History of Lubumbashi

Published on 12th June 2007

Lubumbashi, formerly Élisabethville or Elisabethstad until 1966, is the second largest city in Democratic Republic of the Congo and the hub of the southeastern part of the country. The copper-mining city serves as the capital of the relatively prosperous Katanga (formerly Shaba) province, lying near the Zambian border. It is the main industrial centre of the mining district of southeastern Congo. Most regional mining companies are headquartered in Lubumbashi, which is the transportation centre for mineral products (copper, cobalt, zinc, cadmium, germanium, tin, manganese, and coal) from the towns of Likasi, Kolwezi, Kipushi, and others. Other industries include printing, brewing, flour milling, and the production of confectionery, cigarettes, brick, and soap.

The city of Élisabethville (sometimes Elizabethville, both in French, or Elisabethstad in Dutch) was founded by the Belgians in 1910 which prospered with the development of a regional copper mining industry. In December 1941, miners in Élisabethville conducted a strike to protest the increasingly severe forced-labor regime that the Belgians imposed on the population. In 1957, during the municipal elections, the people of Élisabethville gave a vast majority to the Nationalist Alliance de Bakongo, which demanded immediate independence from the Belgians.

During the bloody 1960-1963 Congolese civil war, Élisabethville served as the capital and center of the secessionist independent state of Katanga. Moise Tshombe proclaimed Katangan independence in July 1960. Congolese leaders arrested him and charged him with treason in April 1961; however, he agreed to dismiss his foreign advisers and military forces in exchange for his release. Tshombe returned to Élisabethville but repudiated these assurances and began to fight anew. United Nations troops opposed Katangan forces and took control of the city in December 1961 under a strong mandate.

When Mobutu Sese Seko assumed power, he renamed Élisabethville "Lubumbashi" and, in 1972 renamed Katanga "Shaba." In the 1990s, Congo entered another civil war. The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo rebels captured Lubumbashi in April 1997. On May 17, 1997, Rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila spoke from Lubumbashi to declare himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after Mobutu Sese Seko fled Kinshasa.

When Laurent-Désiré Kabila decided to appoint a transitional parliament, in 1999, a decision was made to install the Parliament in Lubumbashi, in order to consolidate the fragile unity of the country. Lubumbashi was therefore the Legislative capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1999 to 2003, when all the countries central institutions were brought back to Kinshasa.

The city lies at the centre of railway lines to Ilebo, Kindu, Sakania and Kolwezi. Lubumbashi hosts the modern Luano international airport and serves as a distribution center for such minerals as copper, cobalt, zinc, tin, and coal. 

Attractions in the city include a botanical garden, a zoo, a brewery, and the regional archaeological and ethnological National Museum of Lubumbashi. The city also hosts the major University of Lubumbashi.



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