In Focus: The Democratic Republic of Congo
In Focus: The Democratic Republic of Congo
Introduction and Geography
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It is divided by the Equator, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly called Zaire. It is the third largest country on the African continent and up to present, the country is still the ancestral homeland for over 200 ethnic groups, with majority descending from individual kingdoms established long before the Europeans arrived in the late 1800s. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country situated in Central Africa. It was formerly named as Middle Congo, a French Equatorial Africa. Middle Congo gained its independence from their French colonizers in 1960. The newly established nation was given the name “Congo (Brazzaville)”. The name “Congo” was given in order to differentiate it from its larger neighbor the former Belgian Congo (Pagan, 2002).
Heale (1999) reported that the Democratic Republic of Congo has a land area of 344,900 sq km/905,366 sq mi. Kinshasa is the capital city of Democratic Republic of Congo. Lubumbashi, Kananga, Mbuji-Mayi, Kisangani, Kolwezi, Likasi, Boma are the major cities comprising the Democratic Republic of Congo.The other provinces found in the country are as follows; Bandundu, Bas-Congo, Equateur, Kasai-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, Katanga, Maniema, Nord-Kivu, Orientale and Sud-Kivu. Matadi, Kalemie are the two major ports of the country. The Ubangi is a tributary of the Congo, as are the Sangha and the other large rivers of the north. The Ubangi and the Congo rivers form most of the border between the Congo and Zaire. Heale (1999) stated that the Democratic Republic of Congo is bounded by Cameroon and Central African Republic in the north; Zaire in the east; Zaire and Angola in the south; Atlantic Ocean in the west, and Gabon completes its northwest boundary. The highest point of the country is Mt. Stanley having an elevation point of 5,110 m or 16,765 ft.; the lowest point is the Atlantic Ocean. Savannah and park forests vegetation predominate the north and south of part of the country. All major rivers are tributaries of the Zaire; these include the Lomani, the Aruwimi or Ituri, the Itimburi, the Mongala, the Ugangi, the Uélé, the Kasaim the Sankuru, the Lulua, the Kwango and the Kwilu. The largest lakes include Tanganyika, Albert, Edward, Kivu, Mweru, Leopols II and Tumba.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is dominated by the Congo River. Tropical rainforests are vastly distributed throughout the country making it the second-largest existing in the world. Savannahs and mountains are found in the eastern and western part of the country. The country are surrounded by its major rivers namely Ubangi (Cubangui) and the Congo (called the Zaire in the country of that name). The famous lakes are Tanganyika, Albert, Edward, Ruwenzori Range. Due to its geographic location, equatorial sunsets may be observed all over the country. It has a tropical climate marked by high temperatures and humidity. Rainstorms and precipitations are seldom in a year. It was in 1997 that the country was officially named Democratic Republic of the Congo. But Mobutu’s downfall faded as the autocratic style of Kabila materialized, where there is no clear plan for reconstructing the country (Likaka, 1997).
Pagan (2002) reported that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is abundant to various natural resources and mineral wealth. Agriculture is the main source of living in the country, accounting for 57.9% of GDP of the country in 1997. The main crops produced by the country are as follows: coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea, and cocoa. Food crops include cassava, plantains, maize, groundnuts, and rice. The country is also known for their forest products such as Okoume, Limba and Mahogany. But because of serious tree depletion, exporting of forests products had been limited. Fishing is also a souce of their income but only small portions of the the population are partaking this job, particularly those Congoloses residing near the Atlantic Ocean.
As for the industrial aspect, mining has been an important source of income for Congolese’s economy. The Democratic Republic of Congo was named as the world’s fourth-largest producer of industrial diamonds in the 1980’s. Aside from diamonds, copper and cobalt are also abundant in the country. Petroleum production is also important for the Congolese economy. Kinshasa and Lubumbashi are the country’s most important industrial centers. For manufacturing, processed copper, zinc, and cassiterite; refined petroleum; basic consumer goods such as processed food, beverages, clothing, and footwear; and cement are produced. Hydroelectricity is also part of their economy due to the Congo rivers and its tributaries but only a small but significant percentage The chief hydroelectric facilities are situated in Katanga aiding the power supply for the mining industry (Heale, 1999).
The present current rate : 566.95 Congolese Francs = 1 US dollar
People and Daily Life
Likaka (1997) stated that Congolese population is made up of 200 ethnic groups wherein majority is fluent in speaking the Bantu language. Also there are Nilotic speakers that are situated in the north near Sudan and scattered groups of Pygmies. The principal Bantu-speaking ethnic groups are the Kongo, Mongo, Luba, Bwaka, Kwango, Lulua, Lunda, and Kasai. The Alur are the main Nilotic speakers. French is the Congo’s official language though a small portion of the population speaks it. Swahili, Lingala Tshilaba are also common languages.
Most of the Congolese and the other races inhabiting the country are Roman Catholics representing 50% of the population and 20% are Protestants. While some people adhere to the beliefs of their ancestors that is Kimbanguism, there is an indigenous Christian church. There are also those who opted to follow the teachings of Allah. There are about 10% Muslims in the country (Pagan, 2002).
In both urban and rural areas, substandard houses are the usual form of shelter. This simple form of dwellings is made of mud and sticks. Overcrowding is typical within these houses wherein more than one person occupies a room; thus it follows that more than half of the population has been denied access to decent sanitation. Due to the civil war that occurred from 1997-2000, people and their houses had been destroyed but because some were internally displaced, they opted to return and reside in their uninhabitable houses. Reconstruction went underway. Living in bungalow style houses may give Congolese more comfort but this set-up seems far at hand since there are still many problems to be solved in order to accord them with comfortable housing (Likaka, 1997).
The older members of the Congolese communities have clothes made up of raffia and bark, but at present, these forms of clothing are used in ceremonial or ritual rites. The culture brough about by other nations particulalrly the Westerners had influnced their way of clothing. During the era of Mobutu, a kind of Mao suit called the abacost was promoted to deviate from the influence of the Westerners to the Congolese. Ties and Western-style jackets were banned. But because abacost was relatively expensive, men opted to wear patterned shirts which are cheaper compared to abacost (Pagan, 2002).
For the women, they wrap theirselves with a printed cloth and a kerchief to cover their hair. They wear jewelries on special events only. Their way of dressing exude elegance as it is associated with the soukous and rhumba music. The same may be observed with the men, with their clothing being greatly influenced by theWesterners, African-American hip hop fashion is in. Even some young Congolese designers have made their way to success in the globally renowned fashion scene of Paris (Heale, 1999).
Heale (1999) reported that the foodcrops that they produce are part of their daily meals which include maize, rice, cassavas, sweet potatoes, trao, plantain, tomatoes, pumpkins and varieties of peas and nuts. But the most important are coffee and palm oil. Foodcrop are important sources of their economy though only 3% of their land area is arable.
Congolese meals have much starchy ingredients. Vegetables and meat are their favorites particularly in making stew. Fufu or ugali is food made of cassava and flour with a paste like texture. Most of their food are made from their favorite crops as well, kwanga, their bread made up of cassava. Lituma is a popular plantain dish made from mashed ball-formed plaintains and baked and sweet potatoes are cooked the same way. Rice is not one of their staple foods but if served, it is mixed with beans. These starchy foods are accompanied by green leafy vegetables. Congolese are not fond of eating meat because of its high price compared to vegetables and fruits. Fish is also common in their daily meal, which is baked, boiled or fried. Insects such as grasshoppers and catterpillars are eaten, they are fried having a nutty flavor (Likaka,1997).
They also have restaurants. Nganda restaurants are found in their capital city, Kinshasa. In these restaurants, the foods served are from the ethnic groups to the food cooked by the Westerners. In these reaturants, people can experience the taste of food from the different regions of the world (Liebowits, 2005).
The holidays celebrated in DRC is same with other countries such as New Year’s Day, Easter, Labor Day, Independence Day, All Saints’ Day and Christmas Day are recognized holidays. The other holidays recognized by the government and usually these holidays are for the workers and as well as their employers. They also celebrate Martry’s Day every 4th of January, Lumumba and Kabila Heroes’ day celebrated on the 17th and 18th of January respectively. They also recognize Education and Youth day, celebrated o evry 30th of April. Fishermen are also given importance as every 24th of June deicated in their honor (Liebowits, 2005).
For communication, telephones, cell phones and internet are available. However, the usage of internet is limited due to power supply shortage. Their means of transportation is through their river system which surrounds the country and through their railroad system (Heale, 1999).
The National Museum of Art in Kinshasa would be the most interesting to place to visit. It is where we could see the history of the country and the people. The exquisite Zairian art can be seen here, exuding their ingenuity and creativity in arts. Aside from taking a look at their arts, it is also suggested to visit their several parks showing their abundant natural resoruces. Aside from it, animals such as antelopes and babboons could also be seen in their parks that can be tropical raiforest, savannahs, grasslands. It is also best to visit the country from June to September, one must avoid the rainy seasons to be able to explore the country and most of all be able to experience its safari adventure.
For the moment, the plans of visiting the country must be postponed due to ongoing civil unrest. The safety of the traveller is at risk; thus it is better to reschedule the visit when the unrest is already settled to optimally enjoy the scenic attractions and safari adventure. Even the capital of Kinshasha is not a safe place to visit because heavy fighting breaks out unexpectedly.
But if the travel is needed, vaccines for Heapatitis A and B, meningitis, malaria, rabies, typhoid, yellow fever and other preventive medication must be administered to the traveller, to avoid acquring those diseases which are very rampant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Liebowits, 2005).
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a very remarkable history as it fought many wars to achieve the independence that had been usurped from them by the Westerners. The country has been blessed with various resources but it is not utilized properly, also the inhabitants are at war due to the differences in ideals – these problems must be resolve first in order to achieve progress for the country and for its citizens.
Heale, J. (1999). Democratic Republic of the Congo.2nd ed. Marshall Cavendish
Liebowits, D. (2005).The Last Expedition: Stanley’s Mad Journey Through the Congo. W. W.
Norton & Company, USA.
Likaka, O. (1997) Rural Society and Cotton in Colonial Zaire. University of Wisconsin Press,
Pagan, P. (2002). Black Livingstone: A True Tale of Adventure in the Nineteenth
Century Congo. Viking Adult Publishing.USA.