The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is a Central African country straddling the equator. Home to a melting pot of different ethnicities and fascinating cultures, DR Congo is blessed with a stunning array of natural landscapes such as gushing rivers, wide savanna plains, snow-clad mountains, and dense rainforests. The country is extremely rich in natural resources but has suffered from chronic political instability. Here are some interesting facts about DR Congo.
Facts about DR Congo
1. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also known as DR Congo, DRC, DROC, Congo-Kinshasa, and East Congo.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is often referred to as DR Congo, DRC, DROC, East Congo, and sometimes Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from the neighboring Republic of the Congo which is often referred to as the Congo Republic or Congo-Brazzaville.
2. DR Congo is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa.
DR Congo has a total area of 2,345,409 km² (905,567 sq mi), making it the second-largest country in Africa (behind Algeria) and the 11th largest country in the world. Comparatively, DR Congo is slightly less than one-fourth the size of the US.
Roughly one-third of DR Congo lies to the north of the equator and two-thirds of the country lies to the south.
3. DR Congo shares a border with nine countries.
DR Congo is bordered to the northwest by the Republic of the Congo (1,229 km/764 mi), to the north by the Central African Republic (1,747 km,/1,086 mi), to the northeast by South Sudan (714 km/444 mi), to the south and southeast by Zambia (2,332 km/1,449 mi), to the southwest by Angola (2,646 km/1,644 mi), to the east by Uganda (877 km/545 mi), Rwanda (221 km/137 mi), Burundi (236 km/147 mi), and Tanzania (479 km/298 mi).
4. DR Congo has a 37 km (23 mi) long coastline.
DR Congo has the world’s sixth-shortest coastline for a sovereign nation. DR Congo would be landlocked if it weren’t for the country’s 37 km (23 mi) coastline along the Atlantic Ocean in the extreme west of the country.
5. DR Congo is home to Africa’s third tallest mountain.
Mont Ngaliema (Mount Stanley) is a mountain located on the border between Uganda and DR Congo in the Rwenzori Mountains. With an elevation of 5,110 m (16,766 ft), Mont Ngaliema is the third highest in Africa (behind Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya).
6. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot in DR Congo.
One of the lesser-known facts about DR Congo is that the Portuguese were the first known Europeans to set foot in the country. In 1482, the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão visited the mouth of the Congo River, marking the first known European contact with DR Congo.
7. DR Congo was once part of the central and west African Kingdom of Kongo.
Established by Bakongo speaking people and formed around the great city of Mbanza Kongo, the Kingdom of Kongo was probably the most famous of the kingdoms which incorporated much of present-day western DRC near the mouth of the Congo River. The Kingdom of Kongo ruled much of this region from the 14th to 19th centuries.
8. DR Congo was also part of the powerful Luba and Lunda Empires.
In the 16th century, the powerful Luba Kingdom developed in what is now Katanga Province in south-central DR Congo, and soon afterward the Lunda Empire was established. These empires ruled much of this region until the 19th century.
9. DR Congo gets its name from the Congo River.
DR Congo’s name derives from the Congo River, which flows throughout the country. The Congo River is the second-longest river in Africa (after the Nile River) and also the world’s deepest recorded river. The Congo River itself is named after the Kingdom of Kongo once located on the southern bank of the river.
10. DR Congo has had five different official names since the 19th century.
One of the interesting facts about the Democratic Republic of Congo is that it has had five different official names since the 19th century. The different names DR Congo has had in chronological order are – the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, the Republic of the Congo-Léopoldville, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of Zaire, before reverting to its current name the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
11. Between 1885 and 1908, DR Congo came under the personal possession of Belgium’s King Leopold II.
During the Scramble for Africa to fuel the demand for resources such as gold, timber, and rubber, Belgium’s King Leopold II set up a private venture to colonize DR Congo from the 1870s onwards.
In 1878, the monarch formed the International African Association, a development company to oversee the exploration and surveying of a territory based around the Congo River, with himself as the chief stockholder. The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 recognized the Congo Free State (Independent State of the Congo), set up by Leopold II under his personal rule, and the country’s ultimate boundaries were established by treaties with other colonial powers.
Although Leopold’s regime initiated various infrastructure projects, his rule became notorious for its brutal, exploitative regime that relied on forced labor to cultivate and trade rubber, ivory, and minerals. Wide-scale oppression such as flogging, chopping off the limbs of enslaved Congolese, and killing was a routine form of retribution when the monarch’s quotas were not met.
International criticism and investigation of the treatment of the Congolese, particularly on the rubber plantations, resulted in the end of Leopold II’s personal rule in 1908. Historians dispute the true number, but it is believed that perhaps 5-10 million Congolese died as a result of a combination of executions, famine, and disease during this period.
12. DR Congo became a Belgian colony in 1908.
Due to the widespread reports of deaths and abuse of the Congolese and pressure from international groups, the Belgian government took over the administration of DR Congo from Leopold II as a new territory, the Belgian Congo.
13. DR Congo gained independence in 1960.
In the 1950s, the pan-African momentum for breaking free from the shackles of colonialism was rapidly catching on in the Belgian Congo (as DR Congo was known back then. On 30 June 1960, DR Congo finally gained full independence from Belgium.
14. Between 1965 and 1997, DR Congo was under the dictatorial rule of Mobutu Sese Soko, one of Africa’s most corrupt dictators.
In November 1965, Gen. Joseph Desiré Mobutu, commander-in-chief of the Congolese National Army, seized power in a coup d’état and assumed the presidency of DR Congo.
As president, Mobutu embarked on a campaign to Africanize names and in October 1971 changed the name of the country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Republic of Zaire. In January 1972 he changed his own name from Joseph-Désiré Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (“The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”) or Mobutu Sese Seko for short.
Mobutu created a one-party state that concentrated all power in his hands. By staging several sham elections and using brutal force, he held on to power for over 31 years. His reign was marked by human rights abuses and he would imprison, torture, and kill his political opponents. Mobutu enjoyed the support of the West because of his anti-Soviet stance and as long as the country’s minerals flowed their way.
Most famously, Mobutu Sese Soko is remembered for bleeding DR Congo dry while millions of Congolese were mired in poverty. His highly centralized government allowed him, his family members, and his cronies to loot the state coffers whenever they pleased.
According to conservative estimates, Mobutu pilfered at least $4–5 billion USD from his country, and some sources put the figure as high as $15 billion USD. This degree of theft eventually led to DR Congo’s economic collapse in 1996. His reign of terror came to an end in May 1997 when he was ousted by rebel forces and three months later he died from prostate cancer in Morocco.
15. DR Congo is one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world.
DR Congo is Africa’s most biodiverse nation and the world’s second-largest rainforest, the Congolese Rainforest, which is part-located in the country. It makes up one of the most important wilderness areas on Earth and is home to approximately 10,000 plant species, 400 mammal species, 1,000 bird species, and 700 fish species.
A great number of rare and endemic species, such as the common chimpanzee, the bonobo, the African forest elephant, the mountain gorilla, the okapi, and the white rhino can be found in the lush jungles of DR Congo. Unfortunately, the numbers of these beautiful animals have dwindled due to poaching.
16. DR Congo is home to Africa’s oldest national park.
Established in 1925, Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and is located in northeastern DR Congo. The park is home to a spectacular array of wildlife including chimpanzees, elephants, and a third of the world’s mountain gorillas.
Virunga National Park is also home to beautiful natural landscapes such as swamps, steppes, glacier-clad mountains, as well as the active stratovolcano Mount Nyiragongo.
17. The official language of DR Congo is French.
French is the sole official language of DR Congo and serves as a lingua franca among the country’s various ethnic groups. French is used in print, in the media, in higher education, in the judicial system, and in public services.
18. DR Congo is home to a smorgasbord of ethnic groups.
One of the fascinating DR Congo facts is how ethnically diverse the nation’s population is. There are over 200 different ethnic groups in DR Congo, of which the majority are Bantu.
The major Bantu groups in the country are the Mongo, the Kongo, the Luba, the Lunda, the Bemba, the Ngala, the Buja, the Bira, and the Kasai. DR Congo is also home to non-Bantu groups such as the Azande, the Mangbetu, the Banda, the Alur, the Kakwa, and the Bari. The forests of the country are home to the ethnic group of Pygmy people, known for their short stature – typically under 1.5 m (5 ft) tall.
19. A wide assortment of regional languages are spoken in DR Congo.
Although over 200 regional languages are spoken throughout DR Congo, only four of these have been recognized as national languages. The four national languages of Swahili, Tshiluba, Lingala, and Kikongo are used in regional commerce and on the radio.
20. A majority of the population of DR Congo is Christian.
Approximately 90-95% of DR Congo’s population is Christian. The rest of the population adheres to Islam and indigenous beliefs.
21. The capital of DR Congo is Kinshasa.
Set on the banks of the Congo River in the southwest of the country, Kinshasa is the capital of DR Congo. Formerly known as Léopoldville, Kinshasa is also DR Congo’s commercial and cultural hub.
Kinshasa is home to the third-largest metropolitan area in Africa (behind Cairo and Lagos) and is also the world’s largest city where French is the official language.
22. Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the capital of the neighboring Republic of the Congo are the closest capital cities in the world (with the exception of Vatican City and Rome).
Kinshasa and Brazzaville sit on opposite shores of the mighty Congo River almost within shouting distance (3.2 km/2 mi) of each other. This makes them the closest capital cities in the world (with the exception of Vatican City and Rome since Rome completely encloses Vatican City).
23. DR Congo’s untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $24 trillion USD.
One of the most mind-blowing facts about DR Congo is how rich the country is in terms of untapped natural resources. Almost every valuable resource can be found in DR Congo and the country is endowed with vast natural resources including copper, niobium, cassiterite, bauxite, tantalum, petroleum, platinum, iron ore, gold, silver, zinc, tungsten, manganese, uranium, coal, hydropower, and timber.
DR Congo has 70% of the world’s coltan, nearly half of its cobalt, and more than 30% of the world’s diamond reserves. Due to the importance of cobalt in producing lithium-ion batteries that drive electric vehicles, DR Congo has sometimes been called “the Saudi Arabia of the electric vehicle age”.
Unfortunately, this vast natural wealth has brought nothing but suffering and misery to the majority of Congolese people, while enriching a microscopic elite in DR Congo and their foreign backers. Not only has it failed to deliver economic benefits and development, but it has been the cause of numerous atrocities and grave human rights abuses like sexual assault and the use of child soldiers.
24. The currency of DR Congo is the Congolese franc (CDF).
The Congolese Franc (CDF) has been the currency of DR Congo since 1997 when it took over from the Zairean new zaire.
25. DR Congo has the world’s third-highest fertility rate.
With an average of 5.70 children born per woman, DR Congo is only behind Angola and Niger in terms of fertility rate.
26. DR Congo has two time zones.
Since DR Congo is a large country, it encompasses two different time zones – UTC+1 to +2 (WAT and CAT). The country doesn’t observe daylight saving.
27. In World War II, the uranium for the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from a mine in southeast DR Congo.
One of the more obscure facts about DR Congo is that the uranium used to build the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from the Shinkolobwe mine in the province of Katanga in the southeast of the country.
28. There are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in DR Congo.
All the five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in DR Congo are national parks. They are the Garamba National Park, Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Salonga National Park, Virunga National Park, and Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
29. Since its independence in 1960, DR Congo has had eight different national flags.
Quite remarkably, DR Congo has changed its national flag eight times since the country attained independence in 1960. The current national flag of DR Congo was adopted in 2006.
30. Football is the most popular sport in DR Congo.
Like in most African countries, football is indisputably the most popular sport in DR Congo. The DR Congo men’s national football team is one of the most successful national teams in Africa. They are nicknamed “The Leopards”.
The Congolese national football team was the first sub-Saharan African team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup (in 1974 as Zaire) and have won the African Cup of Nations twice – in 1968 and 1974.
31. The largest lava lake in the world can be found in DR Congo.
One of the coolest facts about DR Congo is that it is home to the world’s largest lava lake. The largest lava lake in the world can be found inside the crater of the 3,470 m (11,385 ft) tall Mount Nyiragongo Volcano, which has erupted at least 34 times since 1882.
Nyiragongo’s main crater is about 2 km (1.24 mi) wide and contains an active lava lake. The diameter and depth of the lake fluctuate according to volcanic activity but it is roughly about 200 m (656 ft) wide. The fiery pit of red-hot lava boils and bubbles at 2,000°C (3,632°F), with spurts up to 10 m (33 ft) tall and gas explosions bursting like fireworks.
32. DR Congo was the setting for Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.
Widely considered one of the greatest English novels of the 20th century, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness narrates the voyage of an English seaman into the Congo Free State and examines the horrors of Western colonialism. The novel famously provided the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now.
33. DR Congo hosted the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match.
On 30 October 1974, Zaire’s (now DR Congo) capital Kinshasa hosted the “Rumble in the Jungle”, one of the most legendary boxing matches of all time. Muhammad Ali reclaimed the world heavyweight title by winning the “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman by employing the “rope-a-dope” technique.
The Rumble in the Jungle fight has gone down as one of the major sporting events of the 20th century and was watched by an estimated audience of one billion viewers worldwide.
34. The national dish of DR Congo is Poulet à la Moambé.
Poulet à la Moambé, or chicken in red palm oil, is considered the national dish of DR Congo. This yummy dish is made by combining chicken, spices, and palm butter to create an oily stew-like consistency.
35. DR Congo is the second-most populous nation never to have won an Olympic medal.
Despite having competed in the Summer Olympic Games since 1968, no athlete from DR Congo has ever won a medal. This makes DR Congo the world’s second-most populous country (after Bangladesh) to never have won an Olympic medal. DR Congo has never competed in the Winter Olympics.
36. Since the 1990s DR Congo has been plagued by civil wars, conflict, and political upheaval.
One of the most tragic facts about DR Congo is that it has been plagued by chronic political instability and internal strife since the 1990s. The country has suffered two devastating civil wars – the First Congo War (1996-1997) and the Second Congo War (1998-2003).
The Second Congo War has been labeled “Africa’s World War”. Over 5.4 million people died due to war-related causes, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. Despite progress in moving the political transition forward, renewed clashes between armed factions operating in eastern DR Congo threaten to derail the process.
Large parts of eastern DR Congo still continue to experience unimaginable atrocities and anarchy. Ethnic and cultural differences have fanned the flames of the violence, while control of DR Congo’s copious mineral wealth has just exacerbated the fighting.