The DRC is located in Central Africa and is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa by area. With around 92 million inhabitants (according to UNFPA), the DRC is the most populous officially francophone country in the world. Centered on the Congo Basin, it is home to the second-largest contiguous tract of tropical forests in the world and is thus of particular importance in times of global warming. The DRC is one of Africa’s most richly endowed countries in terms of mineral wealth. The country hosts numerous major deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum, and lithium – minerals crucial for the development and usage of new technologies around the globe.
Historical and Regional Background and Political System
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has had a volatile history. The area, which was settled about 80,000 years ago, consisted of several kingdoms before it was colonized in 1884. Under the Belgian King Leopold II, the cruel exploitation of the country and its people led to the deaths of an undetermined number of people, often estimated at around ten million. After gaining independence on June 30, 1960, internal unrest and foreign interference led to decades of dictatorship in the DRC. After two devastating wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003), the political and economic system stabilized, however, fighting continues in the eastern parts of the country.
In 2019, the first peaceful transition of power took place, but the results of this last presidential election are still being contested due to severe irregularities. Oppositional actors such as Catholic organizations and other civil groups are raising their voices to advocate for democratic rights as corruption and political repression diminish the immense opportunities in the DRC. As a multilingual and multiethnic state, the DRC is a cornerstone in the politics of Central, East and South Africa.
Ballot box and election workers at a school in Kinshasa. The election on 30 December 2018 was preceded by two years of uncertainty, protests and instability. © picture-alliance/Stefan Kleinowitz
President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi Visits Arlington National Cemetery © Arlington National Cemetery
Foreign Policy & International Agenda
The DRC is a key member of the African Union (AU) and is strongly committed to building a free trade arena, promoting economic integration, and implementing the Agenda 2063. The DRC has also established working relations with the Southern African Development Community (SADC): its main objective is to end the ongoing conflict in the eastern parts of the DRC. Furthermore, the DRC is seeking to join the East African Community (EAC) to build up better relations with its East African neighbor states. By joining the EAC, the DRC hopes to gain better access to East African ports and stabilize the eastern parts of the country by means of higher trade flows through the region.
In recent years, the DRC’s relations with China have become more important for its development, but the DRC has only benefited from these relations to a certain extent. The interdependence has led to one-sided advantages mainly for China such as the “Sicomines” Agreement, which gave China access to key minerals for energy products in return for investment in Congolese infrastructure projects.
The DRC’s relations with the West are complicated due to past controversies. The EU and its Member States are important trade and development partners and invest large amounts of money in areas such as sustainable agriculture. Special ties with France are based on Francophonie and focus on education and health. Relations with Belgium are strongly influenced by its colonial past with the DRC. Since President Tshisekedi took office, the relations have improved significantly, and Belgium is finally acknowledging its brutal colonial rule and the associated atrocities committed by the Belgian Crown.
Diplomatic relations with the USA are deep and longstanding and began right after independence in 1960. Key topics of US foreign policy in the DRC include combating corruption, improving security and judicial institutions, and ensuring accountability for human rights violations. The DRC is an important member of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and receives much support in the fight against Ebola and HIV.
DRC and the UN
Since joining the UN in 1960, the DRC has been an active member of various UN bodies and also hosts the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO. Since 1999, MONUSCO has been mandated to contribute to state building and to establish peace and security in the conflict-ridden eastern regions. Although MONUSCO has been successful in building democratic structures, it often fails to address the root causes of conflict, such as racial inequality and poverty, and to involve civil society in the peace processes.
On the international level, the current President Tshisekedi is cooperating more closely with the UN and focusing on a stronger commitment to stabilizing cooperation. Regarding environmental policies, the DRC has entered a ten-year agreement to protect the Congo Basin rainforest for the period 2021-2031. Moreover, the DRC continuously strives to strengthen Africa’s position in the international system and calls upon Member States to enter into constructive win-win partnerships with African states rather than just granting “charity for Africa”. The DRC is further a strong advocate of African (permanent) representation on the Security Council to do justice to the enormous potential of the African continent.
Peacekeepers from Malawi serving with the Force Intervention Brigade of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) are deployed to the area of Kamango, in the North Kivu Province, to protect the population after recent attacks on civilians. © UN Photo/Michael Ali