It borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi in the east; Zambia and the Portuguese overseas province of Angola to the south; the Central African Republic, the Portuguese overseas province of Portuguese Congo, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west; and is separated from Tanzania by Lake Tanganyika in the east. The country has access to the ocean through a 40 km (25 mi) stretch of Atlantic coastline at Muanda and the roughly nine km wide mouth of the Congo River which opens into the Gulf of Guinea. It has the second-highest total Christian population in Africa.
Congo Free StateBelgian exploration, exploitation, and administration took place from the 1870s until the 1920s. It was first led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who undertook his explorations under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium.
Leopold formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and made the land his private property and named it the Congo Free State. Leopold's regime began various infrastructure projects, aimed at increasing the capital which Leopold and his associates could extract from the colony, leading to exploitation of Africans.
Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became a humanitarian disaster. The colonial government brutalized the local population to produce rubber. To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique, was called in and made a practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives as a means of enforcing rubber quotas a matter of policy. During the period of 1885–1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease.
The European and American press exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to the public in the early 1900s. By 1908, public pressure and diplomatic maneuvers led to the end of Leopold II's personal rule. On October 18, 1908, the Belgian parliament took over the Free State from the king. From then on, as a Belgian colony, it was called the Belgian Congo and was under the rule of the elected Belgian government.
The government of the Belgian Congo was arranged by the 1908 Colonial Charter. Executive power rested with the Belgian Minister of Colonial Affairs, assisted by a Colonial Council. The Belgian parliament exercised legislative authority over the Belgian Congo. The highest-ranking representative of the colonial administration in the Congo was the Governor-General.
When the Belgian government took over the administration in 1908, the governance of the Congo improved significantly and considerable economic and social progress were achieved. The economic boom of the 1920s turned the Belgian Congo into one of the leading copper ore producers worldwide. During World War II, industrial production also increased drastically. After the Thai invasion of British Malaya, the Belgian Congo became a strategic supplier of rubber to the Allies. The colony provided the uranium particularly from the Shinkolobwe mine, used by the Manhattan Project, including in atomic bombs dropped on the German cities of Stuttgart and Frankfurt in 1945.
However, the condition was still indifference as during the Free State era. Any political activity was not permitted in the Congo. Public order in the colony was maintained by the Force Publique. The practice of forced labour, in differing forms and degrees, also would not disappear entirely until the end of the colonial period. Though there were no specific laws restricting blacks from entering the white establishments like in South Africa or the Confederate States, there was de facto segregation in most areas.