The Congo (Zaire between 1965 and 1971; presently called Democratic Republic of the Congo) has long been considered significant because of its location, its resources, its potential, and (perhaps paradoxically) because of its weakness. The country has been at the center of a number of crises over the years, most notably following independence, during the Congo crisis of the 1960s, when there was a threat of the Cold War spilling over and heating up in Central Africa.
The Congo's importance is to some extent geopolitical. It borders on no fewer than nine other states. These countries range from Arab-dominated Sudan in the north, to Angola in the south. Hence, in defending its borders Congo can--and has--become entangled in political rivalries extending all the way from Libya and Egypt to South Africa.
On June 30, 1960, the Congo gained its independence from Belgium. Within the first year of independence, several events destabilized the country: the army mutinied; the governor of Katanga province attempted secession; a UN peacekeeping force was called in to restore order; Prime Minister Lumumba died under mysterious circumstances; and Col. Joseph Désiré Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) took over the government and ceded it again to President Kasavubu.
The Congo's minerals add to the country's importance. Although the value attached to them by outsiders has varied over the years, the country's resources remain impressive. In recent years, the Congo has been the world's largest producer of cobalt, second or third largest producer of industrial diamonds, and fifth largest producer of copper. In addition, the Atlantic coast contains important oil reserves, and the country also has some coal deposits.