The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a nation in central Africa and the third largest country on the continent. It borders the Central African Republic and Sudan on the north, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania on the east, Zambia and Angola on the south, and the Republic of the Congo on the west. The country enjoys access to the sea through a narrow 40 km streatch, following the Congo river into the Gulf of Guinea. The name Congo (meaning 'hunter') is coined after the Bakongo tribe, living near the Congo river basin. Formerly, the Belgian colony of the Belgian Congo, the country's post-independence name was changed in 1971, from Congo-Kinshasa (after its capital, to distinguish it from the Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville) to Zaire, until 1997. Since 1998, the country has suffered greatly from the devastating and genocidal Second Congo War (known also as the African World War), the deadliest conflict since World War II.



Main article: History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo


The area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was populated as early as 10,000 years ago, and settled in the 7th and 8th centuries by Bantus from present-day Nigeria.

European exploration and administration (1870–1960)

European exploration and administration took place from the 1870s until the 1920s. The area was first mapped by the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley. He prepared the region for European colonization. Congo was given to King Leopold II of Belgium in the Conference of Berlin in 1885. He made the land his private property and named it 'Congo Free State'. In this Free State, the local population was brutalized in exchange for rubber, a growing market with the development of rubber tires. The selling of the rubber made a fortune for Leopold, who built several buildings in Brussels and Ostend to honour himself. During the period between 1885 and 1908, between 5 and 15 (the commonly accepted figure is ~10) million Congolese were killed by the mercenaries working for the Belgian king. However, there were international protests by not only famous writers such as Mark Twain, but also British diplomat Roger Casement, whose 1904 report on the Congo condemned the practice. Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness also takes place in Congo Free State. In 1908, the Belgian parliament bowed to international pressure in order to save their last bit of prestige in Europe, forcibly adopting the Free State as a Belgian colony from the king. From then on, it became the Belgian Congo, but in practical terms, things changed only slightly.

During World War II the small Congolese army achieved several victories against the Italians in north Africa.

The First Republic (1960–1965)

Congo became independent on June 30, 1960, after almost a decade of political struggle; Belgium finally withdrew, fearing a war for independence similar to that in Algeria. The first Prime Minister, Patrice-Emery Lumumba (1925–61), was a member of the politically minor Batatele tribe; he was educated in mission schools and later worked as a postal clerk. He became a member of the permanent committee of the All-African Peoples Conference (founded in Accra, 1958) and president of the Congolese National Movement, an influential political party. After a January 1959 uprising, he fled the country to escape arrest but soon returned. Late in 1959, accused of instigating public violence, he was jailed by the Belgians but was released (1960) to participate in the Brussels Congo conference, where he emerged as a leading negotiator. When the Republic of the Congo came into existence (June, 1960) Lumumba was its first premier and minister of defense.

Post-independence wars (1960–1965)

See main article Congo Crisis

Shortly after independence, the army, still led by Belgian officers, mutinied after hearing the declaration by a Belgian general that "things won't change just because of independence". The military revolt continued until President Kasavubu and Lumumba replaced the Belgian officers by Africans, which resulted in most Belgians fleeing and thus the crash of the young nation's administration. The Belgian government flew in troops to protect Belgian citizens, and Lumumba appealed for aid to the United Nations. The UN sent troops to reestablish order, which were strongly supported by the United States, which believed Lumumba to be a communist and wanted to avoid the Congo turning to the USSR by any means. At the same time the rich Katanga province declared its independence. As a military operation in August 1960 to regain a further secessionist province, Kasai, failed, Lumumba demanded that the UN move against Katanga, but when the UN reiterated to Lumumba that it was a neutral peacekeeping force and therefore could not fight against a seccessionist province, Lumumba asked the USSR for aid, which he received and utilised. This made it obvious to US President Eisenhower that the USSR was using Lumumba to establish a communist stronghold in central Africa. Eisenhower and Belgium gave the order to kill Lumumba, but an attempt with a poison toothbrush was not undertaken. Immediately after this, President Kasavubu, his rival for power, dismissed him as prime minister and he, in turn, dismissed Kasavubu as president. Shortly afterwards, Lumumba was put under house arrest by Colonel Joseph Mobutu. Lumumba escaped to join his supporters in Stanleyville but was recaptured and then flown (January, 1961), on orders from the Belgian Minister for African affairs, to his sworn enemies in Katanga. On the way he and two of his assistants were harshly tortured and shot by a Belgian-Congolese command. Their corpses were dissolved in sulfuric acid a few days later. In February, it was announced that he had been killed by angry villagers (which was not believed by many). Riots of protest took place in many parts of the world. See his Congo: My Country (1962) and Lumumba Speaks (ed. by Jean van Lierde, tr. 1972); study by T. R. Kanza (1972).

The CIA had aided Mobutu and was pleased with the outcome, having viewed the Soviet-backed Lumumba as a Communist puppet. Conversely, as Mobutu grew in power and prominence, he was accused of being an American puppet.

In recent years, the Belgian government has admitted that it also played a role in Lumumba's overthrow.

The Second Republic (1965–1997)

Following five years of extreme instability and civil unrest, Mobutu, now Lieutenant General, overthrew Kasavubu in a 1965 coup d'état. A one-party system was established, and Mobutu declared himself head of state. He would occasionally hold elections in which he was the only candidate. Relative peace and stability was achieved, but Mobutu's government was accused of human rights violations, repression, a cult of personality (every Congolese bank note displayed his image,) and excessive corruption — in 1984 he was said to have USD $4 billion, an amount close to the country's national debt, stashed away in personal Swiss bank accounts. In an effort to spread African national awareness, Mobutu renamed the country and river Zaïre, renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko, and promoted old African values and traditions. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. relations with Kinshasa cooled, as Mobutu was no longer deemed a necessary Cold War ally and his opponents within Zaïre stepped up demands for reform.

The Third Republic (1997– )

Since 1994, the Congo has been rent by ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive inflow of refugees from fighting in Rwanda and Burundi. The government of Mobutu Sese Seko was toppled by a rebellion led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in May, 1997; his regime was subsequently challenged by a Rwandan and Ugandan-backed rebellion in August 1998. Troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Sudan intervened to support the new regime in Kinshasa. See Foreign relations of Congo and First Congo War.

A cease-fire was signed on July 10, 1999; nevertheless, fighting continues apace especially in the eastern part of the country, financed by revenues from the illegal extraction of minerals such as coltan. Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and his son Joseph Kabila was named head of state. The new president quickly began overtures to end the war. Fighting continued, even after an accord signed in South Africa in 2002. But by late 2003, a fragile peace prevailed. Kabila appointed four vice-presidents, two who had been fighting to oust him until July, 2003. See also: Second Congo War


Main article: Politics of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The government of former president Mobutu Sese Seko was toppled by a rebellion led by Laurent Kabila in May 1997; with the support of Rwanda- and Uganda. They were later to turn against Kabila and backed a rebellion against him in August 1998. Troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Sudan intervened to support the Kinshasa regime. A cease-fire was signed on 10 July 1999 by the DROC, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Namibia, Rwanda, and Congolese armed rebel groups, but sporadic fighting continued. Kabila was assassinated on 16 January 2001 and his son Joseph Kabila was named head of state ten days later. In October 2002, the new president was successful in getting occupying Rwandan forces to withdraw from eastern Congo; two months later, an agreement was signed by all remaining warring parties to end the fighting and set up a government of national unity.

Political divisions

Main article: Political divisions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Congo is divided into 10 provinces, and 1 independent city (Kinshasa):

Major Cities

  • Bandundu (Banningville)
  • Bukavu (Constermansville)
  • Djokupunda (Charlesville)
  • Ilebo (Port-Francqui)
  • Isiro (Paulis)
  • Kalemie (Albertville)
  • Kananga (Luluabourg)
  • Kinshasa (Léopoldville)
  • Kisangani (Stanleyville)
  • Kolwezi
  • Likasi (Jadotville)
  • Lubumbashi (Élisabethville)
  • Lukutu (Élisabetha)
  • Lusanga (Leverville)
  • Mbandaka (Coquilhatville)
  • Mbanza-Ngungu (Thysville)
  • Moba (Baudoinville)
  • Mobaye-Mbongo (Banzyville)
  • Mbuji-Mayi (Bakwanga)
  • Ubundu (Ponthierville)


Image of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, taken by NASA
Image of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, taken by NASA

Main article: Geography of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Congo is located in the west-central part of sub-Saharan Africa. It straddles the Equator, with one-third to the north and two-thirds to the south. Clockwise from the west, it is bounded by Angola, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, the Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania across Lake Tanganyika, and Zambia.

The capital, Kinshasa, is located in the country's western salient, immediately across the Congo River from Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo.

The Congo includes the greater part of the Congo River Basin, which covers an area of almost a million square kilometers. The country's only outlet to the Atlantic Ocean is a narrow strip of land on the north bank of the Congo River.

The vast, low-lying central area is a basin-shaped plateau sloping toward the west and covered by tropical rainforest. This area is surrounded by mountainous terraces in the west, plateaux merging into savannas in the south and southwest, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River in the north.


Main article: Economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - a nation endowed with vast potential wealth - has declined drastically since the mid-1980s. The two recent conflicts, which began in 1996, has dramatically reduced national output and government revenue, has increased external debt, and has resulted in the deaths from war, famine, and disease of perhaps 3.8 million people. Foreign businesses have curtailed operations due to uncertainty about the outcome of the conflict, lack of infrastructure, and the difficult operating environment. The war has intensified the impact of such basic problems as an uncertain legal framework, corruption, inflation, and lack of openness in government economic policy and financial operations. Conditions improved in late 2002 with the withdrawal of a large portion of the invading foreign troops. A number of IMF and World Bank missions have met with the government to help it develop a coherent economic plan, and President Joseph Kabila has begun implementing reforms. Much economic activity lies outside the GDP data.


Main article: Demographics of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The population was estimated at 56.6 million in 2003, growing quickly from 46.7 million in 1997. As many as 250 ethnic groups have been distinguished and named. The most numerous people are the Kongo, Luba , and Mongo. Although 700 local languages and dialects are spoken, the linguistic variety is bridged both by the use of French and the intermediary languages Kikongo, Tshiluba, Swahili, and Lingala.

About 80% of the Congolese population are Christian, predominantly Roman Catholic. Most of the non-Christians adhere to either traditional religions or syncretic sects. Traditional religions embody such concepts as monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft, and sorcery and vary widely among ethnic groups; none is formalized. The syncretic sects often merge Christianity with traditional beliefs and rituals. The most popular of these sects, Kimbanguism, was seen as a threat to the colonial regime and was banned by the Belgians. Kimbanguism, officially "the church of Christ on Earth by the prophet Simon Kimbangu," now has about 3 million members, primarily among the Bakongo of Bas-Congo and Kinshasa.


Main article: Culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo


The rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo contain great biodiversity, including many rare and endemic species, including the bonobo, mountain gorilla, okapi and white rhino. Five of the country's national parks are listed as World Heritage Sites: the Garumba , Kahuzi-Biega , Salonga and Virunga National Parks, and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The civil war and resultant poor economic conditions have endangered much of this biodiversity. Many park wardens were either killed or could not afford to continue their work. All five sites are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage In Danger.

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