Democratic Congo

Basic Data

Democratic Congo

Official Country Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 53,624,718
Language(s): French, Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Literacy rate: 77.3%

Background & General Characteristics

A nominal republic with a history of autocratic leadership, the Democratic Congo has kept its media under iron-fisted government control. In the cities, jailing of non-conformist journalists continued into 2002. An interview conducted that year with a provincial radio executive and reported through French media shows tyranny by government bureaucrats operating in the provinces. Both ongoing patterns have violated free expression and worked against the expansion of TV and radio stations that other constituencies in the Democratic Congo have been trying to achieve.

Situated in west-central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( Républic Démocratique du Congo or DRC, also known as Congo-Kinshasa, formerly Zaire and the Belgian Congo) is the second largest of the sub-Saharan states, with an area that includes the bulk of the Congo River basin. The country is not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo (Congo Republic, Congo-Brazzaville).

Democratic Congo had an estimated population in July 2001 of 53,624,718, up from some 30,000,000 in the 1984 census. Ethnographically the country is a mosaic of several hundred groups, with various Bantu tribes comprising the largest segment.

Having a population density of sixty-one persons per square mile, Democratic Congo is thirty percent urban, with population centers in the capital, Kinshasa (est. 5,064,000), and in the cities of Lubumbashi (967,000), Mbuji-Mayi, Kananga, and Kisangani. The Congolese are about fifty percent Roman Catholic and twenty percent Protestant, the rest being Muslim or following indigenous practices.

French, the official language, dominates the media. Local languages include Kikongo, Kiswahili, Lingala, and Tshiluba. About seventy-seven percent of Congolese adults can read in at least one language. Education is compulsory through age twelve. Suffrage is universal and compulsory.

Following the withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping forces in 1964, Maj. Gen. Joseph Désiré Mobutu took over as self-proclaimed president of the "Second Republic". The 1967 constitution provided for a strong presidential presence, with amendments and revisions in the 1970s further linking governmental and party institutions. Constitutional and military struggles in the 1990s ended with the ousting and exile of Mobutu and the installation of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In mid-2002, a 1998 draft of a new constitution had yet to be ratified.

Government corruption and economic decline characterized the 1980s and 1990s. Inflation in the mid-1990s peaked in the thousand-percent range. Adding to the mix of problems have been the influx of refugees after 1994 from ethnic bloodshed in neighboring Rwanda and the presence (in 1999) of more than a million adults with HIV/AIDS.

After Mobutu's removal from office, exile, and death in 1997, Gen. Kabila, the leader of the rebel forces, ruled by decree, alienating the United Nations as well as national allies. The rebels agreed to a cease-fire on August 31, 1999. Kabila was assassinated early in 2001, and his son, Joseph Kabila, succeeded him.


Mobutu's regime repressed journalists and restricted the number of legal newspapers. The pattern continued under the two Kabilas. Robert Menard, the general secretary of the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters without Borders, said in February 2002 that the situation for journalists was still deteriorating in the Democratic Congo.

A number of independent newspapers generally critical of the Mobutu government began publication about 1990. Early in 1991 two directors of Elima , an evening daily, were detained by the government after publishing pieces alleging official corruption. A bomb destroyed the newspaper offices later that year, and the government shut down the paper late in 1993.

Such instances have persisted. National agents arrested journalist Guy Kasongo Kilembwe in February 2001 for caricaturing Joseph Kabila and his ministers. In December, police also arrested Freddy Embumba, who worked for the Kinshasa daily L'Avenir , and seized two editors of the paper Pot-Pourri , which had published an article satirizing Kabila II. In February 2002 the status of the three latest detainees was unknown. Reporters without Borders reported that officials arrested twenty-six Congolese journalists during 2001. The ongoing press situation continues to be unstable in this climate.

Earlier, in 1995, Democratic Congo had had nine daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 120,000, about three copies per 1,000 people. Daily French-language newspapers published in major cities during the 1990s included Salongo (in Kinshasa, circulation 10,000), Mjumbe (in Lubumbashi), and Boyoma (in Kisangani). Le Passeport Africain , a weekly, resumed publication in mid-1994 after a hiatus.

Broadcast Media

Government-controlled radio and television stations (with color by SECAM) have been in charge of broadcasting. In 1999, the country had one short-wave, three AM, and twelve FM radio stations. The national radio station La Voix du Congo and one educational station were also in operation. Television Congolaise has been the government-run commercial channel. In 1998, the populace owned about a half-million radios (79 for every 1,000 people) and more than that number of TV sets. Figures for 1999 show twenty television stations operating in the country.

In 2002, a complaint emerged through French media from Freddy Molong, chair of the association of community radio stations in the DRC, about the government's heavy taxation and routine "administrative harassment" of community radio stations, especially in Katanga and Kasai provinces. Local bureaucrats, Molong said, were demanding ten percent of the stations' gross income and even a ten percent tax on every obituary announcement, along with a back payment of $10,000 for the year 2001, even though most of these radio stations were less than two years old and were non-profit, operated by volunteers on shoestring budgets.

News Agencies

Congolese Press Agency (CPA) is the main press agency. Agence France-Presse , Xinhua, and Reuters have bureaus in Kinshasa.

Electronic News Media

Statistics for January 1998 show about one hundred Internet users, and those for 1999, about fifteen hundred. Two Internet service providers operated in 2000.

Significant Dates

  • 1990: Papers critical of the Mobutu government emerge.
  • 2001: Officials arrest a number of journalists for criticism of the Kabila regime.
  • 2002: Bureaucrats pursue petty harassment of struggling community radio stations. Reporters without Borders finds press situation deteriorating.


Banks, Arthur S., and Thomas C. Muller, ed. Political Handbook of the World, 1999. Binghamton, NY: CSA Publications, 1999.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 8 May 2002. Available from .

"DRC: Community Radio Stations Complain of Heavy Taxation." Radio France Internationale. An interview with Freddy Molongo by Kamanda wa Kamanda. Trans. from French by FBIS. CountryWatch: Congo (DRC) . CountryWire Search Engine, 8 May 2002. Available from .

"RSF Condemns Arrest of Journalists in Kinshasa." Panafrican News Agency, 1 February 2002. Country-Watch: Congo (DRC). CountryWire Search Engine, 8 May 2002. Available from .

Turner, Barry, ed. The Statesman's Yearbook: The Politics, Cultures, and Economies of the World, 2000. 136th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2002. New York: World Almanac Books, 2002.

Roy Neil Graves

User Contributions:

Michael Dar
Please ad Swahili to the list of languages spoken in the DRC

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