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Updated: March 2009

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Overview | World Vision's history in the DRC | World Vision in the DRC today


The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the 12th largest country in area in the world, is located in Central Africa and is bordered by Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The DRC has access to the Atlantic Ocean through a 25-mile stretch of coastline on the western edge of the country. The vast central interior is covered by a dense tropical rainforest. There are rugged mountains in the east, highlands and plateaus in the west and south, and a lush river valley found along the 3,000-mile long Congo River that winds its way through the country. Straddling the equator, the DRC experiences a hot and humid tropical climate along the river valley, drier weather in the southern highlands, and cooler temperatures in the eastern mountains. Natural resources include cobalt, copper, petroleum, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, tin, uranium, coal, and timber.

There are more than 225 ethnic groups who live in the DRC. The four largest tribes—Mongo, Luba, Kongo, and Mangbetu-Azande—make up approximately 45 percent of the population. Though there are more than 700 local dialects spoken throughout the country, French is the official language and is used as an ethnically neutral way to communicate. Four other languages are used frequently by members of different tribes: Lingala (used among commercial tradesmen), Kingwana (a dialect of Swahili), Kikongo, and Tshiluba.

The Belgian Congo, as it was called then, gained its independence in 1960 after 52 years of colonial rule. In November 1965, Colonel Joseph Mobutu seized power, declared himself president, and changed the name of the country to Zaire.
DRC map

DRC flag
Country statistics 
Population60.6 million
Land mass905,968 square miles
People per square mile67
Life expectancy54 years
Under age 5 mortality rate205/1,000
Literacy rate67%
Access to safe water46%
Average annual incomeUS$130
Syncretic sects and indigenous 20%

Continuous civil war and an influx of refugees from Rwanda and Burundi led to the toppling of Mobutu’s government in 1997 by rebel leader Laurent Kabila. Kabila renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the world’s most devastating civil wars ended in 2003 when Kabila’s son Joseph, then president, brokered a peace agreement with the rebels. Four years later another rebel group began battling the Congolese army, causing many in the eastern region of the country to flee their homes. Since 1996, the DRC has seen the displacement of nearly 1.4 million people and the deaths of more than 5 million due to the conflicts. In 2008, fighting had intensified, displacing more than 250,000 people in a relatively short period of time.

The country’s eastern provinces had previously been a chief source of food for the DRC, but long-time looting of crops by armed rebel groups has largely undermined production. Even in more secure areas of the country, significantly decreased food production capacity exists due to a crumbling or nonexistent transportation infrastructure. The civil war from 1996-2003 along with the recent rebel conflicts have reduced government revenues and national output. The DRC currently ranks 168th out of 177 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, despite decreasing its inflation rate from 9,000 percent in the mid- 1990s to 14 percent today.

Children are especially vulnerable to the country’s economic slowdown. Only 16 percent of children attend secondary school—a decrease of 70 percent from primary school. According to UNICEF, there are more than 4.4 million children in the DRC who do not attend school. One reason for this is that approximately 25 percent of children ages 5- 14 are working to help raise money for their families. Also, nearly 2,000 children are still members of the armed rebel forces in the Ituri and North and South Kivu Provinces in the east.

Twenty percent of children in the DRC die before their fifth birthday—currently the ninth worst rate in the world. More than half of the deaths are attributed to malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. Malaria is the third largest killer of children under the age of five. The spread of HIV and AIDS is a nationwide threat, especially for the 1.1 million internally displaced people who lack information on the topic and the means to protect themselves. There are more than 1 million people living with HIV and AIDS, and 680,000 children who have lost one or both of their parents to the disease.

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World Vision's history in the DRC

World Vision began working in the Belgian Congo in 1958 by helping to establish a Christian home for girls who otherwise would have been forced into marriage at a young age. In the 1960s and 1970s, World Vision continued to minister to the people through relief and development projects as well as several one-time financial grants. The Goma Volcano Relief project provided emergency supplies to victims of a volcanic eruption in eastern DRC near the border with Rwanda that caused 61 deaths and left 11,000 homeless. A relief project in 1977 and 1978 helped mitigate the effects of a drought by supplying 20 tons of beans, 1,650 pounds of vegetable seeds, powered milk, and medicines to the far western region of Zaire.

World Vision continued its relief and development efforts in the 1980s. In 1988, nearly 3,000 children were enjoying the benefits of sponsorship—a figure that increased to 5,000 by 1990. Through sponsorship, children were provided with education, immunization, and nutrition assistance. The number of projects also grew from seven to 55 during that time. The Shaba Food project in southern Zaire assisted churches in feeding the most malnourished children and families—35,000 people in all—during a critical food shortage in 1985. The Blukwa Community Health project, located near the border with Uganda, provided mothers with training in nutrition, hygiene, and preventive health basics. Mothers also were taught how to care for skin and eye diseases and intestinal parasite problems. As a result, the rate of communicable diseases decreased by 50 percent in two years.

World Vision’s activity in the Zaire during the 1990s increased as the number of sponsored children grew to more than 11,000 by 1995. Projects in the 21st century have focused on the prevention of waterborne diseases, assistance for orphans and vulnerable children, nutrition education, and improved schooling. The Kipushi Community Partnership project addressed the critical needs of orphans and vulnerable children by providing medical care, education, food, clothing, and shelter.

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World Vision in the DRC today

World Vision is committed to partnering with the people of the DRC to enhance their lives today and to help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities, families, and children. Currently, 74,232 children are registered in the World Vision sponsorship program. Several times this number of children and other family members benefit from World Vision activities. Of these registered children, many have World Vision sponsors in other countries. U.S. donors sponsor nearly 19,000 girls and boys. In addition, World Vision operates 24 development programs, five of which are supported by U.S. donors. Highlights of these efforts include the following:
  • The HIV and AIDS Mitigation Initiative is a USAID grant-funded project that aims to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV and AIDS and for orphans and vulnerable children who are affected by the disease. Project goals are to establish community care coalitions that will help treat chronically ill patients, provide free consultations and HIV educational materials, and coordinate with government and international agencies to provide seeds and agricultural tools. Approximately 2,835 people in the cities of Bukavu, Lubumbashi, and Matadi will benefit from this project.
  • The Food Security Rehabilitation Project seeks to improve the availability of and access to food for 5,000 vulnerable households in the city of Kirotshe. World Vision will distribute goats to 1,000 families for breeding purposes. The first 500 families who receive goats will then each provide a goat to another family once their goat gives birth. Also, 5,000 farmers will receive cassava cuttings to help rebuild crops that were recently lost to disease. Ten farmer groups, five church groups, and 20 local authorities will be trained in soil restoration and protection skills. The rest of the Kirotshe community will benefit from this project as well because farmers will be able to pass on their newly acquired skills.
For more information on World Vision’s efforts in the DRC please contact the United States office.

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