The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the second largest country in Africa, has been mired in conflict for decades. A country of paradoxes, it is a land rich in natural resources, but its people are among the poorest in the world.
While the DRC has vast amounts of oil, diamonds, gold, and other natural resources, a majority of the population — about 64 percent — is considered extremely poor and lives on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank estimates.
The country is fraught with political instability, armed clashes, and human rights violations. The latest conflict erupted in 2016 in the Kasai region, which includes five provinces in the center of the country. It is yet another instance of fighting between the military and splintered ethnic militias. Nationally, 2.1 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, making the DRC the African country with the highest number of internally displaced people — 4.5 million. About 7.7 million people lack adequate food, including more than 2 million children under 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition.
Ebola alert — Dec. 15, 2018: Ebola briefly broke out in May in northwestern DRC. Then the deadly virus resurfaced in August in the northeast, killing 313 of 531 people infected as of Dec. 15. This is the tenth outbreak of the deadly viral disease in the DRC since it was identified in the 1970s. Earlier outbreaks were quickly contained and didn’t spread beyond isolated rural communities. Now that an Ebola case has been confirmed in an urban area — the town of Beni —the World Health Organization and local partners have organized an all-out effort to vaccinate healthcare workers and hundreds of other people who may have been in contact with the virus.
History of the DRC
The people of the DRC have endured more than two decades of civil war, and conflict has claimed as many as 6 million lives.
16th century to late 19th century — Precolonial era
- Chiefdoms and many ethnic groups dominated the large sub-Saharan region that is now the DRC.
1885 to 1960 — European colonization
- King Leopold II of Belgium laid claim to what he called Congo Free State, which he ruled cruelly in a bid to extract natural resources.
- In response to an international outcry, the Belgian state took it over in 1908, renaming it the Belgian Congo.
1960 — Independence and Congo crisis
- A Congolese uprising led to independence in 1960. The Congo crisis was characterized by years of chaos, multiple coups, and insurgencies.
- Patrice Lumumba became the first legally elected prime minister; less than a year later, he was assassinated.
1965 — President Mobutu Sese Seko
- Mobutu — formerly Patrice Lumumba’s secretary of state for national defense — seized power in a bloodless coup and assumed the presidency, forming a totalitarian regime.
- President Mobutu renamed the country to Zaire in 1971.
1996 to 1997 — First Congo war
- President Mobutu Sese Seko was replaced by Laurent Kabila, a rebel leader, after a foreign invasion by Rwanda. Under the new president, the country’s name was restored to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
1997 to 2003 — Civil war
- Several neighboring countries became involved in a civil war, referred to as Africa’s first world war.
2003 to 2016 — Continued conflict
- Armed conflict persisted in the East among dozens of rebel groups.
- In 2006, the DRC held its first free elections in 40 years, electing Joseph Kabila as its president. Kabila had been appointed to the position after his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated.
2016 to 2018 — Shaky political ground
- Turmoil in the East has flared up sporadically amid political volatility, displacing millions of people.
- Fighting broke out in Grand Kasai, in the central region, between supporters of a traditional leader was killed by security forces.
- National elections have been postponed multiple times after accusations of fraud in the 2011 polls. New elections have been scheduled for December 2018.
FAQs: What you need to know about the DRC conflict
Explore facts and FAQs about conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and learn how you can help affected children, families, and communities.
- Fast facts: What is happening in the DRC?
- How can I help people in the DRC?
- How are conditions in the DRC affecting children?
- What are greatest needs of children and families in the DRC?
- What is World Vision doing to help people in the DRC?
Fast facts: What is happening in the DRC?
- About 12.8 million of 77 million people in the DRC need humanitarian assistance and protection, including 7 million people who are food insecure, an increase of 30 percent over the year before.
- The most concerning problems include child malnutrition and outbreaks of cholera, measles, and yellow fever. The country reported 55,000 cholera cases and 1,000 deaths in 2017, as well as more than 42,000 cases of preventable measles.
- More than 500,000 people from the DRC live in neighboring countries as refugees. They fled during years of violence and conflict between warring militias and rebel factions dating back to the 1960s.
- More than 2 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018.
How can I help people in the DRC?
Sponsor a child: Help World Vision continue to provide life-saving assistance to children and communities in the DRC.
Pray: Pray for children and families caught up in violence in the DRC.
How are conditions in the DRC affecting children?
UNICEF reports that 7 million children have been affected by the DRC conflict. Children are the main victims of violence, at risk of injury or death in combat, as many children have been recruited into armed groups as porters, combatants, or sex slaves. Children recently released from armed groups have expressed fear of returning home, saying they will not be accepted back into their families and communities.
In addition to food, shelter, and psychosocial support, children need opportunities for play and learning. In Kasai-Central province, 400 schools have been attacked and at least 260 were destroyed, depriving some 150,000 primary-school-age children of access to education.
Because of poverty and displacement, many children throughout the country are forced to work rather than attend school. Working in mines is common among children in the DRC, and it’s one of the most dangerous forms of child labor.
What are the greatest needs of children and families in the DRC?
The greatest needs of children and families in the DRC are food aid and all aspects of child protection. Without reliable sources of food, families are cutting back consumption, and children are becoming malnourished. As many as 7.7 million people don’t have sufficient food. The U.N. children’s agency estimates that 2.2 million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition, about 12 percent of the global caseload. This form of malnutrition means children are dying of hunger. With children vulnerable to violence and recruitment into armed groups, they need opportunities for education and strong support systems within their families and communities.
What is World Vision doing to help people in the DRC?
World Vision has provided relief and development programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1984. Today, we are operating in 14 of 26 provinces. Our child-focused programming in protection, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, food aid, food security, peacebuilding efforts, and emergency relief reached almost 2.5 million people in 2015. World Vision is the World Food Program’s largest partner in the DRC, distributing food to nearly 1 million people.
In impoverished areas, families are unable to access education or healthcare opportunities for their children. World Vision has improved schools, adding new classrooms and desks, and provided teachers with training. Our programs have helped improve school attendance, literacy rates, and girls’ education. Healthcare initiatives last year focused on prenatal care for pregnant women and reaching children in remote areas with physical exams and vaccinations to prevent life-threatening childhood diseases.
Since World Vision’s response to the conflict in Kasai began in August 2017, our staff have reached more than 535,000 people with life-saving humanitarian assistance. That includes nearly 460,000 people who received food and cash, more than 46,000 young children and vulnerable adults in 126 health centers who received treatment or prevention consults for malnutrition, more than 22,000 children who benefited from Child-Friendly Spaces, and almost 27,000 students who benefited from classroom repairs, back-to-school kits, teacher training, and school-fee scholarships. Our response to the complex situation in the DRC will continue in 2019.
Chris Huber and Kathryn Reid of World Vision’s staff in the U.S. contributed to this article.