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Known as Zaire, East Congo, DR Congo, DRC, DROC, Congo-Kinshasa, or the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a short coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. Otherwise, it is surrounded by the disputed Cabinda province of Angola, the Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, and Angola.

The borders of the DRC were drawn at a conference in Germany in 1884 and 1885, which was when Africa was divided up in ways that benefited the European powers, and without regard for existing tribal systems, cultures, or language. In some cases, these new borders separated families, while making strangers part of one nation.

Landlocked except for a small Atlantic coastline, the DRC depends on the Congo River for transportation and, to a large part, for a livelihood. The Congo River is the second longest river in Africa, and it discharges more water than any river in the world except the Amazon. Nearly the entirety of the river is navigable. There are about forty hydroelectric plants in the Congo Basin.

The largest cities in the DRC include Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi, Kisangani, Masina, Kananga, Likasi, Kolwezi, Tshikapa, and Bukavu. By far the largest of its cities, and the capital city, Kinshasa was previously known as Leopoldville. The DRC's second largest city, Lubumbashi, was formerly known as Elisabethville, and the mining capital of the Congo.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second-largest country in Africa by area, and the fourth most populated. It is home to more than two hundred ethnic and linguistic groups. In the northern regions of the country, in proximity to the Sudanese border, the ethnicity and language of the people are similar to that of Saharans, and their culture is influenced heavy by the Arabs of the Middle East. Most of the remainder of the country is inhabited by people of Bantu origins, including the Kongo, Kuba, Luba, Lunda, and Mongo groups. In addition, the country has taken in large numbers of migrants and refugees from neighboring countries.

Most Congolese speak more than one language, and sometimes four or more languages. French is the official language and the one used by the government. Other official languages include Kituba, Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba, with Lingala being the predominant language in the Congolese military. The Congo is one of few African nations in which multiple languages are part of primary education, but with French being the sole language from the third grade onwards.

The country's chief topographical features are a substantial river basin, a large valley, high plateaus, three mountain ranges, and a low coastal plain, with most of the country made up of the central Congo basin, which is thought to have once been an inland sea.

The Congo basin is covered by a forest system known as the equatorial rainforest. Grasslands and woodlands are common in the tropical climate zone, and mangrove stands are found in the swamps and the mouth of the Congo River. Eastern plateaus are covered by grasslands, mountain forests, and bamboo. The central basin hosts a variety of trees, including ebony, mahogany, and other trees that produce timber, as well as rubber and palm trees. Eucalyptus trees are not native to the region, but can be found in the highlands.

The region now known as the DR Congo has been populated for about 90,000 years. The Bantu people are believed to have settled in the northwest area in the 5th century, while the people of the south and southwest were San Bushmen and other hunter-gatherer tribes.

From 1877 to 1908, the region was controlled by King Leopold II of Belgium, who made the land his private domain, known as the Congo Free State. Despite the name, residents of the Congo Free State were not free. In the Free State, the local population was forced to work on the king's rubber plantations, to build a railroad and complete other projects. Millions of Congolese were murdered, or died from disease and exploitation.

Bowing to international pressure, Belgium took over the Free State from King Leopold II in 1908, annexing it as a Belgian colony. Conditions improved but, in 1960, a growing nationalist movement achieved independence under the name Republic of the Congo. As the neighboring French colony of Middle Congo chose the same name upon winning independence, the country eventually became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Following independence, the political climate in the DRC has been tumultuous, including attempted secessions, assassinations, civil wars, coups, invasions by neighboring countries, and protests. Most of its remaining European population fled soon after the country became independent. After a coup in 1971, the country's name was changed to Zaire for about fifteen years. Corruption, human rights violations, and violence have been common.



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