Democratic Republic of the Congo

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) 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 forty kilometre stretch, following the Congo river into the Gulf of Guinea. The name "Congo" (meaning "hunter") is coined after the Bakongo tribe, living in 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 Second Congo War (known also as the African World War), the deadliest conflict since World War II.

République Democratique du Congo
Repubilika ya Kongo Demokratika
Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo
Repubiliki ya Kongo Demokratiki
Ditunga dia Kongu wa Mungalaata
Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Coat of Arms of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: Democracy - Justice - Unity
French: Démocratie - Justice - Unité
Anthem: Debout Congolais
Location of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Capital Kinshasa
4°24′ S 15°24′ E
Largest city Kinshasa
Official languages French (Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, Tshiluba are national languages)
Government Transitional government
Joseph Kabila
 - Date
From Belgium
June 30, 1960
 • Total
 • Water (%)
2,345,410 km² (12th)
 • 2004 est.
 • 1938 census
 • Density
58,317,930 (23rd)
24/km² (182)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2003 estimate
35,798 ¹ (77)
673 (162)
Currency Congolese franc (CDF)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
CET, EET (UTC+1 to +2)
not observed (UTC+1 to +2)
Internet TLD .cd
Calling code +243
¹ Estimate is based on regression; other PPP figures are extrapolated from the latest International Comparison Programme benchmark estimates.



Main article: History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Congolese pre-history

Main article: Early Congolese History

From 2000 BC to AD 500, waves of Bantu migrations moved into what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Although the term "Congo" usually encompasses neighboring Congo-Brazzaville as well) from the northwest, adding to and displacing the indigenous Pygmy populations into the southern regions of the modern DRC state. Subsequent migrations from the Darfur and Kordofan regions of Sudan into the northeast, as well as East Africans migrating into the eastern Congo added to the mix of ethnic groups. The Bantus imported agriculture and iron-working techniques from West Africa into the area, as well as establishing the Bantu language family as the primary set of tongues for the Congolese.

In the fifth century, a society began to develop in a region that initially encompassed only a 200 km area along the banks of the Lualaba River in the modern day Katanga province. This culture, known as the Upemba, would eventually evolve into the more significant Luba kingdom.

The process in which the original Upemba societies transitioned into the Luba kingdom was gradual and complex. This transition ran without interruption, with several distinct societies developing out of the Upemba culture prior to the genesis of the Luba. Each of these kingdoms became very wealthy due mainly to the region's mineral wealth, especially in ores. The civilization began to develop and implement iron and copper technology, in addition to trading in ivory and other goods. The Luba established a strong commercial demand for their metal technologies and were able to institute a primitive but long-range commercial net (the business connections extended over 1500 km, all the way to the Indian Ocean). By the 1500s the kingdom had an established strong central government based on chieftainship.

Medieval kingdoms

The Kuba Federation

The Kuba Kingdom, or more accurately, the Kuba Federation, was a political entity (one comprising a collection of approximately twenty Bantu ethnic groups) that began to develop out of a number of decentralized, ethnically Bantu states (namely the Luba, the Leele, and the Wongo ethnic groups). The federation’s capital was Nsheng, which is now modern Mushenge. The name “Kuba” is derived from the term used by the Luba (whose kingdom lay to the south of the Kuba) for the civilization.Because of its relative remoteness in the southern Congo, Kuba was largely spared the turmoil of both European and Afroaraber slave trades. As a result,the civilization was able to maintain itself until the 19th century. Also due mainly to its location, even after Belgium officially established the Congo Free State in 1875, the Kuba were able to sustain their federation, which comprised some 100,000 square kilometers and had a population of approximately 150,000 inhabitants.

The Kongo Empire

By the fifteenth century, the dominant political force of the Congo region was the Kongo Empire. The Kongo was a highly developed state located primarily in the southwest portion of the modern Congo, in addition to occupying portions of northern Angola and Cabinda. The state was particularly noted by Europeans on their arrival as having developed an intricate system of taxation. At its greatest extent, the empire reached from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Kwango River in the east, and from the Congo River in the north to the Loje River in the south. The kingdom was headed by a king known as the Manikongo who exercised his authority over the Bakongo (Kongo peoples) from his capital in Mbanza-Kongo, which grew into the present day city of Sao Salvador. The empire established itself as the hub of an extensive Central African trade network in which it traded slaves especially, along with other natural resources. The Kongo would eventually sell so many people into slavery that the empire collapsed due to lack of human resources and war with the Portuguese.

Other states

There were numerous other, but much smaller states scattered throughout the territory in the north and northeast of the basin, with Pygmies and other primarily hunter-gatherer populations located mostly in the southern portions of the region. Of particular note is that the populations of the Eastern regions of the premordial Congo were heavily disrupted by constant slaving, mainly from Zanzibari slave dealers. The slave trade in this portion of Africa was primarily Arab in nature (as opposed to the European or Atlantic slave trade) and captured persons were typically shipped off to the Middle East or holdings of Arabian kingdoms for labor.

European exploration and administration (1870–1960)

Main articles: Colonisation of the Congo, Congo Free State, Belgian Congo
Clearing tropical forests ate away at profit margins. However, ample plots of cleared land were already available. Above, a Congolese farming village (Baringa, Equateur) is emptied and levelled to make way for a rubber plantation.
Clearing tropical forests ate away at profit margins. However, ample plots of cleared land were already available. Above, a Congolese farming village (Baringa, Equateur) is emptied and levelled to make way for a rubber plantation.

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. Stanley had undertaken his explorations mainly under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium, who desired what was to become the Congo as a colony. In a succession of negotiations Leopold, professing humanitarian objectives in his capacity as chairman of the Association Internationale Africaine, played one European rival against the other. The Congo territory was acquired formally by Leopold at the Conference of Berlin in 1885. He made the land his private property and named it the Congo Free State. Leopold's regime began undertaking various development projects, such as the railway that ran from the coast to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) which took years to complete. Nearly all of these projects were aimed at increasing the capital Leopold and his cohorts could extract from the colony, leading to atrocious exploitation of Africans. In the 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 and his country. During the period between 1885 and 1908, between five and fifteen (the commonly accepted figure is about ten) million Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and diseases. To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique (FP) was called in. The FP was an army, but its aim was not to defend the country, but to terrorise the local population The Force Publique made the practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives as a means of enforcing rubber quotas a matter of policy; this practice was disturbingly widespread. However, there were international protests spearheaded mainly by E. D. Morel and British diplomat/Irish patriot Roger Casement, whose 1904 report on the Congo condemned the practice, as well as famous writers such as Mark Twain. 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 Belgian Congo, which was also rich in uranium deposits, supplied the uranium that was used to build the American atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, helping bring World War II to an end.

Post-Independence Crises

Main article: Congo Crisis

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-Leopoldville was established as an independent nation, Lumumba was its first premier and minister of defense. It was called Congo-Leopoldville to distinguish it from its northwestern neighbor, Republic of Congo-Brazzaville, which became independent later in August of that year.

Wars of Secession (1960–1965)

Image of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, taken by NASA; the Congo River is visible in the center of the photograph
Image of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, taken by NASA; the Congo River is visible in the center of the photograph

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 (South 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 secessionist province, Lumumba asked the USSR for aid, which he received and utilised. US President Eisenhower thought 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 of African Affairs, to his sworn enemies in Katanga. On the way he and two of his assistants were harshly tortured by a Belgian-Congolese command and upon arrival were transferred into the posession of the Katangese leadership. On the same night he arrived, Lumumba was bundled into another convoy that headed into the bush. It drew up beside a large tree. Three firing squads had been assembled, commanded by a Belgian. Another Belgian had overall command of the execution site. Lumumba and two other comrades from the government were lined up against a large tree. President Moise Tshombe (leader of the Katanga secessionists) and two other ministers were present for the executions, which took place one at a time. The corpes of Lumumba and his comrades were allegedly 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. 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. (For more information on the role of the West in Lumumba's death see: Patrice Lumumba)

With UN and Soviet aid, Congo-Leopoldville put the Katanga rebellion to an end in 1963. Tshombe fled the country but was invited back by Kasavubu to be the new prime minister, as a means of easing tensions. Katanga was divided into North and South Katanga, and South Katanga was further divided into East Katanga and Lualaba.


Main article: Zaire

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, his portrait was displayed in all public buildings, most businesses, and on billboards, and it was common for ordinary people to wear his likeness on their clothing) and excessive corruption — in 1984 he was said to have four billion U.S. dollars, an amount close to the country's national debt, stashed away in personal Swiss bank accounts. In an effort to spread African national awareness, starting on June 1, 1966, Mobutu renamed the nation's cities (Leopoldville became Kinshasa [the country was now Democratic Republic of The Congo–Kinshasa], Stanleyville became Kisangani, and Elisabethville became Lumbumbashi). This city-renaming campaign was completed in the 1970s. In 1971, he renamed the country the Republic of Zaire, its fourth name change in eleven years and its sixth overall. The Congo River became the Zaire River. In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko. Another way to promote the country's African heritage was to promote 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. This atmosphere contributed to Mobutu declaring the Third Republic in 1990, whose constitution was supposed to pave the way for democratic reform. The reforms turned out to be largely cosmetic, and Mobutu's rule continued until conflict forced him to flee Zaire.

War (1996–present)

Main articles: First Congo War, Second Congo War

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; he changed the country's name back to Democratic Republic of The Congo-Kinshasa. But when it became clear that the country had exchanged one corrupt dictator for another, his regime was 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.

UN peacekeepers to the DRC in 2005
UN peacekeepers to the DRC in 2005

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, cassiterite and diamonds. 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.


President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Main article: Politics of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the day King Leopold II established colonial authority in what is now Congo-Kinshasa to today, the country's government has been unstable. This is reflected in its seven name changes since 1885: (1) Congo Free State (1885–1908), (2) Belgian Congo (1908–60 [this, incidentally, was the longest period of tranquility the country has experienced]), (3) Republic of The Congo-Leopoldville (1960–64), (4) Democratic Republic of The Congo-Leopoldville (1964–66), (5) Democratic Republic of The Congo-Kinshasa (1966-71), (6) Republic of Zaire (1971–97), and (7) Democratic Republic of The Congo-Kinshasa (since 1997).

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. Elections currently planned for June 2005 appear to have been put on hold as Congolese politicians have yet to approve the newly created constitution.

Despite the peace deal: "After eighteen months in power, the transitional government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains fragile, far from its goals of peace and effective administration of this huge central African nation. Installed after five years of civil war, the uneasy coalition of former belligerents is plagued by mistrust, dissatisfaction among troops not yet fully integrated in a new national army—including an aborted rebellion by some of them, and challenges from armed groups outside the peace process. It also faces continued interference from neighboring countries, in particular Uganda and Rwanda [1]."

The presence of UN troops has not stopped most of the eastern portion of the country from the rule of tyranical warlords such as those of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (NFI), who have committed well-documented human rights abuses in their own economic interests [2]. The NFI has been accused in the killing of nine UN peacekeepers in February 2005 [3], in addition to massive exploitation of regional mineral wealth, particularly gold [4]. According to the Human Rights Watch, the east is a human rights disaster area with, "soldiers of the national army and combatants of armed groups continu(ing) to target civilians, killing, raping, and otherwise injuring them, carrying out arbitrary arrests and torture, and destroying or pillaging their property. Tens of thousands of persons have fled their homes, several thousand of them across international borders. After the attempted rebellion and a massacre of Congolese refugees in neighboring Burundi, ethnically-based fear and hatred have risen sharply, emotions that are amplified and manipulated by politicians and some civil society leaders [5]." Continuing violence amongst civilians, ethnic hostility, economic explotation, and the violation of civil and political rights are amongst the many human rights abuses that plague the area.

The new government has almost no control militarily over the country, especially in the chaotic eastern regions and particularly the Ituri district. The revamped Congolese "military" is a hodge-podge of Kabila's allies coalitioned with former rebel militias. A hundred members of one of these militias went on a rampage in a major town near Kinshasa, killing a number of civilians [6] in July 2005.

View the proposed constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is currently awaiting a referendum. (French)

Political divisions

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


Nyiragongo volcano
Nyiragongo volcano
landscape in Bas-Congo
landscape in Bas-Congo

The Congo is divided into ten provinces, and one independent city (Kinshasa).

  1. Bandundu
  2. Bas-Congo
  3. Equateur
  4. Kasai-Occidental
  5. Kasai-Oriental
  6. Katanga(During the Mobutu years, it was called the Shaba Province)
  7. Kinshasa
  8. Maniema
  9. Nord-Kivu
  10. Orientale (Congo) (Formerly Haut-Zaire)
  11. Sud-Kivu

Major cities


Main article: Geography of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Congo is situated at the heart of the west-central portion of sub-Saharan Africa and is bounded by (Clockwise from the west) Angola, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, the Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania across Lake Tanganyika, and Zambia. Its territory also straddles the Equator, with one-third to the north and two-thirds to the south.

As a result of its equatorial location, the Congo experiences extremely high amounts of rainfall. The average rainfall for the entire country is about 1,070 millimeters {42 in), which have created the second largest rain forest in the world (after the Amazon). This massive expanse of lush jungle covers most of the vast, low-lying central basin of the river, which slopes toward the Atlantic Ocean in the west. This area is surrounded by plateaus merging into savannas in the south and southwest, by mountainous terraces in the west, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River in the north. High mountains are found in the extreme eastern region.

The tropical climate has also produced the Congo River system which dominates the region topographically along with the rainforest it flows through(though they are not mutually exclusive). The name for the "Congo" state is derived from that of the river, along with that of the Kongo Empire which controlled much of the region in precolonial times. The river basin (meaning the Congo River and all of its myriad tributaries) occupy nearly the entire country and an area of nearly one million square kilometers (400,000 square miles). The river and its tributaries (major offshoots include the Kasai, Sangha, Ubangi, Aruwimi, and Lulonga) form the backbone of Congolese economics and transportion, they have a drastic impact on the daily lives of the people. The sources of the Congo are in the highlands and mountains of the East African Rift, as well as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru. The river flows generally west from Kisangani just below Boyoma Falls, then gradually bends southwest, passing by Mbandaka, joining with the Ubangi River, and running into the Pool Malebo (Stanley Pool). Kinshasa and Brazzaville are actually on opposite sides of the river at the Pool (see NASA image), then the river narrows and falls through a number of cataracts in deep canyons (collectively known as the Livingstone Falls), and then running past Boma into the Atlantic. The river also has the second-largest flow and the second-largest watershed of any river in the world (trailing the Amazon in both respects). The river provides the country's only outlet to the Atlantic, a narrow strip of land on its north bank, otherwise the Congo would be completely landlocked.

The previously mentioned Great Rift Valley, in particular the Eastern Rift, plays a key role in shaping the Congo's geography. Not only is the northeastern section of the country much more mountainous, but due the rift's tectonic activities, this area also experiences low levels of volcanic activity. The rifting of the African continent in this area has also manifested itself as the famous Great Lakes which lie on the Congo's eastern frontier. The country is bordered in the east by two of these: Lake Albert and Lake Tanganyika. Perhaps most important of all, the Rift Valley has endowed most of the south and east of the Congo with an enormous amount of mineral wealth. These include cobalt, copper, cadmium, petroleum, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, and coal. Unfortunately, this wealth has been both a blessing and a curse; the Congo people have not so far reaped the benefits of their country's tremendous mineral resources.


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, have 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
Map of the major Bantu languages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Map of the major Bantu languages in 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.

Population of the DRC in thousands
Population of the DRC in thousands


Main article: Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo


Main article: Culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Flora and fauna

The rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo contain great biodiversity, including many rare and endemic species, including both species of chimpanzee: the Common chimpanzee and the bonobo (also known as the Pygmy Chimpanzee), 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.

Over the past century or so, the DRC has developed into the epicenter of what has been called the Central African "bushmeat" problem, which is regarded by many as a major environmental, as well as, socio-economic crisis. "Bushmeat" is another word for the meat of wild animals. It is typically obtained through trapping, usually with wire snares, or otherwise with shotguns or arms originally intended for use in the DRC's numerous military conflicts.

The "bushmeat crisis" has emerged in the DRC mainly as a result of the poor living conditions of the Congolese people. A rising population combined with deplorable economic conditions has forced many Congolese to become dependent on bushmeat, either as a means of acquiring income (hunting the meat and selling), or are dependent on it for nutritional sustainance. Unemployment and urbanization throughout Central Africa have exacerbated the problem further by turning cities like the urban sprawl of Kinshasa into the prime market for bushmeat.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the only country in the world in which bonobos (Pygmy chimpanzees) are found in the wild.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the only country in the world in which bonobos (Pygmy chimpanzees) are found in the wild.

This combination has caused not only widespread endangerment of local wildlife, but has forced humans to trudge deeper into the wilderness in search of the desired animal meat, an activity which not only results in the deaths of more animals, but makes resources even more scarce for humans. The hunting has also been facilitated by the extensive logging prevelant throughout the Congo's rainforests (from corporate logging, in addition to farmers clearing out forest in order to create areas for planting crops), allowing hunters to have much easier access to previously unreachable jungle terrain, while simultaneously eroding away at the habitats of animals [7].

A particularly alarming case of bushmeat hunting is that of primates. The Congo is inhabited not only by two distinct species of chimpanzee, both belonging to the genus Pan, the Common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus), but gorilla as well. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the only country in the world in which bonobo are found in the wild. The two species of chimpanzees as well as gorillas are the closest living evolutionary relatives to humans. Both the Pan and Gorilla genuses are now considered to be part of the subfamily Homininae to which humans also belong and it has even been proposed that the chimpanzees should be recatagorized in the genus Homo as well. These apes are closely related to humans and are considered highly intelligent and much concern has been raised about Great ape extinction. Because of hunting and habitat destruction, the chimpanzee and the gorilla, both of whose population once numbered in the millions have now dwindled down to only about 200,000 per species. Gorillas and both incarnations of chimpanzee are classified as Endangered by the World Conservation Union.

See also

Miscellaneous topics

prayer in Kikongo
prayer in Kikongo

Further reading

  • Michela Wrong, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo

External links

Look up Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wiktionary, the free dictionary




Ethnic Groups

  • African Pygmies Culture and music of the first inhabitants of Congo, with photos and ethnographic notes

Tourism Travel guide to Democratic Republic of the Congo from Wikitravel


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Dependencies: British Indian Ocean Territory | Canary Islands | Ceuta and Melilla | Madeira Islands | Mayotte | Réunion | Saint Helena and dependencies
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