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Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

Major Cities:
Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Bukavu,

Other Cities:
Boma, Kananga, Kisangani, Kolwezi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Mayi


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated June 1996. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was known as Zaire from 1971 until 1997, when its name was changed back to the one it had during 1960-70. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (DRC), which occupies the greater part of the Congo River basin, is a giant nation, one-third the size of the United States. It is a land of great contrastsan Africa in miniature. It is, at once, a country of wild animals, active volcanoes, and thick rain forests, and one also of villages, small towns, and a capital city that is home to some 4-5 million people. Western culture coexists here with African tradition. Despite its tremendous assets and potential, DRC remains a country where economic hardship, political turmoil, civil unrest, and rampant inflation abound.

DRC has been known as Zaire (until 1997), and before that the Belgian Congo, but its earlier history goes back many centuries to the powerful Kongo Kingdom of the south-central part of the African continent. It was dominated by the Portuguese for about 400 years and, late in the 19th century, came under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium. The nation that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo became a Belgian colony in 1908, and achieved its independence in June 1960.



Kinshasa (formerly Léopoldville) is a city of contrasts and resembles two cities coexisting under one name. The "ville" is comprised of modern (though sadly neglected) office buildings, apartment high-rises, and an area of run-down but attractive formerly residential sections. The other is the African "cites" where most of the city's inhabitants live. In some parts of the cites, you find some modern buildings and shops; most cites, however, are like large contiguous villages, crowded, often unlighted, with dirt roads and concrete huts, bustling with life and activity.


Local grocery stores carry a variety of items. Lunch meats, cheeses, meats, produce, and dairy items are generally available. Purchasing six items may require a trip to more than one store. A selection of canned goods, packaged goods, and some household items is available. Also prices can fluctuate almost daily due to the unstable exchange rate and inflation. Local bread from bakeries is of excellent quality. Some grocery stores carry a varied seasonal supply of vegetables and fresh fruits, such as avocados, eggplant, bananas, pineapples, papayas, and mangoes.

Items such as cereals, chocolate chips, canned milk, coffee, powdered milk, peanut butter, jams, jellies, canned vegetables, and paper cups are not only expensive on the local market, but are often unavailable.

Local Dining

Kinshasa has several restaurants. Though they are all expensive, they offer a variety of cuisines including Chinese, Italian, French, and continental. There are also several nice restaurants that serve a good lunch. Several bakeries offer excellent fresh bread, baguettes, French pastries, etc.


Kinshasa's climate is warm and typically tropical, with a dry and rainy season. During the dry season, when the weather is cooler, long-sleeved clothing is sometimes needed. Also a sweater or wrap is convenient in air-conditioned homes, offices, and public buildings.

Dress in Kinshasa is generally casual. Most of the time social functions are either jacket and tie or more casual.

There is very little local clothing available, although fabric is plentiful; but there are local tailors and seamstresses who are good at copying a garment directly or from a photograph and are reasonable in cost. The brightly patterned African fabric can be used to create attractive clothing for men, women and children.

During the rainy season, an umbrella and light raincoat are very useful. Bring appropriate gear for your favorite sports such as tennis or golf. There is one good 18-hole golf course centrally located in Gombe with membership easy to obtain but somewhat expensive.

Men generally wear lightweight suits to the office and dark business suits for evening occasions. Because of security/safety reasons, night life consists generally of domestic entertaining (dinners, cocktails, video showings, etc., in private homes). Many men wear casual American sport shirts or African-style shirts made from cotton cloth manufactured in DRC.

Women wear summer dresses and slacks during the day. Long and short dresses, often made from African cotton prints, long skirts and blouses, cocktail dresses or dressy slacks outfits are worn to evening functions. Sandals, comfortable walking shoes, and canvas sport shoes are all useful. Also bring sweaters, umbrellas, and wind-breakers. A sunhat is useful.

Fabric and sewing supplies are available, but the selection is scanty and prices are not in line.

Children's clothing should be summer weight and washable. Cottons and cotton blends are recommended. Girls usually wear jeans, shorts, and long-and short-sleeved shirts. Boys wear shorts, jeans, cut-offs and T-shirts. Don't forget raincoats.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Non-American brand cosmetics and toiletries are generally available in Kinshasa, but are expensive.

Local cigarette brands are milder than most European brands.

Basic Services: Tailoring, dressmaking, and beauty services are available. Prices range from reasonable to expensive. Dry cleaning service is available as well as other services such as catering, eyeglass repair, printing, and watch repair. Veterinarians are available. Most of the service provided is good, but rates are much higher than in the U.S.

Religious Activities

Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, Kimbanguist, Greek Orthodox, and Muslim services are held in Kinshasa.

There is an International Catholic Church where the Parish Priest speaks English, and Mass is said in English frequently by a native English speaker. Instruction and preparation for the sacraments can be arranged.

The International Interdenominational church is in Gombe. Ministers from the local missionary community, some of them Americans, take turns holding the Sunday English services.

There is a synagogue in town and an active Jewish community.

Episcopal Holy Communion services are held the last Sunday of each month at the International Church. Lay Bible groups from the Anglican church meet in homes around the city on weekdays in the evenings.

St. Luke's Catholic Church has weekly Sunday Mass in English at 9:45 AM. When the congregation was larger, Catechism classes for children were held after mass. These were administered by the parents and, depending on the ages of the children attending St. Luke's, the activities included First Communion and Confession classes, Bible study classes, confirmation classes, and teenage religion classes. At present, a "Coffee Sunday" is held after mass the last Sunday of every month. St. Luke's also has a Lingala mass at 8:00 AM Sunday and French Mass Saturday and Sunday. Various other Catholic churches throughout the city also offer mass in French and Lingala.

The Jewish community of Kinshasa now numbers about 85 families and is becoming more active in the community due to normalized relations between Israel and DRC. Friday services are held at the Rabbi's residence on the Boulevard 30 Juin. The High Holidays are celebrated at the Hotel Intercontinental. A Jewish Center is used on Sunday for recreation and education. It has a sports field and swimming pool and is the center of many activities. An active ladies group meets once a month, and Hebrew lessons and outings are frequent.


Dependent Education: The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) was established in 1961 to provide an American curriculum for grades 1-12. Student enrollment is approximately 125. Besides children from the official American community, there are children from American business representatives and American missionaries, and there are many from the general international community.

TASOK is located on Matadi Road and is comprised of a large, tropical, 42-acre fenced campus. Classes are small, thereby enabling students to receive individual attention. In the past, TASOK students who took college board exams have generally been accepted in the college of their choice.

Facilities include a complex of classrooms, an administration building and a well-stocked, up-to-date library. Recreation facilities include a full-length football and soccer field, two volleyball courts, and a student store/snack bar area. In addition, the physical education department has two locker rooms. Other facilities include staff housing, maintenance shop, American Community Library, elementary student store, and the Scout Hut.

The school does not have facilities or personnel to deal with students who have severe disabilities/handicaps. A Learning Resource Center contains library books, resource books and periodicals, plus audio-visual software.

The high school Learning Resource Center is an air-conditioned, fully carpeted facility that has books, reference materials, weekly and monthly periodicals and newspapers, a paperback collection for pleasure reading, and an audio-visual section.

The high school sports program includes varsity basketball, swimming, track and field, volleyball, soccer and softball. Intramural sports include basketball, volleyball, swimming and tennis. Drama club, band, newspaper, yearbook (the annual "TASOL", the title left over from the days when Kinshasa was Léopoldville, is a yearly project giving students the opportunity to write, copy, edit, and photograph), student council, national honor society, as well as activity programs which can range from chess to drama are offered. In the arts, ceramics, calligraphy and photography are offered. TASOK has acquired computers to introduce students to computer sciences. Activities after school and on weekends are numerous and varied, satisfying the interests of most students. TASOK occasionally holds evening adult workshops in subjects such as calligraphy, ceramics, and computer use.

The school's calendar is essentially the same as for U.S. schools except for a slightly earlier starting date.

Most of the TASOK faculty are Americans, recruited directly from the U.S. Some are local-hire spouses and dependents. New teaching staff is usually recruited in the U.S. during February and March. Dependents who are interested in either a teaching position or a teacher's aid position should contact the school as soon as possible. In the past, opportunities have arisen to substitute or tutor students on a private basis.

The school operates on the usual Monday through Friday school week.

The local public and religious schools are in French and based on Belgian school curriculum. The curriculum of the French schools (Cous Decartes) is comparable to the programs of the French "lycees" and runs 6 mornings a week. The Belgian system (Ecole Prince de Liege) teaches in French and Flemish, starting at age 6, and has elementary and secondary schools.

There are several excellent, privately owned, English-speaking nursery schools in Kinshasa:

  • TASOK has a pre-K as well as Kindergarten. It takes children from age 4.
  • Les Oisillions adheres to the Belgian system of education. It is for children 15 months to 6 years, taught in French, 6 mornings a week from 7 AM until noon;
  • Le Club, another French-speaking kindergarten, accepts children 2-6 years old and runs from September to June, 7:15 AM to noon, 6 days a week;
  • Tom Pouce is a nursery school for children ages 2-6, which teaches in French from September to June with 2 weeks for Christmas and spring break. It runs 7 AM to noon, 6 days a week;
  • La Source, another French-speaking school, operates year round for children ages 2-5. Its curriculum is pseudo-Montessori style;
  • Further Portuguese, Greek, and Italian schools plus several small correspondence-tutorial schools are operated for the diplomatic dependents of other countries.

Special Educational Opportunities

L'Ecole des Beaux Arts sometimes offers courses in various art forms including batik, drawing and painting. "La Source" offers arts and crafts afternoon sessions; activities include ceramics, basketry, puppet-making, cooking, etc.

Classes in yoga, martial arts, and general exercise classes are offered as well.


Various sports activities are available: tennis, golf, swimming, horseback riding, volleyball, basketball, jogging, softball, darts, etc. Some sporting equipment is available locally but cost is prohibitive.

The Intercontinental Hotel, located near the center of town, has a swimming pool/health club which you can join on a yearly membership basis, although it is expensive.

The Cercle Sportif du Kinshasa has a private 18-hole golf course with a mixture of "browns" (sand) and greens and reasonable fairways. Initial membership and annual dues are expensive.

A riding club is located in the suburbs. Neat, casual dress is worn, but English-style boots and hat are required. Instruction is available by a riding master.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Unfortunately, due to the decline of the infrastructure of DRC, it is generally not feasible to travel outside the city of Kinshasa. Roads are impossible to traverse without 4-wheel-drive vehicles and even then are treacherous. However, there are a couple of scenic spots that are accessible with great difficulty.

The Black River, upstream from Kinshasa, affords swimming, camping, and picnicking for a pleasant day trip. Zongo Falls, 65 miles south of Kinshasa, has a high waterfall and is the sight of a major hydro-electric dam. It is a pretty sight to visit and a pleasant place to picnic, but access is extremely difficult and generally takes 3-4 hours difficult driving each way.

Brazzaville, just across the river by ferry, may be visited after you obtain a visa and "laissez-passer" for the Republic of Congo. There you can enjoy the atmosphere and the French cuisine of the Congolese capital city.


Kinshasa is considered to be a center for African-style music and a number of nightclubs range from imitations of American bars to lively and colorful African outdoor bars. Several discotheques and a number of good restaurants exist. However, costs are often prohibitive; and the danger of street crime is an effective deterrent to most night life outside of domestic entertaining.

Kinshasa does have several casinos with black jack, roulette, and slot machines as the most popular games.

Social Activities

Social life is limited but active and informal, consisting mostly of dinners, small parties, cocktail events. The American Employees Recreation and Welfare Association (AERWA) has become the hub of social activity not only among Americans but among much of the expatriate community. AERWA is a pleasant, interesting, fun "hot spot" in the social life of ex-pats in DRC.

Common forms of home entertainment are buffet dinners, bridge parties, and video screenings. The International Women's Club of Kinshasa invites all women of Kinshasa to join. It is an English-speaking club which meets monthly. The club sponsors tours and special interest groups for cooking, bridge, French conversation groups, etc. Monthly get-acquainted coffees are held, and the club sponsors an annual Christmas Bazaar in which goods made by the women are sold, the proceeds of which go to local charities.


Lubumbashi (formerly Elisabeth-ville) is a small, pleasant city in the high plateau country near DRC's southeastern tip. In its time it was the capital of the Belgian Congo's richest province, the seat of an unrecognized independent country and now, once again, a provincial capital. Lubumbashi was originally created as the headquarters of Katanga (formerly Shaba) Province's highly developed mining industry. Despite some diversification, it remains today a city closely identified with mining, particularly with the large copper and cobalt company GECAMINES (La Génerale des Carrières et des Mines, formerly Union Minière du Haut-Katanga). Other industries in Lubumbashi include printing, brewing, flour milling, and the production of confectionery, cigarettes, brick, and soap.

The climate in Lubumbashi is temperate, similar to that of southern California. September through November is warm; May through August is cool. The weather is rainy from November to April, and dry the rest of the year. Lubumbashi's high temperatures rarely approach those of Washington, DC, and the humidity is generally low. Daily temperatures vary considerably, especially during the cool season when nighttime readings drop to near freezing and daytime temperatures of 75°F are not uncommon. Dust is a nuisance on roads outside the city during the dry season.

Lubumbashi has a population of approximately 967,000.

Schools for Foreigners

Two schools in Lubumbashi are considered suitable for the education of Western children at the primary and secondary levels. They are supported, respectively, by the French and Belgian Governments, and classes are conducted in French at both schools. The education at each institution is based on the respective national systems. The French school is open to all nationalities, and tuition is paid in DRC currency. The Belgian school is open only to expatriates, with tuition paid in hard currency.

Some children attend the American School of Kinshasa, which is two hours away by plane. Boarding facilities are available at three missionary-run hostels for students in sixth grade and above. Enrollment is from the American official, business, and missionary communities, plus a large international community. Bus transportation within the city is provided.

Both Zambia and Kenya have boarding schools; however, Zambian schools are accessible only by a three-to-four hour car trip over rather rough roads. Kenya has many English-language schools, two of which follow the American syllabus. Rosslyn Academy, a non-denominational Mennonite-and Baptist-operated school, offers grades one through nine, with boarding facilities.

Ample opportunities exist in Lubumbashi for learning French and Swahili.


Golf, tennis, basketball, horseback riding, and boating are available in Lubumbashi. Golf is particularly enjoyable, as the 18-hole course here is excellent and uncrowded. There are tennis clubs (private and municipal), swimming pools, and several riding clubs.

Each social and national club has its own soccer and/or volleyball team. The Club Nautique on the artificial lake near the new luxury hotel, Karavia, is a small, informal boating club where one may swim or picnic.

The most popular sport in DRC is soccer. Lubumbashi has a number of teams whose matches draw thousands of spectators.

Despite poor roads in the vicinity of the city, there are numerous lakes and rivers where camping is a unique experience. With a four-wheel-drive vehicle and extra jerry cans of gas, the tourist can reach the Luapula River to the east (much traveled in years past by the famed Dr. David Livingstone), and Lake Moero for a few days by the shore.

Nearer to Lubumbashi, a number of abandoned open-pit mines have become deep lakes. Copper salts have killed off disease-carrying snails, making it safe to swim in these waters. Swimming in most other lakes and rivers is not recommended because of the prevalence of bilharzia.

A three-day trip is possible during the dry season to Lofoi Falls, the highest in Africa, where a variety of wild game can be seen. Additionally, Victoria Falls (Zambia) is a five-day round-trip journey from Lubumbashi.

Lubumbashi has a zoo, where lions and other native animals are on view, as well as specimens from other continents. For wild-game viewing, visitors may charter a light airplane and fly over a game reserve about 150 miles north of Lubumbashi. Boating and (for those heedless of bilharzia) waterskiing are possible. Fishing is popular all year.


The city has five or six quite good restaurants, and a few movie houses which show rather old films. There are some good (by Central African standards) nightclubs. Concerts, recitals, art exhibitions, and ballets are infrequent.

Lubumbashi's social life is usually informal; various occupational and ethnic groups ordinarily do not include others in their activities. One influential group is composed of the managerial personnel of the predominately Belgian industrial, commercial, and banking organizations. Personal, social, and informal contacts with local citizens are not difficult in Lubumbashi, and the established missions and handful of Belgian social projects also provide an organized framework within which expatriates can mingle. Teaching English is a popular activity for Americans, and a good way to meet others in the community. Several social clubs exist for foreign residents, among them Greek and Italian organizations. Social life is determined largely by one's facility with conversational French. Lubumbashi has no unusual social customs or dress standards.


Bukavu is the capital of Kivu, DRC's most scenic province. Although the region varies greatly in topography and vegetation, it is often referred to as the "Switzerland of Africa" because of the volcanically active Ruwenzori Mountains. The Ruwenzoris are the fabled "Mountains of the Moon," reaching altitudes as high as 16,000 feet and forming one of the important divides of Central Africa. This chain of mountains is broken by three of the continent's most scenic lakes: Lakes Edward (Idi Amin), Kivu, and Tanganyika.

Bukavu, at almost 5,000 feet, is located at the southern end of Lake Kivu, on five peninsulas. It is near the middle of DRC's eastern frontier, about 1,000 air miles from Kinshasa, and is opposite Cyangugu, Rwanda, which lies across the border formed by the Ruzizi River.

The nearest volcanos are about 60 miles away, near Goma at the northern end of Lake Kivu. The last recorded volcanic eruption occurred in 1984, north of Goma. Mild earth tremors occur periodically, and the last earthquake causing damage in Bukavu was in April 1965.

Rains fall at least nine months of the year. Daily downpours last from one to two hours and are at their worst during November. Bukavu's dry season begins in June and runs through August.

Bukavu, called Costermansville until the mid-1950s, is largely a product of the Belgian colonial era. Founded about 1925, it became and still is the administrative center for the province of Kivu. The region is divided into three large subregions: North and South Kivu, and the Maniema, each of which is further subdivided into zones.

The city proper is made up of three zones or communes: Ibanda, the commercial, banking, and industrial center, where most of the European population lives; and Kadutu and Bagiri, built to house the African population. Prior to independence, Bukavu's population was about 35,000, including 6,000 Europeans. The current population numbers close to 210,000, including some 700 Europeans. The major ethnic group of the Bukavu hinter-land is the Bashi, comprised of three related groupsthe Ngweshe, Kabare, and Katanaeach with its own mwami (chief). While predominantly Bashi, Bukavu also has a large number of Warega, Bahavu, and Tutsi.

Bukavu is a commercial and industrial center. The city has a school of social studies, a teacher-training college, and a scientific research institute. It also has a brewery, printing plant, and the Mururu hydroelectric plant.

The Roman Catholic Church is an important feature of life in Bukavu, and there are a cathedral and an archbishop here. Most Europeans attend mass at the college because the service is in French rather than in Swahili.

Many sports and recreational activities are available in the Bukavu area, but entertainment facilities are limited. There are two movie theaters, showing three-to-four-year old films. Soccer matches and bicycle races are held frequently. Tennis, basketball, swimming, and water skiing are popular, except that there is some suspicion about the safety of swimming in parts of Lake Kivu because of the presence of bilharzia. Hiking, picnics, and car trips also are popular in the magnificent mountain areas around Bukavu.


One of DRC's oldest cities, BOMA was founded in the 16th century as a slave market. Situated 200 miles southwest of Accra on the Congo River, it is the terminus of a rail line to Tshela. The city serves as the outlet for timber, bananas, and palm oil from the rich forest area of Mayumbe to the north. The 1994 population was about 135,000.

KANANGA (formerly called Luluabourg), located 475 miles southeast of Kinshasa in south-central DRC, is one of the largest cities in the country and capital of the West Kasai region. It is a prominent commercial area with a hinterland that produces cotton, coffee, palm oil, rice, livestock, and timber. Local industries include brewing and printing. Kananga is the site of a national museum and a teacher-training college. The population of metropolitan Kananga is approximately 601,000.

KISANGANI (formerly Stan-leyville) is a river port on the Congo River, 750 miles northeast of Kinshasa. It has an active central market. Villagers fish with nets at the Wagenia Falls. A hydroelectric dam at the falls provide electricity to the city. Kisangani has a teacher-training school, an agricultural school, and research institute. An international airport was opened here in 1974. Kisangani has a university, founded in 1963, and a population nearing 418,000.

KOLWEZI is near the Zilo Gorges of the Lualaba River in southeastern Zaire. Residents here have used area mineral deposits since before the arrival of the Belgians in the 1800s. Industrialization began about 1901. The city became a copper-mining center after the development of the mining company, Union Minière du Haut Katanga (now GECAMINES), in 1906. Shaba rebels based in Angola attacked Kolwezi and its airfield in 1978, flooding the mines. The population here was estimated at close to 418,000 in 2000.

MBANDAKA is a river port of about 175,000 people, 435 miles northeast of Kinshasa in northwestern DRC. The city is a busy river port situated at the junction of the Congo and Ruki Rivers midway on Kinshasa-Kisangani shipping route. Besides shipping, the economy depends on agriculture and forestry. Industries in Mbandaka] include a printing plant and brewery. The city is a cultural center with a national museum, teacher-training college, and botanical garden.

MBUJI-MAYI is on the Mbuji-Mayi River in south-central DRC. The area is one of the world's major diamond production centers, providing about 75 percent, in weight, of all industrial diamonds. Tremendous immigration from nearby areas has increased the city's 1960 population of 30,000 to over 806,000 (1994 est.). Mbuji-Mayi has a teacher-training college. Links to other cities are by road and air.


Geography and Climate

The Democratic Republic of the Congo straddles the Equator in the heart of Central Africa and shares a common border with the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. DRC has access to the Atlantic Ocean on the west through a strip of territory which narrows to 13 miles in width at the coast. Its area includes the greater part of the Congo River Basin. DRC covers almost 1,465,553 square milesabout the area of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. It is the third largest nation in Africa.

DRC is most remarkable for its river, formerly called the Zaire, and for its abundance and diversity of natural resources. The Congo River is 2,900 miles long and is the second largest in the world in terms of area drained, flow, and navigable length. With its tributaries, it provides DRC with about 9,000 miles of navigable waterways, and its force affords DRC 13 percent of the world's hydroelectric power potential.

With its abundance of natural resources, including copper, cobalt, zinc, industrial and gem-quality diamonds, manganese, tin, crude oil and gold, it is potentially one of the richest countries in the world. DRC is one of the world's largest producers of industrial diamonds, and when the mines were functioning properly, copper and cobalt provided 57 percent of its export earnings.

The geographical features of this giant African nation are handsome and varied. The huge Congo Basin, a low-lying, bowl-shaped plateau sloping toward the west, is covered by lush, tropical rain forests. Surrounding the basin are mountainous terraces on the west, plateaus merging into savannas to the south and southeast, and dense grasslands toward the northwest. The high, picturesque Ruwenzori Mountains bound the basin to the east. Although Kinshasa is only 4 degrees south of the Equator, temperatures are generally moderate. In January, the average daily high is 86 degrees F and the low is 70 degrees F. In July, this range is from 80 degrees F to 59 degrees F. The rainy season for Kinshasa and for the two-thirds of the country which lie below the equator, lasts from October to May. Despite its dreary sound, the rainy season is not unpleasant. Except for perhaps one rainstorm every few days, lasting anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, the skies are usually blue and sunny. In contrast, the dry season, though not yielding any rain, is characterized by overcast, but cooler, days.


The earliest inhabitants of DRC may have been the Pygmies, followed by Bantus coming from the north and west and Nilotic tribes from the north and east. The large Bantu Bakongo Kingdom ruled much of present-day DRC and Angola when Portuguese explorers first visited in the 15th century.

The great majority of the population are descendants of the Bantu, who are thought to have begun migrating around 100 B.C. from the region that is now Cameroon and eastern Nigeria. The balance of the African population consists of Sudanic peoples, living along DRC's northern border with the Central African Republic and Sudan; Nilotic peoples, concentrated in the rugged and scenic eastern highlands neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi; and a small number of Pygmies, numbering about 80,000. The Pygmies, a celebrated people preserving all their mysteries, are sheltered by the Ituri Forest in Northeastern DRC. Like many African countries, DRC is an ethnic mosaic.

Most of this large country is sparsely populatedabout 21 inhabitants per square mile. Concentrations are near the rich mineral deposits, along the main communication routes (railroads and rivers), and in the highlands. Forty percent of DRC's people live in the urban areas. The literacy rate is about 77 percent. Life expectancy is 49 years, and GDP per capita is $600.

DRC's total population is an estimated 52 million, including some 15,200 Europeans. Kinshasa has grown considerably since independence and now has approximately 5 million residents. The American community numbers about 350 in Kinshasa and 1,000 countrywide.

French, the official and only common language, was introduced by the Belgians and is spoken countrywide by the educated. About 250 languages and dialects are also spoken. The four major languages are Lingala, the commercial language commonly used in Kinshasa and along the rivers as well as the language of the army and of popular music; Kingwana or Kiswahili, spoken in the northeast, east and north; Kikongo, spoken west of Kinshasa; and Tshiluba, spoken in south-central DRC.

About 70 percent of the population is Christian, two-thirds of which is Roman Catholic, and a third Protestant, with the rest members of independent churches, the largest of which is the Kimbanguist Church. Somewhere around 10 percent of the population, mostly in the northeast, is Muslim. Much of the population practices aspects of traditional religions, especially animism, a belief in ancestral spirits and the power of sorcery and witchcraft.

Public Institutions

DRC's "Second Republic" (when the country was Zaire), which lasted from President Mobutu Sese Seko's seizure of power in 1965 until 1990, permitted only one political party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR). As MPR President, Mobutu was automatically President of Zaire, and all citizens were automatically party members. On April 24, 1990, Mobutu announced the end of the Second Republic and the beginning of the country's transition to democracy. Political pluralism was allowed, and soon over 200 new parties had registered. Many independent civic associations also emerged during this time. A Sovereign National Conference (CNS), consisting of representatives of political parties and civic associations, drew up a transition constitution, and elected opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi as transition Prime Minister. CNS membership was incorporated into a new, single Chamber parliament, the High Council of the Republic (HCR).

By 1995, however, Zaire still had not yet held multi-party elections, and its transition to democracy remained incomplete. Mobutu interfered in the transition process. The civil war in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 and 1995 disrupted Zaire's stability, as thousands of refugees fled into North and South Kivu. In 1996, a series of repressive measures against Zairian citizens in the east sparked a rebellion against Mobuto's government. By November the major eastern cities were under rebel control, led by local warlord Laurent Désiré Kabila. By May 1997, Kabila's rebels had overthrown Mobuto's forces. Kabila became the country's leader and reverted its name back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as it had been known from 1960 until 1970. Kabila promised to restore democracy, but began structuring his administration under his personal authority. In January 2001, Kabila was assassinated. The government placed his son, Major-General Joseph Kabila, in charge.

DRC is divided for administrative purposes into eleven regions: Kinshasa, Bas Congo, Bandundu, Equateur, Haut Congo, North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Katanga (formerly Shaba), Kasai Oriental and Kasai Occidental.

In foreign policy, DRC has tended to seek closer ties with other Third World nations and regional leadership role in Africa. DRC has also sought strong economic and political links with Western Europe and the United States. Since independence in 1960, the U. S. has maintained generally friendly relations with DRC (then Zaire). However, following the military mutinies and pillaging in September 1991, the U.S. reduced diplomatic representation drastically, going from one of the largest embassies in the Foreign Service to one with fewer than 40 direct-hire positions. Staffing has been maintained at approximately this level since.

Arts, Science, and Education

Kinshasa is the intellectual center of DRC by virtue of a centralized political system, its news and information media, its educational institutions, its cultural and entertainment facilities, and its location at one of the crossroads of Africa. Education is neither free nor compulsory and in principle is largely subsidized by the government. In reality, government-paid salaries are in arrears and school costs, including maintenance, are funded primarily by parents. About 80 percent of the students in the 1960s were in government-subsidized mission schools. In 1974, the former mission schools were nationalized to form a state educational system. This has proved to be an unworkable arrangement and a number of schools have reverted to the direction of the churches. In 1971, the government created one national university from the former Catholic, Protestant and lay universities with campuses in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kisangani. In 1982, as a further reform measure, the Central Committee recommended a return to the previous arrangement with three independent universities and an Institute of Agronomy (IFA) located at Yangambi, near Kisangani. In 1989, the Government announced the end of its monopoly on higher education and approved a number of such institutions. Among them, the following five, all Kinshasa-based, seem to be the best organized and have enrollments of under 1,000; ISIPA (Institute of Computer Sciences), ISPL (Higher Institute of Philosophy and Literature), ETS (Higher School of Technology) and the College Universitaire du Zaire.

Current enrollment figures on all levels formerly supplied by the education ministry are not available. University of Kinshasa published 1992-93 enrollment at 11,372 for its ten facilities.

Several private universities continue to grow throughout the country: University Libre de Kinshasa (ULK), founded in 1985, estimates enrollment at 2000; the University of Bas Zaire (UNIBAZ) also estimates 2000 students; and two universities recently created by the late Cardinal Malula: University of Mbuji-Mayi and University of Equateur. In 1992, the International Christian University of Zaire opened in Kinshasa, run by American Protestants offering bilingual instruction.

Following the 1991 reports of a student massacre at the University of Lubumbashi, all public universities and most institutions of higher education were closed. Students throughout the country stopped attending classes in a show of solidarity. Financial difficulties caused by the military uprising in September 1991 continued the closure of most of these institutions for two years. Many universities re-opened in the fall of 1992, but sessions have been sporadic since then.

The continual deterioration in the economy coupled with school closures have taken a heavy toll on the quality, availability, and accessibility of education in Zaire. Teachers' salaries even at the university level rarely exceed the equivalent of US $5 a month, and often are unpaid for four or five months. Strikes at UNIKIN in 1994 centered on professors' demands for direct foreign currency tuition payments. Most schools lack basic supplies; libraries have empty shelves; and students must pay tuition at both public and private institutions.

The Academie des Beaux Arts displays fine examples of Zairian paintings and sculpture. Many Americans go there seeking new pieces of art. The Ivory Market in the city's center also offers a complete array of African sculpture in wood, tin, bronze, copper, and ivory. It offers ivory and malachite jewelry, as well as antique African fetishes (figures which have a mystic or religious significance), funerary sculpture, ceremonial masks, etc. St. Ann's gift shop, near the American Embassy, also offers similar African pieces. The outdoor stands on Matadi Road are another source of African wares. The availability of exciting and varied forms of African art work is truly a challenge to any collector.

Commerce and Industry

Following independence in 1960, the DRC experienced a period of economic and political turmoil. The return of internal stability and the increase in the world price for copper led to a period of rapid economic growth in the late 1960s and early 1970s, although the country's social and physical infrastructure gradually deteriorated. The pace of economic degradation slowed as the government made serious attempts to implement economic reform programs. However, by the end of the decade, these efforts had either failed or were abandoned well short of success.

After President Mobutu's April 1990 announcement ending one-party rule and promising movement toward democratization, political uncertainty and instability provoked social upheaval and greatly exacerbated the country's chronic economic degradation. The economy, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), lost more than a third of its value in real terms by the mid-1990s. Most of the decline occurred in commerce and industry, traditionally the mainstays of the "formal sector" of the economy. The paralysis of the formal economy and the absence of strong central authority left a void filled by an expansion of a parallel economy, which increasingly provides the means of survival for the country's large number of unemployed. However, the advent of a new government of national unity in July 1994, committed to economic reform, implemented some reforms in an effort to promote economic growth before the collapse of the Mobutu government came in late 1996.

The acute state of decline of the economy is due to several factors, including misguided government policies and uncontrolled deficit spending, which have fueled run-away inflation, incapacitated the industrial sector, permitted a severe deterioration of the country's infrastructure and crippled the public sector. An already low per capita income declined sharply, to below one hundred dollars by 1994, according to some estimates. Generalized uncertainty and insecurity are a fact of life and were further exacerbated by successive military mutinies in 1991, 1992 and 1993. These mutinies resulted in widespread destruction to the country's industrial and commercial sectors, and led to the cessation of major foreign assistance projects and a pull-out of foreign investment.

The government under Laurent Kabila instituted a tight fiscal policy that initially curbed inflation and currency depreciation, but these small gains were quickly reversed when the foreign-backed rebellion in the eastern part of the country began in August 1998. The war has dramatically reduced national output and government revenue and has increased external debt. Foreign businesses have curtailed operations due to uncertainty about the outcome of the conflict and because of increased government harassment and restrictions. The war has intensified the impact of such basic problems as an uncertain legal framework, corruption, raging inflation, and lack of openness in government economic policy and financial operations. A number of IMF and World Bank missions have met with the government to help it develop a coherent economic plan but associated reforms are on hold.

Depreciation of the currency and massive unemployment have crushed purchasing power, pricing basic goods beyond the reach of most people. The vast majority have experienced an accelerated and sharp decline in living standards, and the collapse of the public sector has severely limited the average citizen's access to even minimal health, education and social services. Most people now live from day to day, supplementing their meager incomes with small-scale commerce, part-time farming and petty corruption when the opportunity presents itself.

Chronically high inflation, which in 2000 reached 540 percent, and periodic liquidity shortages, have led the country's commercial sector increasingly to rely either directly or indirectly on hard currencies, particularly the US dollar or Belgian franc, as the preferred medium of exchange. Further, fiscal mismanagement and the chronic shortage of local currency within traditional banking channels have distorted the country's banking system, severely limiting its role in financial intermediation.

Private foreign investment is welcomed by the government, but continuing economic difficulties have tended to discourage prospective investors.

In many respects, DRC is similar to other developing African countries. The interior is neglected; a large part of the formal economy is operated or controlled by foreigners or foreign advisors, skilled manpower is scarce, savings and investment are low, and credit is often hard to obtain. High transportation costs, a high inflation rate and the high import content of most goods and services, place DRC among the more expensive countries in Africa.



Driving is on the right, and international road symbols are used. Defensive drivingalways a good ideais a necessity in Kinshasa, due to the adverse road conditions, careless pedestrians, erratic drivers and overcrowded arteries.

Kinshasa's main intersections are manned by gendarmes during rush hours. The policeman's baton or arm directly raised signals caution and corresponds to a yellow light. If the gendarme is facing you, or his back is toward you, it means stop; when the policeman's arms are spread parallel with the flow of traffic, this means go, corresponding to a green light.


Outside Kinshasa, roads are either in terrible condition or they are gravel or dirt-surfaced.

Public transportation facilities are overcrowded, unreliable, unsafe, and therefore not used by American personnel or their dependents.

Travel within DRC is usually by air. Most principal towns are served by a variety of local air companies of varying reliability. Jet flights between Kinshasa, Kisangani and Goma operate several days a week as do flights between Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. Flights between Kinshasa and a number of other points, however, are quite irregular. Internal flights frequently depart late and are sometimes canceled without notice.


Telephone and Telegraph

Communication from DRC is extremely difficult. The international telegraph service is unreliable and is frequently disrupted. Phone calls to the U.S. can be made but are often delayed. Cellular phone service has been generally reliable but occasionally erratic due to microwave interference.

Radio and TV

Radio reception in Kinshasa is fair to good. OZRT (Zairian Office of Radio and Television) is the government-controlled broadcast network in Zaire and its primary FM station is Voice of Zaire (VOZ). These broadcasts are in French and local languages. Also available on FM as of 1994 is RFI from Brazzaville and Africa Number One from Libreville. Listeners can also benefit from international shortwave radio broadcasts (specifically VOA, BBC, and Canal Afrique from South Africa); however, the signal is often weak and the audibility poor. Short-wave no longer functions, and Kinshasa radio is no longer picked up directly in the provinces.

Local TV reception is consistently poor and at times inaudible because of lack of upkeep of equipment. TV stations in the DRC's network are government-owned and operated, but remain an important source of information on official happenings in DRC. Broadcasts are also in French and local languages, mostly news, features and film documentaries. In Kinshasa, viewers can also watch Tele Congo, (Brazzaville government TV), and sporadically a German sports station (DSF), private French stations and locally owned Canal Z, which shows first-run American films in French. In some areas, Antenne A, a privately owned station in DRC, can be seen which carries English teaching lessons and other information "canned shows." Antenne A also sells a decoder which provides subscribers with other channels as well (French TV-5, a European movie channel, Arabsat and CNN).

Newspapers and Magazines

Time, Newsweek, and Jeune Afrique and other western magazines are sold on the streets and sometimes by vendors in restaurants. These magazines and the International Herald Tribune can be purchased at the Intercontinental Hotel as well.

The Agence Zairoise de Press (AZAP) is the official government press service, which formerly published a daily bulletin in French. It too has fallen on hard times, and after almost a year hiatus, began re-publishing in 1994 every other day but periodically drops out of circulation.

The independent press which blossomed following the April 1990 announcement of the country's transition to a multi-party system has seen dozens of papers come and go in Kinshasa. The local press is free but many characterize the writing as irresponsible, often biased, and rarely accurate. Many publish strongly worded criticism of the President, government officials and other politicians. Many "dailies" publish twice a week and others publish only when newsprint and ink are available. ELIMA, UMOJA, Le SOFT, L'Analyst, SALONGO, LA REFERENCE PLUS, and LA NATION EN CHANTIER are published almost daily. Currently the newspaper availability in the interior is almost nil.

There are very few books available in Kinshasa and those for sale in English are outrageously expensive. For a fee, you may also join the Library Club of Kinshasa, located on the TASOK campus, which stocks a varied selection of fiction, nonfiction and children's books in English. The USIS library collection of 5000 volumes (English and French) are primarily for the Zairian patrons, but others frequently use the periodicals, English teaching materials, and novels.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Local hospitals do not meet American standards. Although some have modern equipment and well-trained local physicians, they lack well-trained nursing and support staffs and frequently lack necessary medical supplies and medications. There are two private clinics which can provide emergency care.

There are several competent local expatriate physicians available for consultations and emergency care.

Prescription eyeglasses are made by several local optometrists, but selection of frames is usually limited and delivery can be slow. Some lenses can or must be ordered from Europe, but costs are high.

There are some capable expatriate and local dentists, but dental care can be expensive. All dental care should be completed prior to coming to the DRC.

Community Health

Sanitation at most American residences in Kinshasa is good, but it is still prudent to take precautions. The water is not potable and must be filtered and boiled or otherwise rendered potable before consumption or use. Residences are provided with filters and boilers. Garbage collection is not always adequate and sanitation throughout the city is poor.

Preventive Measures

With prudent care, individuals can generally maintain good health. Cases of intestinal disorders do occur as do cases of malaria and hepatitis. The general advice contained in Health Hints for the Tropics published by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (available through the Department of State Medical Division should be followed. Take malaria suppressants regularly starting 1-2 weeks before arrival.

Locally purchased raw fruits and vegetables should be peeled or treated before eating. A clorox purification is recommended for raw fruits and vegetables. If the above measures are taken, you should enjoy a healthful stay in the DRC.

Immunization against yellow fever, tetanus, poliomyelitis, hepatitis, and the usual children's diseases are recommended before arrival.

Bring long-term personal medication. You should bring a good supply of aspirins, vitamins, and band-aids. The most prevalent medical problems are malaria, intestinal parasites, and upper respiratory diseases. External skin worms are also a problem, but can be identified in the beginning stages of growth and are easily removed. Sand fleas (also called chiggers) which embed themselves in the skin are also common and can be treated by medical personnel. The AIDS situation is more serious here than in the U.S. since heterosexual transmission is common. The outbreak of the Ebola virus in Bandundu province in May 1995 has not impacted on the health of expatriates in Kinshasa.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 4 Day of the Martyrs for Independence

May 1 Labor Day

June 24 Constitution Dau

June 30 Independence Day

Aug. 1 Parents' Day

Oct. 14 Founder's Day

Oct. 14 Youth Day

Oct. 27 Three Z Day

Nov 17 Armed Forces Day

Dec. 25 Christmas


Since no American carriers operate directly between the U.S. and the DRC, one must travel by a combination of American and foreign carriers. Paris, Brussels, Lisbon, and Zurich or Geneva are interchange points which provide connections to Kinshasa via Air France, Sabena, TAP, and SwissAir.

Foreign currencies in any amount may be brought into the DRC, but the passenger must declare the amounts at the time of arrival. A currency declaration form is issued at the airport and must be carefully retained by the passenger since it must be surrendered at the airport when leaving the DRC.

Visas should be obtained from an Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo prior to arrival. Individuals who experience difficulty entering DRC with a visa issued overseas are asked to contact the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. Travelers entering the DRC with visas and/or entry/exit stamps from Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi may experience difficulties at the airport or other ports of entry. Some travelers with those visas or exit/entry stamps have been detained for questioning. Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1800 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 at (202) 234-7690 or 234-7691, or the DRC's permanent mission to the U.N. at 2 Henry Avenue, North Caldwell, New Jersey 07006, telephone (201) 812-1636. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest DRC Embassy or Consulate.

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa upon their arrival and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, tel. 243-88-43608. The Consular section of the Embassy may also be reached at 243-88-43608, extension 2164/2376 or 243-88-46859 or 44609, fax 243-88-00228, 43467 or 03276. Cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is often unreliable.

All travellers must have an international certificate showing that they have been vaccinated against yellow fever.

No difficulty exists in importing a dog or cat as long as the pet is accompanied by proof of rabies inoculation and a certificate of good health. Veterinary facilities are available and are usually adequate. Bring a good general medical handbook for the species of pet you are importing. Since it can be expensive to ship a dog (especially large dogs) on airlines, call different carriers and compare prices.

The official currency is the Congolese franc (CDF).

DRC follows the metric system for all weights and measures.


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Anstey, Ruth. King Leopold's Legacy. Oxford University Press; London, 1966. This work analyzes Belgian rule in the Congo and the administrative, economic, and social and political structure developed from 1908-1960.

Bechky, Allen. Adventuring in East Africa: The Sierra Club Travel Guide to the Great Safaris. New York: Random House, 1990.

Biebuyck, Daniel. Hero and Chief: Epic Literature from the Banyanga (ZaireRepublic).Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Bobb, F. Scott. Historical Dictionary of Zaire. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Bone, J.J. Going Native. New Hope, PA: Pygmy Press, 1989.

Callaghy, Thomas. The State Society Struggle: Zaire in Comparative Perspective. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. A detailed political science study, not for the lay reader.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness.

Cornevin, Robert. Le Zaire (Que sais-je series). Presse Universitaire de France: 1972. Useful survey of pre-colonial and colonial history.

Dayal, Rajeshewar. Mission for Hammarskjold: The Congo Crisis. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1976. Account by Dag Hammarskjold's deputy of the Congo crisis.

Ekwe-Ekwe, Herbert. Conflict & Intervention in Africa: Nigeria, Angola, Zaire. New York: St. Martin Press, 1990.

Elliott, Jeffrey M., and Mervyn M. Dymally. Voices of Zaire: Rhetoric or Reality. Washington, DC: Washington Institute Press, 1989.

Epstein, Edward J. The Rise and Fall of Diamonds: The Shattering of a Brilliant Illusion. Simon & Shuster: New York, 1982. The main topic of this book is the diamond industry, but it also deals with Zairian diamonds.

Forbath, Peter. The River Congo: the Discovery, Exploration, and Exploitation of the World's Most Dramatic River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Gerald-Libois, Jules. Katanga Secession. University of Wisconsin: Madison, 1966. An excellent dispassionate history of the secession based on documents and eyewitness accounts. A useful handbook.

Gibbs, David N. The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Mines, Money, and U.S. Policy in the Congo Crisis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Henry-Biabaud, Chantal. Living in the Heart of Africa. Translated by Vicki Bogard. Ossining, NY: Young Discovery Library, 1991.

Hoare, Mike. The Road to Kalamata: a Congo Mercenary's Personal Memoir. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1989.

Hudson, Peter. A Leaf in the Wind: Travels in Africa. New York: Walker & Co., 1989.

Hyland, Paul. The Black Heart: a Voyage Into Central Africa. New York: Holt, 1989.

Kalb, Madeline. The Congo Cables. 1982. A recently concluded scholarly study which covers the period around Zaire's independence.

Kelly, Sean. America's Tyrant: The CIA and Mobutu of Zaire. The American University Press, 1993.

Kitchen, Helen, ed. Footnotes to the Congo Story. Walter & Co., New York, 1967. Collection of "African Report" articles including some by Crawford Young.

Legum, Colin and Drysdale, John, eds. Africa Contemporary Record, Holmes and Meier: New York, published annually.

Lemarchand, Rene. Political Awakening in the Congo. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1964. An important political science study of great general interest. Some of the findings have become controversial.

Leslie, Winsome J. Azire: Continuity and Political Change in an Oppressive State. Westview Press. 1994.

MacGaffey, Wyatt. Custom and Government in the Lower Congo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. An ethnographic study of a BaKongo village.

Mahoney, Richard D. JFK: Ordeal in Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, l983. Similar to the Kalb book, but the Congo is only one of three case studies covered by Mahoney, and thus is treated in less detail than by Kalb.

Martens, Ludo. Piere Mulele & the Kwilu Peasant Uprising in Zaire. Translated by Michael Wolfers. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1992.

Masson, Paul. La Bataile pour Bukavu. A French journalist's account of events in the East. Precise perceptive reporting thought by some "old Congo hands" to be the best journalistic writing done here.

McKown, Robin. The Congo River of Mystery. McGraw-Hill: New York, 1960. A good high-school type historical introduction to Zaire and its early explorers.

Meditz, Sandra and Merrill, Tim. Zaire, A Country Study. (1994 edition). Foreign Area Studies Series. The American University: 1994. The best current general work on Zaire.

Merriam, Alan P. Congo: Background of Conflict. North-Western University Press: Evanston, 1960.

Moheim, Francis. Mobutu: 1 Homme Seul. American University Field Staff: New York.

Mungazi, Dickson A. To Honor the Sacred Trust of Civilization: History, Politics, & Education in Southern Africa. Rev. ed. Rochester, VT: Schenkman Books 1992.

Naipaul, V.S. A Bend in the River. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1979.

Newbury, David. Kings & Clans: Ijwi Island & the Lake Kivo Rift, 1780-1840. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

O'Brien, Conor Cruise. To Katanga and Back. Simon & Shuster: New York, 1962. Biased, extremely readable account of UN operations.

Reed, David. 111 Days in Stan-leyville. Collins: London, 1966. Exciting account of the 1964 rebellion.

Reefe, Thomas Q. The Rainbow and the Kings: A History of the Luba Empire to 1891. Berkeley: University of California Press. An interesting account of the heyday of one of Zaire's most important ethnic groups.

Schatzberg, Michael G. The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire. Bloomington, IN; Indiana University Press, 1988.

. Politics and Class in Zaire. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1979.

Scott, Ian. Tumbled House: The Congo at Independence. Oxford University Press: New York, 1969.

Shoumatoff, Alex. In Southern Light: Trekking Through Zaire & the Amazon. New York: Random House, 1990.

Slade, Ruth. The Belgian Congo. Simon & Shuster: New York. Good anthropological study.

Stefoff, Rebecca. Zaire. Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Turner, Thomas. Congo-Kinshasa: The Politics of Cultural Sub-Nationalism in Africa. Anchor Books: New York, 1972. An overview of the political evolution of the Congo from the colonial era through the first decade of independence. Turner emphasizes the multi-polar pattern of colonial development which produced four principal centers of administrative and economic activity.

Vansina, Jan. L'Introduction a L'Ethonographie du Congo. Editions Universitaries du Congo: Kinshasa 1965.

Welcome to Kinshasa. U.S. Department of State: 1981. Good handbook of sources and information regarding day-to-day life in Kinsahsa.

Wiliame, Jean-Claude. Patrimonialism and Political Change in the Congo. Stanford University Press: Stanford, 1972. An analysis of the first decade of Congolese independence. Williame contrasts the "politics of centrifugal relations" of the early years with the "Caesarist bureaucracy" imposed by Mobutu. He concisely dissects the salient characteristics of Mobutu's regime and speculates about prospects for political evolution.

Young, Crawford. Politics in the Congo: Decolonization and Independence. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1965. As the subtitle indicates, Young traces the disintegration of Belgian colonial rule as well as the subsequent political disintegration of 1960-63. A thorough analysis, it has become the "Bible" for students seeking a useful introduction to Zaire's contemporary history.

Young, Crawford and Turner, Thomas. The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. Undoubtedly destined to be a classic as well, although based on somewhat dated and second-hand research.

Zaire: Repression as Policy. New York: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, 1990.

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Congo (Brazzaville)

CONGO (Brazzaville)

Republic of the Congo

Major Cities:
Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire

Other Cities:
Loubomo, Nkayi


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated November 1997. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The Republic of the CONGO is a country in the midst of a political transition. Traditionally a one-party Marxist state, Congolese President Gen. Denis Sassou-Nguesso agreed to implement a multi-party system after a general strike paralyzed the country in 1990; however, after elections held in 1992 brought Pascal Lissouba to power, Sassou-Nguesso took power by force in 1997 and replaced the 1992 constitution with a new Fundamental Act, establishing a strong presidential system of government unhampered by legislative controls.

This west-central African nation, which played an important part in Free French activities during World War II, has an interesting history of tribal domains dating back to the fourth century. Three powerful kingdomsthe Kongo, the Loango, and the Tekeruled for hundreds of years, until a treaty was signed with France and the area became known as Middle Congo. It was absorbed into French Equatorial Africa and, in the late 1950s, assumed a measure of self-government with the constitutional referendum which created the French Community in Africa. The Congo attained full independence on August 15, 1960.



Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, is located on the north bank of the Congo River, directly across from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire. In 2000, Brazzaville had an estimated metropolitan population of 1,234,000.

Its colonial history begins in September 1881 when Makoko Ilo, a Teke Chief, ceded parcels of his land to Savorgnan de Brazza, an Italian-born explorer in the service of his adopted France. On October 30, 1880, Brazza signed a second accord which gave France claim to much of the land now part of Brazzaville. By 1902, Brazzaville had taken the place of Libreville as the capital of French Equatorial Africa. Its regional importance continued to grow with completion of the Congo-Ocean railroad in 1934. During World War II, General de Gaulle made Brazzaville the center of the French resistance movement in Africa.

Brazzaville has become overcrowded in recent years as more and more people leave the rural areas to seek employment in the city. Paved roads are dotted with potholes and many roads are unpaved. The vegetation is lush and streets are bordered by mango, palm, and flame trees which blossom in November (Brazzaville's spring time).

Most of the city's Congolese population live in two large sections: Poto-Poto and the Bacongo area, where most of the Congolese from the Pool region (the southern part of the country) live.

Countries with diplomatic missions here include: Algeria, Germany, Belgium, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Egypt, France, Gabon, Italy, Nigeria, Russia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Angola and Vatican. The following countries have Honorary Consuls: Cuba, Great Britain Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece. and Mauritania. World Bank, FAO, UNESCO, UNIC, and African Union of Post and Telecommunications. A number of other countries are represented by their embassies in Kinshasa.

Although a few Europeans and some Congolese speak English, French is essential for social and daily activities. In 1997, fewer than 200 Americans resided in the Congo. The flow of business representatives traveling to Brazzaville has risen steadily in recent years, especially with the arrival in Pointe Noire of several American oil companies.


Canned goods, imported mostly from Europe, are available in Brazzaville at much higher prices than in the U.S. Supplies are unreliable, and shopping requires several stops.

Local fresh vegetables and fruits are seasonal, expensive, and limited in both variety and quality. Vegetables include lettuce, potatoes, green beans, carrots, cabbage, beets, cucumbers, onions, spring onions, spinach, squash, radishes, tomatoes, and eggplant. Local fruit includes oranges, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple, mangoes, avocados, guavas, bananas, and lemons. Wash unpeeled vegetables and fruit in a solution of potassium permanganate or detergent before eating raw. Imported oranges, grapes, apples, kiwi, and pears, and vegetables such as carrots, endive, cauliflower, and mushrooms are often available in local supermarkets at high prices.

Sterilized long-life milk, whole and low fat, from France is available. Powdered milk from the Netherlands and Denmark is plentiful. Evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and long-life cream and ice cream are available. Sweet butter and margarine are imported from Europe, as are a variety of excellent cheeses. Fresh eggs are available locally. All are expensive.

A few butchers sell high quality meat. Fresh beef, veal, lamb, and sausages are imported. Some fresh pork is imported or comes from local sources, as does poultry which varies in quality and is expensive. Fresh or smoked hams are unknown except the imported/pressed varieties. All fresh meats are inspected and safe to eat so long as they are purchased from reputable butchers. Fish from Pointe Noire arrives regularly and is good, but expensive. Local seafood shops carry sole, bar, capitaine (Nile perch), oysters, shrimp, lobster and, on occasion, frog's legs.

Supermarkets carry spaghetti, macaroni, noodles, dried beans, packaged and canned soups, coffee (local and imported), and many standard food items available in the U.S. Fresh baked French bread and American-style loafs are available daily.

American favorites that are rare or nonexistent include canned sweet potatoes, canned corn, U.S. ground coffee, fruit juice, canned tomatoes, meats and prepared hams, popcorn, cocktail snacks, nuts for baking (although local peanuts are readily available), as well as holiday needs such as canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce or jelly, fruit pie fillings, and candied fruits. Other specialty items difficult to find are pie crust mixes, cake mixes, brown and confectioners sugars, shortening, corn syrup, molasses, baking powder, American-Style mustard, horseradish, soft drink and ice cream mixes, and American chili sauce and powder. Bring your favorite snacks, ethnic foods, baking needs, condiments, and holiday requirements, as they are rare or nonexistent. Also bring your favorite spices, vanilla extract, flavored and unflavored gelatin, peanut butter, maraschino cherries, cake decorations, cornmeal and cornstarch.

Locally produced beer, tonic, soda, and soft drinks are available at reasonable cost. One tax-free liquor store offers good French, Italian, and German wines, beer and hard liquor at prices comparable with major U.S. cities, although the supply is erratic.


Bring clothing similar to that worn in the mid-Atlantic area in summer. Although dry-cleaning services are available, bring washable clothing. A limited selection of ready-made European clothes are available at astronomical prices.

Because of possibilities for travel to colder climates, bring enough warm clothing for visits to these areas. Other winter and wool clothing should be stored.

The tumbu fly is a minor menace that lays its eggs on laundry hung on a line to dry or clothing damp from perspiration. If eggs deposited on clothing are not destroyed with a hot iron, the larvae in garments worn next to the body will penetrate the skin, producing a boil-like lesion. All clothing should be well dried and ironed before wearing.

Clothes deteriorate rapidly with frequent washings and ironing. In selecting a wardrobe, emphasize variety and comfort, as well as elegance and current styles.

Short and long sleeved cotton dresses, blouses, and skirts, or slacks and a sweater or stole are useful during evenings in the cooler season.

Coats are not normally needed, but a lightweight raincoat or jacket and umbrella are recommended for the rainy season.

Bring loose-fitting cottons for the warmer, more humid seasons. Short sleeved or sleeveless light weight cotton dresses or blouses and skirts are a must. Because of the heat stockings are rarely worn.

Bring plenty of shoes. Select a loose fitting pair, feet tend to swell in hot, humid climates. European footwear dark blue, black, or gray suits for evening rarely fits Americans and is very expensive. Due to dampness and occasionally wet walking surfaces, shoes tend to wear out quickly. Expensive leather or suede footwear is not recommended.

Light, casual summer clothing is worn year round.

Bring plenty of light-colored and lightweight shirts, undergarments, socks, and shoes. Sport shirts are worn during off-duty hours. Cottons are, by far, the most comfortable. A combination of cotton/dacron is comfortable Light weight raincoats and umbrellas are extremely useful during the rainy season. Shoes should be lightweight and comfortable. Expensive leathers and suede are discouraged because of dampness and wet surface conditions outside the office.

Women: Casual cotton, washable dresses, skirts, and blouses are worn year round. Although French and African women often wear formal dresses of lame, taffeta, and lace, American women find washable cottons, rayon, dark silks, and linens far more useful.

Children: A large supply of clothing for children is necessary. Many play areas are unpaved and often muddy, requiring frequent laundering. Girls will require cotton dresses, skirts, blouses, shorts, play suits, and T-shirts. Boys wear ordinary shorts, shirts, and T-shirts. Bring a good supply of casual cotton clothing for younger children.

Most necessities are available, but prices are high for often inferior products. Bring shoes, particularly sneakers and sandals; local choices are extremely limited.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Toiletries and cosmetics are available in limited quantities and at high prices. Local pharmacies are well supplied and drug prices are reasonable, but it is often difficult to obtain exact equivalents of U.S. products.

Duty-free American cigarettes can be purchased locally for about $20 per carton. European and local brand cigarettes are also available; pipe tobacco is difficult to obtain.

Dry cleaning services are available in Brazzaville but are expensive.

Automobile repair service for Japanese and European-made cars are adequate; however, repair work can take weeks to complete due to shortage of skilled labor and parts. Automobile repair service for American made vehicles is inadequate.

Because of the humidity and intensity of the sun in the tropics, bring a good supply of sun products. Suntan/sunblock lotions, sunburn relief medications or sprays, hats and/or sun visors, and sunglasses are all recommended.

Basic Services: Dressmakers are available and are reasonably priced. Often, if requested to do so, they will come directly to your home for necessary fitting and tailoring. A variety of fabrics, both local and European, is available.

Shoe repair services are available and work is reasonable; prices vary according to quality of repair.

French and Congolese beauty salons and barbershops are available at prices comparable to major U.S. or European cities. A styled haircut costs between $30 and $50. Men's haircuts cost approximately $14.

Religious Activities

Roman Catholicism is predominant. Several Roman Catholic churches are located throughout Brazzaville. Services are generally in French. A Protestant service in English is held once a month at the Evangelical Mission. An interdenominational service is held on the other Sundays at 9:30 am at the World Health Organization Chapel. Brazzaville also has an active Salvation Army, and the Swedish Mission occasionally sponsors religious services in English. American missionaries are active in Impfondo (on the northern border of the Congo). Baha'i meetings are bilingual.


International School: There is an international school that offers an academic program for grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. The school's curriculum meets the requirements of the American and British educational systems. However, the school is not U.S. accredited. Grades 9-12 are taught through the University of Nebraska's correspondence program for high school. There are approximately three full time teachers and 30 students, around 10 of whom are Americans. All classes are conducted in English. Children receive some language instruction in French. The school year runs from the beginning of September to the end of May and the hours are from 0730 to 1330. There are no extracurricular activities such as sports.

French School: The French school also offers an academic program for grades Kindergarten through 12th grade. There are approximately 50 teachers and 700 students. All class are taught in French; English is introduced to the students starting in the 6th grade. In addition, German and Spanish are also taught starting in the 8th grade. The school has many extracurricular activities such as sports, theater, bridge or music. There is a nominal fee for most after school activities.

The school year runs from early September to the end of June, with a two week break for Christmas, a two week break for Easter, a one week break in November and a one week break in February. The school day is from 8 am to 12:30 pm and 3 to 5 pm for grades K-5 and 7:30 am to 12:30 pm and 3 to 5:30 pm for grades 6-12.


Local facilities include a tennis club with lighted courts, a rugby team, a 9-hole golf course (with sand greens), Aero Club, and the Club Nautique (for boating and water sports). If you enjoy outdoor sports, bring equipment that you may need, such as picnic supplies, golf equipment, and sports attire. All equipment available locally is expensive. Photographic equipment and facilities are also available at double U.S. prices. The following clubs are open to paying memberships (approximately $1,000 each):

Tennis Club. Facilities include 10 clay courts with lights, a squash court, swimming pool, and a large bar. Balls are supplied free.

Brazzaville Golf Club. The club has a well kept, 9-hole course (that by clever use of tees converts into an 1 8-hole course) with sand greens. It is on the grounds of the regional headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO), 20 minutes from Brazzaville, and has a spectacular view of the Congo River and the rapids. Many tournaments are organized during the course of the year.

Villa Washington. This small, U.S. Government-owned club, open to all Americans, features a swimming pool, volleyball net, kids playground, basketball court and snack bar.

Aero Club. Located at Maya Maya Airport, this club has one remodeled Cessna 152 aircraft. Flying lessons are available at approximately triple U.S. instruction fees. A bar, swimming pool, three tennis courts, and petanque are available for use by members.

The Meridien Sofitel and Cosmos Hotels offer monthly subscriptions for their tennis courts and pools. Subscription fees are high by U.S. standards.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Touring is difficult due to poor quality of roads, and lack of accommodations. Trips can be made to Foulakari Falls, Lac Bleu, and the Pine Forestall within a 2-4 hour drive of Brazzavillewith a four-wheel-drive vehicle. These areas are well worth the trip, but not recommended for small children. Travel by road to two or three other scenic spots is possible, provided you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle and the necessary camping equipment. All camping and picnicking equipment should be brought; local supplies are scarce and very expensive.

Excellent deep-sea fishing is available off the coast at Pointe Noire.

Firearms may not be imported into the Congo.

The Congo River with its islands and beaches provides opportunities for motorboating, water-skiing, fishing, picnicking, and swimming. The current is swift and dangerous; therefore, it is imperative to wear a life jacket when participating in water sports.

Brazzaville is isolated, no resort areas are close-by, and travel is time consuming and expensive. Pointe Noire, Congo's seaport, may be reached from Brazzaville in about an one hour by plane. Pointe Noire offers limited night life and cultural opportunities, but it has good beaches for swimming and sunbathing, good fishing, several excellent seafood restaurants, and comfortable hotels. Round-trip air travel costs about $200. Big game parks and resorts in Central African Republic, DRC, South Africa, and Kenya offer variety in vacations spots, but high costs of air travel on the African continent limit their appeal.

Just outside Brazzaville are the buildings and staff residences of the World Health Organization's African Regional headquartersa pleasant place to walk. Other spots of interest are the famous Stanley Pool, nearby rapids of the Congo River, and the colorful bluffs on the Congo River known as the "Cliffs of Dover" or "White Cliffs".


Restaurants. There are a few good restaurants in Brazzaville. The more expensive (but still reasonable) restaurants offer indoor/air conditioned seating. However, the more popular restaurants are the ones that are located outside. Both lunch and dinner are served at all the restaurants. Breakfast is available at a select few. The Meridian Hotel offers a breakfast buffet on the weekends.

Night Life. There are very few night clubs available. Be prepared to spend lots of money as drinks are very expensive. In addition to nightclubs there are also a couple casinos available.


Located 315 miles southwest of Brazzaville on the Atlantic Coast, is a commercial center and the country's major port and railhead for the Congo-Ocean Railway. The city was founded in 1883 and, from 1950 to 1958, was the capital of Middle Congo. It had gained importance after the construction in the 1930s of its artificial harbor.

Pointe-Noire is the best port on the African west coast between Luanda, Angola and Lagos, Nigeria, and continues to serve as the major seaport for the former French Equatorial states. Almost all goods moving in and out of the country pass through Pointe-Noire. The city handles product embarkation of the important manganese mining activity carried on in Gabon by the U.S.-French company, COMILOG (Compagnie Miniére de l'Ogooué). The bulk of Gabonese timber is also shipped from here.

An international airport is located south of the city. In the 1970s, petroleum drilled offshore near Pointe-Noire and processed at a refinery in town became a major national export.

The population of Pointe-Noire in 2000 was estimated at 476,000. While neither exciting nightlife nor cultural activities are offered, the city is known for its excellent sport fishing and fine beaches. There are good restaurants, specializing in seafood, and comfortable hotels. Taxis, car hire, and banking facilities are available.

As in Brazzaville, a knowledge of French is a necessity in Pointe-Noire.


West of Brazzaville, the southern city of LOUBOMO is an important transportation center. Its highways and railroads link the western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and southern Gabon with cities in the Congo. It is a gold and lead mining center. Loubomo also has markets for leather, sisal, and cattle. The town has several small industries which produce sawed lumber, wood veneer, and carbonated beverages. An airport is located in Loubomo. The population in 2000 was approximately 62,000.

NKAYI is west of the capital, in the southern region of the Congo. It is the major sugar-producing center in the Nkayi Valley agricultural region. Other industries in Nkayi include a sawmill, a flour mill, and plants for peanut oil and cattle feed production. The population in 2000 was estimated at 40,000.


Geography and Climate

The Congo, which has a total area of 342,000 sq. km. (132,000 sq. miles), is located near the Equator in West-Central Africa. It extends more than 1,280 kilometers (800 miles) inland from the Atlantic Ocean and is bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire and the Angolan enclave of Cabinda.

The country has four topographical regions: a coastal plain extending inland about 64 kilometers (40 miles) to the foothills of the Mayombe Mountains; the alluvial soils of the fertile Niari Valley in the south-central area; the Central Bateke Plateau separating the basins of the Ogooue and the Congo Rivers; and the Congo River Basin in the north, composed of mainly impassable flood plains in the lower portion and dry savanna in the upper portion. Much of the Congo is densely forested.

In December of 1993 nearly a million acres of land in the north became Nouabale-Ndoki National Park-one of the most significant tropical forest preserves in the world.

The climate is tropical; with the rainy season lasting from October to April and the dry season from June to September. Humidity is high during the rainy season and temperatures can climb to 31 centigrade. Humidity and temperatures are lower during the dry season, ranging from 25 to 28 centigrade.

Brazzaville, a city of over 1.2 million people, lies on the north bank of the Congo River, 315 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and 4.25 degrees south of the Equator. Surrounded by a vast savanna of high grasslands and dark green thickets of low trees spread over rolling hills, the town is fairly level, with an altitude of 1,043 feet.

Violent rapids make the Congo River unnavigable from Brazzaville to the Atlantic. To the east the river widens into Stanley Pool-15 miles wide and dotted with many small islands (during dry season). From Brazzaville inland, the river becomes navigable for 1,000 miles. Goods arriving at the Atlantic seaport of Pointe Noire are shipped by the Congo Ocean Railway (CFCO) to Brazzaville which, due to its position above the rapids, is a transit point for commercial and passenger traffic.

The city of Pointe Noire, with over 400,000 people, is one of the best ports on the African west coast between Luanda, Angola and Lagos, Nigeria. Almost all goods moving into and out of the Congo pass through Pointe Noire.


Over 2.8 million Congolese reside in over 133,538 square miles of land, an average density of less than seven persons per square mile. Most live in Brazzaville, Pointe Noire, and along the connecting rail line. Few people live in the northern sections which are covered by savanna, swamp and rain forest.

Outside the main towns, the Congolese are divided into small communities. Among 75 distinct subdivisions, the Kongo, the Teke, and the Sangha are the three principal ethnic groups.

Two million Kongo are found on both sides of the Congo River, about one-fourth in the Congo, the rest in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Lari and related groups live around Brazzaville, and the Vili, a coastal group, predominate in the Pointe Noire area. The Sangha inhabits the northern part of the country along with the M'Bochi group. However, many of the M'Bochi group have migrated to Brazzaville.

The Teke group is spread over a large area north and northeast of Brazzaville. They are the most traditional of the ethnic groups, engaging in hunting and fishing. Animistic worship is still predominant, although most of the urban population is Christian. In rural areas, the Congolese live in small communities having little outside contact. The European community in the Congo number over 8,000, principally French nationals.


First inhabited by pygmies, Congo was later settled by Bantu groups who also occupied parts of presentday Angola, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Several Bantu kingdoms, notably those of the Kongo, the Loango, and the Teke, built trade links along the Congo river basin. The first European contacts came in the late fourth century, and commercial relationships were quickly established with the kingdoms, trading for slaves captured in the interior. The coastal area was a major source for the transatlantic slave trade, and when that commerce ended in the early 19th century, the power of the Bantu kingdoms eroded.

The area came under French sovereignty in the 1880s. Pierre Sauvignon de Brazza, a French empire builder, competed with agents of Belgian King Leopold's International Congo Association (later Zaire) for control of the Congo River basin. Between 1882 and 1891, treaties were secured with all the main local rulers on the river's right bank, placing their lands under French protection. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial African (AEF), comprising its colonies of Middle Congo (modern Congo), Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (modern Central African Republic). Brazzaville was selected as the federal capital.

Economic development during the first 50 years of colonial rule in Congo centered on natural resource extraction by private companies. In 1924-34, the Congo-Ocean Railway (CFCO) was built at a considerable human and financial cost, opening the way for growth of the ocean port of Pointe-Noire and towns along its route.

During World War II, the AEF administration sided with Charles DeGaulle, and Brazzaville became the symbolic capital of Free France during 1940-1943. The Brazzaville Conference of 1944 heralded a period of major reform in French colonial policy, including the abolition of forced labor, granting of French citizenship to colonial subjects, decentralization of certain powers, and election of local advisory assemblies. Congo benefited from the postwar expansion of colonial administrative and infrastructure spending as a result of its central geographic location within AEF and the federal capital at Brazzaville. The Loi Cadre (framework law) of 1956 ended dual voting roles and provided for partial self-government for the individual overseas territories. Ethnic rivalries then produced sharp struggles among the emerging Congolese political parties and sparked severe riots in Brazzaville in 1959. After the September 1958 referendum approving the new French constitution, AEF was dissolved. Its four territories became autonomous members of the French Community, and Middle Congo was renamed the Congo Republic. Formal independence was granted in August 1960.

Congo's first president was Fulbert Youlou, a former Catholic priest from the southeast region. He rose to political prominence after 1956, and was narrowly elected president by the National Assembly at independence. Youlou's three years in power were marked by ethnic tensions and political rivalry. In August 1963, Youlou was overthrown in a three-day popular uprising (Les Trois Glorieuses) led by labor elements and joined by rival political parties. All members of the Youlou government were arrested or removed from office. The Congolese military took charge of the country briefly and installed a civilian provisional government headed by Alphonse Massamba-Debat. Under the 1963 constitution, Massamba-Debat was elected President for a five-year term and named the current President, Pascal Lissouba to serve as Prime Minister. However, President Massamba-Debat's term ended abruptly in August 1968, when Captain Marien Ngouabi and other army officers toppled the government in a coup. After a period of consolidation under the newly-formed National Revolutionary council, Major Ngouabi assumed the presidency on December 31, 1968. One year later President Ngouabi proclaimed Congo to be Africa's first "people's republic" and announced the decision of the National Revolutionary Movement to change its name to the Congolese Labor Party (PCT).

On March 16, 1977, President Ngouabi was assassinated and, less than one week later, Archbishop Biayenda was also killed. Although the persons accused of shooting Ngouabi and Biayenda were tried and some of them executed, the motivation behind the assassinations is still not clear. An 11-member Military Committee of the Party (CMP) was named to head an interim government with Colonel (later General) Joachim Yhomby-Opango to serve as President of the Republic. Accused of corruption and deviation from party directives, Yhomby-Opango was removed from office on February 5, 1979, by the Central Committee of the PCT, which then simultaneously designated Vice President and Defense Minister Colonel Denis Sassou-Nguesso as interim President. The Central Committee directed Sassou-Nguesso to take charge of preparations for the Third Extraordinary Congress of the PCT, which proceeded to elect him President of the Republic. Under a congressional resolution. Yhomby-Opango was stripped of all powers, rank, and possessions and placed under arrest to await trail for high treason. He was released from house arrest in late 1984 and ordered back to his native village of Owando.

After decades of turbulent politics belabored by Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Congolese gradually moderated their economic and political views to the point that in 1992 Congo completed a transition to multi-party democracy. Ending a long history of one-party Marxist rule, a specific agenda for this transition was laid out during Congo's national conference of 1991 and culminated in August 1992 with multi-party presidential elections. Sassou-Nguesso conceded defeat and Congo's new president, Professor Pascal Lissouba, was inaugurated on August 31, 1992.

Congolese democracy experienced severe trials in 1993 and early 1994. The President dissolved the National Assembly in November 1992, and called for new elections in May 1993. The results of those elections were disputed, touching off violent civil unrest in June and again in November.

With the help of Angolan troops and other forces, Sassou-Nguesso, a northerner, defeated the forces of Lissouba, a southerner, in 1997. President Sassou-Nguesso's Government replaced the country's 1992 Constitution with a new Fundamental Act, which established a strong and highly centralized presidential system of government. The President appoints all members of the Government, all senior military officers, and all subnational government officials, serves as commander in chief of the armed forces, and specifically is mandated to direct the general policy of the Government and to exercise regulatory powers. Legislative authority is vested in the 75-member National Transition Council (Conseil National de Transition, or CNT). The judiciary is overburdened and subject to political interference. Renewed civil conflict broke out in August 1998 and continued throughout the south until the end of 1999 between forces supporting Sassou, which included Angolan allies, Rwandan Hutu militiamen, and irregular fighters of Chadian and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) nationality, and southern rebel groups supporting Lissouba. In 1999 the Government reestablished effective control over most of the south through military offensives, offers of amnesty, negotiations, and efforts to broaden the Government's political base. In November and December 1999, the Government signed cease-fire and reconciliation accords with rebel groups.

In the presidential election held in March 2002, Sassou-Nguesso won with 74.7% of the vote. In May 2002, parliamentary elections were held for the 137-member National Assembly, the first vote since the civil wars ended in 1999.

Arts, Science, and Education

Designated by the French during the colonial era to be the civil servants of Equatorial Africa, the Congolese have traditionally taken great pride in their French-oriented educational system. With the exception of Senegal, no country in Africa had a more developed educational system at the time of independence than the Congo. The literacy rate is still among the highest in Africa, and professors and teachers are held in high regard.

While the glory days of the Congolese educational system are long gone, all school-age children (6-19) are entitled to free education. School attendance is, in principle, compulsory until age 16. Almost all school-age children in urban areas attend classes, though enrollment drops off in the countryside. Brazzaville's Marien Ngouabi University is the sole institution of higher learning in the country. Founded in 1961, it has an average enrollment of approximately 16,500 students.

The Congo is widely known throughout Africa as a center of francophone literature, and several Congolese writers have worldwide reputations. The American Cultural Center welcomes these authors and often provides a forum for lectures and discussions. The French Cultural Center, known locally as the Espace Andre malraux, opened its doors in 1991 and is one of France's finest centers in sub-Saharan Africa. It regularly offers plays, concerts, exhibitions, and film shows.

The Poto-Poto Art School was founded by Pierre Lods in 1951 and is accessible to the general public throughout the week. Works by Congolese painters and sculptors can also be found in their workshops throughout the city. Traditional handicrafts are not as prevalent as they were in the past, though there are some fine craftsmen working in the production of pottery, baskets, rattan and wood furniture, and textiles.

As the regional headquarters of the World Health Organization and as a base for the Food and Agricultural Organization, Brazzaville remains an important center of scientific research.

Commerce and Industry

Debt continues to be one of the largest impediments for development of the Congo. During the petroleum boom years, the Congo mortgaged its oil revenues and became one of the most heavily indebted countries per capita in the world. When the price of oil fell, the Congo found its economy paralyzed by the debt burden and its over dependence on this one industry.

In recent years, the Government has engaged in considerable structural adjustment efforts and made some progress in diversifying the economy. Agricultural production in manioc, peanuts, bananas, rice, coffee, and cocoa has increased. The Congo also has tropical hardwoods and eucalyptus trees under cultivation. Finally the Congo has increased regional economic cooperation, most notably with South Africa.

Structural reform efforts include: civil service downsizing, customs/tax reforms and measures to promote private sector development. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $14 million credit in November 2000 to aid post-conflict reconstruction.

A signatory to the Lome Convention, the Congo conducts most of its external trade with members of the European Community, particularly with France. Due to increasing purchases of Congolese petroleum, the U.S. is currently the Congo's leading overall trading partner. The Congo is also a member of the UDEAC (Union Douaniere et Economique de l'Afrique Centrale), composed of the former territories of French Equatorial Africa, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea, and the CEEAC (Communaute Economique des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale).



Local buses are not used by Europeans and Americans because of overcrowding and unsafe driving. Taxi service is adequate and prices are reasonable. However, taxis are not recommended at night due to security concerns.


Many roads in Brazzaville are paved; however, there are numerous pot holes. South of Brazzaville there is a road once paved but now in poor condition which leads to Kinkala (about 75 km). The road continues unpaved to Pointe Noire. There is a paved road north of Brazzaville that leads to Owando (about 500 km). Many roads, paved or unpaved, are almost impossible to travel without a four-wheel-drive vehicle, particularly during the rainy season.

Driving is on the right. French traffic rules prevail; the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way. Since main roads are crowed with pedestrians, motorbikes, and speeding taxis, driving can be dangerous.

Large boats with modest accommodations make river trips possible up the Congo and Oubangui Rivers to Bangui, capital of Central African Republic. A distance of about 600 miles, the trip takes 11 days upriver and 7 days down. River travel, however, is unpredictable due to water levels and is often difficult to arrange.

There is a 315-mile railway that connects Brazzaville with Pointe Noire. However, because of frequent derailments and track reparations, long delays are not uncommon.


Sabena, Air France, Air Afrique, Air Portugal, Swissair and Aeroflot fly to Brazzaville from Europe; Air Afrique, Ethiopian Airlines, Angolan Airlines, Cameroon Airlines, Air France, Air Gabon serve Africa. Lina Congo, Aeroservice and Trans Air Congo serve Pointe-Noire. The Brazzaville airport, Maya-Maya, is 6 kilometers from downtown.


Telephone and Fax

Local telephone, cable and wireless communications are adequate, although delays can be common.

Radio and TV

Congolese radio broadcasts on short-wave, medium wave, and FM from 6:00 a.m. until late evening. Broadcasts are in French and local languages, with one English-language program per week. RFI, BBC, African Number 1, and Canal Afrique are also received locally. With a short-wave receiver, individuals can listen to VOA, BBC, and European broadcasts.

Tele Congo Broadcasts afternoon and evenings in French and local languages, with a weekly English news program on Sundays. Individuals can also receive Zairian television, CFI (Canal France International), RFO (Regie France Outre-Mer), Canal Zaire, DSF (Deutsches Sportfernshen), and sometimes CNN. Local television broadcasts on the SECAM system.

Newspaper, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Since the transition to democracy in 1991-92, there has been a developing free press in Congo and more than a dozen Congolese weeklies and monthlies are available. French magazines and newspapers, other European magazines, Time, Newsweek, and the International Herald-Tribune are available in Brazzaville, though at high prices. All papers and periodicals are several days old.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

The local hospitals and clinics are not up to U.S. standards.

Kinshasa has a few facilities for obstetric and gynecological patients, but many American women living in the country travel to Europe or the U.S. for medical attention and to give birth.

A reputable dentist practices in Brazzaville and another in Kinshasa, DRC, but all preventive dental work should be done prior to arriving.

Preventive Measures

Malaria is endemic to the Congo region. Mefloquine, Choloroquine/Paludrine and other antimalaria pills must be taken regularly. Begin taking malaria pills 2 weeks before arrival and continue for 4 weeks after departure.

Proof of small pox vaccination is not longer required in the Congo, but typhoid and yellow fever immunizations are still required by the State Department. Tetanus and polio immunizations should be completed prior to arrival. Also highly recommended, are rabies vaccines, hepatitis A and B vaccines and gamma globulin injections.

Up-to-date cholera stamps are recommended for all travelers to the Congo in order to minimize problems with quarantine officials when entering the country. These cholera stamps are required for travel to DRC.

Diarrhea diseases, skin infections, hepatitis, and intestinal parasites are also common. General respiratory ailments take longer to cure than in more temperate climates. For some, the heat and humidity are the most unpleasant medical aspects of life here. The climate aggravates respiratory, sinus, and low blood pressure problems. Fluoride tablets are recommended for children's teeth. Supplementary vitamins in the daily diet may be helpful.

Brazzaville has a water purification plant; however, the questionable quality of the water, water distribution facilities, and climate dictate that drinking water be boiled and filtered. Vegetables and fruits should be washed thoroughly. If these items are to be eaten raw, outer skins should be removed. In preparing lettuce for salads, wash each leaf at least twice in cooled, boiled water.


A passport and a visa are required. Information on entry requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of Congo, 4891 Colorado Ave., N.W., Washington D.C. 20011, telephone (202) 726-0825, or from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Congo to the United Nations, 14 E. 65th St., New York, NY, 10021, telephone (212) 744-7840. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at

As of 1997, there were no quarantine or restrictions on pets.

Firearms may not be imported into the Congo.

The official currency unit is the XAF (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc and is pegged to the French franc at the rate of 100/1. The exchange rate fluctuates. In January 2001, the rate was 699 XAF = US $1. From January 1, 1999, the XAF is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655 XAF per euro.

The metric system of weights and measures is used.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Feb. 5 President's Day

Feb. 8 Youth Day

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar. 8 Women's Day

Mar. 18 Marien Ngouabi Day

May 1 Labor Day

June 22 Foundation of the National People's Army

July 31 Upswing of the Revolution Congo

Aug. 12 Revolution Anniversary

Aug. 15 Assumption

Aug. 15 Independence Day

Nov. 1 All Saint's Day

Nov. 17Army Day

Dec. 25 Children's Day

Dec. 25 Christmas

Dec. 31 Foundation of the Congolese Labor Party

Dec. 31 Republic Day

* variable


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Africa South of the Sahara 1992. London: Europa Publications, 1991.

Allen, C., Radu, M.S., Somerville, K., et al. Benin, The Congo, Burkina Faso: Economics, Politics and Society. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Ballif, Noel. The Congo. Editions Karthala, 1993.

Congo. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 1993. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Nugent, Rory. Drums Along the Congo. Houghton Mifflin Company 1993.

Sarno, Louis. Song from the Forest. Penguin Books 1993.

Sckolnick, Lewis. Business Forecaster. Rector 1994.

. Business Risk Overview. Rector Press 1994.

Starr, Frederick. An Ethnographic Album. AMS Press.

Thompson, V. and Adloff, R. Historical Dictionary of the People's Republic of the Congo. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1984.

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 51,964,999
Language(s): French, Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Literacy rate: 77.3%

Background & General Characteristics

Brief Socio-political Background

Several socio-political discussions, including ethnography, geography, and literacy are necessary for an appreciation of the press in the Republic of the Congo (the Congo). The Congo formed part of French Equatorial Africa (FEA) until its independence from France in 1960. FEA included what are now known as the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Chad. Brazzaville was the capital of FEA and remains the capital of the Congo. In its long-standing history as capital first of FEA then of the independent Republic of the Congo, it has been privileged in terms of education, industry, government, and commerce. The only other major town is Pointe-Noire, almost due west of Brazzaville, on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the center of the Congo's oil exploration and export.

Ethnography and Geography

The Bakongo ethnic group predominates. Next to the Bakongo are the Bateke, who live to the immediate north. Further north are a good number of small speech communities that are not active participants in Congolese socio-political life. The languages spoken in the Congo belong to the Bantu family. The Bakongo are divided into eleven sub-groups with strong attachment to their group membership and equally strong claims of speaking a dialect of Kikongo. The strength of these sub-group attachments has resulted in a simplified form of Kikongo known as Kituba. TheBateke as well as the Bakongo accept Kituba as a Congolese lingua franca to cross ethnic and linguistic boundaries. As a result the vast majority of the citizens of the Congo speak Kituba as well as their own languages or dialects. The Congo River separates the Republic of the Congo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa; previously Zaire). Lingala, another Bantu language, has evolved as yet another lingua franca up and down the Congo River. It has spread both east and west and has become quite established alongside Kituba in the Congo. During the French colonization, French language and culture were superimposed upon all of these peoples and languages. Upon independence, the Congo emerged with five languages: Kikongo, Kiteke,Kituba, Lingala, and French. As the language of colonial power, French evolved as the language for all formal contexts, including most importantly elite education and communication. French has remained the official language in government and education at all levels. A citizen of the Congo must be quadrilingual, speaking Kiteke, or a dialect of Kikongo, Kituba Lingala, and French, in order to negotiate successfully through Congolese life. The government attempts to the extent of its means to promote Kituba and to a lesser extent Lingala, but these efforts have not succeeded in overcoming French.

Literacy and Education

The total population of the Congo is about 53 million. Literacy for those between the ages of 15 and 25 is claimed to be as high as 81 percent (as of 2000). The percentage of those over 25 years of age with no schooling at all as of 1984 was 58.8 percent. The number of students in primary schools as of 1996 was almost half a million. The number of students in secondary and vocational schools again in 1996 was almost quarter of a million. Those attending university (Université Marien Ngouabi) numbered about 14,000 in 1993. Although literacy is high, there is a sharply decreasing rate of access to education as one progresses from primary school to university education. All figures regarding education and attained rates of literacy regard learning in French. Not surprisingly, the reading public reads largely in French.

The Press

Four daily newspapers are currently published within Congo: Aujourd'hui ; L'Eveil de Pointe-Noire; Journal de Brazzaville Mweti, and Kikongo. Several news-related periodicals are available as well:

  • Bakento ya Congo (Quarterly, Brazzaville, Kikongo, circulation 3,000)
  • Bulletin Mensuel de la Chambre de Commerce de Brazzaville (Monthly)
  • Bulletin de Statistique (Quarterly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Choc (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Combattant Rouge (Monthly, Brazzaville)
  • Congo-Magazine (Monthly, Brazzaville, circulation 3,000)
  • Effort (Monthly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Flambeau (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Forum (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Gardien (Fortnightly, Brazzaville, circulation 2,500)
  • Jeunesse et Révolution (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Madukutsekele (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 5,000)
  • La Nouvelle République (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • L'Opinion (Monthly, Brazzaville)
  • Paris-Brazzaville (Weekly)
  • Le Pays (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • La Rue Muert (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 3,000)
  • La Semaine Africaine (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 7,500)
  • Le Soleil (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Stade (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 6,500)
  • Voix de la Classe Ouvriére (six a year, Brazzaville, circulation 4,500)

The numbers given for the specialized periodicals would suggest a total readership in substantial numbers within the literate-schooled population. It is revealing that with one exception they are all published in Brazzaville and again with one exception they are all in French.

Press Laws & Censorship

The Congo has been under severe political stress in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Publications reflect the publishers' political orientation. There is recent legislation to protect the freedom of the press (which is currently listed as "not free" by Freedom House) except for libel against individuals, the president, and the judiciary and for incitement of inter-ethnic conflict. However, laws exist which state that journalists must demonstrate unwavering support of the government. Huge fines exist for any found guilty of libel, slander, and inciting ethnic violence. Almost any criticism could be construed as incitement of inter-ethnic conflict, and it is often so interpreted.

State-Press Relations

The newspapers and periodicals may not all be available at all times. Some may cease publication for a period of time or permanently. New ones may appear for indeterminate periods. Editors and editorial boards may change suddenly. This instability reflects the political and social stresses within which both the press and the political body at large exist and interact. The socio-political status of the Congo has not evolved to a point where one could consider the government, the press, the economic sector, the judiciary, the military, and so on, as distinct entities. The individual participants in these various sectors all belong to a small French educated elite. There is a great deal of mobility of participants from one sector to the other. Hence, the relationship between the state and the press is ambiguous as well as in flux. If there is a constant factor it is ethnic allegiance.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

In addition to the publications listed earlier within the Congo, Brazzaville and to some extent Pointe-Noire provide for ample access to French publications such as Le Monde, Jeune Afrique, and Le Nouvel Observateur. These are of special interest to the expatriate communities as well as the university educated Congolese community. Several major countries have cultural centers in Brazzaville. Their libraries make available promotionally oriented publications in their respective languages. Newsweek, Time, and The Herald Tribune are available through the American Cultural Center and in hotel newsstands.

The governing elite does not seem to have a policy on foreign publications. One major reason is that only the educated elite who can afford these publications would read them. Another reason is that for the most part the expatriate community reads them, and they insist on having them available. A third reason, and likely the most important one, is that criticism within the foreign media is rarely initiated internally.

Broadcast & ELECTRONIC News Media

Dissemination of news in Congolese African languages finds an outlet through radio broadcasts and television. Only 33,000 own television sets but 341,000 possess radios. French fills the greatest amount of time in either venue. Limited amounts of time are allocated to African languages. Radio Congo (transmitters in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire) broadcasts in Lingala and Kikongo as well as in French. TéléCongo operates on a limited daily schedule mostly in French with a restricted amount of time in Lingala and Kikongo. Whereas radios are readily available and are indeed owned by most Congolese, television sets are economically restricted to the upper middle class of society. Kinshasa, the capital of Congo-Kinshasa, is directly across the Congo River from Brazzaville. The two Congos have not been on good terms, but the populations of Brazzaville and Kinshasa have easy access to radio and television transmissions from both cities. Radio Congo's and TéléCongo 's choices ofLingala and Kikongo is meant to reach a large segment of the Congo-Kinshasa population which speaks these two languages. Kinshasa radio and television transmissions tend to have a larger portion of airtime given to African languages. African languages, especially Lingala, Kikongo, and Kiswahili from Kinshasa, find a significant outlet on both sides of the Congo River in the famous Congo-Jazz style of song and rhythm, and more recently in rap style in Kiswahili. These venues and styles of music could legitimately be considered to correspond to the American college town "alternative press."

Although several newspapers have online editions, very few are able to access them, as Congo only has one Internet Service Provider and 500 users within the country.


Acct, Cerdotola, Equipe National du Congo. Atlas Linguistique de L'Afrique Central, Atlas Linguistique du Congo. Brazzaville: Centre pour l'Etude des Langues Congolaise, Université Marien Ngouabi, 1987.

Africa South of the Sahara. 30th Edition. London: Europa Publications, Taylor & Francis Group, 2001.

"Congo (Brazzaville)." Freedom House. Available from

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2001. Available from

UNESCO. African Community Languages, and their Use in Literacy and Education. Dakar, 1985.

UNESCO. Statistical Yearbook. Lanham, MD: Berman Press, 1999.

Haig Der-Houssikian

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Congo (DROC)

Congo (DROC)

Official name : Democratic Republic of the Congo

Area: 2,345,410 square kilometers (905,562 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Margherita Peak (5,110 meters/16,765 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Eastern, Northern, and Southern

Time zones: In Kinshasa, 1 p.m. = noon GMT; in Lubumbashi, 2 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 2,276 kilometers (1,414 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest; 2,236 kilometers (1,389 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest

Land boundaries: 10,744 kilometers (6,672 miles) total boundary length; Angola 2,511 kilometers (1,559 miles); Burundi 233 kilometers (145 miles); Central African Republic 1,577 kilometers (979 miles); Republic of the Congo 2,410 kilometers (1,497 miles); Rwanda 217 kilometers (135 miles); Sudan 624 kilometers (390 miles); Tanzania 473 kilometers (295 miles); Uganda 765 kilometers (459 miles); Zambia 1,930 kilometers (1,199 miles)

Coastline: 37 kilometers (23 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers ( 12 nautical miles )


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC, formerly known as Zaire) is located along the equator in Central Africa, north of Angola and Zambia. It shares borders with nine countries. With a total area of about 2,345,410 square kilometers (905,562 square miles), it is the third-largest country in Africa and is slightly less than one-fourth the size of the United States. The DROC is divided into ten provinces.


DROC has no outside territories or dependencies.


The climate in the DROC is basically tropical, with temperatures that vary widely depending on elevation and latitude. In the equator region, it is hot and very humid and the temperature does not go below 20°C (68°F). It is cooler and less humid in the southern highlands and cooler and wetter in the eastern highlands and mountains. The average temperature in the central region is 25°C (77°F), while on the coastline the temperature is generally around 26°C (79°F).

There are two rainy seasons and two dry seasons in each year. North of the equator, the rainy seasons are from April to June and September to October, and the dry seasons are from November to March and July to August. South of the equator, the cycle is reversed. Annual rainfall is about 130-200 centimeters (51-79 inches).


Nearly the entire country is within a region known as the Congo River Basin, which is further divided into four major geographic regions within the DROC. The core region is the Central Congo Basin, a depression often referred to as the cuvette. The northern uplands and southern uplands are high plains on either side of the cuvette, and along the eastern border there are high mountains associated with the Great Rift Valley (or East African Rift).


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The DROC claims a very narrow border of coastline (37 kilometers/23 miles) along the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Congo River.

Sea Inlets and Straits

DROC has no major sea inlets or straits.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are no coastal islands, but countless alluvial islands are found throughout the river systems and interspersed along the Congo River between Kisangani and Mbandaka. Idjwi Island is located on Lake Kivu.

Coastal Features

There are no significant geographic features on DROC's narrow coastline.


The DROC is home to several of the Great Lakes of Africa, which fill basins in the western branch of the Great Rift Valley along the eastern border of the country. The northernmost of these Great Lakes is Lake Albert, which has more fish than any other lake in Africa. To the south lies Lake Edward, which drains its waters into Lake Albert through the Semliki River. These two lakes belong to the Nile Basin.

Farther south, Lake Kivu, the highest of the Great Lakes, is situated at an altitude of 1,470 meters (4,851 feet) and is connected to Lake Tanganyika by the Ruzizi River. Lake Tanganyika is the largest lake in the DROC. It covers an area that is 650 kilometers (408 miles) long and 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide and is the second-deepest lake in the world. It drains its waters into the Congo River through the Lukuga River. The southernmost lake of the Great Lakes chain (except for Lake Malawi, which is outside of the DROC) is Lake Mweru. Lake Mweru straddles the border between DROC and Zambia and is drained by the Luvua River, a tributary of the Lualaba and Congo Rivers.

Other DROC lakes include Tumba and Mai-Ndombe in the western part of the country. Their shores are generally swampy. Another swampy depression surrounds Lake Upemba on the southeastern plateau of the same name. Malebo Pool is a lake formed by the widening of the Congo River. It is located in the Lower Congo River region, and the capitals of both the DROC and the Republic of Congo are located on its shores.


The Congo River is the longest river in the DROC, the second-longest river in Africa, and the sixth-longest river in the world, with a total length of about 4,344 kilometers (2,700 miles). The Congo River begins with its main tributary, the Lualaba River, close to the Zambian border. It then flows north and is navigable between Bukama to Kongolo. Along this stretch it receives many tributaries. The most important of these are the Luvua and Luapula Rivers, which drain waters from Lakes Bangwelo (in Zambia) and Mweru, and the Lukuga River, which drains waters from Lakes Tanganyika and Kivu.

Past Kongolo there are waterfalls which block river traffic. North of this, the river is again navigable between Kasongo and Kibomho, has another waterfall, and is once again navigable between Kindu and Ubundu. Beyond that point, navigation is stopped by the Boyoma (Stanley) Falls, located directly upstream of Kisangani. After Kisangani, the river is considered to be the Congo River proper, and is known as the Upper Congo (Haut-Congo). It also changes direction, gradually curving west and then southwest.

The Congo River and its tributaries have historically provided vital transportation routes for commercial trade. The waterway is also an important source of hydroelectric power.


There are no desert regions in the DROC.


Only about 7 percent of the land in DROC is considered to be permanent pasture.

The largest region of the DROC is the Central Congo Basin, a depression often referred to as the cuvette (which means "saucer" or "shallow bowl"). It has an area of roughly 800,000 square kilometers (312,000 square miles) and covers about a third of the country's territory. The DROC's portion of the equatorial rain-forest is located in this region. A substantial proportion of the forest within the cuvette is swamp, and still more of it consists of a mixture of marshy and firm land grasslands.

The Great Rift Valley is a lengthy depression that stretches from north to south across most of eastern Africa and into Asia. It is the result of volcanic and tectonic activity along the East African Rift. In the DROC, Lakes Albert, Edward, Kivu, and Tanganyika occupy most of the bottom of this valley. On either side of the valley are mountain ranges.


There are many mountain ranges comprising the chain that borders the Great Rift Valley in the DROC. In the north are the Blue Mountains around Lake Albert. They reach heights of up to 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) and separate the Congo and Nile River basins.

The Ruwenzori Mountains between Lakes Albert and Edward are the highest mountain range in the country and include Albert Peak (5,100 meters/16,830 feet) and Margherita Peak (5,110 meters/16,765 feet). Margherita, the highest point in the DROC, is perpetually covered by snow despite being located practically on the equator.

To the south are the Ngoma Mountains, which extend to the Lukuga River. Their highest point is at Sambrini Peak (2,250 meters/7,425 feet). The Mitumba Mountains, with heights of up to 2,200 meters (7,260 feet), border Lake Tanganyika in the extreme southeast.

On the far side of the country, near the Atlantic shore, are the Mayumbe Mountains, part of the Crystal Mountain range. These are old mountains, strongly attacked by erosion, that now resemble a hilly plateau.

The Virunga Mountains, between Lake Kivu and Lake Edward, consist of a series of volcanoes, including the active volcanoes of Karisimbi, Nyamulagira, and Nyiragongo. Nyiragongo is about 3,465 meters (11,365 feet) high and has erupted about thirty-five times since 1882, making it one of Africa's most active volcanoes. Its most recent eruption began January 17, 2002, with a lava flow that filled the streets of the city of Goma with pumice several feet thick. Other volcanoes such as Mikeno, Visoke, and Sabinio are now dormant.


There are no other significant canyons or caves in the DROC.


Most of the DROC could be considered to be a low plateau, dropping in elevation only as it nears the Atlantic Ocean, and rising to mountains in the east. The southeastern part of the country was once all mountainous, but the effect of erosion has leveled much of these mountains. The result is Upemba, a hilly plateau with an altitude greater than 1,500 meters (4,950 feet).


The Congo River supplies massive amounts of water that is harnessed by dams, such as the Inga and Mobayi-Bongo Dams, to be converted to hydroelectric power. Dams help generate nearly all of the electricity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


On January 17, 2002, lava from Nyiragongo flowed on the eastern and southern flanks of the volcano at a rate of 1.2 to 1.8 kilometers/hour (0.7 to 1 mile/hour) toward Goma. As lava several feet thick flowed down city streets, four hundred thousand people were evacuated for three days and fourteen villages were damaged by the lava flows.



Bobb, F. Scott. Historical Dictionary of Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999.

Henry-Biabaud, Chantal. Living in the Heart of Africa. Trans. Vicki Bogard. Ossining, NY: Young Discovery Library, 1991.

Simkin, T., and L. Siebert. Volcanoes of the World. Tucson, AZ: Geoscience Press, 1994.


Caputo, Robert. "Lifeline for a NationZaire River." National Geographic, November 1991: 5-35.

Web Sites

Volcano World. (accessed May 3, 2003).

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Congo (ROC)

Congo (ROC)

Official name : Republic of the Congo (ROC)

Area: 342,000 square kilometers (132,047 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Berongou (903 meters/2,963 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Eastern, Northern, and Southern

Time zone: 1 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,287 kilometers (800 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 402 kilometers (250 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest

Land boundaries: 5,504 kilometers (3,420 miles) total boundary length; Cameroon 523 kilometers (325 miles); Central African Republic 467 kilometers (290 miles); Democratic Republic of the Congo 2,410 kilometers (1,498 miles); Angola 201 kilometers (125 miles); Gabon 1,903 kilometers (1,182 miles)

Coastline: 169 kilometers (105 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 363 kilometers ( 200 nautical miles)


The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is located along the equator in West Africa, between Angola and Gabon and bordering the South Atlantic Ocean. It also shares borders with Cameroon and Central African Republic to the north and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC) to the east. With an area of 342,000 square kilometers (132,047 square miles), ROC is slightly smaller than the state of Montana. The country is divided into nine regions and one commune.


ROC has no outside territories or dependencies.


ROC has a tropical climate characterized by constantly high temperatures and humidity. At Brazzaville in the south, the average daily maximum temperature is 30°C (86°F) and the average minimum temperature is 20°C (68°F). At Souanke, in the far north, the extremes are 29°C (84°F) and 18°C (64°F).

There are two wet and two dry seasons. In the south there is a rainy season from October to December, a short dry season in January, another rainy season from March to June, and a long dry season from June to October. In the north, the seasons are reversed. Annual rainfall varies from 105 centimeters (41 inches) at Pointe-Noir in the southwest, to 185 centimeters (73 inches) at Impfondo in the northeast. The equator region receives rain throughout the year.


The country may be divided into four topographical regions. The coastal plain stretches northeast until it reaches the forested Mayombe Escarpment. The escarpment borders a vast plateau region to the north and east, sometimes called the Central Highlands. Still farther northeast lies an expansive lowland area that includes a good part of the Congo Basin.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

ROC has a coastline of 169 kilometers (105 miles) along the Atlantic Ocean.

Sea Inlets and Straits

ROC's coastline has no major harbors or ports.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are no coastal islands, though many alluvial islands are found throughout the river systems, especially the Congo and Ubangi Rivers and their tributaries.

Coastal Features

The coastal region is a vast, dry plain that is virtually treeless except in scattered areas. It stretches for about 160 kilometers (100 miles) along the south Atlantic coast and reaches inland approximately 64 kilometers (40 miles). The Antarctic (Benguela) Current, flowing from the south, enhances the formation of sand spits along the coastal plain. In addition to mangrove-fringed lagoons, lakes and rivers dot this region, with accompanying marshland and heavy vegetation in low-lying areas.


The Stanley Pool (Malebo Pool) is a lake formed by the widening of the Congo River. It lies between the borders of the ROC and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and covers an area that is about 35 kilometers (22 miles) long and 23 kilometers (14 miles) wide. The capital cities of both the ROC and the DROC are located on the shores of Stanley Pool.


The Congo River is the longest river in the ROC, the second-longest river in Africa, and the sixth-longest river in the world, with a total length of about 4,344 kilometers (2,700 miles). It covers a stretch of 800 kilometers (496 miles) along the eastern border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC). It is formed by the waters of the Upper Congo (Lualaba River) and its tributary, the Luava River, both of which begin at the southeast border of the DROC.

The Congo River and its tributaries historically have provided vital transportation routes for commercial trade. The Congo River is also an important source for hydroelectric power.

The ROC rivers of Likoula, Sangha, and Ubangi (Oubangui) are all tributaries of the Congo River. Located in the northern part of the country, these are also the major rivers that make up the Congo Basin lowland region, which covers an area of about 155,400 square kilometers (60,000 square miles). It consists of flat, swampy valleys and low divides descending east and southeast from the western hills to the Congo River. Seasonal flooding occurs throughout the regions, with some areas existing as permanent wetlands.

The Niari and Kouilou Rivers in the southern coastal plain also create wetlands in that region.


There are no desert regions in the ROC.


Only about 29 percent of the land in the ROC is considered to be permanent pasture.

The Niari Valley, north of the Niari River, was originally covered with tall grasses and savannah, but has been extensively cleared for agriculture and industry.

Inland from the seacoast and from the lower reaches of the Crystal Mountains (on the Gabon border), the land rises somewhat abruptly to a series of eroded hills and sharp ridges known as the Mayombe Escarpment. Ridge peaks reach elevations of about 487 to 610 meters (1,600 to 2,000 feet). Deep gorges have been cut in these ridges by the swift Kouilou River and its tributaries.


Mount Berongou, ROC's highest point, is located in the upper reaches of the Crystal Mountains on the border with Gabon. It rises to about 903 meters (2,963 feet).


ROC has no major canyons or caves.


The Central Highlands encompass the area generally known as the Batéké Plateau and extend for approximately 129,500 square kilometers (50,000 square miles) over the south-central portion of the country. This region is characterized predominantly by rounded, low hills of less than 305 meters (1,000 feet) elevation and by scattered rolling plains. In the northern part of this sector, however, toward the lower Gabon border, the hills are steeper, and crests rise as high as 823 meters (2,700 feet) above sea level. Deep valleys separate individual plateaus; these ravines carry the eastward-flowing tributaries of the Congo River. Savannah and grasslands cover much of the central plateau plains.


Hydroelectricity, harnessed through dams built on the ROC's rivers, are a primary source of power for the nation. Two of the most significant hydroelectric dams are built on the Bouenza and Djoué Rivers.



Africa South of the Sahara 2000: Congo. London: Europa Publications Ltd, 1999.

Bernier, Donald W. Area Handbook for the People's Republic of the Congo. Area Handbook Series. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1971.

Decalo, Samuel, Virginia Thompson, and Richard Adloff. Historical Dictionary of the Congo. African Historical Dictionaries #69. Landham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

Web Sites

Discovery Channel Online: Congo (Brazzaville). (accessed March 18, 2003).

World Factbook, CIA. (accessed March 18, 2003).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of the Congo
Region: Africa
Population: 2,830,961
Language(s): French, Lingala, Monokutuba, Kikongo
Literacy Rate: 74.9%

Congo is commonly called Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its neighbor, Zaire, which recently renamed itself as The Democratic Republic of Congo (informally called Democratic Congo). Congo has a landmass of 342,000 square kilometers and a population of about 2.5 to 3 million. Its capital is Brazzaville, which is located on the Congo River directly across from Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Congo. The population of Brazzaville is about 1 million. Congo is situated on the Atlantic Ocean of equatorial Africa and is bounded by Democratic Congo in the east and south. It is also bounded in the south by Cabinda, a small oil-rich territory that belongs to Angola. It is bounded by the Central African Republic (CAR) and Cameroon in the north and Gabon in the west.

The boundary between Congo and Democratic Congo is the Congo River, starting at about 80 kilometers south of Mindouli all the way north to Liranga. At that point the Congo River turns east into Democratic Congo. North of Liranga the river is called Oubangui. It continues to be a boundary between the two Congos until the Oubangui also turns east to become a boundary between CAR and Democratic Congo.

Congo formed part of French Equatorial Africa (FEA) until its independence from France in 1960; FEA included what are now known as Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, CAR, and Chad. It broke apart into five independent Francophone states after 1960. Brazzaville was also the capital of FEA. In its longstanding history as capital, first of FEA and then of Congo, Brazzaville has been privileged in every respect. It is the center of industry, commerce, and education in Congo. Its medical facilities and infrastructure are the best in the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) has one of its African headquarters in Brazzaville. The national university, known as Université Marien Ngouabi, is situated right in its center.

Congo's population could reasonably be divided into three groups: the Bakongo, the Bateke, and the rest. The Bakongo are the largest ethnic group. They constitute about 40 to 50 percent of the total population and inhabit the southern quarter of the country. The Bateke are the second largest group. They occupy the territory directly north of the Bakongo, stretching quite far to the north and northwest. Their numbers are greatest towards the south. The northern two-thirds of the country are very sparsely populated. The territory north of the Bateke is even more sparsely inhabited. It is made up of small groups and several speech communities that have larger numbers of speakers in Gabon, Cameroon, CAR, and Democratic Congo.

Congo must contend with five major languagesKikongo and its various dialects, Kituba, Kiteke, Lingala, and French. Of these, Kituba, Lingala, and French are the major competitors as languages spoken across ethnic lines within broad-based speech communities. Of these three, French is the official language in government and education at all levels. Kituba, Lingala, and Kiteke have a strong presence at the unofficial levels of government and education, including informal discussions between teachers and students. The educational system is based on the French system inherited from precolonial days. Only a small number of Congolese, however, are fluent enough in French to satisfy all aspects of their lives. A Congolese citizen must of necessity be quadrilingual in Kiteke or a dialect of Kikongo, Kituba, Lingala, and French to negotiate successfully through Congolese life.

The government of Congo is acutely aware of these circumstances. The university, Université Marien Ngouabi, has dynamic and substantive departments of foreign languages, Langues Vivantes Etrangères (LVE) and linguistics, Département de Linguistique et Litérature Orale, where intensive research is carried out in Congolese languages, particularly Kituba and Lingala. In addition the government funds two research institutes, Institut National de Recherches et d'Action Pédagogique (INRAP) and Institut Supérieur des Sciences de l'Education (INSSED), where intensive efforts are under way to develop Kituba and Lingala textbooks for the primary and secondary levels of education. There is no effort to supplant French. Congolese society seems to have reconciled itself to becoming at least a trilingual society in French, Kituba, and Lingala. The greater hope, certainly the government's hope, is for Congolese society to evolve into a bilingual society in French and Kituba.

Informal education at the very age when children would attend primary schools progresses as it has from time immemorial. Cultural information and first language fluency is passed down from generation to generation quite effectively. In the case of Congo, this kind of ethnocentric education does not pose a problem. The presence of two African languagesKituba and Lingalaand a Western language of colonial legacy, French, provides means of communication that do not compete with Congolese society's own Afro-ethnic languages. Indeed the Congolese feel particularly free to exercise their knowledge and education in French concurrently with Kituba or Lingala.


Abshire, David M., and Michael A. Samuels. Portuguese Africa, A Handbook. London: Pall Mall Press, 1969.

ACCT, CERDOTOLA, Equipe Nationale du Congo. Atlas Linguistique de L'Afrique Centrale, Atlas Linguistique du Congo. Brazzaville: Centre pour l'Etude des Langues Congolaises, Université Marien Ngouabi, 1987.

Loutard, J. B. Tati. Le Récit de la Mort. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1987.

Ngoie-Ngalla, Dominique. Lettre d'un Pygmée à un Bantou. Brazzaville: C. R. P., 1988.

Pinto, Franęoise Latour da Veiga. Le Portugal et le Congo au XIX Siècle. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1972.

Tchicaya, U Tam'Si. Les Phalènes. Paris: Albin Michel S. A., 1984.

UNESCO. African Community Languages and Their Use in Literacy and Education. Dakar, Senegal: 1985.

. Statistical Yearbook. Lanham, MD: Berman Press, 1999.

Haig Der-Houssikian

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Congo (river, Africa)

Congo (kŏng´gō) or Zaïre (zī´ēr, zäēr´), great river of equatorial Africa, c.2,720 mi (4,380 km) long, formed by the waters of the Lualaba River and its tributary, the Luvua River, and flowing generally N and W through Congo (Kinshasa) to the Atlantic Ocean.


The second longest river of Africa and one of the longest in the world, the Congo River drains c.1,425,000 sq mi (3,690,750 sq km) including all of Congo (Kinshasa) and parts of Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, Central African Republic, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. The Lualaba River, considered to be the upper Congo River, rises in SE Congo (Kinshasa), flows north over rapids and falls to Bukama, and thence across a vast plain and through a series of marshy lakes (Kabwe, Kabele, Upemba) to receive the Luvua River at Ankoro. The Luvua River has its most remote source in the Chambeshi River, which rises in N Zambia and flows southwest into swamps around Lake Bangweulu; it emerges from the swamps as the Luapula River, continues N along the Congo (Kinshasa)–Zambia border into Lake Mweru, exits from there as the Luvua River, and continues NW to the Lualaba River. A third major headstream is the Lukuga River, which drains from Lake Tanganyika and joins the Lualaba River near Kabalo. From Kabalo, the Lualaba River flows N to Kisangani in a varied course marked by a deep and narrow gorge (the Gates of Hell) below Kongolo, a navigable stretch from Kasongo to Kibombo, a section of rapids and falls from Kibombo to Kindu, a shallow but navigable section from Kindu to Ubundu, and a section of seven cataracts—known as Boyoma Falls—between Ubundu and Kisangani that marks the end of the Lualaba and the beginning of the Congo River proper.

Below Kisangani, the Congo flows west and southwest, in a great curve unbroken by falls or rapids for about 1,090 mi (1,750 km) to Kinshasa. For most of its middle section the Congo is from 4 to 10 mi (6.4–16.1 km) wide, with many islands and sandbars. Because its many large tributaries (including the Lomami, Kasai, Lulonga, Ubangi, Aruwimi, Itimbiri, and Mongala rivers) drain areas with alternating rainy seasons on either side of the equator, the Congo has a fairly constant flow throughout the year. Between Bolobo and Kwamouth the Congo narrows in width to between 1 mi and 11/2 mi (1.6–2.4 km) but, c.350 mi (560 km) from its mouth, widens to form lakelike Pool Malebo, on which Kinshasa and Brazzaville are located. From the western end of Pool Malebo, the Congo descends 876 ft (267 m) in a series of 32 rapids, known as Livingstone Falls, to the port of Matadi.

Below Matadi (83 mi/134 km inland) the Congo is navigable by oceangoing vessels and, despite such hazards as the whirlpools of the Devil's Cauldron, shifting sandbars, and sharp bends in the river, forms one of the largest natural harbors in Africa. The river is tidal to Boma, c.60 mi (100 km) upstream. The Congo River enters the Atlantic Ocean between Banana Point, Congo (Kinshasa), and Sharks Point, Angola, and dredging is required to keep a navigable channel open. The river is continued offshore by a c.500-mi-long (800-km) submarine canyon that is c.4,000 ft (1,220 m) deep.

Economic Importance

With railroads to bypass major falls (Matadi-Kinshasa; Kisangani-Ubundu; Kindu-Kongolo), the Congo River and its tributaries form a system of navigable waterways c.9,000 mi (14,480 km) long, along which move much of central Africa's copper, palm-oil kernels, cotton, sugar, and coffee. The chief ocean port is Matadi, with its associated oil port, Ango Ango; the chief river ports are Kinshasa and Kisangani. River steamers operate throughout the year between Kinshasa and Kisangani. The Congo River is Africa's largest potential source of hydroelectric power; the most valuable site is along Livingstone Falls, where the first phase of the Inga Power Project has been completed. In spite of government initiatives, hydroelectric power is underdeveloped.

The Congo river basin encompasses the world's second largest contiguous rain forest, surpassed only by that of the Amazon. The region is biologically diverse, and a huge watershed. The forest is threatened by illegal logging and the poaching of large mammals (especially for the bushmeat trade), but two summits (1999, 2005) that brought together the nations of the basin have committed its participants to forest conservation and have led to the establishment of wildlife preserves.

European Exploration

The mouth of the Congo River was visited (1482) by Diogo Cão, the Portuguese navigator. It became known as the Zaïre River (a corruption of the local name Mzadi meaning "great water" ) and was later referred to as the Congo River (for the Kongo kingdom located near its mouth); it was called Zaïre River by the government of Zaïre (now Congo [Kinshasa]) from 1971 to 1997. The Congo's lower course was traced upstream as far as Isangila by a British force under Capt. J. K. Tuckey in 1816, and its upper headwaters by the missionary David Livingstone, who followed the Lualaba River to Nyangwe in 1871. The journalist Henry Stanley traveled from Nyangwe to Isangila and on to Boma during his great transcontinental journey (1874–77), thus proving the headwaters to be tributaries of the Congo River, and not sources of the Nile as hypothesized by Livingstone.


See H. Winternitz, East Along the Equator: A Journey up the Congo and into Zaïre (1987).

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Congo (formerly Zaïre River) River in central and w Africa; the second-longest in the continent. It rises in s D.R. Congo and flows in a massive curve to the Atlantic Ocean for 4670km (2900mi). Its rate of flow and size of drainage basin make it Africa's largest untapped source of hydroelectric power. The chief ocean port is Matadi, and the major river ports are Kinshasa and Kisangani. The main headstream is the Lualaba, and the Kasai and Ubangi are among its many large tributaries.

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Congo •Hidalgo •charango, Durango, fandango, mango, Okavango, quango, Sango, tango •GlasgowArgo, argot, cargo, Chicago, embargo, escargot, farrago, largo, Margot, Otago, Santiago, virago •Lego • Marengo •Diego, galago, Jago, lumbago, sago, Tierra del Fuego, Tobago, Winnebago •amigo, ego, Vigo •bingo, dingo, Domingo, flamingo, gringo, jingo, lingo •Bendigo • indigo • archipelago •vertigo • Sligo •doggo, logo •bongo, Congo, drongo, Kongo, pongo •a-gogo, go-go, pogo, Togo •Hugo •fungo, mungo •ergo, Virgo

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