DR Congo country profile

Map of DR Congo

Map of DR Congo

The recent history of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been one of civil war and corruption.

It is rich in natural resources but has suffered from political instability, a lack of infrastructure, centuries of both commercial and colonial exploitation, and little widespread development since independence.

During the two Congo wars, from 1996-2003 the country was at the centre of what some observers call “Africa’s world war”, with widespread civilian suffering. The war claimed an up to six million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition.

Since the late-2000s, there has been continuing fighting in the east where a United Nations force is struggling to keep the peace.

  • Capital: Kinshasa

  • Area: 2,345,409 sq km

  • Population: 108.4 million

  • Languages: French, Kituba, Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba

  • Life expectancy: 59 years (men) 62 years (women)

President: Félix Tshisekedi

DR Congo President Félix Tshisekedi

DR Congo President Félix Tshisekedi

Opposition leader candidate Félix Tshisekedi became president in January 2019 after protracted political wrangling in the wake of a controversial election the previous month.

Rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu accused him of cutting a deal with the government, whose own candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary finished third. Mr Tshisekedi succeeded Joseph Kabila, who had become president when his own father Laurent was assassinated in 2001.

The new president also came from a political dynasty, as his father Étienne was opposition leader and later prime minister under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the 1980s and 1990s.

Informal mining operation in DR Congo

Informal mining operations form a large part of DR Congo’s minerals industry

The Congolese media operate against a backdrop of political power struggles and unrest.

Reporters Without Borders says journalists face arrest, threats and violence.

The press carries criticism of the government, and some publications reflect opposition party views.

Radio is the leading medium. Radio Okapi, partly run by the local UN mission, is an influential outlet.

Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko

Mobutu Sese Seko ruled between 1965 and 1997, gaining notoriety for monopolising power and amassing a vast personal fortune

Some key dates in DR Congo’s history:

1200s – Rise of Kongo Empire, centred in modern northern Angola and including extreme western Congo and territories round lakes Kisale and Upemba in central Katanga (now Shaba).

16th-17th Centuries – British, Dutch, Portuguese and French merchants engage in slave trade through Kongo intermediaries.

1870s – Belgian King Leopold II sets up a private venture to colonise Kongo.

1884-85 – European powers at the Conference of Berlin recognise Leopold’s claim to the Congo basin. Leopold announces the establishment of the Congo Free State, headed by himself.

1908 – Belgian state annexes Congo amid protests over killings and atrocities carried out on a mass scale by Leopold’s agents. Millions of Congolese are said to have been killed or worked to death during Leopold’s control of the territory.

1959 – Belgium begins to lose control over events in the Congo following serious nationalist riots in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa).

1960 – Congo becomes independent with Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president.

1960 July – Congolese army mutinies; Moise Tshombe declares Katanga independent; Belgian troops sent in ostensibly to protect Belgian citizens and mining interests; UN Security Council votes to send in troops to help establish order, but the troops are not allowed to intervene in internal affairs.

1961 – Patrice Lumumba murdered, reportedly with US and Belgian complicity.

1963 – Moise Tshombe agrees to end Katanga’s secession.

1965 – Mobutu Sese Seko seizes power.

1977 – French, Belgian and Moroccan troops help repulse attack on Katanga by Angolan-based rebels.

1997 – Rebels oust Mobutu. Laurent Kabila becomes president.

1997-2003 – Civil war, drawing in several neighbouring countries. Dozens of armed groups fight on in the east, requiring a large United Nations military force to try to maintain order.

2006 – First free elections in four decades. Joseph Kabila wins the run-off vote.

2013 – 3,000-member UN Intervention Brigade deployed to fight and disarm rebels in the east.

2016 – President Kabila remains in power in violation of the constitution.

2019 – Officials declare opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi the winner of December’s presidential election.

2022 – DR Congo, UN, US and others accuse Rwanda of sending its soldiers to fight alongside M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo, who face accusations of carrying out war crimes against civilians. Rwanda denies this.

Fishermen on the shores of Lake Edward in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Virunga National Park, in the east of DR Congo, has been badly affected by the conflict in the region

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