Democratic Republic of Congo

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Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)

The nation today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (République Démocratique du Congo) or DRC experienced a number of name changes over the course of its history, which may prove quite confusing to those not very familiar with African history. To differentiate it from the former French Congo (now Republic of Congo), the nation has at various times been called Congo-Leopoldville (vice Congo-Brazzaville), Republic of the Congo, Congo-Kinshasa, or simply Congo. Between 1971 and 1997, the nation was known as Zaire, and between 1960 and 1963 a breakaway state existed within its borders known as Katanga.

As with much of this part of Africa, archaeoligical evidence suggests the original inhabitants were Pygmies that were displaced by late-Neolithic period Bantu-speakers who later populated the region. Out of these Bantu emigrants would later emerge the Kingdom of Luba, which spread over most of the present DRC as well as parts of Angola and Zambia from 1585 to 1889. The Luba had developed metallurgical technology, and controlled regional trade with most Arabs seeking slaves, ivory and precious metals.

Belgium began to show interest in the Congo in the late 19th century, engaging the services of Sir Henry Morton Stanley to explore the region. By means of the Conference of Berlin in 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium obtained personal property rights to the land, declaring it the Congo Free State, and proceded to exploit the natural resources for as much profit as possible. The indigenous population were forced to work on rubber plantations, which earned Leopold a fortune. To enforce the rubber quotas, an army known as the Force Publique (FP) was created and brutalized the local population. During the period of 1885–1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease. Bowing to international pressure and condemnation, in 1908 the Belgian government assumed control of the Free State as a colony, renaming it Belgian Congo.

In the late 1950s, a wave of nationalism had begun to pass over much of Africa, taking hold in the Belgian Congo as the Mouvement National Congolais or MNC Party, led by Patrice Lumumba. In 1960, the MNC won parliamentary elections and appointed Lumumba as Prime Minister, and Joseph Kasavubu as President. The new Republic of the Congo (République du Congo) offically declared independence on 30 June 1960, but was almost immediately faced with a crisis as the province of Katanga declared its intent to secede. At nearly the same time, a mutiny of the Force Publique led to looting and terrorization of the European population, with thousands fleeing the country. Following a Belgian military intervention to secure the safety of the remaining European population, most Belgians left the country (including officers and senior Army NCOs), leaving a newly renamed Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC) with little trained leadership.

Initially supported by local Belgian businesses and several thousand Belgian military personnel, the State of Katanga was declared on 11 July 1960, to the violent opposition of the Congolese government. Patrice Lumumba was shortly thereafter kidnapped and executed under mysterious circumstances, leaving Kasavubu as president, but with real power in the hands of Joseph Mobutu, who controlled the ANC. The resulting war involved a sizeable number of European Katangese and mercenaries fighting for Katanga, and eventually led to a military intervention by the United Nations on the side of the Congolese government. Under intense international and military pressure and with little outside support, Katanga eventually capitulated after its capital fell on 15 January 1963.

On 25 November 1965, Mobutu siezed power from president Kasavubu and declared a one-party state. A series of mutinies in 1966 and 1967 involving former Katangese gendarmes and European mercenaries were both quelled, and in 1971 the name of the country would be changed to Zaire. Mobutu ruled the nation with an iron fist until 1997 when he was deposed during the First Congo War by a coalition of militias and friendly foreign governments (Uganda, Angola and Rwanda) calling themselves the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL). Under the leadership of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the ANC was defeated and the country renamed Democratic Republic of Congo, with Kabila as president.

Following his victory, Kabila thanked them for their help, and requested all foreign military personnel return to their countries of origin. Not wishing to relinquish what power they had, however, Rwandan troops organized the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) to wage an insurgency campaign. Ugandan soldiers did the same, forming the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). Thus between August 1998 and July 2003, the Second Congo War raged between the transitional government of the new DRC and the two aforementioned rebel militias. The largest war in modern African history, it directly involved eight African nations, as well as approximately twenty-five different armed groups. By 2008 the war and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation. The government of the DRC was assisted by Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe, while the insurgents were aided by the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. Kabila was assassinated in 2001, but succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila who shortly thereafter managed to arrange a cease-fire agreement and a United Nations mission to restore peace (MONUC). However, the war was reignited in January 2002, with both Uganda and Rwanda sending troops back into the country. The conflict officially ended in 2003, although the death toll would continue to mount due to cases of malnutrition and disease.

The armed forces of the DRC are today known as the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo or FARDC. With a total strength of about 130,000, the FARDC comprises the Army, Air Force, and a small Navy. The Garde Républicaine (Republican Guard) - formerly known as the Special Presidential Security Group (GSSP) - has approximately 10,000 personnel charged with VIP protection and especially as a deterrent against a possible coup d'etat.

The ongoing United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) has a strength of approximately 16,000 personnel from various countries.

Camouflage Patterns of Congo-Kinshasa (Congo-Leopoldville): 1960-1970

  • Both the Force Publique (FP) and the later Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC) wore olive green as a standard combat uniform, but some units (in particular the Para-Commando Battalion) were issued Belgian camouflage uniforms, including both types of brushstroke and the early Belgian jigsaw pattern. There is some evidence to suggest locally-made or imported uniforms were also worn, made of the same fabrics.

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  • Additional documentation from the early and mid-1960s shows some units of the ANC wearing Portuguese m1963 "vertical lizard" pattern camouflage uniforms. It is a mystery as to where these uniforms were sourced, however, as Portugal was still heavily involved in its own Colonial wars and was certainly not known to have supported the new Congolese government.

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  • Other early units of the ANC during the 1960s have been documented wearing various French lizard designs, some of which appear to be ex-French surplus, but many of which were probably either locally produced from imported fabrics, or imported from European companies. The tailoring on these latter uniforms is distinctly un-French.

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Camouflage Patterns of the DRC: 1997-present

  • Units of the FARDC have worn a variety of camouflage patterns, including many worn during Mobutu's regime, when the country was still called Zaire. Even in recent years, scattered examples of the "leopard spot" and Zairean jigsaw pattern can be found both among government units and within the ranks of rebel militias.

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  • The Chinese "woodland" pattern issued to the PLA has also been exported and worn by some units of the FARDC from 1997 onwards.

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  • An Asian-produced leaf pattern, also worn by some units in Sierra Leone has also seen considerable use by the FARDC in recent years.

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  • In use with both the government forces and some insurgent units, commercial tiger stripe patterns are popular.

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  • Copies of US m81 woodland pattern are also common.

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  • A unique "grasslands" pattern is worn by elements of the Presidential Guard.

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  • Also a strange three-color pattern similar to the Norwegian M75 has been observed most recently among FARDC troops.

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