In an earlier episode in our History of Africa podcast series,we looked at the Congo Free State. This was the ruthless and murderous regime under King Leopold of Belgium in the Congo. Public outcries against the Congo Free State, where millions died, finally led to its end in 1908. Leopold turned over the Congo to the Belgium government, and the Congo Free State became the Belgian Congo. Today’s episode looks at the history of the Belgian Congo from 1908 to independence in 1960.

The Congo was among the richest of colonies in Africa when it came to raw resources. While the rubber plantations were supplanted by new crops in southeast Asia, mining boomed in the Belgian Congo. For decades the Belgians advertised to the world that peace, prosperity, and developed boomed alongside these economic surges in the Belgian Congo. It was all a facade. In truth, the people of the Congo continued to be oppressed and disenfranchised during the Belgian Congo years. They were not allowed a voice. They were not allowed to be politically active. And they were not allowed to engage with their own destiny as a nation.

Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the newly independent Congo.

As World War II dawned, the Belgian Congo financed the Belgian government in exile. The Congo became a priority to the new superpowers who found its uranium mines necessary for the development of the new atomic bombs. Voices and leaders like Patrice Lumumba and Joseph Kasavubu began to break against the yoke of the colonial authorities and demanded independence.

Joseph Kasavubu first president of the newly independent Congo.

When the Belgians finally surrendered independence to the Congolese in 1960, they handed the nation over to a people and government that had been dysfunctionalized in every imaginable way for nearly a century. The Congo Crisis that resulted in 1960 was not merely an issue of poor leadership and governance on the part of the Congolese. It was a matter of deliberate disempowerment and divide-and-rule strategies that the Belgians had employed in the Congo.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was founded June 30, 1960

This is the story of the Belgian Congo from 1908-1960, concluding with the Congo Crisis of 1960-65.

Learn more about the history of the Congo and the Belgian Congo


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Find the other episodes of our History of Africa podcast series here.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at