The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is an independent republic situated to the north of Zambia and forms part of the West Central African Region. The capital city is Kinshasa. Other major towns are Lubumbashi and Kisangani and the port of Matadi in the Zaire (Congo) River estuary.

The dictatorship of President Mobutu was overthrown in May 1997 in a rebellion led by the current President Laurent Kabila.

The official language is French but Lingala and Swahili are more widely spoken. Political instability and turmoil and lack of maintenance and investment in infrastructure since independence from Belgium have severely impacted the country’s economy. Unrest has reduced government revenue and increased external debt. The country’s main source of income is derived from the exploitation of its mineral and hydrocarbon resources. The local currency is the New Congo. (US$ / Z – current exchange rate).

Congo has one of Africa’s leading mining industries. Its mineral resources are huge and varied and account for the major portion of the country’s GDP. Its oil industry is also an important contributor to the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Congo has an oil refinery at Kinlao-Muanda. The country has abundant hydro-electric power resources. Electricity is provided by the parastatal utility Societe Nationale d’Electricite (SNEL).

The large majority of the population is involved in agriculture, but low prices and a poor transport system forces importation of food from other countries. The country’s main export crop is coffee and cattle farming and fishing are important parts of the industry. A small portion of the large forests in Congo are being commercially exploited but if transport facilities improve this could prove hazardous in terms of environmental issues.

A great deal of activity takes place in the informal sector of Congo. This activity deprives the state of revenue but fulfils the needs of many for whom goods are either unavailable or unaffordable.

Transport networks in Congo has declined and the export sector of the country relies on Southern African transport routes. The Congo Basin is accessible only by river transport. The mining regions are still accessible by rail which also functions as means of transporting cargo from Congo’s river ports to her sea port at Matadi.

The international time zone for Congo is GMT +1 and the international dialling code is +243. The international airport at Kinshasa serves many regional airlines as well as Air France, Sabena and other European airlines. However, air transport has become dangerous due to deterioration of facilities. Visitors to Congo require visas.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Before joining this organisation the country had been part of COMESA, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa as well as the Communaute; economique des etas de l’Afrique centrale (CEEAC) and the Communaute economique des pays des grands lacs (CEPGL).

The state of health, the current immunisation status, location and the local disease situation leads to the risk of contraction of AIDS, cholera, hepatitis A, malaria, schistosomiasis, tuberculosis, and typhoid fever in Congo. A risk assessment is recommended prior to arrival in the country. Medical facilities in the Republic of Congo are inadequate and visitors must be prepared to air lift any serious illness or injury from the country.

Shaun Bakamoso

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