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Dissected by the Equator, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly called Zaire, is the third largest country on the African continent.
The country is still the ancestral homeland for over 200 ethnic groups, most descended from individual kingdoms established long before the Europeans arrived in the late 1800s.
Commissioned by King Leopold II of Belgium, Henry Stanley was the first European to explore the Congo Basin area.
Upon hearing Stanley's report regarding the indigenous natural attributes of the land, King Leopold subsequently took control, imposing a system of force labor that was the catalyst for the first human rights movement in the 20th century. He was forced to grant colonial status to the then Belgium Congo in 1908.
After gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, a non-stop parade of assassinations, civil wars, coups, corrupt dictators, brutal murders, rebellions and needless bloodshed plagued the land.
Ethnic strife, political instability, and poor management of infrastructure has impacted the country in a most negative way. Travelers are warned that journeying to the Congo (DRC) can be quite dangerous.
The economy of this land of vast, natural resources, has declined dramatically in the past few decades. Reforms are being implemented, but serious recovery is projected to be many years away.
Landforms The vast Congo River basin occupies and central and northwestern parts of the country, while further south, savanna grasslands extend to the border with Angola.
In the east, the land rise into a plateau with heights over 5,000 ft., and then into the higher volcanic mountains of the Great Rift Valley. Southeast, the land rises into the peaks of the Shaba Plateau.
A number of lakes front the country's eastern borders, including Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, Mweru and Tanganyika.
The country is dominated by the Congo River system and its many tributaries. The river itself is 2,733 miles long, and is navigable for almost 900 miles. Its basin contains the planet's largest rain forest.
Highest Pt. Mt. Stanley (5,110 m) (16,765 ft)
Lowest Pt. Atlantic Ocean (0 m) (0 ft)
Land Divisions 10 provinces and one city* (ville); including Bandundu, Bas-Congo, Equateur, Kasai-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, Katanga, Kinshasa*, Maniema, Nord-Kivu, Orientale and Sud-Kivu.
Population and Size of all land divisions and major cities here!
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(Officially Democratic Republic of the Congo.) (Formerly (1971–1997) Za·ire (zi'îr, zä-îr') and (1960–1971) Congo and (1908–1960) Belgian Congo and (1885–1908) Congo Free State.) A country of central Africa astride the equator. Inhabited originally by Pygmy peoples and later by migrating Bantu and Nilotic groups, the region came under the control of Leopold II of Belgium in the late 1870s and was annexed outright in 1908. Full independence was achieved in 1960. Army general Mobutu Sese Seko took control of the country in 1965, ruling until his ouster by rebel forces in 1997. Kinshasa is the capital and the largest city. Population: 58,300,000 .
Congo, Democratic Republic of the, formerly Zaïre (zi'er, zäer') , republic (1995 est. pop. 44,061,000), c.905,000 sq mi (2,344,000 sq km), central Africa. It borders on Angola in the southwest and west, on Cabinda and the Republic of the Congo in the west, on the Central African Republic and Sudan in the north, on Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania in the east, and on Zambia in the southeast. Kinshasa is its capital and largest city.
Land and People
Congo lies astride the equator, and virtually all of the country is part of the vast Congo River drainage basin. North central Congo is made up of a large plateau (average elevation: c.1,000 ft/300 m), which is covered with equatorial forest and has numerous swamps. The plateau is bordered on the east by mountains, which rise to the lofty Ruwenzori Mts. (located on the border with Uganda). The Ruwenzori include Margherita Peak (16,763 ft/5,109 m), the country's highest point; they are situated in the western or Albertine branch of the Great Rift Valley, which runs along the entire eastern border of the country and also takes in lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, and Tanganyika. In S Congo are highland plateaus (average elevation: c.3,000 ft/910 m; highest elevation: c.6,800 ft/2,070 m), which are covered with savanna. The high Mitumba Mts. in the southeast include Lake Mweru (situated on the border with Zambia).
The population of the Congo comprises approximately 200 ethnic groups, the great majority of whom speak one of the Bantu languages. In addition, there are Nilotic speakers in the north near Sudan and scattered groups of Pygmies (especially in the Ituri Forest in the northeast). The principal Bantu-speaking ethnic groups are the Kongo, Mongo, Luba, Bwaka, Kwango, Lulua, Lunda, and Kasai. The Alur are the main Nilotic speakers. In the 1990s, Congo also had an influx of immigrants, particularly refugees from neighboring countries. In 1985 over half the population was rural, but the country is becoming increasingly urbanized.
French is the Congo's official language, but it is spoken by relatively few persons. Swahili is widely used in the east, and Lingala is spoken in the west; Tshilaba is also common. About 50% of the inhabitants are Roman Catholics and 20% are Protestants. A substantial number are adherents of Kimbanguism, an indigenous Christian church. Many also follow traditional religious beliefs, and about 10% are Muslims.
The Congo's mineral wealth is the mainstay of the economy, but the development of the mining industry has occurred at the expense of commercial agriculture. The economy's growth spurted under Belgian control in the 1950s, slowed considerably during the country's postindependence troubles in the early 1960s, accelerated again in the late 1960s when political stability returned, and has generally declined since the 1970s, when the nationalization of major industries resulted in a reduction of private investment. Since the early 1990s much of the economy has been in a state of collapse.
Although only 3% of the nation's land area is arable, a substantial part of the labor force is engaged as subsistence farmers. The principal food crops are cassava, yams, corn, rice, peanuts, plantains, and pulses. Rubber, coffee, cotton, tea, sugarcane, and palm products are produced commercially, primarily for export. Although agricultural production satisfied domestic demands before independence, the Congo has become dependent on food imports. Goats, sheep, and cattle are raised.
Mining is centered in Katanga province; products include copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, uranium, cassiterite (tin ore), coal, gold, and silver. Diamonds are mined in Kasai. There are major deposits of petroleum offshore near the mouth of the Congo River. About 75% of the Congo is covered with forest containing ebony and teak as well as less valuable woods.
Kinshasa and Lubumbashi are the country's most important industrial centers. Manufacturing includes processed copper, zinc, and cassiterite; refined petroleum; basic consumer goods such as processed food, beverages, clothing, and footwear; and cement. The numerous rivers of the Congo give it an immense potential for producing hydroelectricity, a small but significant percentage of which has been realized. The chief hydroelectric facilities are situated in Katanga and produce power for the mining industry; another major project is located at Inga, on the Congo River near Kinshasa.
Rivers form the backbone of the country's transportation network; unnavigable parts of the Congo (e.g., Kinshasa-Matadi and Kisangani-Ubundi) are bridged by rail lines, but the rail and road network in the Congo is in disrepair was a result of the civil war. Matadi, Boma, and Banana can handle oceangoing vessels. The E Congo is linked (via Lake Tanganyika) by rail with the seaport of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
The country's export earnings come almost entirely from sales of primary products, which are vulnerable to sudden changes in world prices. Since 1994 diamonds have become the country's leading export following a decline in the production of copper (once the leading mineral product in terms of value). The country produces much of the world's small industrial diamonds. Petroleum also accounts for a substantial portion of export earnings. Other important exports are cobalt, coffee, palm products, and rubber. The leading imports are consumer goods, machinery, transport equipment, and foodstuffs. The country's principal trade partners are Belgium, the United States, France, Germany, and South Africa. The Congo is a member of the Southern African Development Community.
The indigenous inhabitants of the region of the Congo were probably Pygmies, who lived in small numbers in the equatorial forests of the north and northeast. By the end of the 1st millennium B.C., small numbers of Bantu-speaking people had migrated into the area from the northwest (present-day Nigeria and Cameroon) and settled in the savanna regions of the south. Aided by their knowledge of iron technology and agriculture, the Bantu-speakers migrated to other parts of the Congo and Africa, at the same time developing new, related languages. From about A.D. 700 the copper deposits of S Katanga were worked by the Bantu and traded over wide areas.
By about 1000 the Bantu had settled most of the Congo, reducing the area occupied by the Pygmies. By the early 2d millennium the Bantu had increased considerably in number and were coalescing into states, some of which governed large areas and had complex administrative structures. Most of the states were ruled by a monarch, whose authority, although considerable, was checked by a council of high civil servants and elders. Notable among the states were the kingdom of Kongo (founded in the 14th cent.), centered in modern N Angola but including extreme W Congo and a Luba empire (founded in the early 16th cent.), centered around lakes Kisale and Upemba in central Katanga.
Also included among these states were the Lunda kingdom of Mwata Yamo (founded in the 15th cent.), centered in SW Congo; the Kuba kingdom of the Shongo people (established in the early 17th cent.), located in the region of the Kasai and Sankuru rivers in S Congo; and the Lunda kingdom of Mwata Kazembe (founded in the 18th cent.), located near the Luapula River (which forms part of the present Congo-Zambia boundary). Through intermarriage and other contacts the Luba transmitted political ideas to the Lunda, and numerous small Luba-Lunda states (in addition to those of Mwata Yamo and Mwata Kazembe) were established in S Congo. The Kuba kingdom was noted for its sculpture and decorative arts.
European and Arab Contacts
In 1482, Diogo Cão, a Portuguese navigator, became the first European to visit the Congo when he reached the mouth of the Congo River and sailed a few miles upstream. Soon thereafter the Portuguese established ties with the king of Kongo, and in the early 16th cent. they established themselves on parts of the coast of modern Angola, especially at the court of the king of Ndongo (a vassal state of Kongo). The Portuguese had little influence on the Congo until the late 18th cent., when the African and mulatto traders (called pombeiros), whom they backed, traveled far inland to the kingdom of Mwata Kazembe.
In the mid-19th cent., Arab, Swahili, and Nyamwezi traders from present-day Tanzania penetrated into E Congo, where they traded and raided for slaves and ivory. Some of the traders established states with considerable power. Msiri (a Nyamwezi) established himself near Mwata Kazembe in 1856, soon enlarged his holdings (mainly at the expense of Mwata Kazembe), and was a major force until 1891, when he was killed by the Belgians. From the 1860s to the early 1890s, Muhammad bin Hamad (known as Tippu Tib), a Swahili Arab trader from Zanzibar, who was also part Nyamwezi, ruled a large portion of E Congo NW of Lake Tanganyika. In the 1870s, on the eve of the scramble for African territory among the European powers, the territory of the Congo had no overall political unity.
The Congo Free State
Beginning in the late 1870s the territory was colonized by Leopold II, king of the Belgians (reigned 1865–1909). Leopold believed that Belgium needed colonies to ensure its prosperity, and sensing that the Belgians would not support colonial ventures, he privately set about establishing a colonial empire. Between 1874 and 1877, Henry M. Stanley made a journey across central Africa during which he found the course of the Congo River. Intrigued by Stanley's findings (especially that the region had considerable economic potential), Leopold engaged him in 1878 to establish the king's authority in the Congo basin. Between 1879 and 1884, Stanley founded a number of stations along the middle Congo River and signed treaties with several African rulers purportedly giving the king sovereignty in their areas.
At the Conference of Berlin (1884–85) the European powers recognized Leopold's claim to the Congo basin, and in a ceremony (1885) at Banana, the king announced the establishment of the Congo Free State, headed by himself. The announced boundaries were roughly the same as those of present-day Congo, but it was not until the mid-1890s that Leopold's control was established in most parts of the state. In 1891–92, Katanga was conquered, and between 1892 and 1894, E Congo was wrested from the control of E African Arab and Swahili traders (including Tippu Tib, who for a time had served as an administrator of the Congo).
Because he did not have sufficient funds to develop the Congo, Leopold sought and received loans from the Belgian parliament in 1889 and 1895, in return for which Belgium was given the right to annex the Congo in 1901. At the same time Leopold declared all unoccupied land (including cropland lying fallow) to be owned by the state, thereby gaining control of the lucrative trade in rubber and ivory. Much of the land was given to concessionaire companies, which in return were to build railroads or to occupy a specified part of the country or merely to give the state a percentage of their profits. In addition, Leopold maintained a large estate in the region of Lake Leopold II (NE of Kinshasa).
Private companies were also established to exploit the mineral wealth of Katanga and Kasai; a notable example was Union Minière du Haut-Katanga, chartered in 1905. The Belgian parliament did not exercise its right to annex the Congo in 1901, but reports starting in 1904 (particularly by Roger Casement and E. D. Morel) about the brutal treatment of Africans there (especially those forced to collect rubber for concessionaire companies) led to a popular campaign for Belgium to take over the state from Leopold. After exhaustive parliamentary debates, in 1908 Belgium annexed the Congo.
The Belgian Congo
Under Belgian rule the worst excesses (such as forced labor) of the Free State were gradually diminished, but the Congo was still regarded almost exclusively as a field for European investment, and little was done to give Africans a significant role in its government or economy. Economic development was furthered by the construction of railroads and other transportation facilities. European concerns established more large plantations, and vast mining operations were set up. Africans formed the labor pool for these operations, and Europeans were the managers. By the end of the 1920s, mining (especially of copper and diamonds) was the mainstay of the economy, having far outdistanced agriculture. Some of the mining companies built towns for their workers, and there was considerable movement of Africans from the countryside to urban areas, especially beginning in the 1930s.
Christian missionaries (the great majority of whom were Roman Catholic) were very active in the Congo, and they were the chief agents for raising the educational level of the Africans and for improving medical services. However, virtually no Africans were educated beyond the primary level until the mid-1950s, when two universities were opened. A noteworthy indigenous religious movement was that of Simon Kimbangu, who, educated by Protestant missionaries, around 1920 established himself as a prophet and healer. He soon gathered a large following and, although not explicitly anti-Belgian, was jailed in 1921 by the colonial government, which feared that his movement would undermine its authority. The Belgians outlawed Kimbangu's movement, but it continued clandestinely and became increasingly anti-European.
The Independence Movement
In 1955, when demands for independence were mounting throughout Africa, Antoine van Bilsen, a Belgian professor, published a “30-Year Plan” for granting the Congo increased self-government. The plan was accepted enthusiastically by most Belgians, who assumed that Belgian rule in the Congo would continue for a long period. Events proved otherwise.
Congolese nationalists, notably Joseph Kasavubu (who headed ABAKO, a party based among the Kongo people) and Patrice Lumumba (who led the leftist Mouvement National Congolais), became increasingly strident. They were impressed greatly by the visit in late 1958 of French president Charles de Gaulle to neighboring Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo), where he offered Africans the opportunity to vote in a referendum for continued association with France or for full independence. In Jan., 1959, there were serious nationalist riots in Kinshasa, and thereafter the Belgians steadily lost control of events in the Congo. At a roundtable conference (which included Congolese nationalists) at Brussels in Jan.–Feb., 1960, it was decided that the Belgian Congo would become fully independent on June 30, 1960.
Independence and Conflict
Following elections in June, Lumumba became prime minister and Kasavubu head of state. However, the Republic of the Congo (as the nation was then called) soon began to be pulled apart by ethnic and personal rivalries, often encouraged by Belgian interests. On July 4 the Congolese army mutinied, and on July 11 Moïse Tshombe declared Katanga, of which he was provisional president, to be independent. There were attacks on Belgian nationals living in the Congo, and Belgium sent troops to the country to protect its citizens and also its mining interests. Most Belgian civil servants left the country, thus crippling the government.
On July 14, the UN Security Council voted to send a force to the Congo to help establish order; the force was not allowed to intervene in internal affairs, however, and could not act against the Katangan secession. Therefore, Lumumba turned to the USSR for help against Katanga, but on Sept. 5 he was dismissed as prime minister by Kasavubu. On Sept. 14, Col. Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko), the head of the army, seized power and dismissed Kasavubu. On Dec. 1, Lumumba, who probably had the largest national following of any Congo politician, was arrested by the army; he was murdered while allegedly trying to escape imprisonment in Katanga in mid-Feb., 1961.
By the end of 1960 the Congo was divided into four quasi-independent parts: Mobutu held the west, including Kinshasa (then called Léopoldville); Antoine Gizenga, the self-styled successor to Lumumba, controlled the east from Kisangani (then called Stanleyville); Albert Kalonji controlled S Kasai; and Tshombe headed Katanga, aided by Belgian and other foreign soldiers. The secession of Katanga, with its great mineral resources, particularly weakened the national government. In Apr., 1961, Tshombe was arrested by the central government (Kasavubu was back as head of state), but he was freed in June after agreeing to end the Katanga secession. By July, however, Tshombe was again proclaiming the independence of Katanga.
In August the UN forces began disarming Katangese soldiers, and in December UN and Katangese forces became engaged in battle. Throughout 1962, Tshombe maintained his independent position and in Dec., 1962, renewed UN-Katanga fighting broke out. Tshombe quickly was forced to give in, and in Jan., 1963, agreed to end Katanga's secession. However, the national scene remained confused, and there was considerable agitation by the followers of Lumumba.
At the end of June, 1964, the last UN troops were withdrawn from the country. In desperation, Kasavubu appointed Tshombe prime minister in July, 1964, but this move resulted in large-scale rebellions. With the help of U.S. arms, Belgian troops, and white mercenaries, the central government gradually regained control of the country. Nonetheless, national politics remained turbulent and were highlighted by a clash between Kasavubu and Tshombe. In mid-1965, Kasavubu appointed Evariste Kimba prime minister. In Nov., 1965, Mobutu again intervened, dismissing Kasavubu and proclaiming himself president; Tshombe fled to Spain. (In 1967, Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria; he died in 1969.) In 1966 and 1967 there were several short-lived rebellions (notably in Kisangani and Bukavu), and in 1966 an attempted coup by Kimba was defeated.
The Mobutu Regime
In late 1966, Mobutu abolished the office of prime minister, establishing a presidential form of government. Léopoldville, Stanleyville, and Elisabethville were given African names (Kinshasa, Kisangani, and Lubumbashi, respectively), thus in effect beginning the campaign for “African authenticity” that became a major policy of Mobutu in the early 1970s. (In 1971 the country was renamed Zaïre, as was the Congo River; in 1972, Katanga was renamed Shaba—largely in an attempt to destroy the region's past association with secession—and Mobutu dropped his Christian names and called himself Mobutu Sese Seko, while advising other Zaïreans to follow suit.) By the end of the 1960s, the country enjoyed political stability, although there was intermittent student unrest.
The government was firmly guided by Mobutu, who headed the sole (from 1970) political party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR). In 1970, Mobutu, the sole candidate, was elected to a seven-year term as president. In the early 1970s he centralized the administration of the nation, encouraged the participation of foreign firms in the economic development of the country, improved relations with neighboring independent countries, and maintained good relations with the West while establishing (1972) full diplomatic relations with China. In 1973, Mobutu nationalized many foreign-owned firms in the attempt to reduce unemployment; however, the nation remained dependent on volatile world copper prices. Mobutu forced European investors out of the country in 1974 but invited them back (unsuccessfully) in 1977.
In addition to economic decline in the 1970s, the government had to contend with increasingly active political opposition. Mobutu's policy of giving members of his own ethnic group (the Ngbanda) jurisdiction over security matters led to ethnic conflicts and a succession of coup attempts between 1975 and 1978. Opposition parties grew in number and in size; one of these, the Front Libération Nationale du Congo (FNLC), organized Katangese refugees forced out of the country by Mobutu. The FNLC, working from its base in Angola, launched a rebellion in the Katanga region but was repulsed after the intervention of French, Belgian, and Moroccan troops.
Promising political reforms, the government made superficial changes to satisfy foreign aid donors, but the detention of dissidents and violent clashes between soldiers and students continued. In the early 1980s opposition groups were organized in exile and formed alliances in the hopes of overthrowing Mobutu. In 1989 the country defaulted on a loan from Belgium, resulting in the cancellation of development programs and increased deterioration of the economy. In 1990, Mobutu announced an end to single-party rule and appointed a transitional government. However, he reserved for himself the position of head of state “above all political parties” and kept substantial power in his own hands.
Rebellion and Civil War
A loss of confidence in Zaïre's government and riots by unpaid soldiers in Kinshasa led Mobutu to agree to a coalition government with opposition leaders in 1991. He retained control of a far-reaching security apparatus and important government ministries, however, and engaged in a power struggle with opposition leaders. Economic collapse continued unabated, with the national infrastructure seriously deteriorating and civil servants, often unpaid for long periods, making money through bribery and theft of government property.
The nation's problems were compounded by an influx of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees from Rwanda and a spillover of ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis into Zaïre. In mid-1994, Kengo Wa Dondo, an advocate of austerity and free-market reform, was chosen prime minister by parliament, but he was dismissed in Mar., 1997. In 1996 and 1997, while Mobutu was in Europe being treated for cancer, rebels dependent on support from Rwandan and Ugandan forces captured much of E Zaïre. The insurgents, who also received aid from Zambia and Angola, met little resistance from the ragged Zaïrean army and entered Kinshasa on May 17, 1997. Rebel leader Laurent Kabila was sworn in as president on May 29 and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mobutu died in Morocco on Sept. 7, 1997.
Although Kabila promised that elections would be held in 1999, he banned all political opposition, and his regime soon became repressive. His failure to revive the economy and to prevent the attacks upon thousands of Congolese Tutsis by their Hutu neighbors in the mid-1990s, as well as the revelation that his forces had probably massacred thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees during their march across the country in 1996–97, led to a fading of both internal and foreign support for his government. The eastern part of the country remained unstable, and in Aug., 1998, a group of ethnic Tutsi Congolese forces supported by Rwanda mutinied against Kabila's rule and began advancing toward Kinshasa. Although they were repulsed, the movement grew, attracting opposition politicians, former Mobutu supporters, and disaffected military leaders formerly allied with Kabila. It also threatened to widen into a regional conflict, as Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia sent troops to aid Kabila's government, while Rwanda and Uganda backed the rebels.
In July, 1999, following a peace conference in Lusaka, Zambia, the heads of the six governments involved signed a cease-fire agreement; the leaders of the two main Congolese rebel groups also subsequently signed the pact. Kabila and his allies controlled most of the east and south of the Congo, and the rebels and their supporters controlled much of the north and west. By the end of the year, however, implementation of the accord was stalled, due in part to intransigence on the part of Kabila's government, and the much-violated cease-fire was in the process of collapsing.
The United Nations approved a force to monitor the accord in Feb., 2000, but the situation in the Congo proved too unstable to permit the force to move in. Fighting erupted between Ugandan and Rwandan forces in Kisangani (as it had the year before), and Kabila's government launched an offensive in Équateur (NW Congo) and continued to resist cooperating with the United Nations and with African peace negotiators. A new agreement calling for the pullback of all forces was signed (without the participation of one of the rebel groups) in Dec., 2000.
In Jan., 2001, Kabila was assassinated, reportedly by a bodyguard, and his son, Maj. Gen. Joseph Kabila, was named his successor. Joseph Kabila's government resumed cooperating on peace negotiations, and ended the ban on political parties. Beginning in March the forces of foreign nations began pulling back from the front lines and, in some cases, pulling out from the Congo. Fighting largely ceased, although banditry by militias and fighting between tribal groups persisted in E Congo. Peace talks began tentatively in Oct., 2001, and in 2002 agreements were signed successively with one of the rebel groups, Rwanda, and Uganda, although no agreement was reached with the largest rebel force, the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy–Goma. By the end of Oct., 2002, most foreign troops had been withdrawn from the Congo.
The government and both main rebel groups reached an accord in Apr., 2003,, when they signed a peace agreement that called for a power-sharing government led by President Kabila, and an interim parliament. Despite the peace deal, fighting continued in parts of the Congo, especially between tribal groups in the east, and in June, 2003, the United Nations dispatched French-led peacekeepers to E Congo in an effort to restore order. In the same month the government and rebels agreed on the composition of the new government, which was formally established. Democratic elections were scheduled for 2005. By the time of the government's establishment it was estimated that 3.3 million people had died, directly or indirectly, as a result of the fighting that began in 1998.
The French-led peacekeepers were replaced by 10,000 UN soldiers beginning in Sept., 2003. In the first half of 2004 there were two attempted coups in the country, and progress toward real peace continued to be slow during the year. By the end of 2004 rebel forces and the former Congolese army had been integrated into a unified force in name only. An uprising involving former rebels occurred in June at Bukavu in E Congo, although the rebels soon dispersed, and in December there was fighting in Nord-Kivu between former army and former rebel forces. The army forces had been sent into the area in response to threats by Rwanda to invade the region in order to attack Rwandan Hutu rebels based there. Congo accused Rwandan forces of invading and aiding the former Congolese rebels, a charge Rwanda denied, but a UN panel had accused (July, 2004) Rwanda and Uganda of maintaining armed units in E Congo and UN peacekeepers said that forces had entered Congo following Rwanda's threat to invade.
See C. Young, Politics in the Congo (1965); R. Anstey, King Leopold's Legacy: The Congo under Belgian Rule, 1908–1960 (1966); J. C. Williame, Patrimonialism and Political Change in the Congo (1972); G. Gran, Zaïre: The Political Economy of Underdevelopment (1979); R. W. Harms, River of Wealth, River of Sorrow: The Central Zaïre Basin in the Era of the Slave and Ivory Trade (1981); T. M. Callaghy, The State-Society Struggle: Zaïre in Comparative Perspective (1984); F. S. Bobb, Historical Dictionary of Zaïre (1988); D. Northrup, Beyond the Bend in the River: African Labor in Eastern Zaïre, 1865–1940 (1988); J. M. Elliot and M. M. Mervyn, Mobutu Sese Seko: People, Politics, and Policy (1989); A. Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost (1998).
Since 1997, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC; formerly called Zaire) has been rent by ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive inflow in 1994 of refugees from the fighting in Rwanda and Burundi. The government of former president MOBUTU Sese Seko was toppled by a rebellion led by Laurent KABILA in May 1997; his regime was subsequently challenged by a Rwanda- and Uganda-backed rebellion 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.
Central Africa, northeast of Angola
0 00 N, 25 00 E
total: 2,345,410 sq km water: 77,810 sq km land: 2,267,600 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly less than one-fourth the size of the US
total: 10,730 km border countries: Angola 2,511 km (of which 225 km is the boundary of Angola's discontiguous Cabinda Province), Burundi 233 km, Central African Republic 1,577 km, Republic of the Congo 2,410 km, Rwanda 217 km, Sudan 628 km, Tanzania 459 km, Uganda 765 km, Zambia 1,930 km
exclusive economic zone: boundaries with neighbors territorial sea: 12 NM
tropical; hot and humid in equatorial river basin; cooler and drier in southern highlands; cooler and wetter in eastern highlands; north of Equator - wet season April to October, dry season December to February; south of Equator - wet season November to March, dry season April to October
vast central basin is a low-lying plateau; mountains in east
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m highest point: Pic Marguerite on Mont Ngaliema (Mount Stanley) 5,110 m
periodic droughts in south; Congo River floods (seasonal); in the east, in the Great Rift Valley, there are active volcanoes
Environment - current issues:
poaching threatens wildlife populations; water pollution; deforestation; refugees responsible for significant deforestation, soil erosion, and wildlife poaching; mining of minerals (coltan - a mineral used in creating capacitors, diamonds, and gold) causing environmental damage
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification
Geography - note:
straddles equator; has very narrow strip of land that controls the lower Congo River and is only outlet to South Atlantic Ocean; dense tropical rain forest in central river basin and eastern highlands
56,625,039 note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2003 est.)
total: 15.8 years female: 16.1 years (2002) male: 15.4 years
Population growth rate:
2.9% (2003 est.)
45.12 births/1,000 population (2003 est.)
14.87 deaths/1,000 population (2003 est.)
Net migration rate:
-1.26 migrant(s)/1,000 population note: fighting between the Congolese Government and Uganda- and Rwanda-backed Congolese rebels spawned a regional war in DROC in August 1998, which left 1.8 million Congolese internally displaced and caused 300,000 Congolese refugees to flee to surrounding countries (2003 est.)
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.7 male(s)/female total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2003 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 96.56 deaths/1,000 live births female: 87.71 deaths/1,000 live births (2003 est.) male: 105.15 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 48.93 years male: 46.83 years female: 51.09 years (2003 est.)
Total fertility rate:
6.69 children born/woman (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
4.9% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
1.3 million (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
120,000 (2001 est.)
noun: Congolese (singular and plural) adjective: Congolese or Congo
over 200 African ethnic groups of which the majority are Bantu; the four largest tribes - Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu-Azande (Hamitic) make up about 45% of the population
Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%, Kimbanguist 10%, Muslim 10%, other syncretic sects and indigenous beliefs 10%
French (official), Lingala (a lingua franca trade language), Kingwana (a dialect of Kiswahili or Swahili), Kikongo, Tshiluba
definition: age 15 and over can read and write French, Lingala, Kingwana, or Tshiluba total population: 65.5% male: 76.2% female: 55.1% (2003 est.)
conventional long form: Democratic Republic of the Congo conventional short form: none local short form: none former: Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo/Leopoldville, Congo/Kinshasa, Zaire local long form: Republique Democratique du Congo abbreviation: DROC
dictatorship; presumably undergoing a transition to representative government
10 provinces (provinces, singular - province) and one city* (ville); Bandundu, Bas-Congo, Equateur, Kasai-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, Katanga, Kinshasa*, Maniema, Nord-Kivu, Orientale, Sud-Kivu
30 June 1960 (from Belgium)
Independence Day, 30 June (1960)
24 June 1967, amended August 1974, revised 15 February 1978, amended April 1990; transitional constitution promulgated in April 1994; in November 1998, a draft constitution was approved by former President Laurent KABILA but it was not ratified by a national referendum; one outcome of the ongoing inter-Congolese dialogue is to be a new constitution
based on Belgian civil law system and tribal law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
18 years of age; universal and compulsory
chief of state: President Joseph KABILA (since 26 January 2001); note - following the assassination of his father, Laurent Desire KABILA, on 16 January 2001, Joseph KABILA succeeded to the presidency; the president is both the chief of state and head of government head of government: President Joseph KABILA (since 26 January 2001); note - following the assassination of his father, Laurent Desire KABILA, on 16 January 2001, Joseph KABILA succeeded to the presidency; the president is both the chief of state and head of government cabinet: National Executive Council, appointed by the president elections: before Laurent Desire KABILA seized power on 16 May 1997, the president was elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; election last held 29 July 1984 (next was scheduled to be held in May 1997); formerly, there was also a prime minister who was elected by the High Council of the Republic; note - elections were not held in 1991 as called for by the constitution note: Marshal MOBUTU Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga was president from 24 November 1965 until forced into exile on 16 May 1997 when his government was overthrown militarily by Laurent Desire KABILA; KABILA immediately assumed governing authority and pledged to hold elections by April 1999, but, in December 1998, announced that elections would be postponed until all foreign military forces attempting to topple the government had withdrawn from the country; KABILA was assassinated in January 2001 and was succeeded by his son Joseph KABILA election results: results of the last election were: MOBUTU Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga reelected president in 1984 without opposition
a 300-member Transitional Constituent Assembly established in August 2000 elections: NA; members of the Transitional Constituent Assembly were appointed by former President Laurent Desire KABILA
Supreme Court or Cour Supreme
Political parties and leaders:
Democratic Social Christian Party or PDSC [Andre BO-BOLIKO]; Forces for Renovation for Union and Solidarity or FONUS [Joseph OLENGHANKOY]; National Congolese Lumumbist Movement or MNC [Francois LUMUMBA]; Popular Movement of the Revolution or MPR (three factions: MPR-Fait Prive [Catherine NZUZI wa Mbombo]; MPR/Vunduawe [Felix VUNDUAWE]; MPR/Mananga [MANANGA Dintoka Mpholo]); Unified Lumumbast Party or PALU [Antoine GIZENGA]; Union for Democracy and Social Progress or UDPS [Etienne TSHISEKEDI wa Mulumba]; Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans or UFERI (two factions: UFERI [Lokambo OMOKOKO]; UFERI/OR [Adolph Kishwe MAYA])
chief of mission: Ambassador Faida MITIFU FAX:  (202) 234-2609 telephone:  (202) 234-7690, 7691 chancery: 1800 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Aubrey HOOKS embassy: 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, Kinshasa mailing address: Unit 31550, APO AE 09828 telephone:  (88) 43608 FAX:  (88) 43467
light blue with a large yellow five-pointed star in the center and a columnar arrangement of six small yellow five-pointed stars along the hoist side
Economy - overview:
The economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - a nation endowed with vast potential wealth - has declined drastically since the mid-1980s. The war, which began in August 1998, 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 3.5 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 KABILA has begun implementing reforms. Much economic activity lies outside the GDP data.
Belgium 59.7%, US 12.9%, Zimbabwe 7.4%, France 6.9%, South Africa, Finland, Italy (2000)
$890 million f.o.b. (2002 est.)
Imports - commodities:
foodstuffs, mining and other machinery, transport equipment, fuels
Imports - partners:
South Africa 18.2%, Belgium 16.4%, Nigeria 11.8%, France 5.9%, Kenya, China (2000)
Debt - external:
$12.9 billion (2000 est.)
Economic aid - recipient:
$195.3 million (1995)
Congolese franc (CDF)
Congolese francs per US dollar - 346.49 (2002), 206.62 (2001), 21.82 (2000), 4.02 (1999), 1.61 (1998)
Telephones - main lines in use:
Telephones - mobile cellular:
general assessment: poor domestic: barely adequate wire and microwave radio relay service in and between urban areas; domestic satellite system with 14 earth stations international: satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean)
Radio broadcast stations:
AM 3, FM 11, shortwave 2 (2001)
Television broadcast stations:
Internet country code:
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
total: 4,772 km narrow gauge: 3,621 km 1.067-m gauge (858 km electrified); 125 km 1.000-m gauge; 1,026 km 0.600-m gauge (2002)
total: 157,000 km (including 30 km of expressways)(1996) paved: NA km unpaved: NA km
15,000 km (including the Congo and its tributaries, and unconnected lakes)
total: 24 over 3,047 m: 4 2,438 to 3,047 m: 2 914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2002) 1,524 to 2,437 m: 16
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 205 1,524 to 2,437 m: 19 914 to 1,523 m: 95 under 914 m: 91 (2002)
Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Security Battalion
Military manpower - availability:
males age 15-49: 12,292,933 (2003 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service:
males age 15-49: 6,267,752 (2003 est.)
Military expenditures - dollar figure:
$250 million (FY97)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP:
Disputes - international:
Democratic Republic of the Congo is in the grip of a civil war that has drawn in military forces from neighboring states, with Uganda and Rwanda supporting the rebel movements that occupy much of the eastern portion of the state - Tutsi, Hutu, Lendu, Hema and other conflicting ethnic groups, political rebels, and various government forces continue fighting in Great Lakes region, transcending the boundaries of Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda - heads of the Great Lakes states pledge to end conflict, but localized violence continues despite UN peacekeeping efforts; most of the Congo River boundary with the Republic of the Congo is indefinite (no agreement has been reached on the division of the river or its islands, except in the Pool Malebo/Stanley Pool area)
illicit producer of cannabis, mostly for domestic consumption; while rampant corruption and inadequate supervision leaves the banking system vulnerable to money laundering, the lack of a well-developed financial system limits the country's utility as a money-laundering center
Zairois dans la paix retrouvee Peuple uni, nous sommes Zairois En avant fier et plein de dignite Peuple grand, peuple libre a jamais Tricolore enflamme nous du feu sacre Pour batir notre pays toujours plus beau Autour d'un fleuve majeste Autour d'un fleuve majeste
Tricolore au vent ravive l'ideal Qui nous relie aux aieux a nos enfants Paix, justice et travail Paix, justice et travail
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.
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 1965coup 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.
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
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.
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.
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 recentconflicts, 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.
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.
Main article: Culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo