Nineteen years ago today, Congo experienced its second liberation of the century. The first was in 1960, when it finally obtained independence from Belgium. Democratic elections were held, and Patrice Lumumba declared the winner. But Patrice wasn’t the favorite of Belgium, who still held financial interests in the region, nor the United States, who considered Africa a strategic proxy for the Cold War. So the powers-that-be made sure that Lumumba didn’t stick around long. In his place, they installed someone they considered friendlier to western interests, friendlier to business interests, an eager young up-and-coming general in the army, someone they thought they would have more influence over in the years to come. His name was Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, and he turned out to be one of the worst dictators Africa has ever seen. It’s because of him and his penchant for pocketing the country’s revenues (not to mention the rich donor countries that stubbornly and foolishly continued to send money) that Congo went nowhere but backwards on every possible measure of economic development, and to this day remains one of the poorest countries on the planet – despite being one of the richest in natural resources.