Destination in brief
Democratic Republic of the Congo in brief
Democratic Republic of the Congo (henceforth: DC Congo) is a vast country located in Central Africa. DC Congo should not to be confused with the neighboring, much smaller Republic of Congo (Brazzaville Congo), a former French colony.
Neighbors: Republic of Congo (west), Central African Republic and Sudan (north), Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi (east), Angola and Zambia (south) – DC Congo has access to the ocean through a short, 40-kilometer (25 mi) stretch of Atlantic coastline (just enough to accommodate the mouth of the Congo River).
The country was a Belgian colony (named Belgian Congo) until 1960, when it became the independent Republic of the Congo. It was called Zaire between 1971-1997.
Size: 2,345,000 km² (905,400 mi²) – The second-largest African country (after Algeria) – DR Congo is larger than Germany, France, Spain, Norway, and Sweden put together.
Capital city: Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville) with a population of 7.7 million! (2020) – This is the second-largest French-speaking city of the world (the total metropolitan area of Paris being the first).
Kinshasa and Brazzaville, in the next-door Republic of Congo, are the closest capital cities in the world. A bridge across the Congo River still needs to be constructed to connect the two cities.
Population: 88.5 million (2020) – Life expectancy in DR Congo is 48 years for men and 52 for women.
Tourists should be cautious about taking pictures of locals as many believe that “capturing a person’s image” removes his/her spirit.
Languages: French is the official language, but about 240 local languages are spoken - Four indigenous languages have been recognized as having official status, namely Kikongo, Tshiluba, Lingala, and Kiswahili.
Many local languages exist in the country, so French makes it simple for the Congolese to talk to other citizens. By speaking French, they avoid conflicts about which native language should be a lingua franca. French also faciliate the Congolese to communicate easily with people of other francophone countries of Central and West Africa.
Religions: 80% Christian (43% Catholic, 38% Protestant), about 9% Muslim
Belief in witchcraft is common. Even children are often accused of being witches. Some of these kids get beaten, and others are even killed. But most become homeless after their families cruelly abandon them in the streets.
Political & economic situation: presidential republic – democratic, multi-party system
The political and security situation of DR Congo is fragile. The state is weak and presidential power has not been used efficiently enough to guarantee the internal stability of this vast country. Militant armed groups regularly terrorize civilians in some eastern parts of the country. Many of these groups are actually criminal organizations that use the profits from sales of minerals (tun, tantalum, tungsten and gold) to wage ruthless intimidation campaigns.
DR Congo is a country that has an abundance of natural resources and is home to some of the largest reserves of the most sought after mineral deposits on earth (gold, tantalum, tungsten, and tin – all minerals indispensable in electronics such as cell phones and laptops). Despite all this wealth, its population is still strikingly poor, mainly because of the continuing economic and social crisis resulting from the civil wars that hit the country in the 1990s.
Currency: Congolese franc (CDF)
Average net monthly salary for urban employees: 850 USD (2020) – but most people earn less than 60 USD/month. Almost 65% of the population has an income that falls below the poverty line.
Most common surname: Ilunga
The local beer, the Simba, is not only trendy, but its bottle is nearly twice the size of most beer bottles around the world.
Safety: Safety is terrible in some eastern and northern parts of the country. The big cities are safer than most countryside areas. Luckily the tourist attractions happen to be in reasonably safe regions. Military checkpoints along the roads are widespread.
Some eastern areas of the country are Ebola-stricken.
Optimal timing of a tourist visit: December-February for the north, May-September for the south
Top tourist attractions:
The top tourist attraction of DR Congo is visiting the mountain gorillas. There is no way to make such a visit individually. It is highly recommended to book an organized tour through a reliable tour operator or a local travel agency.
Major national parks: Virunga (oldest NP in Africa), Garamba, Kahuzi-Bieg, Salonga
Okapi Wildlife Reserve, the active volcano Nyiragongo, Zongo Falls, Lola Ya Bonobo (a sanctuary for orphaned bonobos)