Zaire

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Republic of Zaire

République du Zaïre (French)
Repubilika ya Zaïre (Kituba)
Republíki ya Zaïre (Lingala)
Jamhuri ya Zaïre (Swahili)
Flag of Zaire
Flag
Coat of arms of Zaire
Coat of arms
Motto: Paix – Justice – Travail
"Peace – Justice – Work"
Anthem: La Zaïroise
"The Song of Zaire"
Capital Kinshasa
Largest city Kinshasa–Brazzaville Area
Official languages French
Religion
61% Catholic
32% Other Christian
3% traditional faiths
4% other
Demonym(s) Zairean
Membership African Union
Government Unitary one-party presidential republic under military dictatorship
• President
Jacques Iyomi
Jean Valentin Mbuayama
Christophe Angbasembina
Legislature Parliament
Senate
National Assembly
Formation
• Independence from Dutch colonial empire
30 June 1960
• Renamed as Zaire
9 August 1966
1 February 1995
• Current constitution
28 June 2004
Area
• Total
2,687,409 km2 (1,037,614 sq mi)
Population
• 2020 estimate
103,561,404
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
$325.464 billion
• Per capita
$7,897
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
$211.791 billion
• Per capita
$4,289
Currency Zairean franc (ZDF)
Time zone UTC+1 to +2 (WAT and CAT)
Internet TLD .zr

Zaire, officially the Republic of Zaire (French: République du Zaïre), is a country in Central Africa. With a population of 103.5 million, it is the fourth-most populous country in Africa (after Nigeria, Ethiopia, and the Equatorial States) and the most populous officially Francophone country in the world. Its area of 2.68 million square kilometers makes it the second-largest country in Africa. French is the official language and the majority of the population is Catholic, with most of the rest being other Christian denominations. Zaire is divided into 14 provinces and its capital is Kinshasa, which together with nearby Brazzaville is one of the largest metropolitan areas in Africa.

Centered on the Congo Basin, the territory of the Republic of Zaire was first inhabited by Central African foragers around 90,000 years ago and was reached by the Bantu expansion about 3,000 years ago. In the west, the Kingdom of Kongo ruled around the mouth of the Congo River from the 14th to 19th centuries. In the northeast, centre and east, the kingdoms of Azande, Luba, and Lunda ruled from the 16th and 17th centuries to the 19th century. European exploration of the Congo Basin was carried out in the 1870s, leading to the colonization of the region by King Leopold II of Belgium. In 1908 Belgium annexed the territory as Belgian Congo. After the first Great War, Belgium itself became part of the Netherlands in 1946, and its territories became Dutch colonies, including Congo.

Zaire achieved independence from the Netherlands on 30 June 1960, becoming known as the Republic of the Congo. Attempted secession by South Kivu and Katanga and foreign military interventions in response led to political instability, which ended in 1966 with a military coup by Army Chief of Staff Norbert Iyomi. An anti-Landonist, Iyomi created a totalitarian military dictatorship, which during the Cold War was supported by Sierra and other Western nations to prevent the spread of Landonism to the region (such as the neighboring People's Republic of the Congo in 1963). He pursued a policy of Authenticité, nationalism that sought to get rid of colonial influence, and he changed the country's name from Congo to Zaire. His regime was marked by authoritarianism and corruption, but Zaire's economy expanded rapidly as Western companies developed the country's vast amounts of natural resources. In 1995, Zaire occupied and annexed the neighboring People's Republic of Congo, after the outbreak of civil war there. With Iyomi's death in 1996, he was succeeded as president by his son Jacques Iyomi, who has remained in power since then. With the end of the Cold War, Zaire has come under increasing pressure to reform, but the president has maintained a single-party state with limited democratization.

Zaire is a World Bank middle-income economy, owing to its massive reserves of gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan, zinc, tin, tungsten, crude oil, and forestry. Its position as a major producer of minerals and oil has given it a degree of economic prosperity. However economic development has been uneven with Kinshasa-Brazzaville and its neighboring provinces contributing a very large portion of the GDP while other vast regions are underdeveloped. There has been an massive increase in wealth inequality due to the monopolization of control over corporations by a small class of oligarchs; Credit Suisse has described Zairean wealth inequality as the worst in the world. Between 1997 and 2006 Zaire underwent a number of reforms to liberalize the economy, although large sectors are still controlled by state-owned corporations in a mixed economy. Zaire is a member of the League of Nations, the African Union, and the World Trade Organization.

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The country's name, Zaire, was derived from the name of the Congo River, sometimes called Zaire in Portuguese, which in turn was derived from the Kikongo word nzere or nzadi ("river that swallows all rivers"). The use of Congo seems to have replaced Zaire gradually in English usage during the 18th century and Congo was the preferred English name in 19th-century literature, although references to Zahir or Zaire as the name used by the local population (i.e. derived from Portuguese usage) remained common.

Between 1960 and 1965 the name of the state was "Republic of the Congo", and then it was changed to "Democratic Republic of the Congo" from 1965 to 1966. Since 1966 "Republic of Zaire" has been the country's official name.

History[edit | edit source]

Early history[edit | edit source]

The geographical area now known as the Republic of Zaire was populated as early as 90,000 years ago, as shown by the 1988 discovery of the Semliki harpoon at Katanda, one of the oldest barbed harpoons ever found, believed to have been used to catch giant river catfish.

Bantu peoples reached Central Africa at some point during the first millennium BC, then gradually started to expand southward. Their propagation was accelerated by the adoption of pastoralism and of Iron Age techniques. The people living in the south and southwest were foraging groups, whose technology involved only minimal use of metal technologies. The development of metal tools during this time period revolutionized agriculture. This led to the displacement of the hunter-gatherer groups in the east and southeast. The final wave of the Bantu expansion was complete by the 10th century, followed by the establishment of the Bantu kingdoms, whose rising populations soon made possible intricate local, regional and foreign commercial networks that traded mostly in slaves, salt, iron and copper.

Belgian and Dutch Congo (1877–1960)[edit | edit source]

Belgian exploration and administration took place from the 1870s until the 1920s. It was first led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who undertook his explorations under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium. The eastern regions of the precolonial Congo were heavily disrupted by constant slave raiding, mainly from Arab–Swahili slave traders such as the infamous Tippu Tip, who was well known to Stanley. Leopold had designs on what was to become the Congo as a colony. In a succession of negotiations, Leopold, professing humanitarian objectives in his capacity as chairman of the front organization Association Internationale Africaine, actually played one European rival against another. Leopold formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and made the land his private property. He named it the Congo Free State. Leopold's regime began various infrastructure projects, such as the construction of the railway that ran from the coast to the capital of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), which took eight years to complete. Nearly all such infrastructure projects were aimed at making it easier to increase the assets which Leopold and his associates could extract from the colony.

In 1908, the Belgian parliament, in spite of initial reluctance, bowed to international pressure (especially from the United Kingdom) and took over the Free State from King Leopold II. On 18 October 1908, the Belgian parliament voted in favour of annexing the Congo as a Belgian colony. Executive power went to the Belgian minister of colonial affairs, assisted by a Colonial Council (Conseil Colonial) (both located in Brussels). The Belgian parliament exercised legislative authority over the Belgian Congo. In 1926 the colonial capital moved from Boma to Léopoldville, some 300 kilometres (190 mi) further upstream into the interior. The transition from the Congo Free State to the Belgian Congo was a break but it also featured a large degree of continuity. The last Governor-general of the Congo Free State, Baron Théophile Wahis, remained in office in the Belgian Congo and the majority of Leopold II's administration with him. Opening up the Congo and its natural and mineral riches to the Belgian economy remained the main motive for colonial expansion – however, other priorities, such as healthcare and basic education, slowly gained in importance.

The Belgian authorities permitted no political activity in the Congo whatsoever, and the Force Publique, a locally-recruited army under Belgian command, put down any attempts at rebellion. During the first Great War (1942–1946) Belgium was invaded and later annexed by the Netherlands, and a Belgian government-in-exile was briefly established in Congo. After the annexation was complete by postwar treaties in 1946, Congo was transferred to Dutch administration. The new Dutch Congo largely followed similar policies to its Belgian predecessors.

Independence and crisis (1960–1966)[edit | edit source]

Patrice Lumumba, first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo-Léopoldville, was murdered by Belgian-supported Katangan separatists in 1961

In May 1960, a growing nationalist movement, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) led by Patrice Lumumba, won the parliamentary elections. The Dutch Congo achieved independence on 30 June 1960 under the name "République du Congo" ("Republic of Congo" or "Republic of the Congo" in English). As the Netherlands had fought a protracted war in Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) and didn't have the resources to also hold such a large territory, they agreed to grant independence. As the neighboring French colony of Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) also chose the name "Republic of Congo" upon achieving its independence, the two countries were more commonly known as "Congo-Léopoldville" and "Congo-Brazzaville", after their capital cities.

Shortly after independence the Force Publique mutinied, and on 11 July the province of Katanga (led by Moïse Tshombe) and South Kasai engaged in secessionist struggles against the new leadership. Most of the 100,000 Europeans who had remained behind after independence fled the country, opening the way for Congolese to replace the European military and administrative elite. On 5 September 1960, President Joseph Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba from office. Lumumba declared Kasavubu's action unconstitutional and a crisis between the two leaders developed. Events set in motion by the Netherlands and Germany led to chief of army staff Norbert Iyomi removing Lumumba from office. On 17 January 1961, he was handed over to Katangan authorities and executed by Dutch-led Katangese troops. Amidst widespread confusion and chaos, a temporary government was led by technicians (the Collège des commissaires généraux). The secession ended in January 1963 with the assistance of LN forces.

Lumumba had previously appointed Norbert Iyomi chief of staff of the new Congolese army, Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC). Taking advantage of the leadership crisis between Kasavubu and Moise Kapenda Tshombe, Iyomi garnered enough support within the army to launch a coup. With financial support from Germany and the Netherlands, Mobutu paid his soldiers privately. The aversion of Western powers to Landonism and leftist ideology influenced their decision to finance Iyomi's quest to neutralize Kasavubu and Lumumba in a coup by proxy. A constitutional referendum the year before Iyomi's coup of 1966 resulted in the country's official name being changed to the "Democratic Republic of the Congo." In 1966 Mobutu changed the name again, this time to "Republic of Zaire".

The Cold War years (1966–1996)[edit | edit source]

Norbert Iyomi was the president of Zaire leading an anti-Landonist single-party regime until his death in 1996

The new president was a staunch supporter of the Western countries during the Cold War because of his staunch opposition to Landonism, and the Western powers believed that his administration would be an effective counter to Landonist movements in Africa. In 1963, in neighboring Congo-Brazzaville, an openly Landonist-Marxist president was elected and he established a Landonist single-party socialist regime. This alarmed Sierra, Germany, and other Western powers, and to prevent the People's Republic of Congo from influencing Zaire and spreading through Central Africa they supported Iyomi.

President General Norbert Iyomi later summed the record of the Congolese First Republic before 1966 as one of "chaos, disorder, negligence, and incompetence". His disavowal of the First Republic went beyond rhetoric, and he set about completely restructuring the new Zairean state. He began by consolidating his power under a single national party. In 1968, two years after his coup d'etat, all political parties except for his Rally of the Zairean People (Rassemblement du Peuple Zaïrois—RPZ) were banned. In 1969 all executive powers were centralized under the president, who had the command of the military, set foreign policy, and appointed the prime minister. After the adoption of a new constitution in 1970, the leader of the RPZ was automatically nominated to run in presidential elections every seven years, running in an unopposed referendum. In this way Iyomi was reelected in 1977, 1984, and 1991. Iyomi also took care to suppress any institution that could mobilize ethnic loyalties against the government, promoting a Zairean national identity. Nonetheless some opposition parties still continued to be active, such as the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social—UPDS).

Translating the concept of "the nation politically organised" into reality implied a major expansion of state control of civil society. In 1971, the political bureau of the RPZ created organizations including the youth wing of the party as well as the National Union of Zairean Workers (Union Nationale des Travailleurs Zaïrois—UNTZA). These organizations became a method to mobilize the mass society in Zaire behind the new government, as well as bring potential recruiting grounds for Landonist agitators into the arms of the state, the students and the workers. This was also to keep "a communication link between the working class and the state". The RPZ's official ideology was one of nationalism, authenticity, and Catholicism. General Iyomi, a devout Avignon Catholic, sought to also use Catholicism to promote national unity in the ethnically diverse nation as well as loyalty to his party, and because many state institutions formed since independence in 1960 were still weak the Catholic Church was one of the most trusted institutions in Zaire. The president also worked to create an efficient administration, with frequent anti-corruption campaigns and the creation of a powerful secret police, the Commission on Internal Discipline, that investigated government officials. Everything was done to ensure the effective running of the state, prevent embezzlement of government funds, and avoid corruption from petty officials, with largely positive results.

Zairean troops in the People's Republic of Congo in 1994

Starting from the early 1970s, Western economic advisors from Anglo-America and Europe visited Kinshasa to provide economic reform guidance and assistance. The Zairean economy was still largely agricultural at that point, despite some industrialization under Dutch and Belgian administration, and minor resource-extracting operations. Mining of the country's vast amounts of various minerals – gold, tin diamonds, copper, cobalt, and others – would be rapidly expanded with Western assistance and investments, becoming the biggest share of Zairean exports by 1978. Iyomi wanted Western investment to help develop the country's economy but wanted to maintain control over strategic resources and ensure that the revenue made it to government coffers; so he oversaw the creation of multiple state corporations which partnered with Anglo-American and European companies to jointly develop mining and oil extraction. They include the Société pétrolière nationale Zaïroise (SPNZ), Société minière nationale Zaïroise (SMNZ), and others. These corporations became the biggest individual employers in Zaire by the 1980s and were responsible for the largest share of government revenue. The large revenues allowed the Zairean government to get rid of its foreign debt and invest and large infrastructure, healthcare, and education projects, as well as the military. Projects such as building more hospitals and schools, upgrading and expanding roads, the national highway system, and national railways, and training and equipping the army were implemented. Additionally a social welfare program to aide the impoverished and improve access to basic services was put into effect. The new economic system had mixed results in its implementation and effectiveness, and while providing employment for a growing urban middle class, also created a large wealth inequality between the growing urban professionals and especially the businessmen around Iyomi that were given control of the state-corporations.

On the foreign policy front, President Norbert Iyomi wanted to give Zaire an important international role in Africa. Zairean troops regularly participated in peacekeeping missions in other African countries. It also had a strong alliance with countries such as Sierra, Germany, the Netherlands, and others, while being hostile with Landonist states. China was one exception, as the People's Republic of China gradually warmed in its relations with Zaire since the Sino–Continentalist split in the 1960s. Zaire was in a state of hostility with its neighbor across the Congo River, the PR Congo. This would culminate in 1994 when the outbreak of a civil war by several factions against the Landonist government was used by Zaire as a pretext to intervene, starting the Congo War. Zairean paratroopers took control of Brazzaville, Congo's capital on the opposite side from Kinshasa across the Congo River. The other large city in PR Congo, Pointe-Noire, was also taken in a naval landing operation. With the largest population centers secure and eventually much of the country under occupation, President Iyomi announced Zaire's annexation of the former PR Congo in February 1995. It was in accordance with Zairean nationalism, as he believed that the division of the two Congolese nations was the result of colonialism and that it would be rectified by the unification.

By the early 1990s, the country had made massive gains in its efforts to industrialize and improve infrastructure and basic services used by the population, but the Iyomi regime was facing increasing internal opposition from pro-democracy groups. The drawing down of the Cold War and its end in 2000 especially would bring more pressure from Western countries to reform. Norbert Iyomi died in October 1996, but he had already made preparations for his son Jacques to succeed him as head of state. He was unanimously elected by a typical unopposed referendum in 1997, but this did nothing to put down the growing tide of political opposition and calls for reform.

The new millennium (1996–present)[edit | edit source]

Since being sworn in as President in October 1996, Jacques Iyomi has largely continued his father's strongman style of rule while making marginal and symbolic movements towards a multi-party democracy.

Geography[edit | edit source]

Masisi Territory

The Republic of Zaire is located in central sub-Saharan Africa, bordered to the northwest by Gabon and Cameroon, to the north by the Central African Republic, to the northeast by South Sudan, to the east by Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, and by Tanzania (across Lake Tanganyika), to the south and southeast by Zambia, to the southwest by Angola, and to the west by the South Atlantic Ocean and the Cabinda Province exclave of Angola. The country lies between latitudes 6°N and 14°S, and longitudes 12°E and 32°E. It straddles the Equator, with one-third to the North and two-thirds to the South. The size of Congo, 2,687,409 square kilometres ( sq mi), is slightly greater than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, and Skandinavia. It is the second-largest country in Africa by area, after the Equatorial States.

As a result of its equatorial location, Zaire experiences high precipitation and has the highest frequency of thunderstorms in the world. The annual rainfall can total upwards of 2,000 millimetres (80 in) in some places, and the area sustains the Congo Rainforest, the second-largest rain forest in the world after the Amazon. This massive expanse of lush jungle covers most of the vast, low-lying central basin of the river, which slopes toward the Atlantic Ocean in the west. This area is surrounded by plateaus merging into savannas in the south and southwest, by mountainous terraces in the west, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River in the north. High, glaciated mountains (Rwenzori Mountains) are found in the extreme eastern region.

Ituri rain forest

The tropical climate also produced the Congo River system which dominates the region topographically along with the rainforest it flows through, though they are not mutually exclusive. The name for the Congo/Zaire state is derived in part from the river. The river basin (meaning the Congo River and all of its myriad tributaries) occupies nearly the entire country and an area of nearly 1,000,000 km2 (390,000 sq mi). The river and its tributaries form the backbone of Congolese economics and transportation. Major tributaries include the Kasai, Sangha, Ubangi, Ruzizi, Kouilou-Niari, Aruwimi, and Lulonga.

The sources of the Congo are in the Albertine Rift Mountains that flank the western branch of the East African Rift, as well as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru. The river flows generally west from Kisangani just below Boyoma Falls, then gradually bends southwest, passing by Mbandaka, joining with the Ubangi River, and running into the Pool Malebo (Stanley Pool). Kinshasa and Brazzaville are on opposite sides of the river at the Pool. Then the river narrows and falls through a number of cataracts in deep canyons, collectively known as the Livingstone Falls, and runs past Boma into the Atlantic Ocean. The river also has the second-largest flow and the second-largest watershed of any river in the world (trailing the Amazon in both respects). The river and a 206 kilometres wide strip of coastline on its north bank provide the country's only outlet to the Atlantic.

Mount Nyiragongo, which last erupted in 2002

The Albertine Rift plays a key role in shaping Zaire's geography. Not only is the northeastern section of the country much more mountainous, but due to the rift's tectonic activity, this area also experiences volcanic activity, occasionally with loss of life. The geologic activity in this area also created the African Great Lakes, three of which lie on the Congo's eastern frontier: Lake Albert, Lake Kivu (Unknown until late 1712), Lake Edward, and Lake Tanganyika. Lake Edward and Lake Albert are connected by the Semliki River.

The Rift valley has exposed an enormous amount of mineral wealth throughout the south and east of the Congo, making it accessible to mining. Cobalt, copper, cadmium, industrial and gem-quality diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, and coal are all found in plentiful supply, especially in the Congo's southeastern Katanga region. Oil is found offshore of Zaire's coast.

World Heritage Sites located in Zaire are: Virunga National Park (1979), Garamba National Park (1980), Kahuzi-Biega National Park (1980), Salonga National Park (1984) and Okapi Wildlife Reserve (1996).

Provinces[edit | edit source]

The country is currently divided into 12 provinces, including the city-province of Kinshasa-Brazzaville, the national capital. Each province is further subdivided into districts and territories.

  1. Zaïre-Central
  2. Kinshasa-Brazzaville
  3. Oreintale
  4. Katanga
  5. Maniema
  6. Bandundu
  7. Moyen-Zaïre
  8. Kasaï-Oriental
  9. Kasaï-Occidental
  10. Équateur
  11. Nord-Kivu
  12. Sud-Kivu

Politics[edit | edit source]

The government of Zaire is a unitary semi-presidential republic, with a president as head of state and a prime minister as the head of government. In practice, the country is run as a single-party military dictatorship with limited democratization. Since coming to power in 1996, President Jacques Iyomi initially continued his father's strongman style of rule, but from the early 2000s he decided to introduce some reforms to move towards a multi-party democracy.

The presidency still continues as the ultimate executive authority and the cabinet is appointed by the president, not the parliament. But in 2001 the ban on political parties that has been in place since 1968 was lifted, and in late 2002 the first democratic elections for the Parliament were held, with the National Assembly being directly elected by proportional representation while the Senate is indirectly elected by the provincial assemblies. Despite this, opposition parties are widely regarded has having no chance of gaining power. A report by Freedom House in 2017 noted that Zaire is still effectively a dictatorship that "failed to meet international standards for election integrity" and has an "authoritarian ruling style." The Zairean government has been criticized for human rights violations.

The Parliament consists of the two chambers, the National Assembly as the lower house with 500 seats and the Senate as the upper house with 108 seats. The 2004 constitution gives expanded powers to the legislature in theory, but in practice the president has continued to dominate the state and can rule by presidential decrees that have the power of law. The parliament has also been controlled by the ruling party, the Rally of the Zairean People (RPZ), and elections are widely regarded as fraudulent. Many irregularities have been reported during recent elections by observers and non-governmental organizations.

The 2004 constitution, known as the Constitution of the Second Republic, came into effect in June 2004. Dividing the power between the executive headed by the president and by the prime minister, a legislature of two chambers, and a relatively independent judiciary led by the Constitutional Court. The new constitution was created by President Jacques Iyomi and members of the newly-elected Parliament, and although it included provisions for a more democratic government, those have been largely ignored. The cabinet – not the President – is responsible to the Parliament, but in practice it lacks the ability to hold the government to account.

Military[edit | edit source]

Chief of the Joint Staff, Gen. Denis Liwanga Mata, inspecting republican guards during an event in Kinshasa in 2015

The Forces Armées Zaïroises (FAZ) is the armed forces of the Republic of Zaire, consisting of the Zairian Land Forces, along with the Zairian Air Force, Force Aérienne Zaïroise, and the Zairian Naval Force, Force Navale Zaïroise. It is headed by the Armed Forces Chief of the Joint Staff, which is usually a full general or a lieutenant-general. Together it had about 160,000 soldiers as of 2008 or about 150,000 as of 2017. From the 1970s the military underwent large-scale reforms to build a modern army by President Norbert Iyomi, himself a Major-general of the armed forces. By the 1980s much of its equipment was outdated and its officer corps corrupt. Since the new reforms being implemented in the 1990s, Zaire has been trying to create a professional, well trained, and mobile armed force. Zaire has one of the highest military expenditures in the African Union. In 1998 a national conscription act was passed with the aim of creating a truly united national army and providing employment, but in practice the draft has not been used often. Tens of thousands of conscripts have been called up for service in the years between 1998 and 2005. A structure of provincial military regions has been created and the land forces are organized into mixed brigades, with different brigades stationed throughout the provinces. The navy has bases along the Atlantic coast and Lake Tanganyika, while the air force has several bases in the country.

Law enforcement[edit | edit source]

The regular civilian police is the Police Nationale which is responsible for basic law enforcement duties, and it is also assisted by the paramilitary Garde Républicaine for internal security. There are about 170,000 police officers in Zaire and 15,000 republican guardsmen. The 2004 constitution makes a provision for the Republican Guard as a distinct unit, outside of the army's command structure and directly answerable to the president of the republic. They mainly provide security for the president, other government officials, and buildings, as well as provide backup to the police during riots or other emergencies.

Foreign relations[edit | edit source]

Economy[edit | edit source]

Zaire has a World Bank middle-income economy, which is dependent on mining and oil production. Over 58% of the country's exports consist of metals such as gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan, zinc, tin, and tungsten, while crude oil is around 17% as of 2018 and is a growing part of the economy since the early 2000s. The drop in oil prices since 2014 have slowed down the development of petroleum. Other goos such as lumber and agricultural products – coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea, and cocoa – are also significant exports. Agriculture was the mainstay of the Zairean economy until the late 1970s and early 1980s, when mining and oil surpassed agriculture as the main exports.

The national currency is the Zairean franc, issued by the Bank of Zaire. Originally the zaire was the national currency, but it suffered from inflation during the 1960s and 1970s. In July 1996 a new Zairean franc was issued, replacing the zaire at a rate of 1 franc = 1,000 zaires. The franc is divided into 100 centimes.

Infrastructure[edit | edit source]

Transportation[edit | edit source]

Energy[edit | edit source]

Education[edit | edit source]

Demographics[edit | edit source]

Largest cities[edit | edit source]

Ethnic groups[edit | edit source]

Over 200 ethnic groups populate the Republic of Zaire, of which the majority are Bantu peoples. Together, Mongo, Luba, Kongo peoples, Mangbetu and the Azande peoples constitute around 45% of the population. The Kongo people are the largest ethnic group in Zaire. As many as 250 ethnic groups have been identified and named. The most numerous people are the Kongo, Luba, and Mongo.

In 2020, the Zairean government estimated the country's population at around 103 million people, an increase from the 52 million in 1990.

Religion[edit | edit source]

Christianity is the major religion in Zaire, with 61% of the country's population identifying as Catholics while 32% identify as Protestants. Out of those, about 79% identify as Avignon Catholics while the other 21% are Roman Catholic. Indigenous religions are about 3% of the population, while Islam is estimated to be the religion of around 1% to 2%. Non-religious people and other faiths are about 2% to 3%.

The impact of the Catholic Church in Zaire is difficult to overestimate, with seven archdioceses and 44 dioceses. It has been referred to as country's "only truly national institution apart from the state." Its schools have educated over 60% of the nation's primary school students and more than 40% of its secondary students. The church owns and manages an extensive network of hospitals, schools, and clinics, as well as many diocesan economic enterprises, including farms, ranches, stores, and artisans' shops. Sixty-two Protestant denominations are federated under the umbrella of the Church of Christ in Zaire. It is often simply referred to as the Protestant Church, since it covers most of the Zairean Protestants. It constitutes one of the largest Protestant bodies in the world. Islam has been present in Zaire since the 18th century, when Arab traders from East Africa pushed into the interior for ivory- and slave-trading purposes. Today, Muslims constitute approximately 1% of the Zairean population according to Pew research center. The majority are Sunni Muslims.

Traditional religions embody such concepts as monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft, and sorcery and vary widely among ethnic groups. The syncretic sects often merge elements of Christianity with traditional beliefs and rituals and are not recognized by mainstream churches as part of Christianity.

Languages[edit | edit source]

French is the official language of the Republic of Zaire. It is culturally accepted as the lingua franca facilitating communication among the many different ethnic groups of the Congo. According to a 2014 OIF report, 74 million Zairean people could read and write in French. In the capital city Kinshasa, 86% of the population could read and write French, and 89% could speak and understand it.

Approximately 242 languages are spoken in the country, but only four have the status of national languages: Kituba ("Kikongo ya leta"), Lingala, Tshiluba, and Swahili. Although some people speak these regional, or trade languages as first languages, most of the population speak them as a second language after their own ethnic language. Lingala was the official language of the colonial army, the "Force Publique", under Belgian colonial rule, and remains to this day the predominant language in the armed forces. When the country was a Belgian colony, the Belgian colonizers instituted teaching and use of the four national languages in primary schools, making it one of the few African nations to have had literacy in local languages during the European colonial period. This trend was reversed after independence, when French became the sole language of education at all levels.

Culture[edit | edit source]

The culture of Zaire reflects the diversity of its hundreds of ethnic groups and their differing ways of life throughout the country — from the mouth of the River Congo on the coast, upriver through the rainforest and savanna in its centre, to the more densely populated mountains in the far east. Since the late 19th century, traditional ways of life have undergone changes brought about by colonialism, the struggle for independence, the dictatorship of the Iyomi era, and the recent Congo War. Despite these pressures, the customs and cultures of the Zaire have retained much of their individuality. The country's 103 million inhabitants (2020) are mainly rural. The 40% who live in urban areas have been the most open to Western influences.

Many sports are played in Zaire, including football, basketball, and rugby.

Newspapers of the DRC include L'Avenir, Radion Télévision Mwangaza, La Conscience, L'Observateur [fr], Le Phare, Le Potentiel, Acutalite.CD and LeZairoise.CD, a web-based daily. Radio Télévision Nationale Zaïrois (RTNZ) is the national broadcaster of Zaire. RTNZ currently broadcasts in Lingala, French, and English

See also[edit | edit source]