Democratic Republic of the Congo

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République Démocratique du Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Image:Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.svg Image:Armoiries de la République démocratique du Congo - 2006.png
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Justice – Paix – Travail  (French)
"Justice – Peace – Work"
Anthem: Debout Congolais
Capital
(and largest city)
Kinshasa
4°24′S 15°24′E
Official languages French
Government Semi-Presidential Republic
 - President Joseph Kabila
Independence  
 - from Belgium June 30 1960 
Area
 - Total 2,344,858 km² (12th)
905,351 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 3.3
Population
 - 2006 estimate 59,319,660 (23rd)
 - 1984 census 29,916,800
 - Density 25/km² (179th)
65/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $46.491 billion1 (78th)
 - Per capita $774 (174th)
HDI  (2006) Image:Green Arrow Up.svg 0.391 (low) (167th)
Currency Congolese franc (CDF)
Time zone WAT, CAT (UTC+1 to +2)
 - Summer (DST) 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.

For other uses of "Congo", see Congo (disambiguation).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (French: République démocratique du Congo), also often referred to as DRC, RDC, DR Congo, Congo or Congo-Kinshasa, and formerly as Zaire (or Zaïre in French), is the third largest country on the African continent. Though it is located in the Central African UN subregion, the nation is economically and regionally affiliated with Southern Africa as a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 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.<ref name=factbook>Central Intelligence Agency (10 January 2006). “Democratic Republic of the Congo”, CIA - The World Factbook. ISSN 1553-8133.</ref> 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 ethnic group, living in the Congo river basin.

Formerly the Belgian colony of the Belgian Congo, the country's post-independence name was the Republic of the Congo until August 1, 1964,<ref name="loc">"Zaire: Post-Indepdent Political Development", Library of Congress</ref> when its name was changed to Democratic Republic of the Congo (to distinguish it from the neighboring country of the same name). On October 27, 1971,<ref name="loc"/> then-President Mobutu Sese Seko renamed the country Zaire, from a Portuguese mispronunciation of the Kikongo word nzere or nzadi, which translates to "the river that swallows all rivers." (Peter Forbath, The River Congo, p. 19) Following Mobutu's overthrow in 1997, the country was renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 1998, the country has suffered greatly from the devastating Second Congo War (sometimes referred to as the African World War<ref>"Rumblings of war in heart of Africa" by Abraham McLaughlin and Duncan Woodside The Christian Science Monitor 23 June 2004</ref><ref>"World War Three" by Chris Bowers My Direct Democracy 24 July 2006</ref>), the world's deadliest conflict since World War II.

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Congolese pre-history

The earliest artefacts, evidence of the first human settlements in Congo, are Pre-Acheulean tools found at the Mulundwa (Katanga), Katanda 2 and Sanga 5 archaeological sites (Kivu). The chopping tools and choppers are estimated to date back to before -200,000 years, though we cannot be more specific today.

The country was peopled in very ancient times by groups of hunter-collectors, some of them maybe ancestors of today's pygmies. In the large time period between the earliest hunter-gatherer inhabitants and the coming of the first villagers, Congo will always be settled by various stone-working nomad groups of different Traditions.

A wave of advance of Neolithic peoples is identified in the Northern and North-Western parts of Central Africa during the second millennium BC. They were food producing (pearl millet), with some domestic stock, and developed a kind of arboriculture mainly based on the oil palm. Several centuries later, around -2,500 years, bananas were known to some in south Cameroon. From -3,500 to -2,000 years, starting off from a nucleus area in South Cameroon on both banks of the Sanaga River, the first Neolithic peopling of northern and western Central Africa can be followed south-eastwards and southwards. In R.D. Congo the first villages in the vicinity of Mbandaka and the Tumba Lake are known as the 'Imbonga Tradition' around -2,600 years. In Lower-Congo, North of the Angolan border, it is the 'Ngovo Tradition' around -2,300 years which shows the arrival of the Neolithic wave of advance.

In Kivu, across the country to the East, the 'Urewe Tradition' villages first show up around -2,600 years. The few archaeological sites known in Congo are a western extension of the 'Urewe' Culture which is mainly known in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Western Kenya and Tanzania. From the start of this Tradition, the people knew iron smelting as it is evidenced by several iron smelting furnaces excavated in Rwanda and Burundi.

The earliest evidence further to the West is known around Yaoundé in Cameroon, and near to the small town of Bouar in Central Africa. Though an ongoing discussion will ultimately give us a better chronology for the start of iron production in Central Africa, it can be said the Cameroonian data pinpoints around -2,600 / -2,500 years iron smelting north of the Equatorial Forest. This technology developed in an independent way from the previous Neolithic expansion some 900 years later. As fieldwork done by a German team shows, the Congo river network was slowly settled by food producing villagers going upstream in the forest. Work from a Spanish project in the Ituri area further East suggests villages reached there only around -800 years.

The supposedly bantu-speaking Neolithic thence Iron producing villagers added to and displaced the indigenous Pygmy populations (also known in the region as the "Bitwa" or "Twa") into secondary parts of the country. Subsequent migrations from the Darfur and Kordofan regions of Sudan into the north-east, as well as East Africans migrating into the eastern Congo added to the mix of ethnic groups. The Bantus imported a mixed economy made up of agriculture, small stock raising, fishing, fruit collecting, hunting and arboriculture before -3,500 years; iron-working techniques, possibly from West Africa, are a much later addition. The villagers established 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 kilometre (125 mi) 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 long-range commercial net (the business connections extended over 1,500 kilometres (930 mi), all the way to the Indian Ocean). By the 1500s, the kingdom had an established strong central government based on chieftainship.

[edit] The Congo Free State (1870 – 1908)

Image:Congo.jpg
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 — first by Sir Henry Morton Stanley who undertook 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 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. A government commission later concluded that the population of the Congo had been "reduced by half" during this brutal period.<ref>King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild (1999) ISBN 0-618-00190-5 Houghton Mifflin Books </ref> 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. There were international protests, however, 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, which was at first reluctant, bowed to international pressure (especially from Great Britain) by taking over the Free State from the king as a Belgian colony. From then on, it became the Belgian Congo.

[edit] The Belgian administration: Belgian Congo (1908 – 1960)

Main article: Belgian Congo

As soon as the Belgian Government took over the Congolese Administration from King Leopold II, the situation in the Congo slightly improved. Economic and social changes transformed the Congo into a model colony. Even select Bantu languages were taught in primary schools, a rare occurrence in colonial education. Doctors and medics achieved great victories against sleeping sickness -African trypanosomiasis-. The Administration continued with the economic reforms with the construction of railways, ports, roads, mines, plantations, industrial areas, etc. The Congolese, however, lacked political power and lived in an apartheid-like society in many cities. Everything was decided in Leopoldville and Brussels. The Belgian Colony-secretary and the Governor-general (the leader of the colony) had absolute power, while the people had none. Among the Congolese people, the resistance against this lack of democracy grew. In 1955, the upper class in the Congolese civilization, the so-called "évolués," initiated a campaign to end the inequality.

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 by the USA to build the atomic bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the end of World War II.

[edit] Political crises (1960-1965)

Main article: Congo Crisis

In May 1960, the MNC party or Mouvement National Congolais, led by Patrice Lumumba, won the parliamentary elections, and Lumumba was appointed Prime Minister. Joseph Kasavubu, of the ABAKO (Alliance des Bakongo) party, was elected President by the parliament. Other parties that emerged include the Parti Solidaire Africain (or PSA, led by Antoine Gizenga) and the Parti National du Peuple (or PNP led by Albert Delvaux and Laurent Mbariko).

The Belgian Congo achieved independence on June 30, 1960 under the name Republic of Congo or Republic of the Congo (République du Congo). As the French colony of Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) also chose the name Republic of Congo upon receiving its independence, the two countries were more commonly known as Congo-Léopoldville and Congo-Brazzaville, after their capital cities. In 1966, Joseph Mobutu changed the country's official name to Zaire.

Shortly after independence, the provinces of Katanga (with Moise Tshombe) and South Kasai engaged in secessionist struggles against the new leadership.

Subsequent events led to a crisis between President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba. On September 5, 1960, Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba from office. Lumumba declared Kasavubu's action "unconstitutional" and a crisis between the two leaders developed.

Lumumba had previously appointed Joseph Mobutu chief of staff of the new Congo army, Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC). Taking advantage of the leadership crisis between Kasavubu and Lumumba, Mobutu garnered enough support within the army to create sentiment sufficient to inspire mutinous action. With financial support from the United States and Belgium, Mobutu made payments to his soldiers in order to generate their loyalty. The aversion of Western powers towards communism and leftist ideology in general influenced their decision to finance Mobutu's quest to maintain "order" in the new state by neutralizing Kasavubu and Lumumba in a coup by proxy.

On January 17, 1961, Katangan forces, supported by the Belgian government's desire to retain rights to mine for copper and diamonds in Katanga and South Kasai and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's desire to remove any leftist sympathizers in the region, assassinated Patrice Lumumba. Amidst widespread confusion and chaos, several governments led by technicians (College des Commissaires), Joseph Ileo, Cyrille Adoula, Moise Tshombe, Graham Talley, and Evariste Kimba, took over in quick succession.

[edit] Zaire (1971 – 1997)

Main article: Zaire

Following five years of extreme instability and civil unrest, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, now Lieutenant General, overthrew Kasavubu in a 1965 Central Intelligence Agency-backed coup. He had the support of the US because of his staunch opposition to Communism, which would presumably make him a roadblock to Communist schemes in Africa. It is also argued that the Western support for Mobutu was also related to his allowing businesses to export the many natural resources of Zaire without worrying about environmental, labour, or other regulations that protect against corruption and abuse. 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; however, 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 4 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 (Léopoldville became Kinshasa [the country was now Democratic Republic of The Congo – Kinshasa], Stanleyville became Kisangani, and Elisabethville became Lubumbashi). This city-renaming campaign was completed in the 1970s. In 1971, he renamed the country the Republic of Zaire, its fourth name change in 11 years and its sixth overall. The Congo River became the Zaire River. In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga.

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 Zaire stepped up demands for reform. This atmosphere contributed to Mobutu's 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 in 1997.

[edit] Conflict and transition (1996 – present)

Since 1994, the Congo has been rent by ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive inflow of refugees fleeing the Rwandan Genocide. 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 (the capital of Congo/Zaire). His former allies soon turned against him, however, and 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.

Image:Monuc peacekeepers.jpg
UN peacekeepers to the DRC in 2005

A cease-fire was signed on July 10 1999; nevertheless, fighting continued 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 and an accord was signed in South Africa in 2002. By late 2003, a fragile peace prevailed as the Transitional Government was formed. Kabila appointed four vice presidents, two of whom had been fighting to oust him until July 2003. Much of the east of the country remains insecure, primarily due to the Ituri conflict and the continued activity of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda in the Kivus.

This period of conflict has been the bloodiest in history since World War II. <ref>The Economist, "The Lesser of two evils", October 26th, 2006</ref> Almost four million people have died as a result of the fighting.<ref>The New York Times, "War’s Chaos Steals Congo’s Young by the Millions" By Lydia Polgreen, July 30, 2006</ref> The United Nations is concerned that 1000 people a day are still dying as a result of the conflict and have described 2006 as a "make or break point" for the continuing humanitarian crisis.<ref> Reuters Alertnet, "Congo crisis at "make-or-break" point -UN's Egeland". By Jiro Osem 06 Sep 2006 </ref>

On July 30 2006, the Congo held its first multi-party elections since independence in 1960. After this Joseph Kabila took 45% of the votes and his main opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba took 20%. That was the origin of a two-day fight between the two factions from August 20, 2006 in the streets of the capital, Kinshasa. Sixteen people died before police and the UN mission, MONUC, took control of the city.

A second round of elections between the two leading candidates, Kabila and Bemba, was held on 29 October, 2006. Rioters destroyed polling stations in Congo's east and electoral officials organized a revolt over burned ballots in the north. Despite that, the presidential vote was called a success. Both Kabila and Bemba assured that they would respect the result,<ref>International Herald Tribune, "As rioters burn ballots, Congo strives to tally presidential vote", October 30th, 2006</ref> but Bemba's militants have begun riots in opposition of the decision by the Supreme Court that will legitimise Kabila's 58%-42% winning result on the run-off.<ref>The Economist, "A wilderness that may become a state", November 23rd, 2006</ref>

[edit] Politics

Main articles on politics and government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be found at the Politics and government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo series.

The current political situation is slightly ambiguous because the Congo is living in the interregnum between two constitutions that establish different political institutions at the various levels of all branches of government, as well as different administrative divisions of the country. Politics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo therefore take place in a framework of a republic in transition from a civil war to a presidential democratic republic.

The transition constitution established a system composed of a bicameral legislature with a Senate and a National Assembly. The Senate has, among other things, the charge of drafting the new constitution of the country. The executive branch is vested in a 60-member cabinet, headed by a President, and four vice presidents. The President is also the Commander-in Chief of the Armed forces. The unusual organization of the executive — considering the large number of vice presidents — has earned it the very official nickname of The 1 + 4.

The transition constitution also established a relatively independent judiciary, headed by a Supreme Court with constitutional interpretation powers.

The 2006 constitution, also known as the Constitution of the Third Republic, came into effect in February 2006. It has concurrent authority, however, with the transition constitution until the inauguration of the elected officials that will emerge from the July 2006 elections. Under this constitution, the legislature will remain bicameral; the executive will be concomitantly undertaken by a President and the government; and the latter will be led by a Prime Minister, appointed from the party with the majority at the National Assembly. The government – not the President – is responsible to the Parliament.

The provincial governments will gain new powers, under the new decentralized model, with the creation of provincial parliaments, with oversight over the Governor, head of the provincial government, whom they elect.

The new constitution also sees the disappearance of the Supreme Court, which is divided into three new institutions. The constitutional interpretation prerogative of the Supreme Court will be held by the Constitutional Council.

[edit] Administrative divisions

Image:Provinces de la République démocratique du Congo - 2005.svg
A new provincial map of Democratic Republic of Congo.
Further information: Political divisions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Congo is divided into twenty-five provinces and one independent city (Kinshasa). Before the constitution approved in February 2006, there were ten provinces plus Kinshasa. The present provinces are:

1 Kinshasa
2 Kongo central
3 Kwango
4 Kwilu
5 Mai-Ndombe
6 Kasaï
7 Lulua

  8 Kasaï Oriental
  9 Lomami
10 Sankuru
11 Maniema
12 Sud-Kivu
13 Nord-Kivu
14 Ituri

15 Haut-Uele
16 Tshopo
17 Bas-Uele
18 Nord-Ubangi
19 Mongala
20 Sud-Ubangi

21 Équateur
22 Tshuapa
23 Tanganyika
24 Haut-Lomami
25 Lualaba
26 Haut-Katanga

[edit] Major cities

Congolese French Dutch<ref name="Dutch">Used by Flemish colonizers.</ref>
Bandundu Banningville
Bukavu Constermansville
Djokupunda Charlesvilles
Goma
Ilebo Port-Francqui
Isiro Paulis
Kalemie Albertville Albertstad
Kananga Lualabourg Lualaburg
Kikwit
Kindu
Kinshasa Léopoldville Leopoldstad
Kisangani Stanleyville Stanleystad
Congolese French Dutch<ref name="Dutch"/>
Kolwezi
Likasi Jadotville Jadotstad
Lubumbashi Elisabethville Elisabethstad
Lukutu
Lusanga Leverville Leverstad
Mbandaka Coquilhatville Cocquilhatstad
Mbanza-Ngungu Thysville Thysstad
Moba Baudoinville Boudewijnstad
Mobaye-Mbongo Banzyville Banzystad
Mbuji-Mayi Bakwanga
Ubundu Ponthierville Ponthierstad

[edit] Geography

Image:Cg-map.png
The map of Democratic Republic of Congo from CIA World Factbook
Image:Dem congo sat.jpg
Satellite image of Democratic Republic of the Congo, generated from raster graphics data supplied by The Map Library

The Congo is situated at the heart of the west-central portion of sub-Saharan Africa and is bounded by (Clockwise from the southwest) 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. The size of Congo, 2,345,410 km², is comparable to that of Western Europe.

As a result of its equatorial location, the Congo experiences large amounts of precipitation and has the highest frequency of thunderstorms on Earth. The annual rainfall can total upwards of 80 inches in some places, and the area sustains 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 sq mi). The river and its tributaries (major offshoots include the Kasai, Sangha, Ubangi, Aruwimi, and Lulonga) form the backbone of Congolese economics and transportation, 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.

[edit] Economy

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 (the First and Second Congo Wars), which began in 1996, have dramatically reduced national output and government revenue, have increased external debt, and have 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. Malnutrition affects approximately two thirds of the country's population. Conditions improved in late 2002 with the withdrawal of a large portion of the invading foreign troops. A number of International Monetary Fund 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.

[edit] Demographics

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 seven hundred local languages and dialects are spoken, the linguistic variety is bridged both by the use of French and the intermediary languages Kongo, Tshiluba, Swahili, and Lingala.

About eighty percent of the Congolese population are Christian, predominantly Roman Catholic. Among the largest Protestant churches are: Anglican Church of Congo, Église des Frères mennonites, Église du Christ au Congo, .

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 three million members, primarily among the Bakongo of Bas-Congo and Kinshasa.

[edit] Languages

Image:Map - DR Congo, major languages.svg
Major Bantu languages in the Congo.

There is an estimated total of 242 languages spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Out of these, only four have the status of national languages: Kongo, Lingala, Tshiluba and Swahili.

Lingala was made the official language of the army under Mobutu, but since the rebellions, a good part of the army also uses Swahili in the East.

French is also an official language of the country. It is meant to be an ethnically neutral language, to ease communication between all the different ethnic groups of the Congo.

When the country was a Belgian colony, the four national languages were already used in primary schools, which makes the country one of the few to have had literacy in local languages during the occupation by Europeans. However, Belgium was notorius for lack of investment in the colony while gaining huge riches in wealth, leaving the vast majority of the population during colonialism with poor or no access to education opportunity.

[edit] Culture

The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reflects the diversity of its hundreds of ethnic groups and their differing ways of life throughout the country — from the mouth of the River Congo on the coast, upriver through the rainforest and savanna in its centre, to the more densely populated mountains in the far east. Since the late 19th century, traditional ways of life have undergone changes brought about by colonialism, the struggle for independence, the stagnation of the Mobutu era, and most recently, the First and Second Congo Wars. Despite these pressures, the customs and cultures of the Congo have retained much of their individuality. The country's 60 million inhabitants are mainly rural. The 30 percent who live in urban areas have been the most open to Western influences.

[edit] 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 center 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 food. 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.
Image:Bonobo.jpg
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 fauna, but has forced humans to trudge deeper into the wilderness in search of the desired animal meat. This overhunting results in the deaths of more animals and makes resources even more scarce for humans. The hunting has also been facilitated by the extensive logging prevalent throughout the Congo's rainforests (from corporate logging, in addition to farmers clearing out forest in order to create areas for agriculture), which allows hunters much easier access to previously unreachable jungle terrain, while simultaneously eroding away at the habitats of animals.<ref>"The Bushman crisis: long term solutions - international, national and local policies", WWF, 2001.</ref>

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 genera 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 re-categorized 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, as well as the okapi, which is also native to the area.

[edit] References

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[edit] See also

[edit] Miscellaneous topics

[edit] Further reading

  • Michela Wrong, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo
  • Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost : A story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa

[edit] External links

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