Independence Day is celebrated on June 30 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). On June 30, 1960, DR Congo became independent, yet the people still struggle for full freedom today in an environment full of armed conflict.
In 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium acquired the rights for the territory of Congo and made the territory his own property. Over several decades, Leopold exploited the local population to make profits from local resources, particularly rubber. Roughly 10 million Congolese died as a result of exploitation and disease, prompting the international community to protest and condemn. Under international pressure, the Belgian government reluctantly took control of the territory from Leopold and ran it as an official colony of Belgium beginning in 1908.
Strong international pressure again fell on the Belgium government in the 1950s to reform its policy on the colony of Congo, especially with details of how the colony would transition to a self-governing state. At the same time, pseudo-political parties started sprouting up across Congo, all with the intention of promoting a free and independent Congo.
One of the most successful groups was Association des Bakongo (ABAKO), a cultural and political organization led by Joseph Kasa-Vubu. ABAKO lead the charge for calls of independence from Belgium. ABAKO wasn’t alone, however. Other organizations representing different ethnic groups as well as alumni groups and urban associations joined in the calls for independence.
In January of 1959, the Belgian government eventually prohibited ABAKO from meeting with concerns that the group was becoming dangerously powerful, contributing more instability to the region. Mass riots soon broke out in the city of Léopoldville, and Kasa-Vubu was arrested on January 12. Afterwards, Belgium announced intentions for constitutional reform within the colony. The intentions failed and further instability occurred in the region, prompting a Roundtable Conference in Brussels in early 1960.
During the conference, Belgium tried to push the idea of a three to four-year transition, but the Congolese wanted nothing to do with that, only conceding a few months of transition. With a June 30 date set, there was recognition that elections would have to be held in May in order to have some sort of governmental infrastructure in place by the end of June. Joseph Kasa-Vubu was chosen to be president, and as planned, the region became officially independent on June 30, 1960.