The area we know today was first populated several millennia BC. It slowly developed into the Kingdom of Luba which had its heyday from 1585 to 1889.
The first Europeans came to the area in the 1870s and in 1885 the Conference of Berlin allowed King Leopold II of Belgium to acquire the rights to what was to become the Congo Free State.
In 1908, following international outrage at the way in which the native people were being treated the Belgian Parliament was forced to take over from the King and the country became the Belgian Congo.
On 30th June 1960 the Belgian Congo achieved independence and became the Republic of Congo. Because the name clashed with that of the French colony to the west, the country was often referred to as “Congo-Léopoldville” and subsequently “Congo-Brazzaville”,
In the May of 1960 the country had its first elections and the Congolese National Movement (MNC–L) led by Patrice Lumumba won the parliamentary elections taking 36 of 137 seats in the Chamber of Representatives. They formed a coalition with two other parties and the parliament went on to elect Joseph Kasa-Vubu as its first president.
The first few months of the new government were turbulent; the army mutinied and two states, Katanga and South Kasai declared independence. By September 1960 Patrice Lumumba had been sacked by the president and on 14th September the Chief of Staff of the Army, Joseph Mobutu (subsequently known as Mobutu Sese Seko) seized power in a military coup.
By this time a rival government had been established in the east of the country which was loyal to Patrice Lumumba. This was based around the town of Stanleyville. This meant that, in effect, the country was split into four.
In January 1961 as Patrice Lumumba was trying to get to the eastern controlled areas he was kidnapped, beaten, tortured and executed.
For the next few years the crisis deepened, involving Rwanda and Uganda and despite the intervention of the United Nations. There were three further governments but in 1965 Mobutu seized power once more and established a one party state in which all other political organisations were banned. His party was the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR) and he was formally sworn in as president on 24th November 1965.
In 1971 the country name was changed to Zaire and Mobutu continued to rule until 1997. In October 1996 a new uprising in the east and a military drive led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila and with the help of the Chinese took hold. By May 1997 Mobutu had fled the country and Kabila took over, re-naming the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Within months Kabila was facing a new uprising, again in the east and with the support of the Rwandans and Ugandans. By 1998 the DRC was back at war.
Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and was succeeded by his son Joseph who managed to broker a ceasefire in the February.
Peace briefly prevailed, but by 2002 there was conflict once more which lasted until June 2003 when a new ceasefire was agreed and a transitional government formed.
In July 2006 a new constitution came into effect and the first multi-party elections since 1960 took place. Although these were troubled and the presidential elections were forced to take place twice, a democratic government was elected.
Joseph Kabila won 45% of the vote in the first election and in the re-run took 70%. His People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) took 111 seats in the 500 seat National Assembly. Eventually an ‘Alliance of the Presidential Majority’ was formed which created a coalition of 11 parties and many individuals to give them a majority of 332 seats in the 500 seat house.
Although delayed, fresh elections have been scheduled for 28th November 2011.
The President is elected for a five year term and can serve a second consecutive term.
The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate and National Assembly. The Senate has 108 seats elected by the provincial assemblies to serve 5 year terms. The National Assembly has 500 members serving five year terms; 61 elected by first past the post (FPTP) in single member constituencies and 439 by PR in multi-member constituencies.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places The Democratic Republic of the Congo at joint 156th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 21 (where 100 is least corrupt).