Congo: 'Africa's World War'

‘For all that we may not have a clue about what can be done about the Congo, the least we can do is have the courage to not look away.’
The Telegraph on They Drink It In The Congo

Inspired by They Drink It In The Congo, we're exploring some of the themes and issues bought up in the play. Our second installment looks at the history of the D.R. Congo, and the origins of ‘Africa’s World War’.


The Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa’s second largest country, around two-thirds the size of Western Europe, with an estimated $24 trillion worth of untapped deposits. This should make it one of the richest countries in the world, when in fact ranked by GDP the DRC is the 7th poorest. Amongst the minerals mined in the DRC are Coltan and Gold, Congo’s most expensive natural resource, retailing at $42,900 per kilo. The Congolese militia earn around £44-88 million per year for trade in Gold.

(Click here to find out more about Congolese Coltan – one of the crucial elements to 21st century living.)

Lasting from 1997-2003, the most recent conflict is also probably one of the world’s most obscure - despite being the deadliest war since World War Two. Nicknamed ‘Africa’s World War’, an estimated 5 million people were killed as a result of the fighting.

The war followed political unrest after rebels ousted Mobutu Sese Seko after 32 years in power – power he gained after killing Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, leader of the Congolese National Movement in 1961. Lumumba won the DRC’s first national election in 1960 after the country gained independence from Belgium. The years following independence proved volatile – 20,000 UN peacekeepers were sent to Congo between 1960-1964 to help resist Belgian troops, along with a number of secessionists vying for power. Mobutua installed himself as president in 1965, but it wasn’t until 1970 he was officially elected president following an election.

After ousting Mobutu, Laurent Kabila became president in 1997 with backing from the Rwandan army and the country descended into conflict. At its peak, nine countries were fighting on Congolese soil. In 2001 President Laurent Kabila was shot dead by a bodyguard, with his son Joseph succeeding him. It wasn’t until 2006 that the first free elections for over 40 years were held – Joseph Kabila won and remained as President, however the vote was contested.

Since ‘Africa’s World War’, conflict persists in Eastern Congo where there are still dozens of armed groups fighting for political power, and the control of mines and people.

In late 2015 the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, visited the DRC to futher investigate the ongoing issues, and ‘stressed the necessity to ensure that “no Congolese is left behind”’:

“We need new creative ways – a new compelling narrative to ensure continued support by the donors and international community, to what remains one of the world’s most complex and protracted emergencies.”


In depth:

A number of media organisations have reported on the history and conflict in the DRC, including:

The Atlantic: Origins of the war

France 24: Getting away with murder in the D.R Congo.
Reporters from France24 recently went to investigate mass killings in DR Congo. “What is preventing the armed forces from protecting Beni’s citizens? Is there collusion between the Congolese army and the rebels? Why have UN forces failed in their mission to protect civilians?”

UN: DR Congo humanitarian crisis must not ‘fall off’ world’s radar

International Business Times: 5 questions to understand 'Africa's World War'


If you’re interested in learning about D.R. Congo – its past, present and future –  They Drink It In The Congo playwright Adam Brace in conjunction with Congolese community members has complied a list of books, films and other resources:

They Drink It In The Congo runs until 1 October 2016.

The above links are selected as being editorially relevant to the content they are linking from and provide additional information for the intended audience. The Almeida Theatre is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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