The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the largest countries in Africa
The third largest country in Africa is the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire. At the turn of the century, this equatorial Central African state experienced a bloody war that claimed five million lives. The Democratic Republic of Congo borders several African countries such as Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
Features of Congo’s location
The natural border with several states is the mighty Congo River, which forms a peculiar semicircle. The Congo River is the second largest river in the world after the Amazon and has the second largest river basin. Its main tributaries include the Kasai, Sangha, Ubangi, Aruvimi and Lulongu. Thus, most of the Democratic Republic of Congo is covered by the Congo basin. At the western end of its territory, the country has access to the Atlantic Ocean, with a coastline of about 40 km.
Location of the Congo
The equator runs through the northern part of the country with a belt of mostly savannah and forest. To the east rise the Ruwenzori Mountains, whose highest peak, Marguerite, is 5,109 meters high. Other mountain ranges fringing the edge of the Great Rift Valley are also very high. The DRC also has important lakes, the largest of which are Tanganyika, Albert, Edward, Kivu, Mweru, and others. Much of the Congo is also covered by the Congo rainforest, which is the second largest in the world after the Amazon rainforest.
Colonization by Europeans
The territory of today’s Democratic Republic of Congo began to be discovered and colonized by Europeans in the 1970s. King Leopold II of Belgium declared the land his property in 1885 and named it the Free State of Congo. He wanted to capitalize on the extraction of natural resources by terrorizing the local population. Under his rule, the population halved to about 10 million. His actions were criticized and the Congo became a Belgian colony called the Belgian Congo. During this period the country prospered, infrastructure was built and the population was educated.
In 1960, the Republic of the Congo was created. However, the same name was adopted by the then French Congo (today’s Republic of Congo) to the west. Until 1964 the two countries bore the same name, but then the Congo was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo . The post-independence period is associated with many struggles, political unrest in the country, and frequent changes of government.
Colonization by Europeans
In 1990 the Third Republic, Zaire, was proclaimed, which should have led to democratic reforms. In 1994, however, a civil war broke out and the country was flooded with refugees from Rwanda. The Rwandan genocide was one of the causes of the war. More than a million civilians moved into the Congo, and with them the turmoil that engulfed their country. It was originally a conflict between members of the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.
The regime was overthrown in 1997, and two years later a cease-fire agreement was signed that did not prevent the fighting. In particular, the eastern part of the country remains unprotected, and people in the country are constantly dying because of inter-ethnic disputes. The conflict in Congo and Rwanda was and still is the bloodiest since World War II. More than 5 million lives have been lost to it. However, since 2002, the situation in the Congo has been relatively stable and has slightly improved.
The DR Congo is now home to approximately 70 million people, comprising 250 ethnic groups. The vast majority of the population is Bantu, such as Luba, Congo or Mongo. French is the official language, but Swahili, Congolese or Chiluba are also very common. About 42% of the Congo is illiterate and 40% of the population suffers from long-term malnutrition. As much as 80% of the population is Catholic, the rest are animist or Afro-Christian sects such as Kimbangism.
The country is rich in minerals; there are deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, uranium, cobalt, tantalum, etc. Oil is also exported from the country . This wealth is also one of the reasons for the constant turmoil and the country still faces economic problems and is one of the poorest countries in the world. The Democratic Republic of Congo also boasts great natural wealth.
The Congo is home to up to 10,000 plant species, many of which are very rare. These include baobabs, mahogany, lima or African nuts. The savannahs are also home to the rare iroko palm, red cedar and sabal. The animal life is also numerous, with gorillas, chimpanzees and striped seagulls in the rainforests, and giraffes, zebras and buffalos roaming the savannahs, watched over by packs of lions. White rhinos are some of the most unique animals in the world.
There are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Congo. There are three national parks in the east of the country: Kahuzi-Biega with a population of up to 300 mountain gorillas and other primates, Okapi with about 30,000 striped okapi and Virunga also with a population of mountain gorillas. Also to the north is the Garamba Protected Area, which protects large animals that are the target of poachers, and a hard-to-reach reserve in the Salonga River basin to the west that is home to mostly elephants and buffalo. These national parks would be very interesting from a tourist point of view, but both the poor infrastructure and the unstable security situation in the country prevent them from being visited.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), located in the center of the African continent, is the largest country in Africa with an area of 2,345,409 km². 9/10 of its territory is in the Congo basin (here it is called, as the country, Zaire). In the far west, the Democratic Republic of Congo has access to the Atlantic Ocean on a very short stretch of coastline between Angola and the Congo. The equator crosses the country for 1,300 km. The official language is French.
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Geography and climate
The surface of the Democratic Republic of the Congo resembles a huge dish slightly tilted toward the Atlantic Ocean: the Congo depression is in the middle (the lowest part of the territory) and a closed ring of uplands is on the edges. The bottom of the depression is a marshy plain formed by the Congo River and its tributaries and is bordered by an amphitheater of terraces and plateaus ranging in height from 500 to 1,000 m. To the southwest, the depression is separated from the ocean by the South Guinea Highlands. In the south of the depression, near the watershed of the Congo and Zambezi Rivers, the height is even higher – 1200-1500 m. In the southeast, the Mitumba Mountains, the Manica Plateau and Kundegungu rise flat. The eastern part of the country, the edge of the East African Plateau, is the most elevated. Here, from north to south stretches a giant arc of deep depressions of the East African Fracture Zone, which includes a chain of Great African Lakes: Mobutu-Sese Seko, Edward, Kivu, Tanganyika, Mweru. The surrounding hollows mountain ranges rise up to 2-3 thousand meters, especially it is crowned with snow massif Ruwenzori with the third highest peak in Africa – Margerita Peak (5109 m). Between Lake Edward and Lake Kivu is the Virunga massif with high seismicity: it includes more than 100 volcanoes. The highest of them, Karisimbi (4,507 m), is already extinct, but Nyiragongo (3,450 m) and Nyamlagira volcanoes have erupted many times in the last century (one of the most powerful eruptions occurred in 1977).
The Democratic Republic of Congo has the densest river network in Africa. The rivers, fed by rain and underground springs, are full of rapids and waterfalls. The largest and best-known waterfalls are the picturesque multi-stage Venus Staircase on the Isakha River (Upper Zaire), the Guillaume Falls on the three branches of the Kwango River, the 340-meter Kaloba Falls on the Lovoi River, the seven-stage Stanley Falls (upper Congo), and the cascade of 70 Livingstone Falls in the lower Congo near the ocean. Many rivers in the upper reaches of the flow in narrow gorges among rocks up to 400 m high, forming stormy canyons (such as Port d’Anfer – “Hell Gate” – in the upper Congo near the city of Kongolo), but in the middle and lower reaches are quieter and navigable.
The climate of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is predominantly equatorial and constantly humid, in the southern half and on the northern edge – subequatorial. Average air temperatures are 25-28 ° C, but daily variations reach 10-15 ° C. Rainfall in the equatorial zone is 1700-2200 mm per year, with particularly heavy rains from March to May and September to November. Equatorial showers in these months are strong, but brief (usually in the afternoon). Farther from the equator (to the south and north) dry periods are more pronounced: in the north from March to November, in the south – from October-November to March-April. Rainfall is less – up to 1200 mm. In the mountains it is cooler and precipitation is higher – up to 2500 mm.
Flora and fauna
More than half of the Democratic Republic of Congo is covered by evergreen tropical rainforests, with about 50 highly valued tree species and hundreds of others. As you move away from the equator, the forests become thinner and grow mostly along river valleys. Sometimes the crowns of trees close over a narrow river bed, forming a green tunnel or gallery, hence the name, gallery forests. In the south and far north, high grass savannahs with sparsely growing trees (the so-called park savannah) prevail. In the mountains, at lower altitudes, the vegetation is the same as that of the plains, but conifers (podocarpus, junipers) and tree ferns appear in the forests; at an altitude of 3000-3500 m, thickets of bamboo and tree heather predominate, and high-altitude meadows begin above.
The fauna of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is exceptionally diverse: the equatorial forests of the central basin are inhabited by lemurs and monkeys, small antelopes, warthogs, okapi (ungulates kindred to giraffes, but with a shorter neck and the color of the back of the body resembling a zebra). In one of the national parks – Kahuzi-Biegu – you can see mountain gorillas. The savanna is populated by antelopes, gazelles, giraffes, elephants, rhinos (including the rare white rhino), lions, leopards and hyenas. Many lizards, turtles and snakes (many of them, such as black and green mambas, very poisonous). Of birds, ostriches, bustards, and guinea fowls are found in open spaces, while peacocks, parrots, hoopoes, and woodpeckers are found in the forests. Rivers and lakes abound with fish – up to a thousand species. Almost 15% of the territory is occupied by reserves and national parks, the most famous of which are Virunga, Upemba, Garamba, North Salonga and South Salonga.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is among the five most populous African countries in terms of population – 78,736,153 (2016) – but the distribution of inhabitants across the territory is uneven: the forests are virtually unpopulated, while the population density of the eastern lakeside is a hundred times higher. The ethnic composition of the population is very complex: there are more than 200 peoples and small ethnic communities. Most of them belong to the Bantu language group (Bacombo, Bapende, Bayaka, and others). The Bantu are predominantly agricultural peoples; they raise cattle only in the eastern, tsetse fly-free areas. Bantu are skilled artisans, famous for their metal works, woodcarving (statuettes of Bakuba people, masks of Bapende), inlaid musical instruments etc. In the north of the country live Azande and other Adamaoua peoples of the eastern subgroup, who have also largely preserved their traditional culture and are known for their pottery, pinga throwing knives and construction of fortifications. The next largest group of peoples, the Nilots, who live on the border with Uganda and Sudan, are predominantly engaged in cattle breeding. In the equatorial forests live tribes of Pygmies.
The largest cities
The capital, Kinshasa (about 12 million inhabitants), is the economic center of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a major transportation hub. The city center has a quite European appearance. Against the background of modern buildings stands out the Cathedral of St. Anne, built in 1919 in the neo-Gothic style and surrounded by a park with a complex of buildings in the same style. A beautiful view of the city and its surroundings can be seen from the Ngaliema mountain. The city has many hotels, the most original of which is the Okapi, which consists of one-story houses connected by covered galleries. The main port of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Matadi, is located on the rocky bank of the Congo River. The port city of Boma was the capital of the medieval Songo Empire. The valley town of Likasi, with several scientific institutes and a mineralogical museum, is picturesque. One of the oldest towns is Kisangani, founded by G. Stanley in 1883. Other major cities are Ngungu, Lubumbashi, Kolwezi, Kananga, Mbuji-Mayi, Bukavu, Mbandaka, Bandundu.