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From The Hippo’s Ears: The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Facts you may not have know about The Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (République démocratique du Congo), also known as DR Congo, the DRC, DROC, Congo-Kinshasa, or simply the Congo, is a country located in Central Africa. It is, by area, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the second-largest in all of Africa.

The DRC is a unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic, and gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

1.  When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?

Common greetings include handshakes, as well as hugs and cheek kisses for those who know each other well. Hello in Lingala is “mbote”. How are you is “ndenge nini?. In French, these would be “bonjour” and “comment allez-vous?” respectively.

2. What languages are spoken in the country?

French is the official language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is culturally accepted as the lingua franca facilitating communication among the many different ethnic groups of the Congo. According to a 2014 OIF report, 33 million Congolese people (47% of the population) could read and write in French.

Approximately 242 languages are spoken in the country, but only four have the status of national languages: Kituba (“Kikongo ya leta”), Lingala, Tshiluba, and Swahili.

3. Do you use a twelve hour clock, or a twenty-four hour clock?

We use a 24-hour system.

4. What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in the country?

We drive on the right side of road.

5. How important is punctuality?

Time is flexible in DRC. People don’t always arrive on time for meetings – this is part of the culture.

6. Which types of music are popular? Who are some of the most popular musicians?

Music is a large part of Congolese culture. The DRC has blended its ethnic musical sources with Cuban rumba, and merengue to give birth to soukous, a genre of dance music from the Congo Basin.It derived from Congolese rumba in the 1960s and gained popularity in the 1980s in France.

For a taste of soukous music, listen to Dibolo Dibala’s Michel.

Aerial view of Kinshasa, the DRC’s capital.

7. Are there any Traditional Dances?

Kwassa kwassa is a dance created by Jeannora, a mechanic in Kinshasa. It started in the 1980s, spread across Africa, and was made popular by soukous music videos.

Watch kwassa kwassa dancing here.

8.  What traditional Festivals are celebrated in the country?

National Heroes’ Day

Referred to as “Heroes’ Day,” this public holiday is celebrated annually on January 17. It commemorates the death of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s popular leader. It is one of the two festivals that commemorate Lumumba’s fight for human dignity in the region.

National Liberation Day

The Congo observes National Liberation Day every year on May 17. This is a public holiday, so all offices and most businesses are closed. It pays tribute to the efforts of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo rebel group who fought the government during the second war. MLC was led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, the son of Bemba Saolona, a Congolese billionaire. Street parades and cultural shows are held.

Parents’ Day

The world observes Parents’ Day every August 1, but in the Congo, it is considered a public holiday. Locals are enthusiastic about giving greeting cards and gifts to their family.

9. What are the seasons like?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo lies on the equator, with one-third of the country to the north and two-thirds to the south. The climate is hot and humid in the river basin and cool and dry in the southern highlands, with a cold, alpine climate in the Rwenzori Mountains.

South of the equator, the rainy season lasts from October to May and north of the Equator, from April to November. Along the Equator, rainfall is fairly regular throughout the year. During the wet season, thunderstorms often are violent but seldom last more than a few hours. The average rainfall for the entire country is about 1,070 mm (42 in).

10. What are some interesting facts about the President?

President Félix Tshisekedi has served in the position since January 2019. He is the leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the oldest and largest party of the Democratic Republic of Congo, succeeding his father – Étienne Tshisekedi – in the role. Tshisekedi’s election at the end of 2018 marked the first peaceful transition of power since the DRC became independent from Belgium in 1960.

11. What are the country’s major industries?

The Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources; its untapped deposits of raw minerals were estimated in 2011 to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion. The DRC’s main exports are gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, crude oil, and wood.

12. What are some of the things visitors can look forward to experiencing?

Major tourist attractions include visiting Lac Ma Vallée, Mount Mangengenge, and the National Museum of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

View down a road in Kinshasa.

13. What is a popular local drink?

Ginger drinks and rice-based beers are popular. Linguila is a local wine made by fermenting sugar cane.

14. What is a popular local dish?

Popular DRC dishes include Chikwangue/kwanga (cassava, cooked and stored in banana leaves); loso na madesu (rice and beans); and liboke Ya mbika (steamed pumpkin seed pudding).

15. What do you pay, on average, for the following?

The DRC uses the Congolese franc (CDF). (1 USD = approximately 1,666 CFA).

3-course meal at a mid-range restaurant: 10,796 CDF
Apples (1 kg): 9,996 CDF
Milk (1 l): 3,382 CDF
Cappuccino: 5,198 CDF
Water (350 ml): 1,283 CDF
Loaf of white bread: 2,116 CDF

16. Any general safety tips?

  • Crime is common, and being vigilant is advised.
  • You should avoid using any taxis in DRC. If you must take a taxi, use a privately booked one. Don’t hail taxis in the street.
  • On 17 July 2019, the World Health Organisation declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) following an outbreak of the Ebola virus in eastern DRC. New cases continue to be reported across the affected areas including the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu.
  • Travel within 50km of the border with the Central African Republic and South Sudan is advised against.

17. In conclusion, famous (and sometimes infamous) people from the country include:

  • Patrice Lumumba, a Congolese politician and independence leader, who served as the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo. He played a significant role in the transformation of the Congo from a colony of Belgium into an independent republic.
  • Robert Kidiaba, former Congolese international footballer who played for TP Mazembe, as a goalkeeper.
  • Le Grand Kallé (Joseph Athanase Tshamala Kabasele), a Congolese singer and bandleader, considered the father of modern Congolese music.

 

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Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9]. Image sources: [1], [2], [3].