Window into the Democratic Republic of the Congo
By Hans Olson
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been known as Zaïre, Congo Free State, and Belgian Congo. To many it evokes images of war, natural calamities, and political unrest.
Not to be confused with the neighboring country Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DR Congo, was colonized by Belgium in 1908. In 1960 Congo received its independence, which was followed by years of political and social instability. In 1965 Joseph Mobutu declared himself president in a coup and changed the name of the country to Zaïre.
Mobutu remained president for the next 32 years. In 1994 a large inflow of refugees from neighboring Rwanda and Burundi sparked a civil war that eventually toppled Mobutu’s government. Three years later, Laurent Kabila became president and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The next year more fighting broke out. A cease-fire was signed in 1999, but sporadic fighting continued. In 2001 Kabila was assassinated and his son, Joseph Kabila, was named head of state.
On January 17, 2002, Mount Nyiragongo erupted in eastern DR Congo, just outside Goma, leaving 120,000 people homeless. Following the eruption 400,000 people were evacuated from the city. Six months later nearby Mount Nyamuragira also erupted. Both volcanoes are still active.
Located at the heart of sub-Saharan Africa and bounded by nine countries including Angola, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, DR Congo straddles the equator. As a result DR Congo experiences large amounts of rain and has the highest frequency of thunderstorms on earth. DR Congo’s rain forest is second only to that of the Amazon.
The terrain and climate of DR Congo makes road travel difficult. With few good roads or railways, many people rely upon the thousands of kilometers of navigable waterways to transverse the country.
DR Congo’s population grew from 47 million to 63 million over the past decade. As many as 250 ethnic groups live in the country, and some 700 local languages and dialects are spoken.
Adventists in DR Congo
The Adventist Church’s medical ministry is important in DR Congo. The Robinsons’ Songa Mission is now home to Songa Adventist Hospital, the only urgent care medical facility within several hundred miles. Besides offering medical treatments, its staff travels into surrounding villages to care for those who can’t get to the hospital. Across the country another 33 Adventist hospitals and clinics serve local populations.
The Adventist Church has grown by nearly 70 percent since 1996 to more than 500,000 members.
To learn more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, visit: www.AdventistMission.org.