Democratic Republic of the Congo

Between 1971 and 1997, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was known by which name?

And the answer: Zaire.    

Photo credit: United Nations via Flickr Creative Commons

Located in central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest country in Africa. It's often referred to as the DRC, to prevent confusion with a neighboring country, the Republic of the Congo.

Whether you're reading some Michael Crichton or perhaps some Tin-Tin comics, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been romanticized and embellished in the pages of classical literature for centuries. Referring to "The Congo" usually identifies the DRC, rather than its slightly smaller neighbor – though, as the DRC is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, that's saying a lot.

The capital of the DRC, Kinshasa, borders the capital of the Republic of the Congo, Brazzaville, making them the closest capitals in the world. In fact, residents of each city often identify their nationality by placing the capital city in their titles – citizens of the DRC are "Congo Kinshasa" while those of the Republic of the Congo are "Congo Brazzaville."

Photo credit: Public domain.

The borders of the DRC come largely from European colonization: King Leopold II of Belgium designated the largely unexplored region of the Congo as a "free state" under his name during an 1885 European summit. Without consulting any native Congolese, the DRC opened its borders to open trade policies and became the personal project of one Belgian king, with tragic and often horrific results.

The DRC is one of the most resource-wealthy countries in the world. In fact, it's estimated that the entire country holds about 25 trillion dollars in untapped minerals and ores – that's nearly twice the GDP of Europe and several trillion more than that of the United States. Meanwhile, much of the nation is covered in dense forest and extensive, untouched swaths of wildlife.      

While there are over 250 tribes and people groups in the DRC, communication occurs most commonly in French. In fact, there are more French speakers in the DRC than in France itself, making the nation the largest Francophone nation in the world.

Learn more about the diversity, colonial history and wealth of the Congo below.

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