DRC Congo in Detail
Democratic Republic of the Congo, country located in central Africa. Officially known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country has a 25-mile (40-km) coastline on the Atlantic Ocean but is otherwise landlocked. It is the second largest country on the continent; only Algeria is larger. The capital, Kinshasa, is located on the Congo River about 320 miles (515 km) from its mouth. The largest city in central Africa, it serves as the country’s official administrative, economic, and cultural centre. The country is often referred to by its acronym, the DRC, or called Congo (Kinshasa), with the capital added parenthetically, to distinguish it from the other Congo republic, which is officially called the Republic of the Congo and is often referred to as Congo (Brazzaville).
Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960. From 1971 to 1997 the country was officially the Republic of Zaire, a change made by then ruler Gen. Mobutu Sese Seko to give the country what he thought was a more authentic African name. “Zaire” is a variation of a term meaning “great river” in local African languages; like the country’s current name, it refers to the Congo River, which drains a large basin that lies mostly in the republic. Unlike Zaire, however, the name Congo has origins in the colonial period, when Europeans identified the river with the kingdom of the Kongo people, who live near its mouth. Following the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997, the country’s name prior to 1971, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was reinstated. Congo subsequently was plunged into a devastating civil war; the conflict officially ended in 2003, although fighting continued in the eastern part of the country.
Congo is rich in natural resources. It boasts vast deposits of industrial diamonds, cobalt, and copper; one of the largest forest reserves in Africa; and about half of the hydroelectric potential of the continent.
Land: Congo is bounded to the north by the Central African Republic and South Sudan; to the east by Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania; to the southeast by Zambia; and to the southwest by Angola. To the west are the country’s short Atlantic coastline, the Angolan exclave of Cabinda, and Congo (Brazzaville).
Relief: The country’s major topographical features include a large river basin, a major valley, high plateaus, three mountain ranges, and a low coastal plain. Most of the country is composed of the central Congo basin, a vast rolling plain with an average elevation of about 1,700 feet (520 metres) above sea level. The lowest point of 1,109 feet (338 metres) occurs at Lake Mai-Ndombe (formerly Lake Leopold II), and the highest point of 2,296 feet (700 metres) is reached in the hills of Mobayi-Mbongo and Zongo in the north. The basin may once have been an inland sea whose only vestiges are Lakes Tumba and Mai-Ndombe in the west-central region.
The north-south Western Rift Valley, the western arm of the East African Rift System, forms the country’s eastern border and includes Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, Tanganyika, and Mweru. This part of the country is the highest and most rugged, with striking chains of mountains. The Mitumba Mountains stretch along the Western Rift Valley, rising to an elevation of 9,800 feet (2,990 metres). The snow-covered peaks of the Ruwenzori Range between Lakes Albert and Edward lie astride the Ugandan border and mark the country’s highest elevation of 16,763 feet (5,109 metres) at Margherita Peak. The volcanic Virunga Mountains stretch across the Western Rift Valley north of Lake Kivu.
High plateaus border almost every other side of the central basin. In the north the Ubangi-Uele plateaus form the divide between the Nile and Congo river basins. Rising to between 3,000 and 4,000 feet (915 and 1,220 metres), these plateaus also separate the central basin from the vast plains of the Lake Chad system. In the south the plateaus begin at the lower terraces of the Lulua and Lunda river valleys and rise gradually toward the east. In the southeast the ridges of the plateaus of Katanga (Shaba) province tower over the region; they include Kundelungu at 5,250 feet (1,600 metres), Mitumba at 4,920 feet (1,500 metres), and Hakansson at 3,610 feet (1,100 metres). The Katanga plateaus reach as far north as the Lukuga River and contain the Manika Plateau, the Kibara and the Bia mountains, and the high plains of Marungu.
The northern escarpment of the Angola Plateau rises in the southwest, while in the far west a coastal plateau zone includes the hill country of Mayumbe and the Cristal Mountains. A narrow coastal plain lies between the Cristal Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.
Drainage and soils: The Congo River, including its 1,336,000-square-mile (3,460,000-square-km) basin, is the country’s main drainage system. The river rises in the high Katanga plateaus and flows north and then south in a great arc, crossing the Equator twice. The lower river flows southwestward to empty into the Atlantic Ocean below Matadi. Along its course, the Congo passes through alluvial lands and swamps and is fed by the waters of many lakes and tributaries. The most important lakes are Mai-Ndombe and Tumba; the major tributaries are the Lomami, Aruwimi, and Ubangi rivers and those of the great Kasai River system. In addition, the Lukuga River links the basin to the Western Rift Valley.
Soils are of two types: those of the equatorial areas and those of the drier savanna (grassland) regions. Equatorial soils occur in the warm, humid lowlands of the central basin, which receive abundant precipitation throughout the year and are covered mainly with thick forests. This soil is almost fixed in place because of the lack of erosion in the forests. In swampy areas the very thick soil is constantly nourished by humus, the organic material resulting from the decomposition of plant or animal matter. Savanna soils are threatened by erosion, but the river valleys contain rich and fertile alluvial soils. The highlands of the Great Lakes region in eastern Congo are partly covered with rich soil derived from volcanic lava. This is the country’s most productive agricultural area.
Climate: Most of Congo lies within the inner humid tropical, or equatorial, climatic region extending five degrees north and south of the Equator. Southern Congo and the far north have somewhat drier subequatorial climates.
The seasonally mobile intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is a major determinant of the climate. Along this zone the trade winds originating in the Northern and Southern hemispheres meet, forcing unstable tropical air aloft. The air that is forced upward is cooled, and the resulting condensation produces prolonged and heavy precipitation. In July and August this zone of maximum precipitation occurs in the north; it then shifts into central Congo in September and October. Between November and February the southern parts of the country receive maximum precipitation. Thereafter the ITCZ moves northward again, crossing central Congo in March and April, so this zone has two rainfall maxima. The extreme eastern highlands lie outside the path of the ITCZ and are subject to the influence of the southeastern trade winds alone. In addition to the ITCZ, elevation and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its maritime influences also act as factors of climatic differentiation.
The country is divided into four major climatic regions. In the equatorial climate zone, temperatures are hot, the average monthly temperature rarely dropping below the mid-70s F (low to mid-20s C). Humidity is high, and it rains throughout the year. Annual precipitation at Eala, for example, averages 71 inches (1,800 mm). The tropical or subequatorial climate zone, marked by distinct dry and rainy seasons, is found north and south of the equatorial region. The dry season lasts from four to seven months (usually April to October), depending largely on distance from the Equator. In Kananga about 63 inches (1,600 mm) of precipitation falls annually. Short dry spells of several weeks’ duration may occur during the rainy season.
The Atlantic climate zone is confined to the west coast. The low elevation and the cold Benguela Current are the major influences. At Banana the average annual temperature is in the high 70s F (mid-20s C), and precipitation averages about 30 inches (760 mm) yearly. The mountain climate occurs in the eastern high plateaus and mountains. In Bukavu, for example, the average annual temperature is in the mid-60s F (high 10s C), and annual precipitation levels measure about 52 inches (1,320 mm).
Plant and animal life: Plant life is lush and varies between climate zones. The heart of the Congo basin is blanketed by an intricate forest system commonly known as the equatorial rainforest. There trees reach heights of 130 to 160 feet (40 to 50 metres), and numerous varieties and species of plants proliferate. Grasslands and woodlands are characteristic of the tropical climate zone, while stands of mangrove dominate the coastal swamps and the mouth of the Congo. The eastern plateaus are covered by grasslands, and mountain forest, bamboo thickets, and Afro-Alpine vegetation occur on the highest mountains.
The central basin is a vast reservoir of native trees and plants. Among these, mahogany, ebony, limba, wenge, agba, iroko, and sapele provide timber. Fibrous plants include raffia and sisal. There are also plants used in traditional medicine, including cinchona (the source of quinine) and rauwolfia (an emetic and antihypertensive), as well as copal, rubber, and palm trees. Many types of edible mushrooms grow wild; other wild edible vegetables grow in the forests, grasslands, and swamps. Imported eucalyptus trees, which grow in stands in the highlands, are used for construction timber and poles.
Animal life is also rich and diverse. Chimpanzees are found mostly in the equatorial forest, and gorillas live in the eastern mountains around Lake Kivu. Bonobos are also present, though they are found only in lowland rainforests along the south bank of the Congo River. Elephants and various species of monkeys and baboons are found in forest and savanna woodlands; African forest elephants (a smaller, distinct species of elephant) are limited to the forest.
In the north, in the primary forests of Uele, Aruwimi, and Ituri, live okapi, giant wild boars, and short antelopes. Lions and leopards inhabit the grasslands, and jackals, hyenas, cheetahs, wildcats, wild dogs, buffaloes, antelopes, wild hogs, and black and white rhinoceroses are found in the grasslands and savanna woods. Giraffes mainly inhabit the northeastern grasslands.
Hippopotamuses and crocodiles are common in the rivers and the lakes, and whales, dolphins, and lungfishes are found near the coast. Congolese rivers, lakes, and swamps are well stocked with a variety of fish, such as capitaine from the Congo River and catfish, electric fish, eels, cichlids, and many others. Jellyfish live in Lake Tanganyika. Reptiles are common and include various snakes—such as pythons, vipers, and tree cobras—as well as lizards, chameleons, salamanders, frogs, and turtles.
Birdlife includes pelicans, parrots, many species of sunbirds, pigeons, ducks, geese, eagles, vultures, cuckoos, owls, cranes, storks, and swallows. Insects are innumerable. There are hundreds of butterfly species; in the savanna woodlands, butterflies fill the skies at the beginning of the rains. There are also numerous varieties of bees, grasshoppers, caterpillars, praying mantises, beetles, dragonflies, scorpions, mosquitoes, tsetse flies, ants, termites, spiders, centipedes, and millipedes.
In spite of efforts to limit hunting, animal life has diminished. Several national parks, most in the eastern highlands, and wildlife preserves protect remaining species. They include Garamba, near the South Sudanese border; Virunga, north of Lake Edward in the Virunga Mountains; Maiko, west of Lake Edward; Kahuzi-Biega, north of Bukavu; Upemba, north of the Manika Plateau; Salonga, in the central Congo River basin; and Kundelungu, northeast of Lubumbashi near the Zambian border. Several of these parks have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites: Garamba’s expansive savannas and grass- and woodlands are home to a number of important species, including the critically endangered white rhinoceros; Virunga is notable for a variety of habitats—some of which include active volcanoes—and the especially broad biodiversity sheltered there; the tropical forests of Kahuzi-Biega are known for their diverse fauna and for populations of endangered eastern lowland gorillas; and Salonga, among the largest tropical rainforest reserves in Africa, is an important habitat for a number of endangered and endemic species. In addition to these, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, home to a portion of the threatened okapi still living in the wild, also has been recognized as a World Heritage site.
 PEOPLE OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Ethnic groups: More than 200 African ethnic groups live in Congo; of these, Bantu peoples constitute a large majority of the country’s population. They entered the territory of modern Congo between the 10th and the 14th century from the west and north and established kingdoms that were flourishing at the time of European penetration after the 16th century. The major kingdoms were those of the Kongo, Teke (Bateke), Luba, Pende, Yaka, Lunda, Songe, Tetela, and Kuba peoples. Major cultural clusters today include the Mongo (in the centre of the country), the Kongo (west), the Luba (south-central), the Lunda (south), the Bemba (southeast), and the Kasai (southwest). Bantu peoples in the north and northeast include the Ngala, the Buja, the Bira, the Kuumu, and the Lega (Rega).
The Pygmies, having arrived possibly during the Upper Paleolithic Period, are thought to have been the earliest inhabitants of the Congo basin. The remaining Pygmy groups—the Bambuti, the Twa, and the Babinga—inhabit the forests of Kibali and Ituri, the regions of Lakes Kivu and Tanganyika, and areas near the Lualaba, Tshuapa, Sankuru, and Ubangi rivers.
There are other small non-Bantu African populations. Adamawa-Ubangi and Central Sudanic groups that settled in the north include the Zande (Azande), the Mangbetu, the Banda, and the Barambu (Abarambo). Nilotic peoples live in the northeast and include the Alur, the Kakwa, the Bari, the Lugbara, and the Logo. Tutsi from Rwanda have historically lived in the eastern lake region.
European and Asian groups constitute a significant part of the country’s migrant population; most went to Congo for temporary employment. The remaining migrant population is composed of Africans of non-Congolese nationality.
Languages: More than 200 languages are spoken in Congo. Communication between groups has been facilitated by four “national” languages: Swahili, Tshiluba (Kiluba), Lingala, and Kongo. French is the official language and the language of instruction, business, administration, and international communications. The four national languages are used in regional commerce and on the radio. The use of Lingala is growing rapidly: under Mobutu it was the official language of the military, and it is widely spoken in Kinshasa, where it is used in popular music, as well as along the lower Congo River.
Religion: Traditional African religious beliefs in a supreme being, the power of the ancestors, spirits of nature, and the efficacy of magic have been greatly influenced by the introduction of Christianity in Congo. There is a very sizable Christian population, the largest proportion of which is Roman Catholic. Other Christians include Protestants and followers of the local sect of the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth Through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu (Kimbanguist Church). The remainder of the African population continues to adhere to traditional African beliefs or follows Islam. The foreign community includes Hindus and Muslims.
Settlement patterns: People have long lived in most regions of Congo. Over time, they became specialized in the exploitation of their natural environments. Forest peoples, such as the Bambuti (Pygmies) of the Ituri Forest, for example, have historically specialized in hunting and fishing, while agriculture has remained secondary or is nonexistent. In the savanna woodlands, inhabitants combine agriculture with hunting and fishing. In some areas in the southern half of the country, people raise small livestock and poultry and also mine copper, iron ore, and other minerals. In the grasslands, inhabitants confine themselves almost solely to agriculture. In the eastern grasslands, agriculture is combined with the raising of large livestock.
More than one-half of the Congolese population is rural, with most people living in scattered villages. The style of housing varies regionally, as does the general size of the villages. A village with 10 to 25 houses is generally considered small, while one with 150 to 200 is large. The most populous areas are the savanna woodlands of the south-central regions and, to some extent, the coastal regions, where the largest villages shelter some 300 to 500 people. The eastern grasslands areas have isolated farms and hamlets.
Some trading and administrative centres, such as Banana, Vivi, and Boma, date from the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century. Most towns, however, are of more recent origin. Kinshasa, until 1966 called Léopoldville, is the official seat of national political, administrative, and judiciary institutions and is also an important commercial and industrial centre. It is a centre of music, fashion, and popular culture as well. The rapid growth of Kinshasa typifies that of many of the country’s cities. In 1889 it had a population of 5,000; by 1925, when it was recognized as a ville (urban centre), it had grown to 28,000. The city jumped to a population of 250,000 in 1950, 1,500,000 in 1971, and about 4,700,000 in the mid-1990s—an increase of nearly a thousandfold in a little more than a century.
There are a number of other major cities; all are administrative or commercial centres, with the exception of Likasi, which is mainly an industrial and mining town. Kananga is the capital of Kasaï-Occidental (Western Kasai) province. Lubumbashi (formerly Élisabethville), the administrative headquarters of Katanga, is the heavily industrialized capital of the country’s copper-mining zone. Mbuji-Mayi is the capital of Kasaï-Oriental (Eastern Kasai) province and Congo’s diamond centre. Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville), the terminal point of navigation on the Congo River from Kinshasa, is the capital of Orientale province. Bukavu, the headquarters of Sud-Kivu province, is a major tourist centre; Kikwit, the former capital of Bandundu province, is the terminal port on the Kwilu River; and Matadi, the capital of Bas-Congo, is the country’s main port. Mbandaka is a river port and the capital of Équateur province.
All these towns developed during the colonial period, when there were separate sectors for Europeans and Africans. European neighbourhoods were characterized by big houses with large yards, wide paved streets, and adequate electricity. African areas were crowded, with smaller houses and yards and poor, if any, electric supply. These contrasts are still characteristic of the cities, although the formerly European neighbourhoods are now inhabited chiefly by elite Congolese.
Demographic trends: Congo’s rate of natural increase is among the highest in the world. More than two-fifths of the population is younger than age 15, with some three-fourths under age 30; on the other hand, only a small fraction of the population is 60 or older. The negligible provision of medical care by the state—along with poverty, violence, and endemic disease—has limited life expectancy, which for both men and women is far below the global average.
At independence in 1960, the formal economy of Congo was based almost entirely on the extraction of minerals, primarily copper and diamonds. Most of this economic activity was controlled by foreign companies, such as the Belgian Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK), whose assets in 1965 were valued at nearly $430 million. By that time, UMHK was one of the largest single sources of Congolese governmental revenue and accounted for a large proportion of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Following the coup carried out by Mobutu in 1965, however, the new government made plans to nationalize UMHK. The ensuing struggle between the government and UMHK ended in a compromise in 1967 whereby UMHK operations were taken over by a newly created state company, Générale des Carrières et des Mines (Gécamines), but daily operations were contracted out to a private management company created by the former UMHK.
This arrangement provided the blueprint for the Mobutu government’s steady acquisition of private economic concerns—heralded as the “Zairianization” of the economy. Mobutu appropriated the income from new state enterprises, using it to amass a huge personal fortune and to create a vast patronage network. In the 1970s and ’80s, he also portioned out control over state enterprises to shifting networks of associates whose loyalty he needed. He offered concessions to foreign private enterprises as well. Increasingly, the economy became an adjunct of Mobutu’s political machine.
At first, international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as well as Mobutu’s allies in the West, turned a blind eye to his personal appropriation of the economy and the associated declines in productivity and exports. The fall in copper prices in the mid-1970s, however, led to audits of state enterprises that revealed high levels of embezzlement. Nonetheless, Mobutu remained an important Cold War ally for Western countries, and for the next 20 years international financial institutions and his Western allies continued to find ways to keep the sinking economy afloat.
Yet as the economy became less and less productive, funds directed toward the maintenance of Mobutu’s national, regional, and local patronage networks were becoming insufficient. Both state managers and private owners of enterprises increasingly resorted to extortion and force to maintain their wealth. Units of the army, as well as private militias, supplanted formal state authority in much of the country. In the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and heightened demands for democratic reform worldwide, Mobutu’s Western allies finally pressed for reforms in Congo.
By this time, however, the country was in crisis. Between 1990 and 1995, the economy demonstrated a negative annual growth rate of –8.42 percent. In the early 1990s the value of the national currency sank to remarkable lows. Average per capita income, which continued to fall drastically, was more than halved between 1990 and 2000 to become one of the lowest in the world. The state, nearly bankrupt, provided scarcely any services to the population, which, in any case, increasingly did its business in an unofficial parallel economy, or black market. The outbreak of civil conflict in the late 1990s deeply exacerbated the failures of the economy, which subsequently continued to decline.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Congo took steps to stabilize its economic situation; in 2001, for example, it shifted toward a more market-oriented economy. With the participation of the IMF and the World Bank, other structural reforms were undertaken to liberalize the economy, break hyperinflation, and encourage a more stable macroeconomic atmosphere. In 2002 the country experienced positive growth in its gross domestic product (GDP) for the first time in more than a decade, and the economy continued to expand throughout the remainder of the early 2000s, a factor attributed in part to increased stability following the end of the civil war.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing: Domestic agriculture is the main source of food and income for the majority of the population. Agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and forestry combined provide employment for more than three-fourths of the labour force and, on average, account for more than two-fifths of GDP.
Although the country is rich in agricultural potential, deterioration of the transportation network and agricultural services since independence have led to a return to subsistence agriculture and a collapse of market production. Foodstuffs such as cereals and fish are imported in increasing amounts. Coffee is the chief agricultural export, although much of it is smuggled out of the country; production of palm oil, rubber, and cotton, once mainstays of the export economy, has become almost negligible.
In the humid equatorial region, cassava (manioc) and rice are the basic food crops. Peanuts (groundnuts), oil palms, and fruit trees are also important, while robusta coffee is the main cash crop. In the eastern highlands, yams, beans, and sweet potatoes are used as food crops, while arabica coffee and tea are export commodities. Corn (maize), an important subsistence crop, is grown widely but chiefly centred on the southeast. Vegetable growing is widespread throughout Congo.
Livestock and poultry are kept in every province. Cattle are raised mainly in the east and the south. Pigs are kept in the west and sheep in the eastern highlands. Other domestic animals include chickens, geese, pigeons, and rabbits. Commercial meat production is limited, however, and the country depends upon imports to fulfill its requirements.
A small part of the yearly production of timber is exported for veneering or plywood; most, however, is used locally for fuel. There is some commercial freshwater and ocean fishing. Local hunting, fishing for private consumption, and poaching of wild game are not ordinarily reported in official statistics and are difficult to measure.
Resources and power: The country’s main economic resource is its mineral deposits; mining produces almost nine-tenths of total exports. The abundance of minerals in Katanga province was among those factors that attracted European powers to Congo in the 19th century.
Minerals found in Katanga include copper, cobalt, zinc, cassiterite (the chief source of metallic tin), manganese, coal, silver, cadmium, germanium (a brittle element used as a semiconductor), gold, palladium (a metallic element used as a catalyst and in alloys), uranium, and platinum. The region west of Lake Kivu contains cassiterite, columbotantalite, wolframite (a source of tungsten), beryl, gold, and monazite (a phosphate of the cerium metals and thorium). Lake Kivu also harbours vast reserves of methane, carbonic, and nitrogen natural gases. There are deposits of iron ore and gem-quality diamonds in south-central Congo, while the central regions are rich in industrial diamonds. In the northeast there are gold, coal, and iron-ore deposits; there are prospective deposits of gold, monazite, and diamonds in the northwestern regions as well. Coastal Congo contains bauxite, gold, and offshore deposits of petroleum. The limestone deposits that occur throughout the country are considered to be among the richest in Africa.
Congo’s forest reserves cover more than half of the country and are among the largest in Africa. Wild game supplements the local diet and is an important item in local commerce. Rivers, lakes, swamps, and ocean contain vast reserves of fish.
It is estimated that the country’s hydroelectric resources make up about one-eighth of global capacity and perhaps half of Africa’s potential capacity. This tremendous potential comes from the many rapids along the rivers of the Congo system. Thermal energy can be derived from the forests and coal and petroleum deposits.
Manufacturing: Manufacturing accounts for a small proportion of the Congolese GDP. The sector has been hampered by a variety of factors, including difficulty obtaining machinery and spare parts and an unreliable electricity supply. Manufacturing industries can be classified into two main categories. Consumption industries produce processed foods, beverages, cigarettes, cloth, printed material, hosiery, shoes and leather, metallic fabrics, and such chemical products as soap, paints, rubber, and plastics. Supply and equipment industries include spinning and weaving plants, chemical factories, and facilities to produce machinery, transport materials, nonmetallic minerals, and wood products. A petroleum refinery, opened in 1968, operates near Moanda.
The heaviest concentration of hydroelectric consumption is in the mining areas and in Kinshasa. A hydroelectric dam was completed in 1972 on the lower Congo River at Inga Falls. After completion of the second stage of the dam in 1982, its hydroelectric capacity had grown almost eightfold, with its potential estimated at nearly 15 times that total. In spite of the dam’s massive potential, however, the poor condition of necessary equipment has made electric shortages commonplace, and much of the population is without reliable access to electricity. The majority of Congolese depend on firewood as a source of domestic fuel. Neighbouring Republic of the Congo has been linked to the country’s power grid since the 1950s.
Finance and trade
The national central bank, the Bank of Congo, is located in Kinshasa, as are numerous commercial, savings, and development banks. There are also mortgage and credit banking institutions. Totally foreign-owned banks include U.S., British, and French institutions as well as the International Bank for Africa in Congo. The penetration of the banking system in Congo is extremely low, however, and only a fraction of Congolese citizens maintain bank accounts; the majority of transactions within the dominant informal sector are settled in cash. In 1998 the Congolese franc replaced the new zaire as the country’s official currency, but the new tender was seriously devalued by the country’s years of civil conflict. New notes were introduced in 2003.
For much of the first decade of the 21st century, Congo faced an increasingly negative balance of trade. Mineral products constitute most of the country’s total exports: diamonds, which account for almost one-half of trade revenue, are the country’s most valuable export; crude petroleum, cobalt, and copper are also significant. Coffee is the country’s most important agricultural export product. Exported manufactures are of limited value and volume. Imports consist primarily of foodstuffs, consumer goods, machinery (largely mining and transport equipment), and fuel. Although Belgium traditionally has been a primary trade partner, Congo has developed significant trade relationships with other countries of the European Union, South Africa, and China.
Transportation and telecommunications: The organization of the transportation network is of crucial importance to Congo, a country of continental dimensions, rich economic resources, and limited maritime access. Congo’s generally poor transportation infrastructure is a major factor in its economic underdevelopment, a situation exacerbated by years of civil conflict. The Congo River and its tributaries, historically a chief means of transportation in the country, serve as the main transport arteries. These rivers are supplemented by rail, road, and both private and public air services.
Navigation is possible throughout the year on stretches of the Congo River, which is navigable from Banana to Matadi, Kinshasa to Kisangani, Obundu to Kindu, and Kongolo to Bukama. Those portions of the Congo, as well as the navigable stretches of its tributaries, together constitute some 9,300 miles (15,000 km) of navigable inland waterways. The main port for maritime shipping is Matadi, situated near the mouth of the Congo River.
The agricultural region of Mayumbe is served by the Boma-Tshela railway. Other lines connect the Uele with the Itimbiri River and Lake Tanganyika with the Lualaba River. Railways also serve the southern regions.
There are four major routes that combine water and rail transport. The only such route to lie wholly within Congo runs by rail from Katanga to Ilebo, by boat on the Kasai and Congo rivers to Kinshasa, and by rail to Matadi. International routes run across Lake Tanganyika and Tanzania to the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam; through Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to Beira, also on the Indian Ocean; and through Angola to the Atlantic Ocean port of Lobito. The Angolan route and the system to Beira were unusable for years because of civil conflict in Angola and Mozambique. The heavy traffic that normally would have followed these routes was sent via Zimbabwe to ports in South Africa.
With only a limited number of connections in operation, fixed-line telephone service in Congo is generally inadequate. As a result, cellular telephone use has been expanding rapidly, more than tripling in the first decade of the 21st century to reach a penetration of some 10 cellular phones per 100 persons. Internet use also has been expanding, albeit at a slower pace.
 GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY
Constitutional framework: Congo’s civil war (1998–2003) was essentially ended by a power-sharing agreement that created the transitional constitution of 2003, which provided for a transitional government that consisted of representatives from various rebel groups, the previous government, the political opposition, and civil organizations. A new, formal constitution, approved by referendum in 2005 and promulgated in 2006, significantly devolved power to provincial administrations. Under it, the president is to be elected to no more than two five-year terms and must share power with the prime minister, who is to be named from the legislature’s largest party. The legislature is bicameral, consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate.
Local government: For administrative purposes, the country has long been divided into a varying number of regions or provinces. After the overthrow of Mobutu’s regime in 1997, the country was organized into 10 provinces and the ville (city) of Kinshasa, the latter being the equivalent of a federal district. The 2006 constitution provided for an increase in the number of provinces from 10 to 26 (including Kinshasa), though the new provincial structure was not implemented until 2015. The provinces are presided over by governors.
Justice: For many years, the Supreme Court (located in Kinshasa) and the Courts of Appeal stood at the centre of Congo’s judicial system, but, after the promulgation of the 2006 constitution, they were slated to be superseded by the new judicial structure. The 2006 constitution provides for an independent judiciary consisting of the Constitutional Court, the Court of Cassation, the Council of State (a federal administrative court), the Military High Court, and lower courts and tribunals throughout the country.
Political process: The Popular Movement of the Revolution (Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution; MPR) was the sole legal political party from 1970 until 1990. It was presided over by then president Mobutu and had branches at every administrative level throughout the country. The MPR splintered into factions after Mobutu was overthrown in 1997.
At the time of the transitional government, some of the most prominent political parties were the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie; PPRD); the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social; UDPS); the Democratic Social Christian Party (Parti Démocrate Social Chrétien; PDSC); the Popular Movement of the Revolution–Fait Privé (Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution–Fait Privé; MPR-FP), a faction of Mobutu’s original party; the Congolese National Movement–Lumumba (Mouvement National Congolais–Lumumba; MNC-L); the Forces for Renovation for Union and Solidarity (Forces Novatrices pour l’Union et la Solidarité; FONUS); the Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie; RCD); and the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo; MLC). The last two parties represented former rebel groups.
Women have held various posts within the government, including ministerial positions and seats in the national and provincial assemblies. On the whole, however, discrimination against women and ethnic minorities remains an ongoing problem.
Security: Congo’s armed forces consist of an army, a republican guard, a navy (including infantry and marines), and an air force, with the army the largest branch. Individuals are eligible for military service between the ages of 18 and 45.
Health and welfare: In 1960 Congo inherited a difficult medical situation, for there were no Congolese doctors. The colonial administration had trained Congolese medical technicians and nurses but had confined medical practice to European doctors and missionaries. During the first decade of independence, Congolese medical assistants, technicians, and nurses attempted to meet the country’s needs. By the late 1970s, most doctors were Congolese, but their numbers remained low. In 1990 there was a meagre one doctor for every 15,500 persons. Although this figure subsequently improved—in 2004 there was one doctor for about every 9,500 persons—the shortage of doctors persisted.
With the limited means at its disposal and the help of international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the government has waged a battle against the most critical and widespread diseases—measles, tuberculosis, trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leprosy, polio, and HIV/AIDS. Smallpox was eradicated in 1972. Other efforts made in the later part of the 20th century included the establishment of special centres and programs, in both cities and rural areas, to provide maternity and child care, sanitary education, sanitary improvement of the environment, and preventive and curative medicine.
In the 1990s and the early 21st century, however, the country suffered from ever-declining health care standards because of the protracted civil war. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sleeping sickness, and various types of hemorrhagic fever went largely unchecked, often at epidemic levels. At the war’s end, millions of people were left homeless and suffered from starvation and disease.
Housing: In most cases people build their own houses according to their needs and means. The government has established a department that builds and rents houses and also sells condominiums, especially in urban areas. In the cities, real-estate agencies and individuals also build houses and apartments for rent.
Education: Since independence, government authorities have recognized the value of education and have promoted it publicly. Years of civil conflict, however, led to a dramatic decline in government funding for education and, as a result, a drop in enrollment; related factors—including internal displacement and the recruitment of youths by militias—also contributed to the crisis. A program meant to restore access to basic education was initiated in 2002. Primary education begins at age six and is compulsory, although it has been difficult for Congo to meet this pledge because of the diversion of public funds into private pockets, a lack of facilities, and an inadequate number of teachers. Secondary education, which begins at age 12 and lasts for six years (two cycles of two and four years, respectively) is not officially compulsory.
In 1971 the Universities of Kinshasa, Kisangani, and Lubumbashi merged to create the National University of Zaire, which housed different departments and fields of study on each campus. This scheme was terminated in 1981, when the three former universities were reconstituted as separate, autonomous institutions by the Central Committee of the MPR. Other universities include Kongo University (founded in 1990 as the University of Bas-Zaïre) and the University of Mbuji-Mayi (founded 1990). There are also university institutes in Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, and Buvaku and two arts academies in Kinshasa.
 CULTURAL LIFE
Holidays celebrated in Congo include Commemoration of the Martyrs of Independence, observed on January 4; Labour Day and National Liberation Day, celebrated on May 1 and May 17, respectively; Independence Day, celebrated on June 30; Parents’ Day, celebrated on August 1; Youth Day, observed on October 14; Army Day and the Anniversary of the Second Republic, observed on November 17 and November 24, respectively; and Christmas, celebrated on December 25.
The arts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Congo’s many ethnic groups and regions have developed a mosaic of traditional arts, including painting, sculpture, music, and dance. There has been a tendency to classify sculpture and carving according to the styles of the areas from which they originate. The southwest is known for the stone and nail-studded nkisi statues of the Kongo people and the masks and figurines of the Yaka. The Kuba, from the south-central region, are known for ndop, statues created in the likeness of the king that can serve as a symbolic representative in his absence. . Luba art dominates the southeast region and reflects the strong influence of women in society through statuettes depicting motherhood. North of the Luba, the Lega produce masks and ivories. Zande and Mangbetu art are included in the northern region. Zande art is characterized by cult statuettes, spear or bow shafts, and anthropomorphic pottery, while Mangbetu art features figures with stylized elongated heads. Other folk traditions include making pottery, weaving raffia, and creating ceremonial dress.
Several contemporary Congolese authors have received international acclaim, including the poets Clémentine Madiya Faik-Nzuji, Kama Kamanda, and Ikole Botuli-Bolumbu; the playwright Ntumb Diur; and the novelists Timothée Malembe and Paul Désiré-Joseph Basembe. The collection and conservation of traditional oral literatures also has been important, and folklorists and ethnographers have produced anthologies of tales from the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri rainforest, proverbs from the Teke, tall tales from the Ngbaka, and other genres of traditional expression.
Music is by far the art form for which Congo is best known. Kinshasa is widely regarded as one of the great music centres of the world, and the influence of Congolese music is felt especially throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1950s musicians playing in nightclubs in the Matonge quarter of Kinshasa, foremost among them Kabesele Tshamala and François Lwambo, forged a style called African jazz (or OK jazz), a style that went on to influence contemporary musicians around the continent—and in Europe and North America as well. The rumba and soukous styles became popular in the 1960s, with performers such as Papa Wemba and the Grand Zaïko Orchestra eventually earning worldwide followings. Coupled with their sound were new dance steps such as the cavacha and silauka, which were widely adapted throughout Africa. The country’s most revered musical figure is Papa Wendo (Wendo Kolosoy; 1925–2008), a singer and musician who helped lay the foundations of Congolese rumba and whose career spanned seven decades. He was coaxed out of retirement in the late 1990s when African-music enthusiasts rediscovered his 1955 hit “Marie Louise” and urged him to perform again. He later appeared with his group, the Victoria Bakolo Miziki Orchestra, at festivals throughout Africa and Europe. The most popular indigenous musical style today is a blend of Cuban merengue, Congolese rumba, and West African highlife sounds, reflecting the many influences that meet in Congo.
Cultural institutions: The cities, especially Kinshasa, are the greatest creators, propagators, and promoters of national cultural life and arts. The Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa offers training programs in painting, sculpture, carving, architecture, and ceramics. The National Institute of the Arts offers training in classical as well as traditional music and drama. Congolese authors write poetry, plays, and novels in French, Lingala, or local languages.
There are museums and public libraries in most large cities, with national museums in Kananga, Mbandaka, and Lubumbashi. The capital city houses the national archives and the National Theatrical Troupe. There are libraries at each of the universities as well.
Sports and recreation: In precolonial times, the people who lived along the Congo River enjoyed a number of games and sports that drew competitors from far afield. These included riverboat racing, which was conducted in long, low dugout canoes, each powered by two dozen rowers who achieved great speeds; short- and long-distance running; and wrestling, at which the Congolese continue to excel. The missionaries who closely followed the first Europeans into the region introduced volleyball, basketball, and football (soccer), all of which have remained popular in postcolonial times, especially football.
Congo’s tradition of excellence in football dates to the early years of the 20th century, when a Roman Catholic school in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) organized the country’s first team. Raphael de la Kethule, a schoolboy at the time, went on to found the capital’s first sports association and to build its first stadium in 1937. (In 1974 that stadium was the site of a famed heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman known popularly as “the Rumble in the Jungle.”) Kethule’s association, which soon numbered dozens of clubs, grew to include not only football but also gymnastics, swimming, water polo, and tennis. With that firm grounding, Congolese football teams went on to win the African Nations Cup in 1968 and 1974. Congolese basketball teams have earned similar honors, winning several Central African Cup prizes.
Congo organized its national Olympic committee in 1963 and was recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1968. It sent a team to the 1968 Mexico City Games but did not participate in another Olympiad until the 1984 Los Angeles Games, where it competed under the name Zaire.
Media and publishing: Radio is the primary media format in Congo; there are numerous private and public stations, several of which—including Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC), which is state run—broadcast throughout the country. In addition to RTNC’s television programming, a number of private television stations are also in operation. Publications include dailies such as Elima, Le Phare, and Le Potential, as well as Mwana Shaba (a Gécamines publication) and L’Aurore Protestante (a religious publication), which are issued monthly. Several publishing houses have been established throughout the country.