Why Are There Two Congos in Africa?

Both countries border the river from which they take their names

Aerial view of Brazzaville, Kinshasa, and the Congo River
The two countries border the Congo River.

Roger de la Harpe / Getty Images

When you're talking about "Congo" in terms of nations by that name, you're actually referring to one of two countries that border the Congo River in central Africa. The name Congo stems from the Bakongo, a Bantu tribe that populates the area. The larger of the two countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is located to the southeast, while the smaller nation, the Republic of the Congo, is situated to the northwest. While they share a name, each country has its own interesting history and statistics. Read on to learn more about these closely related but distinctly different nations.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

The capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, also known as "Congo-Kinshasa," is Kinshasa, which is also the country's largest city. Prior to its present name, the Democratic Republic of Congo was formerly known as Zaire, and before that, it was the Belgian Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi in the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo, the Angolan exclave of Cabinda, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The country has access to the ocean through a 25-mile stretch of Atlantic coastline at Muanda and the roughly five-and-a-half-mile-wide mouth of the Congo River, which opens into the Gulf of Guinea.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa's second-largest country and covers a total of 2,344,858 square kilometers, which makes it slightly larger than Mexico and about a quarter the size of the United States. The population is estimated at somewhere near 86.8 million people (as of 2019).

Republic of the Congo

On the western border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, you'll find the smaller of the two Congos, the Republic of the Congo, or Congo Brazzaville. Brazzaville is also the country's capital and largest city. This area was formerly the French territory known as Middle Congo.

The Republic of the Congo covers an area of 132,046 square miles and had a population of 5.38 million people (as of 2019). The CIA World Factbook notes some interesting facts with regard to the country's flag:

"[It is] divided diagonally from the lower hoist side by a yellow band; the upper triangle (hoist side) is green and the lower triangle is red; green symbolizes agriculture and forests, yellow the friendship and nobility of the people, red is unexplained but has been associated with the struggle for independence."

Civil Unrest

Both Congos have seen their share of civil and political unrest. According to the CIA, internal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has resulted in 3.5 million deaths from violence, disease, and starvation since 1998. The CIA adds that the Democratic Republic of Congo has other troubling problems as well.

"[It] is a source, destination, and possibly a transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; the majority of this trafficking is internal, and much of it is perpetrated by armed groups and rogue government forces outside official control in the country's unstable eastern provinces."

The Republic of the Congo has also seen its share of unrest. Marxist President Denis Sassou-Nguesso returned to power after a brief civil war in 1997, derailing the democratic transition that took place five years before. As of 2020, Sassou-Nguesso remains the country's president.

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