Why Are There Two Congos in Africa?

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The larger of the two Congos is the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Congo-Kinshasa (Kinshasa is the capital and largest city). The DRC was formerly known as Zaire and earlier known as the Belgian Congo. The smaller of the two Congos, on the western edge of the DRC, is the Republic of the Congo, or Congo Brazzaville (Brazzaville similarly being this country's capital and largest city). It used to be the French territory Middle Congo.

The name Congo stems from the Bakongo, a Bantu tribe that populate the area. The two countries are separated not only by different colonial roots, but by the Congo River (or Zaire River), the second-longest river in Africa.

Both Congos have seen unrest in recent years: In the Republic of the Congo, former Marxist President Denis Sassou-Nguesso returned to power after a brief civil war in 1997, derailing the democratic transition that took place five years beforehand. Internal conflict in the DRC has resulted in 3.5 million deaths from violence, disease and starvation since 1998, according to the CIA. Nowadays in the DRC, Tutsi rebels fight the government, which is accused of supporting Hutu refugees responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.