General Information Congo/Kinshasa

Lena Vogelmann
last change: 1st May 2004

Lena Vogelmann comes from Austria and is working in Kinshasa since 2003

  • Democratic Republic of Congo - République Démocratique du Congo:

    The Democratic Republic of Congo is a very big country - it's about the size of the European Union after the eastern enlargement but without the Scandinavian countries. Its capital is Kinshasa (about 8 million inhabitants). Because of its size, landscapes are very different. The DRC is rich of natural resources like for example diamonds. This and the Congo River, which flows through the country, actually make it one of the richest countries in the world.

    There are two seasons, the wet and the dry. The wet season is from September until May, with high temperatures (about 30 degree) and much rain. Dry season is from May until September, almost no rain at all and lower temperatures (in between 15 and 20 degree).

    There are many languages spoken there, almost every tribe has another one (about 380 dialects). The official language is French, which is spoken by nearly everybody; the four most used African languages are Lingala, Chiluba, Kikongo and Kiswaheli. In Kinshasa, they speak French and Lingala (though you can find everywhere people who speak also the other dialects).

    The currency here is Franc Congolais, there are no "cents" (1 Dollar = 380 FC, always changing). In fact, it is already hard enough to find 5 FC. It is no problem to change Dollars (even for Euros it's no longer hard to find), you can find changing places everywhere because the Congolese don't trust anymore in banks or their own currency so they prefer to guard their money at home in $. Living in Kinshasa is rather expensive (for a Congolese). Many people here, if they are employed at all, earn in between 10 and 50 $ a month. But 12.5 kg of flour cost already 10 - 20 $, 25 kg of rice more than 20 $. This facts help to understand why corruption is growing here (police men earn 10$/month).
    Most people here belong to the catholic or protestant church. In fact, it is very weird if somebody doesn't frequent the church.

    The DRC was a colony of Belgium under Leopold II from 1885 on until 1960. (To know more about this time I advise everybody to read the book by Adam Hochschild: [In German "Schatten ueber dem Kongo"] and maybe the fictional book "Heart of Darkness" by Jospeh Conrad [In German "Herz der Finsternis"]).

    In 1960 they declared independency and Joseph-Desirée Mobuto took over power. He was supported by the USA; his rival Patrice Lumumba had no chance as he refused the help of Russia and was later on killed by spies. From 1965 on Mobuto was the dictator of the DRC, which he called Zaire. In 1997, after a long period of illness, Mobuto was finally replaced by Laurent Kabila who was a dictator as well. He renamed Zaire back to Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2001, Laurent Kabila died and his son Joseph became so-called president of the Republic.

    A dark chapter in the history of Congo is the civil war in the east of the country. The Congo was affected by the riots between the Tutsi and the Hutu in Rwanda and Uganda which ended in the brutal genocide in 1994. These riots still exist but are no longer a real war, nor is the situation dangerous for people in Kinshasa.