What are the differences between the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo?
The name of the Congo region comes from “Bakongo”, the name of the Bantu people who live there. Archaeological discoveries and excavations have established that the Bakongo people have lived in the region for thousands of years. This is why the region naturally took the name Congo from the colonial period onwards.
Two countries, one name – that’s what makes the Congo region so special. It’s easy to get confused. And with good reasons, there are many similarities between the Republic of Congo and its big sister, the Democratic Republic of Congo: the same region, the same climate, the same language, the same wild and unspoilt nature. However, a closer look reveals that the two countries are much more different than they first appear.
Different heritages: the French Congo and the Belgian Congo
What differentiates the two Congo’s is their history. Congo Brazzaville is a former French colony, created in 1891. Initially under the name of “Moyen Congo”, before taking on its current name, Republic of Congo, on 15 August 1960. Since then, its capital has been Brazzaville. Congo Kinshasa, on the other hand, is a former Belgian colony founded in 1908 which gained independence on 30 June 1960. Congo Kinshasa took the name of Zaire under the dictatorship of General Mobutu in order to avoid confusion with neighboring Congo. However, with the arrival of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo and Joseph Kabila, Congo Kinshasa changed its name once again to become the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Two countries, two scales
Of all the disparities, the difference in size between the two countries is surely the most glaring. With a surface area of 342,000 km², Congo Brazzaville is around 7 times smaller than Congo Kinshasa, which covers an area of 2,345,000 km². This makes the Democratic Republic of Congo the second largest African country after Algeria.
Separated by the Congo River, the capitals of Brazzaville and Kinshasa face each other on the banks of the Malebo Pool.
Brazzaville is the capital of the Republic of Congo. Its name “Brazza” coming from the patronymic of the Italian Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, an explorer in the service of French expeditions. Kinshasa or “Kin”, formerly known as Léopoldville until 1966, is the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To avoid confusion, it is also possible to differentiate the two Congos by using their informal nicknames of Congo Brazzaville and Congo Kinshasa.
Each country has its own flag
Flags are also a way of distinguishing the two Congos. The flag of Congo Brazzaville uses the colours of pan-Africanism. These colours can be found on many African flags, they are red, green and yellow. The flag of the DRC, for its part, is red, yellow and blue, with a star symbolizing the country’s promising future.
The great demographic gap
The difference between the two countries is also marked at the demographic level. While the Democratic Republic of Congo has a population of 96 million, Congo Brazzaville has just 5 million.
In addition, there is a 5-year difference in life expectancy between the two states. it is set at 60 for the DRC and 65 for the Republic of Congo.
The distribution of the population is also not the same. Congo Brazzaville has a population density of just 15 inhabitants per km². In Congo Kinshasa, the population distribution is 45 inhabitants per km². However, the majority of the population live on the plateaux and in the savannah near rivers and lakes. While the humid and swampy forest areas of the Congo forest are deserted by the population due to the inhospitable nature of the forest.
Two different political realities
Since the 1960s and the independence of the two countries, the official language has remained French. The second most widely spoken language is Lingala in both the DRC and Congo.
However, despite their proximity, the two states have very different political situations. During the Cold War, Zaire was influenced by the Western bloc, while the People’s Republic of Congo (Congo Brazza) was influenced by the Eastern bloc.
Today, the Congo’s political situation remains much more stable than that of its neighbor, the DRC. Since the civil war of the 1990s, the country has been ruled by President Sassou Nguesso. In the DRC, despite attempts to stabilize and secure the country, it remains highly unstable, with persistent risk zones in the east of the country.
A natural world
The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to most of the Congo Basin forest. It is the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon rainforest.
The region is divided in two by the Congo River and its tributaries. It is the river that acts as the border, distinguishing the Republic of Congo on the right bank from the Democratic Republic of Congo on the left bank.
In total, the natural border created by the Congo River and its tributary the Ubangi is almost 2,410 kilometers long, making it the 15th longest border in the world.
The two regions are not only rich in exceptional biodiversity. The Republic of Congo is the fifth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the DRC also has diamond and mineral resources that are essential to the energy transition.
Policy of respect for the environment
As well as sharing the Congo River, the two countries share the Congo Basin Forest, most of which is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The regulations governing the preservation and protection of the environment are not the same in the two countries.
The Democratic Republic of Congo owns most of the Congo Basin, covering an area of 234 million hectares. The forest covers some 181 million hectares. However, the forest is shrinking by half a million hectares every year as a result of slash-and-burn farming and logging. Agroforestry and reforestation have been put forward as solutions to this environmental problem. Indeed, they could help meet the demand for wood and food in a sustainable way.
For its part, the Republic of Congo is largely covered by forest. More than 70% of the country’s surface area covered by forest, making it the fifteenth most forested country in the world. The environment is therefore highly vulnerable and its protection is vital. But the Republic of Congo is not sufficiently prepared to adapt to climate change. The country is suffering from climate disruption. It represents a risk for the population whose livelihood depends on this environment. Nevertheless, the Republic of Congo is aware of its ecological importance at global level and is working to put in place climate-smart practices.