For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Location: Central Africa. Bordering nations--Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia.
Area: 2.345 sq. km. (905,063 sq. mi.; about the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi).
Cities: Capital--Kinshasa (pop. 8 million). Regional capitals--Bandundu, Bukavu, Goma, Kananga, Kindu, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Matadi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Mayi.
Terrain: Varies from tropical rainforests to mountainous terraces, plateaus, savannas, dense grasslands, and mountains.
Climate: Equatorial; ranges from tropical rainforest in the Congo River basin, hot and humid in much of the north and west, cooler and drier in the south central area and the east.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Congolese.
Population (2009, National Institute of Statistics estimate): 68 million.
Annual growth rate (2008 est.): 3.24%.
Ethnic groups: Approximately 250 African ethnic groups; the Luba, Kongo, and Anamongo are some of the larger groups.
Religions: Christian 70% (Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%); Kimbanguist 10%; other sects and traditional beliefs 10%; Muslim 10%.
Language: Official--French. National languages--Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba.
Education: Literacy (2008 est.)--French or local language: 55% (women), 76% (men). Schooling (2007 est.)--none 21%, primary 46%, secondary 30%, university 3%.
Health (2007 est.): Infant mortality rate--92/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (2008 est.)--51.3 yrs.
Type: Republic; highly centralized with executive power vested in the president.
Independence: June 30, 1960 (from Belgium).
Constitution: The D.R.C. has had numerous constitutions, constitutional amendments, and transitional constitutions since independence. The currently operative constitution was approved by 84% of voters in a December 2005 referendum and officially promulgated in February 2006.
Branches: Executive--President is head of state. Cabinet is appointed by the ruling party in the parliament. Prime minister is elected by the parliament. Legislative--The 500-member lower house of parliament was elected in July 30, 2006 national elections. Provincial Assemblies elected the Senate in October 29, 2006 elections, and provincial governors in early 2007. Judicial--Supreme Court (Cour Supreme).
Administrative subdivisions: Eleven provinces including the capital city, Kinshasa.
Political parties: President Joseph Kabila's party is Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et le Développement (PPRD). Two main coalitions, the Alliance pour la Majorité Presidentielle (AMP) and the Union pour la Nation (UN), respectively represent President Kabila and former Transitional Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba. Bemba was Kabila’s principal opponent in the 2006 presidential election (see “Government and Political Conditions” section below), and despite his May 2008 arrest by Belgian authorities and transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, is still the official president of the largest single opposition party, Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC).
Another important opposition party is the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), led by aging Mobutu opponent Etienne Tshisekedi. Although the UDPS boycotted the 2006 elections, Tshisekedi announced in November 2009 that the UDPS would participate in the national and local elections now scheduled for 2011 and 2012, respectively. Other parties include Forces du Futur (FDF), Forces Novatrices pour l'Union et la Solidarite (FONUS), Parti Democrate Social Chrétien (PDSC), Mouvement Social Démocratie et Développement (MSDD), Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution--Fait Prive (MPR-FP), Union des Nationalistes et des Fédéralistes Congolais (UNAFEC), and Mouvement National Congolais/ Lumumba (MNC/L). Former rebel movements-turned-political parties include the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC), and independent splinter groups of the RCD (RCD/ML, RCD/N, RCD/G). The former rebel group Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) received official status as a political party in May 2009.
Suffrage: 18 years of age and universal.
GDP (2009): $10.82 billion.
Annual GDP growth rate (2009): 2.7%.
Per capita GDP (2009): $171.
Natural resources: Copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, other minerals; petroleum; wood; hydroelectric potential.
Agriculture: Cash crops--coffee, rubber, palm oil, cotton, cocoa, sugar, tea. Food crops--manioc, corn, legumes, plantains, peanuts.
Land use: Agriculture 3%; pasture 7%; forest/woodland 77%; other 13%.
Industry: Types--processed and unprocessed minerals; consumer products, including textiles, plastics, footwear, cigarettes, metal products; processed foods and beverages, cement, timber.
Currency: Congolese franc (FC). The U.S. dollar is also used as legal tender.
Trade: Exports (2009 est.)--$3.787 billion. Products--diamonds, cobalt, copper, coffee, petroleum. Main partners--EU, Japan, South Africa, U.S., China. Imports (2009 est.)--$5.254 billion. Products--consumer goods (food, textiles), capital equipment, refined petroleum products. Partners--EU, China, South Africa, U.S.
Total external debt (2009): $12.5 billion.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) includes the greater part of the Congo River basin, which covers an area of almost 1 million square kilometers (400,000 sq. mi.). The country's only outlet to the Atlantic Ocean is a narrow strip of land on the north bank of the Congo River.
The vast, low-lying central area is a basin-shaped plateau sloping toward the west and covered by tropical rainforest. This area is surrounded by mountainous terraces in the west, plateaus merging into savannas in the south and southwest, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River in the north. High mountains are found in the extreme eastern region.
The D.R.C. lies on the Equator, with one-third of the country to the north and two-thirds to the south. The climate is hot and humid in the river basin and cool and dry in the southern highlands. South of the Equator, the rainy season lasts from October to May and north of the Equator, from April to November. Along the Equator, rainfall is fairly regular throughout the year. During the wet season, thunderstorms often are violent but seldom last more than a few hours. The average annual rainfall for the entire country is about 107 centimeters (42 in.).
The population of the D.R.C. was estimated at 68 million in 2009. As many as 250 ethnic groups have been distinguished and named. Some of the larger groups are the Kongo, Luba, and Anamongo. Although 700 local languages and dialects are spoken, the linguistic variety is bridged both by the use of French and the native languages Kikongo, Tshiluba, Swahili, and Lingala.
About 70% of the Congolese population is Christian, predominantly Roman Catholic. Most of the non-Christians adhere to either traditional religions or syncretic sects. Traditional religions include concepts such as monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft and sorcery, and vary widely among ethnic groups; none is formalized. The syncretic sects often merge Christianity with traditional beliefs and rituals. The most popular of these sects, Kimbanguism, was seen as a threat to the colonial regime and was banned by the Belgians. Kimbanguism, officially "the church of Christ on Earth by the prophet Simon Kimbangu," now claims about 3 million members, primarily among the Bakongo tribe of Bas-Congo province and Kinshasa. In 1969, it became the first independent African church admitted to the World Council of Churches.
Before independence in 1960, education was largely in the hands of religious groups. The primary school system was well developed at independence; however, the secondary school system was limited, and higher education was almost nonexistent in most regions of the country. The principal objective of this system was to train low-level administrators and clerks. Since independence, efforts have been made to increase access to education, and secondary and higher education have been made available to many more Congolese. According to estimates made in 2007, 21% of the population had no schooling, 46% had primary schooling, 30% had secondary schooling, and 3% had university schooling. At all levels of education, males greatly outnumber females. The largest state-run universities are the University of Kinshasa, the University of Lubumbashi, and the University of Kisangani. The elite continue to send their children abroad to be educated, primarily in Western Europe.
The area known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was populated as early as 10,000 years ago and settled in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. by Bantus from present-day Nigeria. Portuguese navigator Diego Cao was the first European known to have visited the area (in 1482), and English journalist Henry Morton Stanley later explored much of the region in the mid to late 19th century. The area was officially colonized in 1885 as a personal possession of Belgian King Leopold II as the Congo Free State. In 1907, administration shifted to the Belgian Government, which renamed the country the Belgian Congo. Following a series of riots and unrest, the Belgian Congo was granted its independence on June 30, 1960. Parliamentary elections in 1960 produced Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president of the renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Mobutu Era
Within the first year of independence, several events destabilized the country: the army mutinied; the governor of Katanga province attempted secession; a UN peacekeeping force was called in to restore order; Prime Minister Lumumba died under mysterious circumstances; and Col. Joseph Désiré Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) took over the government and ceded it again to President Kasavubu.
Unrest and rebellion plagued the government until 1965, when Mobutu, by then a lieutenant general and commander-in-chief of the national army, again seized control of the country and declared himself president for five years. Mobutu quickly centralized power into his own hands and was elected unopposed as president in 1970.
Embarking on a campaign of cultural awareness, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire and required citizens to adopt African names. Relative peace and stability prevailed until 1977 and 1978 when Katangan rebels, staged in Angola, launched a series of invasions into the Katanga region. The rebels were driven out with the aid of Belgian paratroopers.
During the 1980s, Mobutu continued to enforce his one-party system of rule. Although Mobutu successfully maintained control during this period, opposition parties, most notably the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), were active. Mobutu's attempts to quell these groups drew significant international criticism.
As the Cold War came to a close, internal and external pressures on Mobutu increased. In late 1989 and early 1990, Mobutu was weakened by a series of domestic protests, heightened international criticism of his regime's human rights practices, and a faltering economy. In April 1990, Mobutu agreed to the principle of a multi-party system with elections and a constitution. As details of a reform package were delayed, soldiers in September 1991 began looting Kinshasa to protest their unpaid wages. Two thousand French and Belgian troops, some of whom were flown in on U.S. Air Force planes, arrived to evacuate the 20,000 endangered foreign nationals in Kinshasa.
In 1992, after previous similar attempts, the long-promised Sovereign National Conference was staged, encompassing more than 2,000 representatives from various political parties. The conference gave itself a legislative mandate and elected Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo as its chairman, along with Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the UDPS, as prime minister. By the end of the year Mobutu had created a rival government with its own prime minister. The ensuing stalemate produced a compromise merger of the two governments into the High Council of the Republic-Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT) in 1994, with Mobutu as head of state and Leon Kengo Wa Dondo as prime minister. Although presidential and legislative elections were scheduled repeatedly over the next two years, they never took place.
Beginning in late 1994, the war and genocide in neighboring Rwanda had spilled over to Zaire. Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe), who fled Rwanda following the ascension of a Tutsi-led government, were using Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire as bases for incursions against Rwanda.
In October 1996, Rwandan troops (RPA) entered Zaire, simultaneously with the formation of an armed coalition led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila known as the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaire (AFDL). With the goal of forcibly ousting Mobutu, the AFDL, supported by Rwanda and Uganda, began a military campaign toward Kinshasa. Following failed peace talks between Mobutu and Kabila in May 1997, Mobutu left the country.
From Dictatorship to Disintegration
Laurent-Désiré Kabila marched into Kinshasa on May 17, 1997 and declared himself president. He consolidated power around himself and the AFDL and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.). Kabila's Army Chief and the Secretary General of the AFDL were Rwandan, and RPA units continued to operate tangentially with the D.R.C.'s military, which was renamed the Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC).
Over the next year, relations between Kabila and his foreign backers deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops to leave the D.R.C. Most refused to leave. On August 2, nationwide fighting erupted as Rwandan troops in the D.R.C. "mutinied," and fresh Rwandan and Ugandan troops entered the country. Two days later, Rwandan troops flew to Bas-Congo, with the intention of marching on Kinshasa, ousting Kabila, and replacing him with the newly formed Rwandan-backed rebel group called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD). The Rwandan campaign was thwarted at the last minute when Angolan, Zimbabwean, and Namibian troops intervened on behalf of the D.R.C. Government. The Rwandans and the RCD withdrew to eastern D.R.C., where they established de facto control over portions of eastern D.R.C. and continued to fight the Congolese army and its foreign allies.
In February 1999, Uganda backed the formation of a rebel group called the Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC), which drew support from among ex-Mobutuists and ex-Zairian soldiers in Equateur province (Mobutu's home province). Together, Uganda and the MLC established control over the northern third of the D.R.C.
At this stage, the D.R.C. was divided de facto into three segments--one controlled by Laurent Kabila, one controlled by Rwanda, and one controlled by Uganda--and the parties had reached military deadlock. In July 1999, a cease-fire was proposed in Lusaka, Zambia, which all parties signed by the end of August. The Lusaka Accord called for a cease-fire, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation, the withdrawal of foreign troops, and the launching of an "Inter-Congolese Dialogue" to form a transitional government leading to elections. The parties to the Lusaka Accord failed to fully implement its provisions in 1999 and 2000. Laurent Kabila drew increasing international criticism for blocking full deployment of UN troops, hindering progress toward an Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and suppressing internal political activity.
On January 16, 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated, allegedly by a member of his personal bodyguard corps who was in turn killed by an aide-de-camp. Kabila was succeeded by his son Joseph, who reversed many of his father's negative policies. Over the next year, the UN peacekeeping mission in the D.R.C. (known by its French acronym MONUC) deployed throughout the country, and the Inter-Congolese Dialogue proceeded. By the end of 2002, all Angolan, Namibian, and Zimbabwean troops had withdrawn from the D.R.C. Following D.R.C.-Rwanda talks in South Africa that culminated in the Pretoria Accord in July 2002, Rwandan troops officially withdrew from the D.R.C. in October 2002. However, there were continued, unconfirmed reports that Rwandan soldiers and military advisers remained integrated with the forces of an RCD splinter group (RCD/G) in eastern D.R.C. Ugandan troops officially withdrew from the D.R.C. in May 2003.
National Dialogue, Transitional Government, and Nascent Democracy
In October 2001, the Inter-Congolese Dialogue began in Addis Ababa under the auspices of Facilitator Ketumile Masire (former president of Botswana). The initial meetings made little progress and were adjourned. On February 25, 2002, the dialogue was reconvened in South Africa. It included representatives from the government, rebel groups, political opposition, civil society, and Mai-Mai (Congolese local defense militias). The talks ended inconclusively on April 19, 2002, when the government and the MLC brokered an agreement that was signed by the majority of delegates at the dialogue but left out the RCD/G and opposition UDPS party, among others.
This partial agreement was never implemented, and negotiations resumed in South Africa in October 2002. This time, the talks led to an all-inclusive agreement, which was signed by delegates in Pretoria on December 17, 2002, and formally ratified by all parties on April 2, 2003. That same day, a transitional constitution was adopted.
Following nominations by each of the various signatory groups, President Joseph Kabila on June 30, 2003 issued a decree that formally announced the transitional government lineup. Four vice presidents (each representing a specific party, faction, or region) took their oaths of office on July 17, 2003, and most incoming ministers assumed their new functions within days thereafter.
During the transitional government period, President Joseph Kabila made significant progress in liberalizing domestic political activity and undertaking economic reforms in cooperation with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, serious human rights problems remained in the security services and justice system.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
In December 2005, roughly two-thirds of eligible Congolese voters participated in a referendum that resulted in approval of a new constitution. This constitution entered into force in February 2006. Extensive executive, legislative, and military powers are vested in the president. The legislature does not have the power to overturn the government through a vote of no confidence. The judiciary is only nominally independent. The president, due to the absence of the as-yet-unestablished Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature (supreme judicial council; CSM), has the power to dismiss and appoint judges. The president is head of a cabinet of ministers. The current cabinet, appointed in late 2008, has 37 ministers.
On July 30, 2006 the D.R.C. held its first free, democratic, multi-party elections in more than 40 years. Over 25 million registered voters cast ballots for president (from among 33 candidates) and National Assembly deputies (from among over 9,500 candidates vying for 500 seats). Voter turnout was over 70%, and despite technical and logistical difficulties as well as isolated incidents of violence and intimidation, the elections were largely calm and orderly. International observers also judged them to have been credible. According to the D.R.C.’s Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) incumbent President Kabila won 44.81% of the vote, compared to 20.3% for Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, his nearest challenger. Hours after these tallies were released, the Gombe area of central Kinshasa saw clashes between militias loyal to these two candidates. With no one winning a majority, a second round was held on October 29; Kabila beat Bemba by a margin of 58% to 42% and was inaugurated on December 6, 2006, to a five-year term.
The National Assembly elections held simultaneously with the July 2006 first presidential round resulted in the election of 500 deputies representing 169 electoral districts. Winners in multiple-seat districts (approximately two-thirds of the total districts) were determined based on a complex formula involving the percentages of overall votes cast for a given party and proportional representation using open party lists. Like the president, National Assembly deputies serve five-year terms. Unlike the president, however, they are not term-limited. The National Assembly held its first session on September 22, 2006. Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga and his cabinet formally took office the following February; in May 2007, Kengo Wa Dondo was elected Senate President. In September 2008, Antoine Gizenga resigned for reasons of age and ill health. On October 10, 2008, President Kabila named Adolphe Muzito to succeed him. Muzito in turn appointed a new cabinet of ministers with a total of 37 ministerial positions. On February 22, 2010, President Kabila reshuffled his cabinet, with particular emphasis on his economic and finance team.
The D.R.C.'s July 2006 elections presented significant organizational challenges. The presidential and legislative ballots were printed in South Africa and altogether weighed nearly 1,800 tons, requiring 75 round-trip flights between the D.R.C. and South Africa. The CEI, greatly supported by the MONUC peacekeeping mission, ran more than 50,000 polling stations nationwide and employed some 300,000 poll workers on election day and to oversee the ballot-counting process. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 4, 2011. Local elections have been postponed again; they are now tentatively scheduled for late 2012.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Adolphe Muzito
Foreign Minister--Alexis Thambwe Mwamba
Defense Minister--Charles Mwando Nsimba
Finance Minister--Matata Ponyo Mapon
Minister of International and Regional Cooperation--Raymond Tshibanda
The Kabila administration identified five areas requiring particular attention: education, health, infrastructure, water/electricity, and job creation. The government has made little progress in these areas, however, due in large part to continuing insecurity and intermittent returns to armed conflict in several eastern provinces, particularly North and South Kivu and the Ituri and Haut-Uélé Districts of Orientale Province. A number of illegal Congolese and foreign militias have operated largely with impunity in these areas since before the overthrow of Mobutu in early 1997. Their relative strength and influence have waxed and waned over time, but two are of particular importance to the current situation: the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), led by individuals involved in perpetrating the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a Congolese group led until recently by former Congolese army general Laurent Nkunda. These groups--the first predominantly Hutu, the second predominantly Tutsi--have fought each other and the D.R.C. military (FARDC), illegally exploited and exported D.R.C. natural resources to fund their weapons, and committed gross human rights violations (including indiscriminate killings, rapes, and forced child soldier recruitment) in the areas under their control.
On January 23, 2008, the Government of the D.R.C. and over 20 Congolese armed groups (including the CNDP) signed a peace accord in Goma, North Kivu Province, under which they agreed on the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the disengagement of troops, improved adherence to human rights standards, and the creation of UN buffer zones between and among the various factions. Between January and August 2008, most of the parties worked to implement the Goma Accords’ provisions, albeit with regular cease-fire violations. In late August 2008, intense fighting began again between the CNDP and the FARDC in the southern part of North Kivu province, also called the “Petit Nord.” Over the next four months, this fighting resulted in the internal displacement of a quarter million residents of North Kivu and led some 40,000 to flee into Uganda. Hundreds of people were killed, and by late October 2008, Nkunda’s CNDP forces--much stronger and better disciplined than the Congolese military--got to within a few miles of Goma before declaring a unilateral cease-fire. During this period, the United States, European Union, and United Nations all worked to develop plans for a lasting peace, and seek adherence to past agreements, but progress was slow.
By January 2009, a dramatic series of events significantly altered the political-military landscape in the Petit Nord. Infighting within the CNDP leadership led to a schism in which Nkunda’s military chief of staff staged a de facto internal coup and then signed an agreement with the D.R.C. Government to integrate his forces into the FARDC. A smaller but also dangerous militia group, PARECO, made a similar commitment. Meanwhile, the governments of the D.R.C. and Rwanda, which had been engaged in the gradual pursuit of rapprochement over several months, announced plans for Rwandan forces to enter the D.R.C. and join with the Congolese military in a concerted effort to eliminate the FDLR once and for all. On January 20, 2009, several thousand Rwandan soldiers crossed into the D.R.C. for the third time in 12 years, but this time at the invitation of the Congolese Government in Kinshasa. Two days later, Laurent Nkunda fled into Rwanda, where Rwandan officials took him into custody. He remains in custody, pending the resolution of Rwandan court proceedings. Between January 20 and the end of February 2009, the joint Rwandan-Congolese-CNDP-PARECO coalition of forces pressured the FDLR, engaged in a small number of battles with FDLR units, and convinced several hundred FDLR members and their families to return voluntarily to Rwanda. On February 25, 2009, the Rwandan forces left the D.R.C.
On March 23, 2009, the Government of the D.R.C. signed separate peace agreements with (1) the CNDP, (2) the North Kivu armed groups, and (3) the South Kivu armed groups. The rebel groups agreed to transform their movements from military to political in nature, while the government promised to work toward integrating rebel soldiers and officials into the FARDC, national police, and national and local political and administrative units. Many details of the agreements still require implementation, but the CNDP has already been registered as a political party, and various other rebel groups have declared their intention to establish political parties. The FARDC, with support from MONUC, offered ex-combatants the opportunity to undergo “accelerated integration” into the national army, a process that was less thorough than traditional integration but allowed for more expeditious demobilization of rebel forces. As part of the peace agreements, parliament passed and the president signed an amnesty law that pardoned people for crimes committed in the eastern D.R.C. during the fighting, other than crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The FARDC, with MONUC support, launched Operation Kimia II, a military operation against the FDLR in North and South Kivu in May 2009 and July 2009, respectively. Kimia II, which ended on December 31, 2009, registered some noticeable success, including pushing the bulk of the FDLR away from population centers and money-making enterprises, notably illegal mining. In addition, according to MONUC, in 2009 (roughly the same time period as Kimia II), 1,114 FDLR members were killed, and 1,522 FDLR combatants and 2,187 of their dependents were repatriated to Rwanda. However, human rights violations by the FDLR and by undisciplined FARDC elements increased during Kimia II operations. MONUC estimated that as many as 1,714 civilians were killed during the military operation. A follow-on operation, Amani Leo, was launched by the FARDC and MONUC in January 2010. Amani Leo has been more selective in its targets, as well as concentrating on holding re-captured territory and developing state institutions and authority in these areas.
The northeastern D.R.C. has also been the scene of fighting over the past eight months, as the FARDC has engaged a Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), that operates in the D.R.C. Since 1988, the LRA, led by Joseph Kony, has waged an on-again, off-again insurgency against the Ugandan Government from bases in southern Sudan and, since 2005, in the D.R.C. The group is infamous for its brutal exactions on the local populations, including looting, rapes, and killings. It abducts young boys to serve as child soldiers and it often uses abducted young girls as sex slaves. On December 15, 2008, the governments of Uganda, the D.R.C. and southern Sudan launched a joint military operation, Operation Lightning Thunder, to capture or kill senior LRA commanders. The operation was launched after it became clear to regional governments that Kony was not interested in signing a UN-negotiated peace agreement. The D.R.C. Government authorized troops from the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) to enter the D.R.C. The operation officially ended in March 2009 when the majority of UPDF troops withdrew from the D.R.C. A small residual UPDF element remains to support Operation Rudia II, a follow-on operation by FARDC and MONUC jointly targeting the LRA. These operations--Lightning Thunder and Rudia II--have succeeded in killing or capturing some LRA commanders, as well as dispersing the LRA into much smaller different groupings, thus significantly limiting its ability to carry out major fighting. However, the LRA is still committing gross human rights violations in the region (including the southeastern-most part of the Central African Republic) and Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, remains at large. In December 2009, the LRA massacred 321 inhabitants of villages in the Haut Uele district of Oriental Province during a four-day period.
Fighting erupted in the western province of Equateur in late October to early November 2009 between two rival clans over a long-standing fishing dispute. Combatants from the Enyele clan killed approximately 45 police officers who had been sent to the region to restore order. The government responded by deploying a special, Belgian-trained brigade to the area, and MONUC shifted some of its resources to Equateur to assist. The fighting appeared to have abated and the government security forces appeared to have restored a modicum of security as of mid-January 2010, but the atmosphere remains very tense. Over 100,000 Congolese have fled into the neighboring Republic of the Congo and approximately 15,000 into the Central African Republic. There are over 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region. Humanitarian assistance to IDPs remains difficult because of geographical obstacles and fears of renewed fighting. On April 4, 2010, a group of Enyele rebels attacked the provincial capital of Mbandaka, killing at least 16 people, after hijacking a riverboat. They held the airport for some 24 hours before the arrival of MONUC soldiers. There were reports of FARDC reprisals and extrajudicial killings in the days that followed. The ensuing violence caused further refugee movement across the Ubangi River into Republic of the Congo.
Sparsely populated in relation to its area, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to a vast potential of natural resources and mineral wealth. Nevertheless, the D.R.C. is one of the poorest countries in the world, with per capita annual income of about $171 in 2009. This is the result of years of mismanagement, corruption, and war.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the Congolese economy, accounting for 42.5% of GDP in 2007. The main cash crops include coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea, and cocoa. Food crops include cassava, plantains, maize, groundnuts, and rice. However, commercial agricultural production or processing remains limited, with many producers engaged in subsistence food production. Industry accounted for 28.4% of GDP in 2007, of which 6.4% was from manufacturing, and services accounted for 29.1% of GDP in 2007. The export of goods and services constituted 28.2% of GDP in 2007. The D.R.C.'s formal economy is dominated by the mining sector. Minerals account for the vast majority of the D.R.C.’s exports and represent the single largest source for foreign direct investment (FDI). Copper, cobalt, gold, coltan, tin, and zinc are the big metals being mined and produced in the D.R.C. The D.R.C.'s main copper and cobalt interests are dominated by Gecamines, the state-owned mining giant. Gecamines production has been severely affected by corruption, civil unrest, world market trends, and failure to reinvest. The diamond sector currently accounts for about 10% of the D.R.C.'s export revenue. This is from sales of both gem and industrial-grade diamond sales that were around $875 million in 2008 and were projected to approach an estimated $1 billion in 2009. Production by the D.R.C. parastatal, MIBA, has significantly declined from past decades; operations stopped during 2009 due to technical and financial difficulties. MIBA is currently working to restructure its operations and administration. All diamond production in the D.R.C. is currently artisanal.
For decades, corruption and misguided policy have created a dual economy in the D.R.C. Individuals and businesses in the formal sector operated with high costs under arbitrarily enforced laws. As a consequence, the informal sector now dominates the economy. In order to combat corruption, in September 2009, President Kabila launched a “zero-tolerance” campaign. Within this framework, he established the D.R.C. Financial Intelligence Unit to combat money laundering and misappropriation of public funds.
In recent years, the Congolese Government approved a new investment code and a new mining code and designed a new commercial court. The goal of these initiatives was to attract investment by promising fair and transparent treatment to private business. The D.R.C. Government recently established an inter-ministerial committee called the “Steering Committee for Investment and Business Climate Improvement” to support reforms that would improve the business climate. In December 2009, the Congolese parliament approved the D.R.C.’s accession to the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA), and the country expected to join by March 2010. In 2007, shortly after the Joseph Kabila administration took office, the government launched a wholesale review of mining contracts that had been entered into from 1997-2002. In theory, the purpose of this contract review was to determine which negotiations may have been colored by corruption and revisit/renegotiate their terms as need be. In practice, this process has itself been opaque, with little information provided by the government to foreign (including American) investors. The Government of the D.R.C. reached agreement in December 2008 with the vast majority of the companies under review and formally announced the completion of the process in November 2009; one remaining company continues to negotiate its contract as part of the process. The World Bank also is supporting efforts to restructure the D.R.C.'s large parastatal sector, including Gecamines, and to rehabilitate the D.R.C.'s neglected infrastructure, including the Inga Dam hydroelectric system.
Effects of the World Financial Crisis
The D.R.C.’s economic environment changed dramatically beginning in late 2008 and throughout 2009 as the country was significantly and negatively impacted by the global financial crisis. The once-robust mining sector significantly contracted during late 2008 and early 2009 due to falling international commodities prices, a tightening of international credit, and dampened investor confidence in the sector. GDP growth for 2009 was estimated at only 2.7%, a significant reduction from earlier projections. By early 2009, the D.R.C. was facing a serious fiscal and monetary crisis, with international reserves near zero and the exchange rate rapidly deteriorating. The international community responded quickly to the D.R.C.’s deteriorating economic situation by providing emergency financial assistance, including from the IMF (U.S. $200 million), the World Bank (U.S. $100 million), and the African Development Bank (U.S. $97 million). The European Union and Belgium also provided emergency assistance. This assistance helped stabilize the economy and ensure the continuation of basic services. With the support of international emergency assistance and improved prices for key export commodities, the D.R.C.’s macroeconomic situation has stabilized and the economy has begun to recover. GDP growth for 2010 is projected by the IMF at 5.4%.
Economic and Structural Reforms
The Government of the D.R.C. continues to build on economic reforms initiated in 2001 aimed at stabilizing the macroeconomic situation and promoting economic growth. Reforms included liberalization of petroleum prices and exchange rates and adoption of disciplined fiscal and monetary policies. These policies have been successful in reducing inflation and supporting the resumption and acceleration of economic growth since 2002. The D.R.C.’s economy grew by 5.6% in 2006, 6.32% in 2007, and 6.15% in 2008. Inflation was reduced from over 501% in 2001 to approximately 27.6% in 2008. As a result of unexpected internal and external economic shocks in 2009, the annual inflation rate stood at 53.44% in 2009.
The D.R.C.’s development framework includes implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), approved in mid-2006 by the IMF and World Bank boards, and the government's five-year program, approved by the National Assembly in February 2007. The five-year program, known as the five pillars or “cinq chantiers” in French, is based on the PRSP and focuses heavily on President Kabila's five priority areas: infrastructure; employment; education; water/electricity; and health. Many donors had disengaged from the D.R.C. prior to 2002.
Paris Club creditors had suspended interim debt relief when the D.R.C. failed to complete its sixth IMF review in 2006 due to fiscal slippages and slow implementation of key structural reforms. In early 2008, the Government of the D.R.C. concluded a U.S. $9.2 billion minerals-for-infrastructure agreement with the Chinese Government. Under pressure from international financial institutions and donors concerned about the potential negative effect of this deal on the D.R.C.’s debt burden, the Government of the D.R.C. and the Chinese amended the agreement in November 2009, reducing the overall value of the agreement by $3 billion among other changes. As a result, the IMF Board of Directors approved on December 11, 2009, a new, three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) program. The new PRGF program will allow the Paris Club group of official creditors to resume provisional debt relief and help pave the way for comprehensive debt relief (upon reaching the “completion point”) under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). This debt relief will help alleviate the D.R.C.’s official debt burden (estimated at U.S. $13.5 billion) and provide critically needed resources for poverty reducing programs. Paris Club creditors, including the United States, agreed in February 2010 to resume interim debt relief for the D.R.C. until the country reaches HIPC completion point.
Natural Resource Exploitation
In June 2000, the United Nations established a Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Congolese Resources to examine links between the wars and natural resource exploitation. Reports issued by the panel indicate that countries involved in the war in Congo developed significant economic interests in the D.R.C. that complicated Congolese Government efforts to control its resources and the mining sector. Although the original Panel of Experts was disbanded when its mandate ended in late 2003, a separate UN Group of Experts continued to look into these issues due to the apparent links between the illegal armed groups in the eastern part of the D.R.C. and natural resource exploitation. The Group of Experts published a report in December 2008 that documents how armed groups in eastern D.R.C. finance their activities through the exploitation of natural resources and provides evidence of the collaboration and support of Rwandan authorities and the Government of the D.R.C. in supporting such groups. In December 2009, the Group of Experts issued a new report, which states that armed groups in eastern D.R.C., in particular the FDLR, continue to engage in the illegal extraction of minerals to finance their activities. The report also documents that both FARDC and armed rebel groups continue to engage in human rights abuses, including attacks against civilians.
In 2008, the D.R.C. became a candidate country for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a multi-stakeholder effort to increase transparency in transactions between governments and companies in the extractive industries. Though the Government of the D.R.C. has taken some positive steps under EITI, including establishment of a National EITI Committee, publication of the first report on EITI in the D.R.C., and the hiring of an independent auditor to carry out the validation of the EITI process, the D.R.C. did not meet its March 9, 2010 validation deadline. The EITI Secretariat has granted the D.R.C. a six-month extension (until September 9, 2010) to complete validation.
The D.R.C.'s large size and strategic location in the center of Africa, as well as its vast mineral wealth, have made the country a key regional player since even before independence. The D.R.C.'s relations with its neighbors have often been driven by security concerns, leading to intricate, interlocking, and shifting alliances. The complexities and dangers of these relations were never clearer than in the 1997-2003 period described in the “From Dictatorship to Disintegration” section above. In addition, internal conflicts in Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda have at various times created bilateral and regional tensions.
Over the past five years, the D.R.C. Government has signed agreements with its neighbors to improve the security of the D.R.C. and the wider region. In October 2004, with significant U.S. involvement and facilitation, the D.R.C. joined with Rwanda and Uganda in signing a Great Lakes regional security agreement that established a “Tripartite Commission” to address issues peacefully rather than militarily. (Burundi joined a year later and the expanded agreement is now known as “Tripartite Plus.”) In September 2007, the D.R.C. and Uganda signed the so-called “Ngurdoto Agreement” committing to strong bilateral efforts to eliminate all illegal armed groups operating in and between the two countries. In November 2007, with significant assistance from the UN, United States, and European Union, the D.R.C. reached a similar agreement with Rwanda. Known as the Nairobi Communiqué, this accord was designed to lay the groundwork for D.R.C.-Rwandan cooperation to disarm, demobilize, reintegrate and/or repatriate all foreign armed groups operating in the D.R.C., particularly the ex-FAR/Interahamwe (later the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, FDLR).
Following up on enhanced military cooperation with Rwanda and Uganda, the D.R.C. re-established full diplomatic relations with Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda in 2009. President Kabila held bilateral talks with Rwandan President Kagame in January 2009 and again in August 2009. These were the first heads-of-state meetings between the D.R.C. and Rwanda in over 10 years.
U.S. CONGOLESE RELATIONS
U.S. relations with the D.R.C. are very strong. The success of the D.R.C.’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2006 were the culmination of both the Congolese people's efforts to choose their leaders through a peaceful, democratic process and international support for numerous domestic and international peace agreements. The United States is proud to have played a role in the peace process in the D.R.C., and continues to encourage Congolese peace, prosperity, democracy, and respect for human rights. The United States facilitated the Nairobi Communiqué and Goma Accords described above, continues to play a leading role in the Tripartite Plus mechanism, and strongly supported UN efforts to create a Joint Verification Mechanism to monitor the border between the D.R.C. and Rwanda. The United States has pursued an active diplomatic strategy in the region and has supported internal reconciliation and democratization in the D.R.C. We support economic reform and transparency efforts and are a major international aid donor, providing more than $700 million in aid to the D.R.C. in 2008 through both bilateral and multilateral programs. We are also the largest donor to the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the D.R.C. (MONUC), contributing almost one-third of MONUC’s $1 billion annual budget.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the D.R.C. in August 2009, meeting with President Kabila and other senior officials, civil society representatives, and victims of the current conflicts. The Secretary reinforced the U.S. commitment to assist the D.R.C. to reduce sexual and gender-based violence, and to help the D.R.C. address corruption.
The D.R.C. appointed its current ambassador to the United States in 2000. The State Department has consistently issued cautionary travel information about Zaire/D.R.C. since 1977.
Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d’Affaires, a.i.--Samuel V. Brock
The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, Kinshasa (tel. 243-81-2255872; fax 243-81-3010561). Mailing address is American Embassy Kinshasa, Box 31550, APO AE 09828.