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Cultural Profiles

The Democratic Republic of Congo

  • One of Africa’s largest countries, the Congo is tremendously rich in natural resources. These resources have been violently fought over for decades.
  • Between 1998-2003 one of Africa’s most destructive civil wars ensued.
  • Internationally these years have been dubbed ‘Africa’s World War’.
  • Ongoing conflict continues primarily in Congo’s Eastern provinces.
  • The Congo currently hosts the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission.
  • Sexual violence is commonly used as a tactic of war, subjecting women to rape by multiple perpetrators, mutilation, and public humiliation.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa

Background:

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, is one of central Africa’s most conflicted countries. It is the third largest country in Africa, with Sudan and Algeria leading in size. The Congo is a vast country with immense natural resources. This tremendous mineral wealth has fuelled violent conflict by opposing powers for decades. Congo is currently enduring a humanitarian crisis. Congo’s persistent conflict has pitted government officials against rebels, many of whom are supported by Uganda and Rwanda. In 2003 a peace treaty and the formation of a transitional government promised a road to recovery for war torn Congo. Conflict however, continues to heighten particular in Eastern provinces.

According to a BBC 2011 report, the Congolese war has claimed at least 3 million lives. This estimate includes direct mortality from militia violence, as well as the indirect consequences of war: including malnutrition and disease.

Factuals:

Capital city: Kinshasa
Official language: French
Recognized national languages: Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, Tshiluba
It is estimated that 242 languages are spoken in the Congo. Of these, only the above are considered national languages.
Demonym: Congolese
Population: 70, 916, 439 (2010 estimate)
Currency: Congolese Franc
Main Exports: Diamonds, copper, coffee, cobalt
Religion: Christianity is the major dominant religion across the Congo. 90% of Congolese practice Christianity. Denominations include Roman Catholic,55%, and protestant, 35%. Animism accounts for 2.4%. There is also an Islamic presence at 5-10% of Congo’s population.

Socio-Political Timeline:

(Political Information Retrieved from the CIA World Factbook)

  • Established as a Belgian colony in 1908
  • Gained independence in 1960
  • November 1965, Col. Joseph Mobutu stages a coup and declares himself president
  • At the time of the Coup Mobuto changes the name of the country to Zaire
  • Mobuto remains in power for 32 years
  • Mobuto reigns as dictator, often using brutal force to retain power
  • Civil war ensues
  • In 1994 when a massive inflow of refugees from conflicted Rwanda and Burundi occur, the Mobutu government is toppled
  • The toppling of the government is backed by Rwanda and Uganda, with Congolese political leader Laurent Kabila
  • The country is renamed by Laurent Kabila, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
  • August 1998, Kabila's regime is challenged by a second group which is also supported by Uganda and Rwanda
  • Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, Zimbabwe support Kabila's regime and send in their troops
  • July 1999, a cease fire is signed, but sporadic armed fighting continues
  • January 2001, Kabila is assassinated
  • Kabila's son Joseph Kabila is named head of state
  • Pretoria Accord is signed in 2002; all parties again agree to cease fire
  • Transitional government is established in July 2003, Joseph Kabila is remained as president of the Transitional government
  • Elections for the presidency, national assembly, and provincial legislature are held in 2006
  • Kabila holds onto his role as president
  • The next national elections are scheduled for November 2011

Health Statistics:

Infant Mortality Rate: 78.43/1 000 live births
(Congo has the world’s second highest rate of infant mortality, after Chad)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 55.33 years
Male: 53.9 yearsFemale: 56.8 years
Total fertility rate: 5.24 children born/woman

Pneumococcal Infection:

According to a 2004 study published by UNICEF, pneumococcal disease (causing pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis) is the second leading cause of child death under the age of 5. Pneumococcal disease is second only to malaria. In 2011 the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, as well as two of Congo’s 11 provinces. Similar pneumococcal vaccine programs are being rolled out in Guyana, Kenya, Mali, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone and Yemen. These have been funded by the Global Alliance for Vaccines.

Literacy:

(Definition – age 15 and over can read and write French, Lingala, Kingwana or Tshiluba)

Total Population: 67.2%
Male: 80.9%
Female: 54.1%

Drug Trade:

The Congo is one of Africa's largest producers of cannabis. Cannabis is mostly consumed domestically with little trafficking outside of the Congo’s borders.

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons:

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) there are currently 444,054 Congolese refugees residing in Africa. This statistic is likely a vast underestimate due to the inefficiencies associated with refugee data collection. The following is an outline of where Congolese refugees are residing:

  1. Angola – 13,364
  2. Burundi – 24, 614
  3. CAR – 20,899
  4. Rwanda – 54, 143
  5. Sudan – 19, 709
  6. Tanzania – 63, 275
  7. Uganda – 74, 895
  8. Zambia – 21, 965
  9. Republic of Congo – 125, 330
  10. Rest of Africa – 25, 860

Internally Displaced Persons:

There are 1.4 million internally displaced persons within the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most IDP's are currently residing in eastern provinces.

Sexual Violence:

Congo's sexual violence against women and girls has caused international outrage since 1996, yet little has been done to abate this. Rape has been used as a weapon of war for over a decade. It is now estimated that hundreds of thousands of Congolese women have been raped in attacks terrorizing civilians. Researchers from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative have analyzed data which recorded rapes between 2004 and 2008 (4,311 cases). According to their study 60 percent of rapes committed during this time were considered 'gang rapes'. These were carried out by multiple armed men attacking victims within their homes during the hours between sunset and sunrise. According to Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, “Eastern Congo remains one of the most shocking ongoing examples of rape as a weapon of war”.

References:

A Vaccine for the very young takes aim at bacterial diseases - The New York Times, published April 11th, 2011

CIA the World Factbook: The Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo Country Profile – BBC News

Timeline – The Democratic Republic of Congo – BBC News

UNHCR – The Democratic Republic of Congo

 

Contact for corrections or updates: elena DOT paraskevopoulos AT gmail DOT com

Written by Elena Paraskevopoulos MD (May 25, 2011)

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