Basic Data


Official Country Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 51,964,999
Language(s): French, Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Literacy rate: 77.3%

Background & General Characteristics

Brief Socio-political Background

Several socio-political discussions, including ethnography, geography, and literacy are necessary for an appreciation of the press in the Republic of the Congo (the Congo). The Congo formed part of French Equatorial Africa (FEA) until its independence from France in 1960. FEA included what are now known as the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Chad. Brazzaville was the capital of FEA and remains the capital of the Congo. In its long-standing history as capital first of FEA then of the independent Republic of the Congo, it has been privileged in terms of education, industry, government, and commerce. The only other major town is Pointe-Noire, almost due west of Brazzaville, on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the center of the Congo's oil exploration and export.

Ethnography and Geography

The Bakongo ethnic group predominates. Next to the Bakongo are the Bateke , who live to the immediate north. Further north are a good number of small speech communities that are not active participants in Congolese socio-political life. The languages spoken in the Congo belong to the Bantu family. The Bakongo are divided into eleven sub-groups with strong attachment to their group membership and equally strong claims of speaking a dialect of Kikongo . The strength of these sub-group attachments has resulted in a simplified form of Kikongo known as Kituba . The Bateke as well as the Bakongo accept Kituba as a Congolese lingua franca to cross ethnic and linguistic boundaries. As a result the vast majority of the citizens of the Congo speak Kituba as well as their own languages or dialects. The Congo River separates the Republic of the Congo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa; previously Zaire). Lingala , another Bantu language, has evolved as yet another lingua franca up and down the Congo River. It has spread both east and west and has become quite established alongside Kituba in the Congo. During the French colonization, French language and culture were superimposed upon all of these peoples and languages. Upon independence, the Congo emerged with five languages: Kikongo , Kiteke , Kituba , Lingala , and French. As the language of colonial power, French evolved as the language for all formal contexts, including most importantly elite education and communication. French has remained the official language in government and education at all levels. A citizen of the Congo must be quadrilingual, speaking Kiteke , or a dialect of Kikongo , Kituba Lingala , and French, in order to negotiate successfully through Congolese life. The government attempts to the extent of its means to promote Kituba and to a lesser extent Lingala , but these efforts have not succeeded in overcoming French.

Literacy and Education

The total population of the Congo is about 53 million. Literacy for those between the ages of 15 and 25 is claimed to be as high as 81 percent (as of 2000). The percentage of those over 25 years of age with no schooling at all as of 1984 was 58.8 percent. The number of students in primary schools as of 1996 was almost half a million. The number of students in secondary and vocational schools again in 1996 was almost quarter of a million. Those attending university (Université Marien Ngouabi) numbered about 14,000 in 1993. Although literacy is high, there is a sharply decreasing rate of access to education as one progresses from primary school to university education. All figures regarding education and attained rates of literacy regard learning in French. Not surprisingly, the reading public reads largely in French.

The Press

Four daily newspapers are currently published within Congo: Aujourd'hui ; L'Eveil de Pointe-Noire; Journal de Brazzaville Mweti , and Kikongo . Several news-related periodicals are available as well:

  • Bakento ya Congo (Quarterly, Brazzaville, Kikongo, circulation 3,000)
  • Bulletin Mensuel de la Chambre de Commerce de Brazzaville (Monthly)
  • Bulletin de Statistique (Quarterly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Choc (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Combattant Rouge (Monthly, Brazzaville)
  • Congo-Magazine (Monthly, Brazzaville, circulation 3,000)
  • Effort (Monthly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Flambeau (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Forum (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Gardien (Fortnightly, Brazzaville, circulation 2,500)
  • Jeunesse et Révolution (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Madukutsekele (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 5,000)
  • La Nouvelle République (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • L'Opinion (Monthly, Brazzaville)
  • Paris-Brazzaville (Weekly)
  • Le Pays (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • La Rue Muert (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 3,000)
  • La Semaine Africaine (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 7,500)
  • Le Soleil (Weekly, Brazzaville)
  • Le Stade (Weekly, Brazzaville, circulation 6,500)
  • Voix de la Classe Ouvriére (six a year, Brazzaville, circulation 4,500)

The numbers given for the specialized periodicals would suggest a total readership in substantial numbers within the literate-schooled population. It is revealing that with one exception they are all published in Brazzaville and again with one exception they are all in French.

Press Laws & Censorship

The Congo has been under severe political stress in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Publications reflect the publishers' political orientation. There is recent legislation to protect the freedom of the press (which is currently listed as "not free" by Freedom House) except for libel against individuals, the president, and the judiciary and for incitement of inter-ethnic conflict. However, laws exist which state that journalists must demonstrate unwavering support of the government. Huge fines exist for any found guilty of libel, slander, and inciting ethnic violence. Almost any criticism could be construed as incitement of inter-ethnic conflict, and it is often so interpreted.

State-Press Relations

The newspapers and periodicals may not all be available at all times. Some may cease publication for a period of time or permanently. New ones may appear for indeterminate periods. Editors and editorial boards may change suddenly. This instability reflects the political and social stresses within which both the press and the political body at large exist and interact. The socio-political status of the Congo has not evolved to a point where one could consider the government, the press, the economic sector, the judiciary, the military, and so on, as distinct entities. The individual participants in these various sectors all belong to a small French educated elite. There is a great deal of mobility of participants from one sector to the other. Hence, the relationship between the state and the press is ambiguous as well as in flux. If there is a constant factor it is ethnic allegiance.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

In addition to the publications listed earlier within the Congo, Brazzaville and to some extent Pointe-Noire provide for ample access to French publications such as Le Monde , Jeune Afrique , and Le Nouvel Observateur . These are of special interest to the expatriate communities as well as the university educated Congolese community. Several major countries have cultural centers in Brazzaville. Their libraries make available promotionally oriented publications in their respective languages. Newsweek , Time , and The Herald Tribune are available through the American Cultural Center and in hotel newsstands.

The governing elite does not seem to have a policy on foreign publications. One major reason is that only the educated elite who can afford these publications would read them. Another reason is that for the most part the expatriate community reads them, and they insist on having them available. A third reason, and likely the most important one, is that criticism within the foreign media is rarely initiated internally.

Broadcast & ELECTRONIC News Media

Dissemination of news in Congolese African languages finds an outlet through radio broadcasts and television. Only 33,000 own television sets but 341,000 possess radios. French fills the greatest amount of time in either venue. Limited amounts of time are allocated to African languages. Radio Congo (transmitters in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire) broadcasts in Lingala and Kikongo as well as in French. TéléCongo operates on a limited daily schedule mostly in French with a restricted amount of time in Lingala and Kikongo . Whereas radios are readily available and are indeed owned by most Congolese, television sets are economically restricted to the upper middle class of society. Kinshasa, the capital of Congo-Kinshasa, is directly across the Congo River from Brazzaville. The two Congos have not been on good terms, but the populations of Brazzaville and Kinshasa have easy access to radio and television transmissions from both cities. Radio Congo's and TéléCongo 's choices of Lingala and Kikongo is meant to reach a large segment of the Congo-Kinshasa population which speaks these two languages. Kinshasa radio and television transmissions tend to have a larger portion of airtime given to African languages. African languages, especially Lingala , Kikongo , and Kiswahili from Kinshasa, find a significant outlet on both sides of the Congo River in the famous Congo-Jazz style of song and rhythm, and more recently in rap style in Kiswahili . These venues and styles of music could legitimately be considered to correspond to the American college town "alternative press."

Although several newspapers have online editions, very few are able to access them, as Congo only has one Internet Service Provider and 500 users within the country.


Acct, Cerdotola, Equipe National du Congo. Atlas Linguistique de L'Afrique Central, Atlas Linguistique du Congo . Brazzaville: Centre pour l'Etude des Langues Congolaise, Université Marien Ngouabi, 1987.

Africa South of the Sahara . 30th Edition. London: Europa Publications, Taylor & Francis Group, 2001.

"Congo (Brazzaville)." Freedom House. Available from .

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2001. Available from .

UNESCO. African Community Languages, and their Use in Literacy and Education . Dakar, 1985.

UNESCO. Statistical Yearbook . Lanham, MD: Berman Press, 1999.

Haig Der-Houssikian

Also read article about Congo from Wikipedia

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