Patrice Lumumba (left center) immediately after being sworn in as the first Prime Minister
The Belgians rushed the process of Congolese independence in 1960, but in the days following the formal handover of power to Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, the country’s most resource-rich province, Katanga, seceded. Katanga’s mines produced vast amounts of copper as well as the uranium that produced the fuel for the American bomb that decimated Hiroshima.
The secession sparked a five-year conflict during which Lumumba was assassinated and overthrown, the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld’s airplane was shot down, and Belgian and UN troops occupied parts of the country. Joseph Mobutu, an army officer, emerged as the head of state in the Congo and remained a staunch Cold War ally of the United States.
Joseph Kabila came to power 17 years ago at the age of 29, following the assassination of the previous incumbent, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, his father. He was reelected in 2006 and 2011.
In 2012, the country’s 35 bishops condemned the recent election results as subject to “serious errors,” and having been rife with “treachery, lies, and terror.” Cardinal Pasinya called for the results to be annulled and for Congolese to engage in acts of civil disobedience in protest.