Five things to know about DR Congo, Africa's largest Catholic country


The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, ex-Zaire), where Pope Francis is expected on January 31, is the largest Catholic country in Africa, with a rich basement but a poor population, plagued by armed violence in its eastern part.

Rich country, poor people

The DRC is described as a "geological scandal", so rich is its basement (copper, cobalt, gold, diamonds, uranium, coltan, tin...). The DRC also has enormous hydroelectric potential, at the forefront of African countries, and has 80 million hectares of arable land.

However, for various reasons, between conflicts and poor management, two thirds of the approximately 100 million inhabitants live on less than 2,15 dollars a day, the level set as the international poverty line, according to the World Bank.


With more than 2,34 million km2, the DRC is 80 times larger than Belgium, the former colonial power. It is the 2nd largest country in Africa after Algeria and, according to estimates, the 4th most populous African state after Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt.

It is also one of the most multi-ethnic and multilingual countries in Africa, with some 250 listed ethnic groups, mainly Bantu.

The DRC has French as its official language but also four national languages ​​(Kikongo, Lingala, Tshiluba, Swahili) and around 200 local languages. "National unity" nevertheless resists, despite a brief separatist adventure in wealthy Katanga in the 60s and unrest in the east of the country.

The War in the East

The country has experienced two wars in its recent history: the first, in 1996-1997, resulted in the overthrow of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, the second, between 1998 and 2003, involved nine African countries, around thirty armed groups and bankrupt bring about the implosion of the country.

The situation has since stabilized in most of the territory, but the eastern provinces, bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, have remained prey to violence from numerous armed groups for nearly 30 years, against the background of the battle for the control of wealth between communities and neighboring countries.

Secular but very religious

The secular nature of the State has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1974. There is no state religion and everyone is free to practice the religion of their choice.

According to estimates, the country has about 40% Catholics (49% according to the Vatican), 35% Protestants or affiliated with revival churches, 9% Muslims, 10% Kimbanguists (Christian church born in Congo).

It is hardly conceivable to call oneself an atheist in the DRC, where religion permeates society, education, public life, politics... A mark dating back to the Belgian colonial period, with, among other things, the education entrusted to Catholic missionaries .

Rumba, undermines and manages

To face the difficulties of life, the Congolese have developed a strong sense of humor and resourcefulness, with for example the addition of an imaginary article to their Constitution, "article 15", which essentially says " Figure it out! ".

Music is also omnipresent, in particular the “Congolese rumba”, listed as intangible cultural heritage of humanity in December 2021. The national taste for appearance and cleverly studied clothing has been consecrated by the creation of the “Sape” , the “Society of ambianceurs and elegant people”.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: ARSENE MPIANA / AFP

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