DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Leader: President Joseph Kabila
Population: 56 million
Language: French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Religion: Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%, Kimbanguist 10%, Muslim 10%, other syncretic sects and indigenous beliefs 10%
Economy: GNI per capita: USD $120
Main Exports: Diamonds, copper, coffee, cobalt, crude oil
Monetary Unit: Congolese Franc
Net primary school enrolment: 52%
Net primary school enrolment of girls: 49%
Health: Life Expectancy: 42 years (men), 44 years (women)
Infant mortality rate: 129/1000 live births
HIV Prevalence: 4.2%
Income Distribution: The majority of the population lives in poverty despite the country’s vast natural resources.
Culture: Congo is home to over 200 ethnic groups. The four largest tribes - Mongo, Luba, Kongo, and Mangbetu -Azande compose about 45% of the population.
Environment: Extensive mining is causing environmental damage. Other problems include water pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion.
Politics: An estimated 3.3 million people have been killed in Congo’s five-year conflict, in which government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, battled rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. In July 1999, a cease-fire agreement was signed in Lusaka by the government, the rebel groups, and the foreign countries involved. Since January 2003, the situation has stabilized under President Joseph Kabila. Kabila heads an interim government which includes members of former rebel groups and opposition. National elections have been postponed until April 2006.
Current Political Climate: Despite the 1999 ceasefire and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, the threat of civil war remains. The government does not control large parts of the country, and Eastern regions are still plagued by violence from armed gangs. An estimated 1,000 people are dying every day from war-related causes, including disease, hunger and violence. Around 17,000 UN peacekeepers remained in the country to maintain stability and organize upcoming national elections. General elections were finally held on July 30, 2006, the first multiparty elections in the country in 46 years. Voters will go back to the polls in October for the post of President as no candidate obtained more than 50 percent of the vote.
Position of Women: Sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war by all sides involved in the conflict. At least 40,000 women have been raped over the past five years, and thousands of girls were used as combatants and as sexual slaves. Furthermore, the destruction of health infrastructure has resulted in high maternal mortality rates. Despite suffering disproportionately from the conflict, women were not included in official peace talks at Lusaka. Their absence at these talks has not stopped Congolese women from forming grassroots support networks to aid victims of sexual violence and to encourage them to share their stories.
Children in Congo: Children are extremely vulnerable to the effects of conflict in Congo. Hundreds of thousands have died from malnutrition and other preventable diseases, such as malaria and diarrhoea. All armed groups continue to recruit child soldiers, who often experience psychological abuse and sexual violence which increases their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Despite the fear of stigmatization, over 2,900 former child soldiers have been rehabilitated into civilian life. Furthermore, increased political stability in some regions brings hope that health care and education infrastructure will be restored.
Freedom: Restrictions on political parties were eased in May 2001, and there are currently 234 parties legally recognized by the government. Freedom of the press is limited, and journalists face intimidation and violence.
Kinshasa has historically been a centre for musical innovation. During the 1940s, the Congolese music scene was dominated by rumba, which Congolese musicians adapted for their own instruments and tastes. The 1950s saw the emergence of African Jazz, led by Joseph Kabasele, who is sometimes called the father of modern Congolese music. By the 1970s, Congolese music became influenced by American rock and funk music, especially following James Brown’s visit to Congo in 1969. In the 1990s, despite the repression of indigenous music groups, new genres like madiaba and Tshala Mwana's mutuashi emerged. In 1993, some of the biggest names in the Congolese music industry came together for an event that helped to revitalize Congolese music and to spark the careers of popular contemporary bands like Swede Swede.