How the west fueled the bloody history of the Congo

Jacques Chirac and Mobutu

Former French president Jacques Chirac and and Congolese dictator Mobutu

When Portuguese traders arrived from Europe in the late 15th Century they found a sophisticated empire, with its own aristocracy and an impressive civil service, known as the Kingdom of Kongo that dominated the western portion of the Congo, and bits of other modern states such as Angola.

When the Belgians left at "Independence in 1960, "...there was not a single Congolese lawyer, doctor, economist or engineer...Of 5,000 government jobs pre-independence, just three were held by Congolese."

According to Dan Snow of the BBC, when the Portuguese arrived in the 1480s, they realized they had stumbled upon a land of vast natural wealth, rich in resources - particularly human flesh. 

The Congo was home to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of strong, disease-resistant slaves. The Portuguese quickly found this supply would be easier to tap if the interior of the continent was in a state of anarchy.

They did their utmost to destroy any indigenous political force capable of curtailing their slaving or trading interests.

Money and modern weapons were sent to rebels, Kongolese armies were defeated, kings were murdered, elites slaughtered and secession was encouraged.

By the 1600s, the once-mighty kingdom had disintegrated into a leaderless, anarchy of mini-states locked in endemic civil war. Slaves, victims of this fighting, flowed to the coast and were carried to the Americas.

Ever wondered where the practice of amputating the arms of the uncooperative Africans came from? It was introduced to the Congo by its Belgian masters. 

Did you know that the uranium for the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from a mine in south-east Congo? That the brass casings of allied shells fired at Passchendaele and the Somme in World War II were 75% Congolese copper?

Read the detailed historical account by historian Dan Snow of the BBC here.