DRC: big, rich and unruly

2013-10-28 18:26

KINSHASA, Oct 28, 2013 (AFP) -Fighting has surged again in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a huge African country that sits atop vast natural resources coveted by well-armed and organised militias.

GEOGRAPHY: The biggest, most populous central African country at 2,345,000 square kilometres (906,000 square miles), it is almost as large as western Europe.

The capital, Kinshasa, lies on the Congo River, Africa's second-longest at 4,700 kilometres (2,900 miles).

DRC borders on nine countries, including other unstable states such as the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

POPULATION: 65.7 million (World Bank, 2012); more than 200 ethnic groups.

LANGUAGES: French (official); Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba, Kikongo and more than 200 vernacular languages.

RELIGION: 85 percent Christian; Muslim and animist minorities.

HISTORY: Personal fiefdom of Belgian King Leopold II from 1885 to 1908, when it became the colony of Belgian Congo.

Civil war broke out almost immediately after independence in 1960.

The country has been run by a string of strongmen, including General Joseph-Desire Mobutu who staged a coup in 1965, renamed the country Zaire and set up a dictatorial kleptocracy that lasted 32 years.

In 1997 he was toppled by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, who renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The current president is Laurent Kabila's son Joseph, who took over after the presidential guard killed his father in 2001, and who won an election in October 2006.

ECONOMY: Enormous potential wealth, with 34 percent of the world's cobalt reserves, 10 percent of its copper reserves and deposits of oil, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc and uranium.

Two-thirds of the population nonetheless lives below the poverty line of $1.25 a day.

Income per capita: $220 (World Bank, 2012)

Currency: Congolese franc (FC)

EASTERN DRC:

Fighting has raged on and off in resource-rich eastern DRC since 1998, involving seven countries in what became known as "Africa's World War".

Since then, more than three million people have died of combat, disease and hunger and 1.6 million been left homeless.

Armed groups regularly attack and rape civilians in a bitter struggle for control.

The larger Great Lakes area includes northeast DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi -- all of which are concerned by the fighting.

Kinshasa has accused neighbouring Kigali of directing a rebellion by the M23 movement and UN experts have said that the powerful rebels' "de facto chain of command" was topped by Rwanda's defence minister.

A United Nations observer mission (MONUC) deployed in the region in 1999. It became the peacekeeping mission MONUSCO -- the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- in 2010, with a mandate to conduct offensive operations.

MONUSCO is one of the largest UN military operations in the world with 20,000 uniformed personnel.

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