Congo, Democratic Republic of
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A vast country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest in Africa. The country’s post-independence history has been scarred by a bloody conflict which peaked between 1998 and 2003, though armed groups continue to operate with impunity in the east of the country. The DRC has an appalling human rights record, replete with pervasive arbitrary executions, rape, torture at the hands of the army, police, intelligence services as well as non-state armed groups.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a large equatorial country in central Africa which shares borders with the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Angola and Tanzania. The climate is marked by high temperatures and heavy rainfall that have given rise to the rain-forests of the central region, but different climatic cycles operate in the northern and southern regions. The capital city is Kinshasa.
Population and language
67.8 million people live in the country, a figure that has risen rapidly for more than three decades. Since 2005, the population growth rate has remained high at between 2.7 and 3 per cent per annum. The Congolese people are ethnically very diverse, including more than 200 African ethnic groups. Christianity is the dominant religion, with around 50 per cent of the population proclaiming the Catholic faith, and a further 20 per cent belonging to a Protestant denomination. There are also sizeable communities of Muslims and Kimbanguists.
The “official language” is French, though Swahili, Lingala, Kikongo and Chiluba are all “national languages”. An estimated 250 languages and dialects are used within the country, of which 90 per cent are of Bantu origin.
History and Politics
The country gained its independence from Belgium in 1960, under the name of Zaire. Within five years army Chief of Staff, General Mobutu, had seized power in a coup, and continued to rule unchallenged until the 1990s, amid endemic corruption and widespread human rights abuses. In the wake of the Rwandan genocide, the fragile State was further weakened, and dissident groups under the leadership of Laurent Kabila successfully ousted Mobutu with the support of Rwanda and Uganda. Laurent Kabila declared himself President in 1997, but dissatisfaction with him quickly grew, and by the summer of 1999 a conflict broke between the government, backed by Zimbabwe and Angola, and rebel groups backed by Rwanda and Uganda. By mid-1999, the country was divided into three parts backed by forces from numerous regional States. The Lusaka peace accord of 1999 led to a cease-fire in the region, and paved the way for UN peace-keeping forces, but it was not until 2003 that the war was officially ended, at which point as many as 4 million people had died in the conflict. More than 19,000 UN peace-keepers are currently active in the DRC, with a budget in excess of US$1.4 billion, making it the largest UN peace-keeping effort currently in operation.
Laurent Kabila was assassinated by a bodyguard in January 2001, and replaced by his son, Joseph Kabila. The new President Kabila entered into the multi-party Transitional National Government which eventually led to the creation of the 2005 Constitution and the elections of the following year, the first democratic elections in the country in 40 years. Kabila was elected President and his party, the Parti du Peuple pour la Réconstruction et la Démocratie (PPRD), became the largest in the Parliament. Elections were held again in 2011, in which President Kabila was returned to the Presidency, though amid allegations of electoral fraud.
The DRC has immense agricultural and mineral resources which leave the country in a strong position to become one of Africa's richest countries. War in the country has severely damaged the national economy, however, and considerable reconstruction and infrastructure building will need to take place for the DRC to realise its potential. Economic reforms took place following the 2003 declaration of peace, and the government was able to bring hyper-inflation under control as well as instituting macro-economic reforms. The 2009 global economic crisis caused the the growth rate to fall sharply and inflation to rise to in excess of 53 per cent, in response to falling commodity prices, which the economy is heavily reliant upon. Growth returned to normal quickly, however, and is expected to remain at around 7 per cent per annum in the immediate future. In 2010, the country benefited from US$12.3 billion of debt relief as part of the IMF's Highly Indebted Poor Countries scheme and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. The World Bank rated the DRC 175 out of 183 countries in its Doing Business report 2011, indicating that that the country is among the least conducive to business.
Media and Civil Society
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) rated the country 145 out of 179 in its Press Freedom Index of 2011/12, placing the country among the most restrictive in Africa in terms of press freedom. RWB has particularly reported on the increase in violence that occurred during the 2011 elections, in which attacks on, and threats towards, journalists increased significantly. The organisation Journalist in Danger collected evidence of the murder of one journalist, as well as 42 arrests and 57 cases of threats or assault against journalists during 2011 alone, and has commented on what it sees as a “growing crackdown” on the press. Less violent forms of censorship are also prevalent in the country, indeed the Council for Broadcasting and Communications closed down French radio station Radio France Internationale in December 2011 alleging that the station had been conducting a campaign to demoralise the country's armed forces.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has commented on the “lack of autonomy which distinguishes [civil society organisations] from state-sponsored organisations” in the DRC, and noted that no NGOs had submitted information as part of the 2009 State report to the CRC.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has an appalling human rights record. Arbitrary executions, rape, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are pervasive, and often committed by the army, police and intelligence services. The long history of war in the country has also left substantial and persistent problems: almost two million people remain internally displaced as a result of the conflicts. In 2012, the International Criminal Court rendered its first verdict in relation to crimes committed as part of the Great Lakes Conflict in which Thomas Lubanga was convicted of committing war crimes, including the recruitment of child soldiers.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Democratic Republic of the Congo Country Profile"
- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Second Periodic Report of the State party, July 2008
- The Lusaka Peace Agreement
- House of Commons Library, "The African Great Lakes Region: An End to Conflict?" Research Paper 06/51 25 October 2006
- MONUSCO, "MONUSCO facts and figures"
- BBC, "Joseph Kabila: DR Congo's president in profile?" 9 December 2011
- See The New York Times, "Congo President Kabila denies reports of election fraud" 12 December 2011, The Guardian, "Congo supreme court upholds Joseph Kabila's election victory" 17 December 2011 and BBC, "DR Congo election: Jospeph Kabila confirmed as winner" 16 December 2011
- The World Bank, "Democratic Republic of the Congo Country Brief"
- The World Bank, "Doing Business 2011"
- Reporters Without Borders, [http://en.rsf.org/drc-journalist-in-danger-annual-report-30-12-2011,41607.html "Journalists in Danger annual report urges authorities to 'rescue press freedom'" 30 December 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, "RFI returns to the airwaves after a week of radio silence" 6 January 2012
- OHCHR, "OHCHR in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2008-2009)"
- UN News Centre, "In landmark ruling, ICC finds Congolese warlord guilty of recruiting child soldiers" 15 March 2012
- OHCHR, "Democratic Republic of the Congo Homepage"
- Hauser Global Law School Programme, "Update:The Legal System and Research of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)- An Overview" August/September 2010
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Country Profile: Democratic Republic of the Congo"
- BBC, "Democratic Republic of the Congo Profile" 10 January 2012, "Joseph Kabila Profile" 9 December 2011 and news items (see footnotes)
- The World Bank, "Democratic Republic of the Congo Country Brief" and "Doing Business 2011"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011-12" and news items (see footnotes)
- The Guardian (see footnotes)
- The New York Times (see footnotes)
- Population: 69,575,400 (UNDP, 2012)
- Population under 18: 25,900,000 (State Report to the CRC 2008, 1997)
- Number of internet users: 915,400 (1.2% of the population) (Internet World Stats, 2012)
- Human Development index ranking: 186 (UNDP, 2012)
- Happy Planet ranking: 134 (Happy Planet Countries: DR Congo, 2012)