much dithering, the EU refuses. President Kabila requests military assistance from other African countries but is turned down. While Obasanjo conducts shuttle diplomacy between Kabila and Nkunda, high-level delegations from Congo and Rwanda secretly agree to a deal. 

December 2008

The Ugandan army, backed by Congolese and Southern Sudanese troops and with support from the US, launches an attack on LRA bases in Garamba National Park. The LRA retaliate over Christmas killing more than 800 Congolese civilians and displacing tens of thousands. 

January 2009

Nkunda is ousted as leader of the CNDP rebels by his military chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, and is arrested in Rwanda. Ntaganda abandons the three-year insurgency and declares that the CNDP's troops will integrate into the government army to fight the FDLR Hutu militia in a joint military campaign with the Rwandan and Congolese armies. Despite an outstanding ICC arrest warrant, Ntaganda is promoted to general in the Congolese army. Rwandan troops cross the border into eastern Congo. Congolese parliamentarians express outrage at the government's new strategy.

January 2009

The ICC's first-ever trial begins in The Hague of Ituri warlord Thomas Lubanga, who is charged with war crimes. The opening day of trial is broadcast live on television across the Congo.

February 2009

The Rwandan-Congolese offensive against the Rwanda Hutu militia, the FDLR, ends having only succeeded in pushing the FDLR from a number of their bases. Rwandan troops withdraw from Congo. In the weeks and months that follow, the FDLR retaliate against Congolese civilians killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands. The LRA continue their attacks in northern Congo.  

March 2009

The Congolese government signs a peace agreement with the CNDP rebels and accepts the group's transformation into a political party. The bulk of the Ugandan troops withdraw from northern Congo without capturing the LRA's leadership. The UN agrees to support the Congolese army in continued operations against the FDLR and the LRA. 

March 2009

Congo demands the extradition of Nkunda to Congo so he can stand trial.  Rwanda refuses. A military court in Katanga finds Mai Mai commander Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga guilty of crimes against humanity following a 19-month trial, the longest war crimes trial in Congo's history. Human rights group applaud the judgment.

March 2009

Nine years after the UN peacekeeping mission started its work in Congo, MONUC adopts a strategy for how it can help to combat sexual violence in Congo.

March 2009

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) extends a $200 million emergency loan to help Congo through the economic crisis. The loan is due to pay salaries of civil servants, including government soldiers.

April/May 2009

UN agencies report the humanitarian crisis in eastern Congo is deepening with 800,000 people forced to flee their homes during military operations. MONUC and the Congolese army prepare to launch further operations in South Kivu. Looting and rape by unpaid Congolese army soldiers increase. The integration of former CNDP and other rebels into the national army runs into trouble. 

May 2009

The Congolese parliament passes an amnesty law for rebel militias in North and South Kivu. The bill provides no amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity.  Retaliation attacks by the FDLR and the LRA continue.

June 2009

President Kabila celebrates Independence Day in Goma claiming peace has finally arrived in the east.

June/July 2009

Human Rights Watch announces a massive increase in human rights abuses since the start of military operations against the LRA and FDLR rebels, accusing both rebel combatants and government soldiers of committing war crimes.  The government rejects the charges as "lies" but later announces a new policy of "zero tolerance" for abuses and rape committed by its soldiers. Ntaganda remains a general in the Congolese army.

July 2009

Switzerland hands over $6 million of frozen assets to Mobutu's family, saying the Congolese government had taken too long to demand that it be returned to the state.

This timeline is based on academic sources and current accounts including Human Rights Watch research.

For further information, please see:

  • Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998)
  • Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People's History (2002)
  • Gerard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War: The Congolese Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (2009). US title: Africa's World War: Congo, The Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe
  • Michela Wrong, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo(2001)
  • Ludo de Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba (2002)
  • Tshilemalema Mukenge, Culture and Customs of the Congo (2001)
  • Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State (1985)
  • Jean-Pierre Chrétien, The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History (2003)

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