June 30 – Independence Day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Posted on June 30, 2014

There are two “Congos” in Africa. The Republic of the Congo is sometimes called Congo and sometimes Congo-Brazzaville. 

This Congo, the one that is celebrating its 1960 independence from Belgium today, is sometimes referred to as DR Congo, DRC, Congo-kinshasa, DROC, or RDC. (Hmmm...a lot of variation there!) 

But this Congo is also sometimes referred to as Congo, just like that other Congo. So I'm sure that at least once there has been a misunderstanding about which Congo people are talking about!

The dictator Mobutu Sese Seko had changed the country's name to Zaire for a while, but DRC's president Laurent Kabila restored the name when Seko finally fell. It's a bummer to acknowledge that Belgium and the United States supported this authoritarian, corrupt “leader” - because he was anti-communist. Seko amassed a personal fortune rather than helped his people, embezzling billions of dollars (up to $15 billion!!!) during his reign.

Sadly, even after Seko was finally ousted, the nation was torn apart by civil war...the worst kind of civil war, with nine different African nations and at least 20 different armed “sides” - with the usual violence of war coupled with a horrific amount of sexual violence and atrocities – and with millions more dying from disease and malnutrition. Hopefully the democratic republic established in 2006 will be stable!

Let's turn from the sad history of the DRC and talk, instead, about the geography of the place.

Did you know....?

The DRC has more thunderstorms than anywhere else in the world!

The annual rainfall of some areas of the DRC is almost 7 feet! Compare that to my own home, in Southern California, where we get only around 16 or 17 inches of rain a year (that's one and a half feet rather than seven feet!).

The Congo River and its basin, covered with tropical rainforest, dominate the entire country, although there are some “rift” mountains. The Congo Rainforest is the second largest in the world (after the Amazon Rainforest), and the Congo River's flow is second largest in the world (again, after the Amazon).

The rift mountains already mentioned, and the rift valley alongside the mountain range, are the result of two tectonic plates pulling apart, causing lava to push upwards and making new land. Because of this tectonic activity, there is a huge amount of minerals easily accessible in some parts of the Congo. Cobalt, copper, cadmium, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron, and coal are all plentiful! (Fighting over this potential mineral wealth is one reason for the violence, unfortunately.)

Some of the most familiar “African animals” live in the DRC, including chimpanzees and their cousins, the bonobos, gorillas, elephants, rhinos, and okapis. The DRC is ranked as Africa's most biodiverse nation – but again, all the warring and violence have threatened wildlife and their habitats.

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