Congo (Zaire)

views updated

Congo (Zaire)

At a Glance

Official Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Continent: Africa

Area: 875,520 square miles (2,267,600 sq km)

Population: 53,624,718

Capital City: Kinshasa

Largest City: Kinshasa (2,653,558)

Unit of Money: Zaire

Major Languages: French (official), Lingala, Kingwana

Natural Resources: Cobalt, copper, cadmium, crude oil

The Place

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is in central Africa. It is the third-largest country on the continent. Although the majority of the country is land-locked, Congo does have a 25-mile-(40-km) long coastline on the Atlantic Ocean.

The largest part of Congo is the central basin that lies along the Congo River. This area accounts for about 60% of the country. The wide plain varies from 2,300 to 1,110 feet (700 to 338 m) above sea level, and has dense rain forests. High plateaus surround most of the basin. In the north, these plateaus rise up to 4,000 feet (1220 m).

A coastal plain extends to the Cristal Mountains. The eastern part of the country is mountainous and contains part of the East African Rift System. Margherita Peak—the country's highest point—is located near Congo's eastern border with Uganda and reaches 16,765 feet (5,110 m) above sea level. Several large lakes also lie along the eastern borders, including Lakes Albert, Kivu, Tanganyika, and Mwera.

Congo has four main climatic regions. Near the equator, the country is hot and humid. To the north and south of the equator, the climate is tropical. The west coast has a temperate climate, while the mountain areas have cool, wet weather.

The People

Almost three-quarters of Congo's population lives in rural areas. The majority of people live in the eastern highlands and along the region's major rivers. The country averages 50 people per square mile (21 people per sq km), but its urban centers are more highly concentrated.

A small wealthy class lives in the capital, Kinshasa and enjoys some Western-style conveniences. In many cities, the poor live in slums and shantytowns. The rural poor live in small thatched huts. It is difficult for Congo's people to mix modern and traditional values because they are so different. The government strongly promotes loyalty to African heritage.

Due to frequent political conflicts and economic collapse, the social conditions in Congo are not good. Much of the country lives in poverty. Most families are large—the average woman has more than 6 children. Half of the Congolese population is under the age of 15.

The healthcare system receives little funding and offers few services. Because treatment is often unavailable, infectious disease and death rates continue to rise. Malaria and AIDS are widespread throughout Congo. About 10% of all newborns die. The life expectancy at birth is less than 50 years.


The education budget receives little funding in Congo. Because of this, approximately 70% of the country's schooling is offered by the Catholic Church. About 78% of primary school-aged children go to school, but only 24% of children attend secondary school classes.

Congo has four universities. Two of these schools are in Kinshasa, one is located in Lumbumbashi, and one is in Kisangani. Approximately 60,000 students attend each university.


Type: Dictatorship

Structure: Executive

Leader: President


25,000 army personnel

60 tanks

0 major ships

22 combat aircraft

Popular Culture/Daily Life

The cities support and encourage the arts and cultural life in Congo. Music, dance, painting, and sculpture are very popular in the country. Congolese music is enjoyed throughout Africa, and it has inspired many national dances. Two of the main cultural institutions in Congo are The Academy of Fine Arts and the National Institute of the Arts.

Many different sports are also popular in Congo, including soccer, swimming, boxing, and basketball. Riverboat racing also draws large crowds.