Skip to main content
Select Source:

Democratic Congo

Democratic Congo

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

History & Background

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, covers 905,063 milesmaking it one quarter the size of the United States. Its capital, Kinshasa, has approximately 4.2 million inhabitants, making it twice the size of St. Louis, Missouri, and almost as large as Chicago. Some 52 million people live in the DRC. People can vote once they reach the age of 18. The population is growing at 3.19 percent per year, which is very fast, and young people are the vast majority. Many people are age 15 years or younger. The rural population is dominant as 71 percent of the total. Only 29 percent of the population live in cities. The major languages spoken are French and Lingala in the capital as well as equator region and Upper-DRC, followed by Kingwana and Swahili in Kivu, Shaba, and the Eastern provinces, Kikongo in Lower DRC and Bandundu, and Tshiluba spoken in Kasai. Despite the fact that Arab slave traders from Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on the east coast of Africa introduced Swahili as the language of the slave trade, most people in the eastern DRC speak Swahili. Swahili is the lingua franca of the eastern one-third of the DRC, despite the bitter memories of slavery associated with it and the Nyamwezi and Arab slave traders who brought the language to the DRC. Swahili is a Bantu language, and most of the DRC's 200 ethnic groups are Bantu speaking people. An estimated 70 percent of the population is Christian, 20 percent follow indigenous faiths, and 10 percent are Muslims.

Life expectancy for males is 47 years and for females it is 51 years. Malaria, AIDS, and other diseases are common and keep the population from experiencing explosive growth. The infant mortality rate is 101.6 per 1,000, and there is one doctor for every 15,584 people. Most health care is concentrated in a few large cities. The adult literacy rate is 77.3 percent. This is a result of Joseph Desire Mobutu's dictatorship of the late twentieth century in which the needs of the people and country were neglected. Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 12. There is 1 internet provider, 21,000 telephones, and 3 daily newspapers per 1,000 people, so information is difficult to acquire for many people in the DRC. The DRC has 97,340 miles of roads, but many are in such poor condition that people prefer to fly between destinations. There are 3,206 miles of railroad lines, 232 airfields, and 530,000 cars and trucks on DRC's roads. Despite the nation's vast mineral wealth the per capita income is a mere $710 per year. The GDP is growing at a rate of 1 percent per year, and there are approximately 14.5 million laborers in the workforce. The DRC has cobalt, copper, cadmium, petroleum, zinc, diamonds, manganese, tin, gold, silver, bauxite, iron ore, hydroelectric power, timber, coffee, palm oil, rubber, tea, manioc, bananas, corn, fruits, sugarcane, and much more. There are cement, mining, diamond, and light industries that process consumer products.

Political History: Europe has brought many new ways of doing things to the DRC, but historically its influence has been negative as well. When kings of the ancient Kongo kingdom asked Portuguese rulers for metal nails so that they could build modern homes and ships, they were denied access to this technology and encouraged to trade their own people as slaves instead. Portugal paid for each slave in guns, which set off a destructive arms race still seen in the Civil War that occurred in the 1990s. Belgium's King Leopold was notoriously cruel toward the population of the DRC after declaring the country a colony of Belgium. He brutally coerced the population of the DRC into hunting elephants to provide him with ivory to sell. He encouraged the growth of rubber plants. Those who either did not grow rubber or did not work fast enough to please Leopold's agents had their right hand or foot cut off. He destroyed whole villages to intimidate regions into working for him without pay. Some experts estimate that Leopold killed more than 10 million Africans over a period of 20 years. The people of Belgium eventually forced the King to abdicate his throne and started a series of reforms which ended Leopold's outrageous atrocities.

Belgium ruled the DRC from 1908 until its independence in 1960. Labor was recruited by corvee or force through local chiefs who collaborated with European authorities. Concessionaire companies forced laborers to work on plantations and in mines. Health and education were offered to African families that collaborated and withheld from those who resisted European rule. Few high schools were built and there was no local university in the DRC under Belgium colonial rule. At independence only 16 people from the DRC had earned any type of university degree. This elite was called evolues (developed or civilized ones) and worked with Belgium to rule the DRC. Union leaders and urban residents caught independence fever during the 1950s. Political change was sweeping across Africa, and the DRC was caught up in it as well.

A political crisis erupted culminating in independence on 30 June 1960. Joseph Kasavubu became President and Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the DRC. The army mutinied and soon chaos ensued during which hatred of their white former colonial masters led to atrocities being committed against whites, many of whom were killed in the violence that broke out. Those who weren't killed fled the country. The wealthy Katanga province seceded, as did Kasai. Lumumba asked the UN for help and requested aid in the form of troops from the Soviet Union. The head of the army, Joseph Desire Mobutu, eventually eliminated Lumumba, and after a power struggle between Moise Tshombe and President Kasavubu, Mobutu assumed power. Mobutu was completely ruthless and very energetic in crushing rebellion after rebellion. Mobutu banned party politics and established a one-party state in which all power was concentrated in the hands of the "Founding Father." Every citizen of the DRC was expected to join Mobutu's Popular Revolutionary Movement (MPR), which was neither popular nor revolutionary. Mobutu was known as "the Guide," and his words, deeds, and decrees became law. Everyone was required to sing his praises at work, in school, and even in churches. He coined the term "authenticity," which meant rejection of European values and norms. He encouraged, for example, women to traditionally braid their hair, and the abandonment of European names for authentic African ones. At the same time he helped Europe rape the DRC of her mineral wealth. Mobutu changed the name of the country from the Belgium Congo to Zaire, a Kikongo word for "river." Mobutu briefly nationalized a few companies to give his program some teeth. This was in essence a sham to cover up the massive enrichment of a small African elite, which included Mobutu. They colluded with external business interests for profit while ignoring the nation's needs. By the mid-1970s Mobutu had amassed a personal fortune of over $5 billion which made him the "richest man in Africa." He owned villas and mansions worldwide and, it is alleged, even bought one entire city block in both New York city and Paris.

With Mobutu stealing billions and his cronies stealing millions, the country operated on a system of bribery and corruption. Common people suffered the most under this system. By 1990 real wages in cities had fallen to 2 percent of what they were at independence in 1960. Rural incomes fell to one fifth of what they were under an exploitative Belgium colonial government. People looked back at the colonial era nostalgically as hyper inflation eroded their meager earning further each day. Internal trade ground to a virtual halt and farmers uprooted cash crops and planted food to live on. Roads deteriorated so badly that trade was discouraged and people reverted to subsistence living. More than 30 percent of the national budget went to service IMF and debts on loans that allowed the rich to steal and forced the poor to pay the tab. Thus, despite U.S. support that propped up Mobutu, internal opposition continued to grow.

Mobotu's opponents were legendary, but he hunted down and killed most, often with help from Moroccan, French, or US military personnel. A few of Lumumba's left-leaning colleagues continued to try to establish a socialist state, despite Mobutu's depredations. These men were romantic figures, some of whom had been trained by the charismatic Cuban companion of Fidel Castro, Che Guevera. Laurent Kabila, was one of these shadowy figures. He created a base in eastern DRC and looked forward to the day when he could inspire the people of the DRC to rise up and overthrow Mobutu and establish a regime responsive to the common person's needs and aspirations. The 1994 Hutu genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsi and moderate Hutu provided Kabila with the opportunity that he had been waiting for. When the Tutsi living in exile in Uganda attacked Rwanda and captured the country to stop the genocidal killings, the Hutu extremists fled Rwanda and sought asylum in the DRC. From refugee camps in the DRC, the perpetrators of the genocide plotted their return to power in Rwanda. They ordered and received weapons from France, which they then used to stage attacks on the Tutsi in Rwanda. The Tutsi feared that the Hutu would use the refugee camps in DRC to rearm, retrain, and invade Rwanda to finish killing the Tutsi. The Hutu in the DRC did begin to attack Tutsi who were citizens of the DRC, and the Rwandan Tutsi came to their defense. Once inside the DRC, Tutsi soldiers began closing refugee camps for Hutus who had escaped. Tutsi soldiers tried to locate the Hutu who were involved in the genocide in Rwanda in order to bring them to justice. The Tutsi hoped to prevent Hutu extremists from recapturing Rwanda and completing the massacre of Tutsi people. Tutsi fear of Hutu assassins was what eventually initiated the war in the DRC. Once Tutsi soldiers were inside the DRC, they looked for allies and found one in Laurent Kabila. Mobutu supported the Hutu extremists thus the Tutsi felt that it was in their best interests to topple his regime. In their minds he was aiding and abetting those bent on genocide in Rwanda. Together with Kabila's forces they defeated the Hutu extremists and closed the refugee camps. They then defeated Mobutu's troops and marched toward the DRC's capital, Kinshasa, to capture the country. Because Mobutu had oppressed the citizens of the DRC for so long, they welcomed Kabila and his Tutsi allies as liberators.

Immediately, after Kabila came to power, he changed the country's name to the "Democratic Republic of the Congo" or DRC. Kabila also immediately announced short term plans to create jobs and build roads, hospitals, schools, and a national fuel supply line. All of these measures resonated well with the common people and in the beginning enhanced Kabila's popularity. Unfortunately Mobutu and his supporters had moved most of the DRC's wealth into banks in Europe and America, and Kabila inherited a treasury that was bankrupt.

Kabila unfortunately turned out not to be the hero that he had been welcomed as when he invaded Kinshasa in 1997. The leader of a nonviolent movement that had struggled to overthrow Mobutu peacefully, Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba was, for example, assaulted by Kabila's men soon after Kabila assumed the office of head of state. From that point on the people of the DRC began to worry that they had simply replaced one brutal dictator with another. Kabila allowed the country's decaying infrastructure to disintegrate even further. Mineral rich Katanga was inundated with 2 million refugees from Rwanda, as was the mineral rich province of Kasai. Kabila's Popular Movement of the Revolution ruled the DRC with an iron fist. His Rwandan and Ugandan backers opposed his type of leadership and eventually asked him to step down. Kabila immediately called both the Rwandans and the Ugandans foreigners who were trying to manipulate the DRC and turned the nation against them. Internal war erupted. Uganda and Rwanda backed rebel groups, and Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe backed Kabila and his government forces. A member of Kabila's presidential guard eventually assassinated him, and his son, Joseph Kabila, took over. Joseph asked former Botswana President Sir Ketumile Masire, who had previously attempted to start peace talks but has been thrown out by Kabila, to return, invited UN troops to broker a withdrawal of all foreign troops, and opened talks with the rebel groups. Joseph's flexibility may make peace possible. Whether he can rule the DRC is a different matter. Joseph was raised in Tanzania and is not fluent in either French or Lingala. He is learning French fast but still gives all public speeches in English, which many people in the DRC cannot understand. The future of the DRC is thus still very uncertain.

Educational History: Although the Portuguese took a few Kongolese to Europe to teach them to speak Portuguese and to learn European culture, real Western education did not begin in the DRC until 1906 when the Roman Catholic Church established schools in return for government grants and land concessions. Belgium made the Catholic Church responsible for education under the terms of the 1906 agreement between the Vatican and the government of Belgium. These schools or Ecoles Libres Subsidiees formed the backbone of the educational system until 1948. The Catholics monopolized education throughout this early period.

Catholic schools taught religion and won converts, while also teaching utilitarian subjects that made Congo's population more useful to Belgium. First level primary schools were known as ecole primaire du degre ordinaire. Students began at age six and went to school for five years. Students who successfully completed only the first level of primary school were not considered candidates for secondary school. However, they were eligible to go on to second level primary schools known as, ecole primaire du degre selectionne.

This level took an additional six years to complete. Very few students went on to secondary school. Most were enrolled in the first level primary schools where reading, writing, mathematics, and French were stressed. Upon completion most went immediately into the labor force.

Secondary schools were specialized, somewhat like "A" levels in the British system and comparable to junior colleges. After finishing secondary school, many students spent an additional year taking college preparatory courses to help to qualify to enter universities. During the colonial era, the number of Africans who reached this level was so negligible that for all intents and purposes it was as if none did. Church schools, which received government subsidies were called regime congolaise. Schools that were for Europeans only were known as regime metropolitain. The curriculum in the African schools was far less rigorous than in the European schools where it was assumed that most students would go on to the university. In this two-tiered system equity did not exist. In 1954, the Belgium colonial government tried to remedy this problem by creating secular secondary schools called ecoles laiques or ecoles officelles, which were separate but allegedly equal to the regime metropolitain for whites. This was an apartheid-styled educational system. The aim was to provide minimal or basic education, not complete education. It was an education for servitude, rather than an education that made independent thinkers of learners who became problem solvers. Those who were allowed to receive secondary education concentrated on agriculture and industry, rather than academic preparation for leadership.

Two Catholic universities were created in 1954; the Lovanium and the Universite Officielle du Congo. They planned to prepare a well-educated African elite who would eventually assume power in a peaceful transfer of authority. They were overtaken by events before this could happen, so at independence the African population did not have enough educated individuals to efficiently run a modern government. The world blamed Belgium for failing to prepare them in time. Consequently the world judged the Belgium Colonial educational system a failure, compared to the British and French systems of colonial education.

The newly independent government abolished the regime congolaise in 1960 and adopted the regime metropolitain for all. This was seen as fair and nondiscriminatory. Primary education was reduced to one six year course, which fed into secondary schools without a second level of primary education. Educational opportunities at all levels expanded rapidly for Africans. This created a teacher shortage and the Peace Corps, Belgium, and France sent volunteer teachers to the DRC to fill the void. Primary enrollment increased from approximately 1.6 million students in 1960 to approximately 3.2 million in 1970. By 1990, primary enrollment had skyrocketed to almost 4.6 million students, of whom 43 percent were females. Numbers released in 1996 show that enrollment climbed again to more than 5.4 million (a record number) primary students, but female enrollment declined to 41 percent. Similarly, secondary enrollment steadily climbed after independence from 25,000 students in 1960 to 266,000 secondary school pupils in 1970, a huge increase of 18 percent per year. By 1990, secondary enrollment had reached almost 1.1 million, of whom 32 percent were females. It topped out in 1996 at a little more than 1.5 million students, despite the turmoil gripping the DRC at that time. Female secondary school enrollment increased to 38 percent in 1996.

In 1971, Protestants added a third university known as Universite Libre du Congo. Other institutes of higher learning known as institutes superieurs or institutes of higher education helped train a modernizing workforce. There were 27 of these and together with instituts techniques or technical institutes they tried to add vocational skills to the labor pool. There were 12 such technical institutes. These schools taught technical and vocational subjects as well as humanities, arts, and social science courses. In 1990, some 40,000 students were enrolled in the DRC's universities. By 1996, there were more than 93,000 university students.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

In 1960, the Fundamental Law declared that all children had a right to an education. Each province assumed this responsibility for its children. University education was the domain of the central government. The Ministry of Education administered and oversaw all aspects of education, including school inspections. The 1964 Constitution restated that education was a right, not a privilege, as it had been during colonial times. Mobutu's 1965 coup erased this constitutional provision, thus the energy and will to enforce compulsory, universal primary education experienced a set-back.

Education between ages 6 and 12 is currently compulsory, but there are no mechanisms for enforcing this policy. Only the utilitarian desire to get an education in order to open the doors that allow you to get ahead drives pupils into the DRC's schools.

Educational SystemOverview

From its inception the educational system has favored primary schools. During the colonial period, this was deemed the most appropriate type of education required to produce useful Africans who were skilled but did not have the self-confidence to challenge the colonial system. By 1960, nearly 70 percent of primary school aged children were enrolled in school, which made Belgium a leader in providing primary education for its subjects. More than half of all of these students, however, were enrolled in Standard I and II. Many never went further. About 40 percent of those enrolled in primary school in 1960 completed this level of education. For boys the completion rate was 50 percent and for girls it was 30 percent. By 1978 gross enrollment rates were 90 percent and by 1980 it reached 96 percent and leveled off. Of these pupils, 99 percent of males were enrolled, while 93 percent of females of the appropriate age were enrolled. In 1990, there were approximately 4.6 million students enrolled in primary schools in the DRC, this climbed to more than 5.4 million by 1996. Roughly 42 percent of these students were females. Clearly most people in the DRC feel that having a primary education is essential. At the secondary school level, 24 percent of eligible students were enrolled in 1980. This percentage increased only slightly to 26 percent by 1996. Of these students, 32 percent of eligible males were in secondary school compared to 19 percent of eligible females.

Vernacular languages were used as the language of instruction for primary schools during the colonial era. Just prior to independence, access to opportunities to attend secondary school meant that French became the language of instruction and eventually primary schools adopted French as the language of instruction as well. Because it is difficult to find qualified primary teachers fluent in French, schools have reverted to local vernaculars as the medium of instruction, even though French is the official language of instruction.

School years begin in September and end in June. However, universities begin their academic year in October and end it in July. For universities each course lasts one full academic year.

Nonacademic courses traditionally receive priority over academic courses in primary school. Secondary school curriculums are more academically oriented and follow the regime metropolitain model. Limited effort is being made to Africanize the curriculum by teaching more local history and culture, as well as to promote the study of African languages. Students, however, are still eager to learn French and English for self-advancement. The curriculum is heavily influenced by the Belgium and French school models.

Secondary school students must take a national examen d'etat and pass with a minimum score of 50 percent to be admitted to a university. Once admitted to a university, students must pass an end of the year essay examination in each subject taken, as well as an oral examination. If they fail, they can repeat it by sitting through the entire course again for an additional year. To earn a licence, a college student must write and defend a thesis.

The government has worked on improving access to formal education, but informal education lags far behind. Private organizations, rather than the state apparatus, dominate informal education in the DRC. The Interdisciplinary Center for Development and Lifelong Education (CIDEP) is the main NGO in this sector. It retrains civil servants and offers career development training in technical subjects. The CIDEP has the formal status of a division within the National University of the DRC. It is a link between the National University and civil society. The University has gradually taken over many of its functions since 1981.

Preprimary & Primary Education

In 1995, there were 429 preprimary schools in the DRC. They employed 768 preprimary schoolteachers who taught 33,233 students. Of these 15,956 were males and 17,279 were females. Most of these schools were in the capital and large cities. During the colonial era, only 3 percent of Africans enrolled their children in such schools. Today more people realize the value of such schools for their children's development and support them.

By 1995, the DRC had 1,885 primary schools and 121,054 primary school teachers. They taught some 5.4 million students of whom approximately 3.2 million were males and approximately 2.2 million were females. There was a pupil to teacher ratio of 40 students per teacher in 1990, but the explosive growth in enrollment pushed this ratio up considerably by 1996. Fast growth forced the DRC to hire many unqualified teachers and try to upgrade them on the job. Provinces now require that primary school students pass a provincial primary graduates examination to certify that they are prepared to succeed to secondary school.

Primary schools offer courses on religion, arithmetic, drawing, handiarts, singing, farming, penmanship, trades, and French. For those tracked to attend secondary school, intensive French and geography are encouraged.

Secondary Education

There were two types of colonial secondary schools prior to 1960 in the DRC. Lower level secondary schools offered three- and four-year vocational education courses. A second type of secondary school offered six year vocational programs, as well as academic courses. Most programs ended in terminal diplomas, while a few were stepping-stones into universities and institutions of higher education. Type one secondary schools included ecoles de monitrices for women exclusively; ecoles de moniteurs were for students who wanted to train to become teachers; ecoles d'assistants agricoles prepared agricultural extension officers; ecoles d'assistant medical trained male nurses; ecoles moyennes taught clerical workers; and ecoles professionnelles taught a variety of industrial and commercial trades to students.

The second or more advanced type of secondary schools, which offered six-year programs could be divided into two three-year programs each. One set of courses was general education or academic classes. Schools offering these programs were known as colleges. They usually were Catholic schools. Other schools offered both the academic programs in the initial programs and vocational classes in the advanced programs. The vocations included administration and business, veterinary science and farming, surveying, and teaching. After the DRC won its independence, the first type of secondary school was either upgraded to a type two school or eliminated. The system after independence offered a two year cycle d'orientation (CO) taken by all secondary school students. The CO offered intensive classes in mathematics, French, and the hard sciences. Successful students could advance to a short cycle offering two-year and three-year technical diploma programs or to long cycle, which took four years to complete and were more challenging. Short cycle students took classes in domestic sciences (usually recommended for females), textile production, auto mechanics, electrical work, woodwork, or construction. Long cycle students studied either the humanities or humanites scientifques, including mathematics, physics, chemistry or biology, and humanties litteraires, which taught Latin, Greek, and African literature. Teacher training was also available under humanities pedagogiques or humanities techniques for students wanting to study agricultural sciences, electrical engineering, commerce, construction, chemistry, or mechanics. All secondary school students received moral education warning them of the evils of idolatry and traditional religion, which missionaries considered devil worship, and teaching them the virtue of marrying only one wife at a time in a country where polygamy was accepted practice and most men had a dusiem bureau or second wife. Most students also took mathematics, science, physical education, geography, history, sociology, and English classes before graduating.

Before 1981, all students sat the CO exam. Those passing this hurdle entered the advanced secondary schools. Such students earned a brevet du cycle d'orientation. When short cycle programs were finished, students were awarded a brevet d'aptitudes professionelles. Those finishing long cycle programs earned the diplome d'humanities. The Ministry of Education oversaw examinations leading to the diploma d'humanites and guaranteed the quality of training represented by this diploma. The Ministry of Education also administered the examen d'etat. Scoring in the upper 50 percent on this examination granted students entrance into universities. Scores below 50 percent meant that students were awarded certificates indicating that they completed secondary school, most of these students immediately went to work.

Expatriate teachers were common in secondary schools. As more DRC citizens earned degrees, expatriate teacher numbers tend to decline. Throughout the 1960s over 65 percent of qualified secondary teachers with university degrees were expatriates. An estimated 74 percent of unqualified teachers who just had secondary school diplomas were from the DRC. Throughout the 1960s, because of the very limited enrollment of Africans and few opportunities for self-advancement, the pupil to teacher ratio was 4:1. This rose dramatically as Africans gained vastly expanded opportunities to enroll in secondary schools. Vocational courses were reduced following independence in part due to a change in educational phi losophy from vocational toward more academic training, and in part because it became increasing difficult to get qualified teachers to offer such courses inside of the DRC under deteriorating social and economic conditions.

Higher Education

A high pass on the examen d'etat secures university admission for a student. They must also pass the epreuve d'orientation which is an aptitude rather than an achievement test. Each region is allocated a quota of students who can enter universities to keep from creating one ethnic group that dominates the country. This is a quota system such as India, Tanzania, and other developing nations employ to ensure equal access and opportunity for all ethnic groups. Students meeting all requirements for admission to the university receive full scholarships from the government. Failing to meet all requirements denies a student scholarship aid, but if space is available they can pay to attend as long as they are qualified. It cost $70.00 a year in 1971.

All institutions of higher education fell under the supervision of one institution, the Universite Nationale du Democratic Republic de Congo, during the period between 1971 and 1981. Following 1981, each constituent institution within the university became autonomous. Two types of institutes resulted. Universities on the one hand and higher education institutes on the other hand. Each type of institution is defined by law. They have their own boards from business, government, and faculty senates. The Commissaire d'Etat a l'Enseignement Superior et Universitaire et a la Recherche Scientifique controls higher education in the DRC. Each university is headed by a rector, while institutes are headed by a director-general. Both have secretaries-general for academic and administrative affairs. Universities are divided into faculties and institutes into so-called sections. Faculties are headed by deans, while sections have section heads. Admissions standards are set by law, as are programs leading to academic degrees.

The Universite de Kinshasa has faculties of law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, science (including mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology), and economics. A polytechnic faculty teaches civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering. The Universite de Lubumbasi has faculties of law, medicine, arts and humanities, science, veterinary medicine, metallurgy, industrial chemistry, and mining. The Institut Facultaire des Sciences Agronomiques at Yangumbi trains agricultural engineers. Nineteen other institutes of higher education offer applied technology, building and public works, medical technology, commerce, information technology, statistics, agricultural technology, arts and crafts, rural development, social studies, and more. Fourteen institutes offer teacher training courses. Ten of these teacher training institutes offer two year training cycles. One teacher training institute is located in each region of the DRC. All of this began with a private Catholic university, the Universite Lovanium, and a public university, the Universite Officielle du Congo.

Before 1971 universities functioned independently, even though 80 percent of their funding was from the central government. Overseas organizations completely controlled these institutions. For example, the University of Louvain in Belgium controlled Lovanium. Belgian professors established the curriculum. Institutes of higher education on the other hand were locally controlled. Fear of foreign dominance ended this arrangement, and in 1971 all universities were nationalized. The Universite Nationale du Zaire was given control of all higher education for the next ten years. Following this period, universities were reorganized into specialized faculties with autonomy.

The conseil adminstrtif or administrative council, which is appointed by the president, controls the university on a day-to-day basis. The Ministry of Education retains the power to veto decisions that it disapproves of. The president appoints the rector, while heads of former university campuses, which are now autonomous, are headed by vice rectors. Chairpersons head institutes and can sit on administrative councils at their schools. The overall head is known as the director.

Instruction is based on the cours magistraux or lecture method, or by seminars in the upper or licence classes. Professors prepare lectures and seminars, while discussion sessions or travaux practiques are taught by graduate assistants who have their first degrees only. Due to shortages of funds, professors' notes are sold in lieu of books and assistants teach discussion sessions from such notes. Homework is also assigned based on these notes. In 1985, there were 40,878 university students in the DRC. By 1996, this number more than doubled to 93,266 students. Between 1971 and 1976 the number of professors increased from 1,335 to 2,010. The student to faculty ratio was 13:1, but if only qualified faculty are considered the ratio is 50:1. Only a tiny fraction of the population of the DRC has ever earned the privilege of a university education. The issue of providing high quality public service to a deserving public needs to be addressed squarely.

The licence or first university degree consists of two two-year programs. The first cycle is called the candidature. Successful completion enables a candidate to advance and compete for a licence, which takes two more years to earn. In the candidate's last year they prepare and defend a memoire de licence or senior thesis. After successful defense of this paper, they earn their licence.

In most universities, during the first stage of teacher training or graduat, students spend three years earning a gradue degree. Secretarial studies offered by the Institut Superieur de Commerce in Kinshasa leads to a capacitariat degree after a two-year course, plus practical work. All of these students write a thesis on the purpose of their studies as a culminating activity.

The second stage or licence lasts normally two years and leads to professional qualification in pharmacien, dentiste, ingenieur civil, ingenieur agronome, architecte, and so on. For medicine and veterinary medicine the course takes three years and leads to a degree of docteur en medicine or docteur en medecine veterinaire. To culminate studies at this stage, students write a dissertation which demonstrates their capacity for scientific research. The Universite de Kinshasa awards second stage diplome special en bibliotheconomie and diplome special en gestion de l'environnement.

The third stage is offered only through select faculties. It has two distinct levels: a two-year scientific and pedagogical course with a dissertation leading to a diplome d'etudes superieurs (DES); and a doctorat studies program for which a candidate must first earn a DES with distinction to enter. Doctorat candidates write an original high-level thesis, based upon unpublished research, which takes three to five years to complete. The faculty of veterinary medicine awards a agrege de l'enseigenement superieur en medicine veterinaire upon submission of an excellent thesis. Medical doctors earn a diplome de specialiste. If they wish to teach medicine, they prepare an agregation thesis. To do this they must first earn with distinction their diplome de specialise. There is then five more years of intensive study to earn a degree known as agrege de l'enseignement superieur en medicine.

Foreign students who want to come to the DRC must meet all entry requirements and have an excellent command of French. Most come with scholarships from their home governments or from the United Nations.

Nonformal Education

Many adults prefer to take cours du soir or night classes after work. Convenience is the key. Such classes are organized by NGOs, such as churches, clubs, and associations. A jury central allows qualified candidates to earn a degree, certificate, or diploma through guided selflearning. The Institut Nationale d'Etude Politiques offers political training to help build the DRC's civil society and its capacity to sustain democracy. Homemakers clubs or foyers sociaux teach homemaking, hygiene, health, childcare, and other skills that urban women request. Such groups do double duty as literacy centers.

University degrees can be earned at night through the Centre Interdisciplinaire pour le Development de l'Education Permanente (CIDEP) as discussed earlier. This institution offers in-service courses for civil servants, correspondence courses via mail, and a host of other services to the public. More than 40 employer organizations find theses services so useful that they back them financially. Distance learning is offered primarily through correspondence courses for rural students in isolated remote areas.

Teaching Profession

Higher technical and pedagogical institutes, which were established to train teachers, in theory train all teachers. In reality, specialists often fail to find jobs for which they are trained and teach other subjects. The rapid expansion of schools continues to force the DRC to staff many teaching positions with unqualified teachers. Teaching is not considered prestigious by youth, and this contributes to recruitment problems. Yet teaching is one area that offers hundreds of secure jobs yearly so people continue to train. Some view these jobs as "stopgap" employment that will temporarily tide them over until they can do better. High personnel mobility makes teaching in the DRC very unstable, and the turnover of teachers is a big issue.

Primary school teachers are trained at the secondary school level in teacher training colleges. Instruction in primary schools is in the local language. Science and mathematics are only taught up to, but not beyond the primary school level. Certified and trained teachers are supplemented by a legion of unqualified teachers who require on the job training on a massive scale. Graduates of ecoles normales secondaires provide education to students in upper primary schools, as well as lower secondary schools. The problem is that there are very few of these teachers in the system, and, due to the "brain drain" that siphons many of the most talented teachers off into industry to earn more money, the problem may grow worse in the future. Secondary school teachers are trained at the university and teacher training institutes. Three universities have departments that prepare future teachers for the agregation de l'enseignement secondaire through one year teacher training courses for students who already hold a final degree from a faculty. This course leads to the agregation de l'enseignement secondaire du degre superior. Teacher training institutes train gradues and licences in applied education. They teach lower and upper secondary classes as well. All instruction is in French. Upper secondary level teachers are provided by the 12 Instituts Superieurs Pedagogiques.

Before independence Africans had limited opportunities, and teaching was considered a high paying prestigious profession. Opportunities in private industry and government service since independence has reduced teaching to a low paying, non-prestigious "stopgap" form of employment. Deteriorating social and economic conditions and run-away inflation have severely eroded salaries paid to teachers. Many can barely get by and experience hardships that would have been unimaginable in former eras. This causes many teachers to leave the profession. Teachers unions, such as the Syndicat Nationale des Enseignants Congolais and the Centrales des Enseignants Congolais, fought for reform in the past. Today teachers unions are illegal. This also hurts recruitment and retention efforts.


Massive increase in the number of students being educated is good in the sense that it expands opportunities for self-advancement for millions who were formerly denied such chances, but bad because it puts almost unmanageable strains on the entire education system. Projected growth in demand suggests that this problem will grow worse in the future and needs immediate attention. The desire and hunger for education can not and should not be halted, rather massive investment in teacher-training is needed to improve the quality of education and massive construction of new schools is needed to house the growing army of future leaders and productive citizens of the DRC. Where possible this should be internally financed, but if necessary low interest loans from friendly bilateral donors should be sought out to underwrite improvements in the system. At the very least, the people who benefit from such loans will feel that it is fair that they repay them rather than in the past where only a small elite benefited from foreign loans that the masses were forced to repay.

There is still too much of an imbalance between primary, secondary, and university enrollment. This needs correction to ensure a growing and prosperous middle class that has a stake in the system and will stabilize it. Teachers' education must be upgraded, and retention and recruitment must become top priorities, even if signing bonuses, housing allowances, and other devices are employed to meet projected needs. The curriculum also needs to be rethought in light of the DRC's current manpower needs. Teaching methods should be overhauled as well. Urban schools are currently favored and efforts need to be made to correct this and shift more resources to neglected rural schools, while not allowing the quality of urban schools to decline as a result.

The future health of education in the DRC will necessitate massive investment. Well-trained teachers who stay on the job because they are well-treated, valued, and well-paid will not come easily to the DRC. This, however, is necessary to reach and maintain high educational standards. Under these conditions the DRC will be poised to reach its true potential as a regional giant, assuming that political stability occurs and war ends, ushering in a period of peace and prosperity and an end to kleptocracy.


Bienen, Henry. Armies and Parties in Africa. New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1978.

Chazan, Naomi. Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1992.

Gingrich, Newton Leroy. "Belgian Educational Policy in the Congo, 1948-1960." (Ph.D. diss., Tulane University, 1980.)

Griffin, W.E.B. Special Ops. New York: Putnam's, 2001.

Hennesy, Maurice. Congo: A Brief History and Appraisal. London: Paul Mall Press, 1961.

Hilton, Anne. The Kingdom of Kongo. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1985.

Inongo, Sakombi. Les combats de Kabila. Kinshasa: Editions la voie de dieu, 1998.

Kambere Muhindo, Leonard. Regard sur les conflits des nationalites au Congo: cas des Hutu et Tutsi (Banyamulenge). Aux Kivu. Kinshasa: Editions Yira, 1998.

Lofchie, Michael, ed. The State of the Nations: Constraints on Development in Independent Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

Madsen, Wayne. Genocide and Covert Operations In Africa. New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1999.

Mapinga, Emmanuel. Guerre en Republique Democratique du Congo. Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliographen, 1999.

Omombo Omana, Adrieu. Pour une croissance economique durable de la Republique democratique du Congo. Kinshasa: Centre protestant de editions et de diffusion, 2001.

Risquet, Jorge. El Segundo frente del Che en el Congo: historia del Batalion Patricio Lumumba. Habana: Casa Editora Abril, 2000.

Vangu, Mambweni. Guerres premeditees en region des Grande Lacs africains: roles et tentacules du Tutsi International Power en Republique du Congo. Kinshasa: Medias pour la paix, 2000.

Weeks, John. Among Congo Cannibals: Experiences, Impressions, and Adventures During a Thirty Years Sojourn Amongst the Boloki and other Congo Tribes with a Description of their Curious Habits, Customs, Religion and Laws. London: Seeley, Service and Company Limited, 1913.

Weiss, Herbert. War and Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Uppsala: Afrikaninstitutel, 2000.

Dallas L. Browne

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Democratic Congo." World Education Encyclopedia. . 23 Aug. 2017 <>.

"Democratic Congo." World Education Encyclopedia. . (August 23, 2017).

"Democratic Congo." World Education Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from

Democratic Congo

Democratic Congo

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 53,624,718
Language(s): French, Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Literacy rate: 77.3%

Background & General Characteristics

A nominal republic with a history of autocratic leadership, the Democratic Congo has kept its media under iron-fisted government control. In the cities, jailing of non-conformist journalists continued into 2002. An interview conducted that year with a provincial radio executive and reported through French media shows tyranny by government bureaucrats operating in the provinces. Both ongoing patterns have violated free expression and worked against the expansion of TV and radio stations that other constituencies in the Democratic Congo have been trying to achieve.

Situated in west-central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Républic Démocratique du Congo or DRC, also known as Congo-Kinshasa, formerly Zaire and the Belgian Congo) is the second largest of the sub-Saharan states, with an area that includes the bulk of the Congo River basin. The country is not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo (Congo Republic, Congo-Brazzaville).

Democratic Congo had an estimated population in July 2001 of 53,624,718, up from some 30,000,000 in the 1984 census. Ethnographically the country is a mosaic of several hundred groups, with various Bantu tribes comprising the largest segment.

Having a population density of sixty-one persons per square mile, Democratic Congo is thirty percent urban, with population centers in the capital, Kinshasa (est. 5,064,000), and in the cities of Lubumbashi (967,000), Mbuji-Mayi, Kananga, and Kisangani. The Congolese are about fifty percent Roman Catholic and twenty percent Protestant, the rest being Muslim or following indigenous practices.

French, the official language, dominates the media. Local languages include Kikongo, Kiswahili, Lingala, and Tshiluba. About seventy-seven percent of Congolese adults can read in at least one language. Education is compulsory through age twelve. Suffrage is universal and compulsory.

Following the withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping forces in 1964, Maj. Gen. Joseph Désiré Mobutu took over as self-proclaimed president of the "Second Republic". The 1967 constitution provided for a strong presidential presence, with amendments and revisions in the 1970s further linking governmental and party institutions. Constitutional and military struggles in the 1990s ended with the ousting and exile of Mobutu and the installation of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In mid-2002, a 1998 draft of a new constitution had yet to be ratified.

Government corruption and economic decline characterized the 1980s and 1990s. Inflation in the mid-1990s peaked in the thousand-percent range. Adding to the mix of problems have been the influx of refugees after 1994 from ethnic bloodshed in neighboring Rwanda and the presence (in 1999) of more than a million adults with HIV/AIDS.

After Mobutu's removal from office, exile, and death in 1997, Gen. Kabila, the leader of the rebel forces, ruled by decree, alienating the United Nations as well as national allies. The rebels agreed to a cease-fire on August 31, 1999. Kabila was assassinated early in 2001, and his son, Joseph Kabila, succeeded him.


Mobutu's regime repressed journalists and restricted the number of legal newspapers. The pattern continued under the two Kabilas. Robert Menard, the general secretary of the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters without Borders, said in February 2002 that the situation for journalists was still deteriorating in the Democratic Congo.

A number of independent newspapers generally critical of the Mobutu government began publication about 1990. Early in 1991 two directors of Elima, an evening daily, were detained by the government after publishing pieces alleging official corruption. A bomb destroyed the newspaper offices later that year, and the government shut down the paper late in 1993.

Such instances have persisted. National agents arrested journalist Guy Kasongo Kilembwe in February 2001 for caricaturing Joseph Kabila and his ministers. In December, police also arrested Freddy Embumba, who worked for the Kinshasa daily L'Avenir, and seized two editors of the paper Pot-Pourri, which had published an article satirizing Kabila II. In February 2002 the status of the three latest detainees was unknown. Reporters without Borders reported that officials arrested twenty-six Congolese journalists during 2001. The ongoing press situation continues to be unstable in this climate.

Earlier, in 1995, Democratic Congo had had nine daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 120,000, about three copies per 1,000 people. Daily French-language newspapers published in major cities during the 1990s included Salongo (in Kinshasa, circulation 10,000), Mjumbe (in Lubumbashi), and Boyoma (in Kisangani). Le Passeport Africain, a weekly, resumed publication in mid-1994 after a hiatus.

Broadcast Media

Government-controlled radio and television stations (with color by SECAM) have been in charge of broadcasting. In 1999, the country had one short-wave, three AM, and twelve FM radio stations. The national radio station La Voix du Congo and one educational station were also in operation. Television Congolaise has been the government-run commercial channel. In 1998, the populace owned about a half-million radios (79 for every 1,000 people) and more than that number of TV sets. Figures for 1999 show twenty television stations operating in the country.

In 2002, a complaint emerged through French media from Freddy Molong, chair of the association of community radio stations in the DRC, about the government's heavy taxation and routine "administrative harassment" of community radio stations, especially in Katanga and Kasai provinces. Local bureaucrats, Molong said, were demanding ten percent of the stations' gross income and even a ten percent tax on every obituary announcement, along with a back payment of $10,000 for the year 2001, even though most of these radio stations were less than two years old and were non-profit, operated by volunteers on shoestring budgets.

News Agencies

Congolese Press Agency (CPA) is the main press agency. Agence France-Presse, Xinhua, and Reuters have bureaus in Kinshasa.

Electronic News Media

Statistics for January 1998 show about one hundred Internet users, and those for 1999, about fifteen hundred. Two Internet service providers operated in 2000.

Significant Dates

  • 1990: Papers critical of the Mobutu government emerge.
  • 2001: Officials arrest a number of journalists for criticism of the Kabila regime.
  • 2002: Bureaucrats pursue petty harassment of struggling community radio stations. Reporters without Borders finds press situation deteriorating.


Banks, Arthur S., and Thomas C. Muller, ed. Political Handbook of the World, 1999. Binghamton, NY: CSA Publications, 1999.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 8 May 2002. Available from

"DRC: Community Radio Stations Complain of Heavy Taxation." Radio France Internationale. An interview with Freddy Molongo by Kamanda wa Kamanda. Trans. from French by FBIS. CountryWatch: Congo (DRC). CountryWire Search Engine, 8 May 2002. Available from

"RSF Condemns Arrest of Journalists in Kinshasa." Panafrican News Agency, 1 February 2002. Country-Watch: Congo (DRC). CountryWire Search Engine, 8 May 2002. Available from

Turner, Barry, ed. The Statesman's Yearbook: The Politics, Cultures, and Economies of the World, 2000. 136th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2002. New York: World Almanac Books, 2002.

Roy Neil Graves

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Democratic Congo." World Press Encyclopedia. . 23 Aug. 2017 <>.

"Democratic Congo." World Press Encyclopedia. . (August 23, 2017).

"Democratic Congo." World Press Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from