The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly known as the Republic of Zaire, is geographically the largest state in Southern and Central Africa. It is situated at the heart of Africa, and lies on the Equator, covering an area of 2,345,095 km². The DRC has 37 kilometres of coastline and a geography characterised by a vast central basin low-lying plateau rising to volcanoes and mountains in the east. More than half the country is covered by dense tropical rainforest. The country is traversed by numerous rivers with the Congo River being the largest.
The DRC has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons; the 'dry season' (18 to 27oC ) called 'Congolese Winter', which is from June to August. The 'rainy season' (22 to 33oC) runs from September to May with its heavy, monsoon rains. Temperatures are hot and humid in the central region,cooler and drier in the southern highlands, and cooler and wetter in the eastern highlands.
The population is estimated at 75,259,000 (2011), and is divided into ten provinces and one city, namely, Kinshasa – the capital. The provinces are Bandundu, Bas-Congo, Equateur, Kasai-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, Katanga, Maniema, Nord-Kivu, Orientale and Sud-Kivu. French is the only official language, with four national languages; Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo and Tshiluba. The DRC has over 200 African ethnic groups, of which the majority are Bantu.
Congo became independent on 30 June, 1960. However, during the period between independence and 1999, the DRC suffered two civil wars, erupting and dying off at different times. In addition to the capital city of Kinsasha, other major population centres include Lubumbashi, Kisangani, Matadi and Goma. The president is the Head of State.
The DRC’s economy is primarily based on the mining sector. It has abundant mineral resources including copper, cobalt, cadmium, petroleum, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore and coal as well as timber, and vast hydropower potential. The DRC is potentially one of the richest mining countries in Africa. The country was the world’s fourth largest producer of industrial diamonds during the 1980s, and diamonds continue to dominate exports, accounting for nearly half of exports (US$828 million) in 2004. The oil industry, mainly from offshore fields, is another important contributor to the DRC’s economy. Agriculture is the mainstay of the DRC economy, accounting for 42.5 % of GDP in 2004, with the main cash crops consisting of coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea and cocoa.
The DRC with its dense rain forests, wildlife and rivers offers an important investment opportunity for the development of eco-tourism and the construction of new hotels. The country has seven major national parks: Virunga, Kahuzi-Biega, Garamba, Maiko, Kundelungu, Upemba and Salonga. Spectacular wildlife viewing is offered in the Parc National de Kahuzi-Biega, where the lowland gorillas are found. Virunga National Park, which borders Rwanda and Uganda, is home to the endangered mountain gorillas and also houses the Tonga Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The Nyiragongo and Nyamulgira volcanoes offer spectacular views, where lava flows can be seen on both volcanoes and the crater at Nyiragongo, which is still active.