The human rights campaign instigated by Sheppard and Morrison ended in 1908 when the Belgian government took control of the colony away from Leopold. However, life improved only marginally for the Congolese people. Morrison, who still lived in the Congo, tried to start a new movement against the ongoing abuses, but died before achieving any further reform.
Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960. The colonial rulers had ensured that the Congolese people were ill-prepared to manage the country and did little to help the new leaders succeed. Only a month after independence, the army mutinied, the Katanga region seceded, and newly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba requested UN troops to help him control the situation. When the region of South Kasai also seceded, Lumumba asked the USSR for support, alarming the US and its allies. In short order, the US and Belgium helped military chief of staff Joseph-Desire Mobutu seize power and send Lumumba to his death.
Mobutu remained a valued ally of the West for nearly three decades, propped up by foreign aid despite a dictatorial ruling style that scholars have called kleptocracy (rule by theft). He leased mining rights to foreign companies and pocketed the profits, building a vast fortune while his country’s infrastructure crumbled. His Western allies finally turned against him in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when democratization became a priority. A rebel coalition formed, supported in part by the new Rwandan government, which was interested in chasing down culprits from its 1994 genocide. Mobutu was finally topppled in 1997 and replaced by rebel leader Laurent Kabila.
The conflict was seemingly over, but soon Kabila fell out with his former allies in Rwanda and Uganda, leading to a sprawling international conflict that has been dubbed “Africa’s World War.” Kabila was assassinated in 2001, and was replaced by his son, Joseph. Fighting continues despite peace agreements and efforts to stabilize the country. The war has had a devastating effect on everyday life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As many as five million people died, and the vast majority of Congolese people have been negatively affected by the ongoing violence.