Arab slave raid on Nyangwe
, circa 1870
Henry Morton Stanley founded
Stanley Falls Station in 1883, on the Island of Wana Rusari in the Congo River near the present town of Kisangani. During the mid-19th century the area was inhabited by a native Congolese tribe known as the Clans of Enya, who had used Wagenia Falls (formerly, Stanley Falls) for fishing. The island is located a few meters from the shore site of the present town on the Lualaba River its 7 falls spread over 100 km between Kisangani and Ubundu.
Some 1,300 miles from the mouth of the Congo River, Stanley founded the area's first trading post for King Leopold II of Belgium in December 1883. The city was known first as Falls Station (or "the Post Stanley Falls" or "The Falls" or simply "Boyoma" the African name of Boyoma Falls) and then with Belgian colonization of the area, it grew into a settlement called Stanleyville (after the explorer Henry Morton Stanley). A city terminus of steamer navigation on the Congo River, the town began as a Belgian trading post. It has been the major centre of the northern Congo since the late 19th century.
Stanley left Mr. Binnie, an engineer and a Scotsman, in charge to trade with the local people and to represent the Congo Free State. The name "Kisangani" was apparently used consistently by the local people, in conjunction with the name "Stanleyville" (as the city was referred to in French and respectively Stanleystad in Dutch). In Swahili the manual published by the Marist Brothers in the 1920s, we find an example of substitution naming "from X to Stanleyville" which is translated "toka X Mpaka Kisangani". The name "Kisangani" is a Swahili rendering of the indigenous Congolese language word Boyoma, meaning "City on the Island", also rendered in Lingala as Singitini (or Singatini) with the same meaning.
Europeans at Stanleyville in 1902
Soon after the establishment of ties between the Africans and Europeans, East African slavers from Zanzibar, often erroneously called "Arabs" by European writers of the time, reached Stanley Falls. Relations between Free State officials and the slavers were strained and after a fight the station was abandoned in 1887.
After the Arab-Euro wars in the Congo, in 1888 the Free State obtained (after negotiations in Zanzibar) an agreement to establish a form of power by appointing Mohammed Bin Alfan Mujreb Tippu Tip, one of the greatest Zanzibar slavers as first governor of the district of "Stanley Falls" stretching from eastern Tanganyika in Ituri through Maniema. Ultimately the Europeans gained complete control of the vast area in central Africa.
Stanley Falls Station, map plan in 1893, laying the foundations of Kisangani
On 15 July 1898, Stanleyville began serving as the capital of the relatively prosperous District of the Eastern Province Stanley Falls. City status was achieved by incorporation Order No. 12/357 on 6 September 1958, which divided Stanleyville into 4 municipalities: Belgian I, Belgian II, Brussels and Stanley.
Towards the end of 1958, the city became the stronghold of Patrice Emery Lumumba, the leader of the political party Mouvement National Congolais (MNC). His strong ties with the city had been forged during his days as one of 350 clerks at the central post office. Ethiopian ONUC troops arrived in the city after July 1960. After the assassination of Lumumba in 1961, Antoine Gizenga installed the Free Republic of the Congo in Stanleyville, that competed with the central government in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). Before the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960, Kisangani was reputed to have more Rolls-Royces per capita than any other city in the world.
In early 1964, the Simba Rebellion ("Simba Revolution") occurred, mushrooming into outright rebellion by May and June. By August rebels had overrun Stanleyville from their bases in Wanie Rukula. They closed the airport and barred civilians from leaving, including at least one foreign consular staff. A number of American and European nationals taken captive, and following intense negotiations Operation Dragon Rouge was launched by Belgium, the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC), and a plethora of foreign mercenaries under Colonel Mike Hoare to free the hostages.
In 1966 and 1967, Kisangani was the site of the Mercenaries' Mutinies, which led to widespread looting.
With the assumption of the "Zairianization" program in the 1970s by Mobutu Sese Seko, Stanleyville was officially renamed Kisangani and Stanley Falls became Boyoma Falls, and as of 27 October 1977 the municipalities were renamed as follows: Belgian I (Mangobo and Tshopo ), Belgian II (Lubunga), Brussels (Kabondo) and Stanley (Makiso).
In the 1990s, the area emerged as the theatre for a series of major battles known as the fight of Kisangani during the First Congo War. Laurent-Désiré Kabila, leader of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo invaded the Congo from the eastern region of the country with assistance from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda military forces. As of 30 October 1998, there were 15,000 Ugandan and 19,000 Rwandan troops on Congolese soil. Laurent Kabila designated Kisangani as the forward base for the foreign forces as he marched westwards towards Kinshasa to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko.
The alliance of foreign military forces disintegrated when people of Hutu descent were massacred by the thousands in western Zaire and because of looting in the mining areas, in particular, Kisangani and the Kivus. The population was completely opposed to the presence of foreign forces because of their behaviour. Laurent-Désiré Kabila could not continue to support the use of Kisangani as the base for foreign fighters as they launched attacks to massacre the Hutu people – hence he demanded that Rwanda pull its forces out of the country.
In 1999, the city was the site of the first open fighting between Ugandan and Rwandan forces in the Second Congo War, when nearly 3,000 people died in the cross fire. This followed the fracturing of the anti-government rebel group Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) into camps based in Kisangani and Goma. The fighting was also over the gold mines near the town. The local population was caught in the cross fire between Ugandan and Rwandan military forces which led to the destruction of about a quarter of the city. Various buildings were damaged, most notably the roof of the Cathedral Rosaire of Notre-Dame, which was ignited by missiles. Both of the foreign forces were reported to have looted and pillaged the city. Despite the condemnation of Uganda by the International Court of Justice, establishment of responsibilities, realization of compensation, or arrests are yet to be made.
Further clashes between Rwandan and Ugandan led to thousands more deaths and widespread destruction from 5 to 10 June 2000.
During the Second Congo War, on 14 May 2002, 160 people were massacred in Kisangani which is believed to be the work of those under the command of Laurent Nkunda. By the time a peace agreement was signed in 2002, the town was under the control of the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy - Goma (RCD-Goma).
The three encounters between Uganda and Rwanda in Kisangani have been coined the wars of 1 day, 3 days and the deadliest of 6 days in 2000.