In 1885, the Belgian king Leopold II took possession of a large portion of central Africa that we now call the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the early 20th century, the Belgian government controlled the colony and named it the Belgian Congo. The native population of the Belgian Congo resisted the foreign government and in 1960, Belgium granted the colony its independence.
The new country was the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country elected a new government headed by a president and prime minister. But within a year of independence, the prime minister died -- possibly an assassination -- and the army revolted against the government. An army officer named Mobutu seized control but later ceded power back to the president.
In 1965, Mobutu again seized control of the government and declared himself president. He maintained control for decades. While the country held periodic elections, they were a sham. Mobutu was effectively a dictator who renamed the country Zaire.
By the late 1980s, Mobutu faced pressure both from within Zaire and from other nations to hold legitimate elections. A second government arose in Zaire, ultimately merging with Mobutu's government. Mobutu continued to delay a legitimate vote into the 1990s.
Meanwhile, in 1994 a violent conflict broke out in neighboring Rwanda. This conflict was between two ethnic groups: the Hutus and the Tutsis. The two groups had been at odds for decades. The conflict became one of the most violent in the late 20th century. After the Rwandan president, a Hutu, died when his plane was shot down, Hutus turned on Tutsis. In three months, nearly 800,000 Rwandans died -- most of them Tutsis as a result of Hutus committing genocide.
But in the end, Tutsis gained control of the Rwandan government. Thousands of Hutus from Rwanda, many of whom took part in the genocide, fled to Zaire. The presence of Rwanda militia in eastern Zaire further destabilized the country.
In 1996, a man named Laurent-Desire Kabila organized a rebellion against Mobutu. Kabila received support from Uganda and Rwanda in his bid to oust Mobutu. In 1997, Mobutu left Zaire. Kabila named himself president and the country again assumed the name of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kabila's military consisted of Congolese and Rwandan troops and was known as the Forces Armées Congolese (FAC).
In 1998, Rwandan troops inside the DRC rebelled against Kabila. Kabila's former allies Rwanda and Uganda sent forces into the DRC to overthrow him. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops in support of Kabila. Rwandan forces pulled back to the eastern part of the DRC. Meanwhile, Ugandan troops occupied and controlled the northern part of the DRC.
These forces -- Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan -- would play a large role in the lives of DRC's citizens in the years to come.