What Should I Know About the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Partington
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as the République démocratique du Congo, is a nation located in central Africa. Not to be confused with it's neighbor to the west, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is about one-fourth the size of the United States and has over 65 million citizens as of 2007. While French is the official language, citizens also speak African languages including Kikongo, Kingwana, and Tshiluba. The nation's capital and largest city is Kinshasa, which is also known as the Congo's most important river port.

The area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was first settled approximately two million years ago. Various cultures developed within, eventually leading to the rise of the Luba kingdom in the 1500s. The land was rich in mineral resources, allowing the Luba people to improve copper and iron production and use their products to develop wide-reaching trade networks. Although many cultures other than the Luba were present in the area, the Luba culture had the largest influence on the way the Congolese live in modern times.


King Leopold II of Belguim claimed the area as his own private property in 1885 after American Henry M. Stanley explored the area. Due to the king's subsequent abuses of the land and its inhabitants, the Belgian parliament took the Congo away from the king and put it under government rule in 1908. It then became known as the Belgian Congo. Things improved slightly, but the Congolese continued to live in substandard conditions. In 1960, the Congolese declared independence and Colonel Joseph Mobutu claimed presidency in 1965. In 1997, Laurent Kabila seized power, giving the country its current name. Since its independence in 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced a great deal of political and social unrest, including several wars.

Located in sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo crosses through the Equator which gives the country a tropical climate. In fact, it has the second largest rain forest in the world. The land is varied with plateaus, highlands, grasslands, active volcanoes, and a short coastline of about 25 miles (37 km) on the Atlantic Ocean.

Due to the political and social instability within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the economy has suffered. Still, it has many valuable natural resources, including copper, crude oil, diamonds, and rubber. Politically, as the name suggests, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a presidential democratic republic with a bicameral legislature, an executive branch headed by a president and four vice presidents, and a judicial branch with a Supreme Court.


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