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Diplomacy in Action

Congo, Democratic Republic of (07/02)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z. 


Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Location: Central Africa. Bordering nations--Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Rwanda, 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. 6.06 million). Regional capitals--Bandundu, Bukavu, Goma, Kananga, Kindu, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Matadi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Mayi.
Terrain: Varies from tropical rainforests to mountainous terraces, plateau, 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 (2000 est.): 52 million.
Annual growth rate (2000): 3.4%.
Ethnic groups: More than 200 African ethnic groups; the Luba , Kongo, and Anamongo are some of the larger groupings of tribes.
Religions(2000 est): Roman Catholic 55%, Protestant 25%, other syncretic sects and traditional beliefs 10%, Kimbanguist 7.5%, Muslim 2.5%.
Language: Official--French. Widely used--Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba.
Education: Literacy (1995 est.)--77.3% in French or local language. Schooling (2000 est.) None--41.7%, Primary--42.2%, Secondary--15.4%, University--0.7%. Health (2000): Infant mortality rate--119.9/1,000. Life expectancy--47 yrs.

Type: Republic--highly centralized with legislative and executive power vested in the president.
Independence: June 30, 1960 (from Belgium).
Constitution: June 24, 1967; amended August 1974; revised February 15, 1978; amended April 1990; transitional constitution promulgated April 1994; Constitutional Act promulgated May 1997; draft constitution proposed but not finalized March 1998, in June 2002, the process of drafting a new transitional constitution began.
Branches: Executive--(chief of state) head of government. Cabinet-- 25-member executive appointed by the president. There is no prime minister. Legislative--A transitional parliament is based in Lubumbashi; members are appointed by the executive. Judicial--Supreme Court (Cour Supreme).
Administrative subdivisions: Ten provinces and the capital city, Kinshasa. A provincial governor, who is appointed and dismissed by the president, administers each province.
Political parties: President Joseph Kabila's party is Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et le Developpement (PPRD) . Main opposition parties include Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS), Forces du Futur (FDF), Forces Novatrices pour l'Union et la Solidarite (FONUS), Parti Democrate Social Chretien (PDSC), Mouvement Social Democratie et Developpement (MSDD), Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution - Fait Prive (MPR-FP), Union des Nationalistes et des Federalistes Congolais (UNAFEC), and Mouvement National Congolais/ Lumumba (MNC/L) . Militant rebel groups include the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD), La Movement pour La Liberation du Congo (MLC) , and several independent splinter groups of the RCD (RCD-ML, RCD-N, RCD-O).
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory.

Flag: Democratic Republic of Congo flag

GDP (2001): $4.4 billion.
Annual GDP growth rate (2001): -4.1%.
Per capita GDP (2001): $82.
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).
Trade: Exports (2001)--$1.006 million. Products--diamonds, cobalt, copper, coffee, petroleum. Partners--Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa, U.K., U.S. Imports (2001)--$957 million. Products--Consumer goods (food, textiles), capital equipment, refined petroleum products. Partners--Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, U.K., U.S.
Total external debt (2001): $12.957 billion.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire, 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.

DRC 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 rainfall for the entire country is about 107 centimeters (42 in.).

The population of DRC was estimated at 52 million in 2000 (by the DRC National Institute for Statistics). As many as 250 ethnic groups have been distinguished and named. Some of the larger groupings of tribes 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 intermediary languages Kikongo, Tshiluba, Swahili, and Lingala.

About 80% 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 and Kinshasa. In 1969, it was the first independent African church admitted to the World Council of Churches.

Before independence, 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 2000, 41.7% of the population has no schooling, 42.2% has primary schooling, 15.4% has secondary schooling, and 0.7% has university schooling. At all levels of education, males greatly outnumber females. The largest state-run universities are the University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN), the University of Lubumbashi (UNILU), and the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS). 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. Discovered in 1482 by Portuguese navigator Diego Cao and later explored by English journalist Henry Morton Stanley, 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.

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 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 Lieutenant General Mobutu, by then commander in chief of the national army, again seized control of the country and declared himself president for 5 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 Democratie et le Progres 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, by heightened international criticism of his regime's human rights practices, and by 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 over 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 Republic-Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT) in 1994, with Mobutu as head of state and Kengo Wa Dondo as prime minister. Although presidential and legislative elections were scheduled repeatedly over the next 2 years, they never took place.

By 1996, 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 refugees 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-Desire Kabila known as the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation 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, and Kabila marched into Kinshasa on May 17, 1997. Kabila declared himself president, consolidated power around himself and the AFDL, and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Kabila's Army Chief and the Secretary General of the AFDL were Rwandan, and RPA units continued to operate tangentially with the DRC's military, which was renamed the Forces Armees 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 DRC. Most refused to leave. On August 2, fighting erupted throughout the DRC as Rwandan troops in the DRC "mutinied" and fresh Rwandan and Ugandan troops entered the DRC. Two days later, Rwandan troops flew to Bas-Congo, with the intention of marching on Kinshasa, ousting Laurent Kabila, and replacing him with the newly formed Rwandan-backed rebel group called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD). The Rwandan campaign was thwarted at the last minute when Angolan, Zimbabwean, and Namibian troops intervened on behalf of the DRC government. The Rwandans and the RCD withdrew to eastern DRC, where they established de facto control over portions of eastern DRC 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 Liberation du Congo (MLC), which drew support from among ex-Mobutuists and ex-FAZ soldiers in Equateur province (Mobutu's home province). Together, Uganda and the MLC established control over the northern third of the DRC.

At this stage, the DRC was divided de facto into three segments, and the parties controlling each segment 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 (MONUC), 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 and succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila. Joseph Kabila reversed many of his father's negative policies; over the next year, MONUC deployed throughout the country and the Inter-Congolese Dialogue proceeded. During this period, many Ugandan troops, most Angolan troops, nearly all Namibian troops, and some Zimbabwean troops withdrew from the DRC. Rwanda maintained its full troop presence and has insisted it cannot withdraw from the DRC until Rwandan Hutu militias (who continued military action in the Congo after the refugee camps were closed in 1996) have been demobilized.

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 on April 19 without the parties reaching an all-inclusive agreement on a transition to an electoral government. However, the government and the MLC brokered an agreement which was signed by the majority of delegates at the Dialogue.

Those who refused to sign this agreement, notably the Rwandan-backed RCD and opposition party UDPS, formed a coalition called the Alliance to Save the Dialogue (ASD), which is demanding that all parties restart negotiations. Those who signed the agreement (the government, the MLC, the RCD-ML, the RCD-N, most political parties, and most civil society groups) are attempting to implement the agreement reached in South Africa and to move toward elections. Meanwhile, negotiations to bring the RCD and the remaining political parties into the agreement continue.

Multi-party elections in the DRC have not been held since 1960. There currently is no official constitution in effect. All executive, legislative, and military powers are vested in the president. The judiciary is independent; the president has the power to dismiss and appoint judges. The president is head of a 25-member cabinet of ministers.

In government-controlled territory, President Joseph Kabila has made significant progress in liberalizing domestic political activity, supporting the Lusaka peace process, and undertaking economic reforms in cooperation with the World Bank and IMF. However, serious human rights problems remain in the security services and justice system.

The part of the country controlled by Rwanda and the RCD is characterized by ongoing violence and armed conflict, which has created a humanitarian disaster and contributed to civilian deaths (over 2 million, according to a prominent international NGO). Political repression and human rights abuses are common.

Principal Government Officials
President--Joseph Kabila

Key Ministers
Foreign Affairs--Leonard She Okitundu
National Security--Mwenze Kongolo
Justice--Ngele Masudi
Defense--Irung a Wan
Interior--Myra Ndjoku
Economy, Finance, and Budget--Matungulu Ilankir
Communication and Press--Kikaya Bin Karubi
Human Rights--Ntumba Luaba

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 DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, with per capita annual income of about $82 in 2001. This is the result of years of mismanagement, corruption, and war. The DRC has experienced negative GDP growth in all but one of the last 15 years.

In 2001, the Government of the DRC under Joseph Kabila undertook a series of economic reforms to reverse this steep decline. Reforms were monitored by the IMF and included liberalization of petroleum prices and exchange rates and adoption of disciplined fiscal and monetary policies. The reform program reduced inflation from over 500% per year in 2000 to only about 10% at an annual rate in the last quarter of 2001. In June 2002 the World Bank and IMF approved new credits for the DRC for the first time in over a decade. Bilateral donors, whose assistance has been almost entirely dedicated to humanitarian interventions in recent years, also are beginning to fund development projects in the DRC.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Congolese economy, accounting for 54.9% of GDP in 2000. Main cash crops include coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea, and cocoa. Food crops include cassava, plantains, maize, groundnuts, and rice. Industry, especially mining, is underdeveloped relative to its potential in the DRC. In 2000, mining accounted for only 6.2% of GDP; other industry accounted for 8.7% and services for 29.1% of GDP. The Congo was the world's fourth-largest producer of industrial diamonds during the 1980s, and diamonds continue to dominate exports, accounting for about half of exports (half-a-billion dollars) in 2001. The Congo'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.

For decades, corruption and misguided policy have created a dual economy in the DRC. 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 1999, with the population of the DRC estimated at 52 million, only 260,000 Congolese working in private enterprise in the formal sector were enrolled in the social security system. Over half-a-million Congolese were employed by the government.

In the past year, the Congolese Government has drafted a new Investment Code and a new Mining Code and has created a new commercial court. The goal of these initiatives is to attract investment by promising fair and transparent treatment to private business. The World Bank also is supporting efforts to restructure the DRC's large parastatal sector, including Gecamines.

The outbreak of war in the early days of August 1998 caused a major decline in economic activity that continues to the present. The country has been divided de facto into different territories by the war, and commerce between the territories has halted. The economic and commercial links among the various sections of the country are not strong, but they are important. As part of the peace process, efforts are underway to restore commerce throughout the Congo; the reopening of commercial links could provide a substantial peace dividend for the Congolese economy.

In June 2000, the United Nations established a Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Congolese Resources to examine links between the war and economic exploitation. Reports issued by the Panel indicate that countries involved in the war in Congo have developed significant economic interests. These interests may complicate efforts to end the war. A final panel report is scheduled for release in August 2002.

Its location in the center of Africa has made DRC a key player in the region since independence. Because of its size, mineral wealth, and strategic location, Zaire was able to capitalize on Cold War tensions to garner support from the West. In the early 1990s, however, in the face of growing evidence of human rights abuses, Western support for the incumbent government waned as pressure for internal reform increased.

DRC's relations with neighboring countries have often been driven by security concerns, leading to intricate and interlocking alliances. Domestic conflicts in Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Rwanda, and Burundi have at various times created bilateral and regional tensions. The current crisis in DRC has its roots both in the use of the Congo as a base by various insurgency groups attacking neighboring countries and in the absence of a strong Congolese government with a military capable of securing Congo's borders. The war has been exacerbated and prolonged by the exploitation of Congo's resources by neighboring countries.

Its dominating position in Central Africa makes stability in the DRC an important part of overall stability in the region. The U.S. supports a resolution to the current conflict and encourages peace, prosperity, democracy, and respect for human rights in the DRC. The U.S. remains a partner with the DRC and other central African nations in their quest for stability and growth on the continent. From the start of the Congo crisis, the U.S. has pursued an active diplomatic strategy in support of these objectives. In the long term, the U.S. seeks to strengthen the process of internal reconciliation and democratization within all the states of the region to promote stable, developing, and democratic nations with which it can work to address security interests on the continent and with which it can develop mutually beneficial economic relations.

The U.S. appointed its current ambassador to the DRC in 2001. The DRC appointed its current ambassador to the U.S. in 2000. There is no current U.S. direct bilateral aid to the government of the Congo. USAID's 2001 program in the DRC totaled $100 million, which was used by international and local NGOs for a wide range of relief and developmental activities throughout the country. The Congo has been on the State Department's travel advisory list since 1977.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Aubrey Hooks
Deputy Chief of Mission--James Swan

The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, Kinshasa (tel. 243-12-21028; fax 243-88-43805). Mailing address is American Embassy Kinshasa, Box 31550, APO AE 09828.

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