To fly from the capital of the Republic of the Congo to the capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo takes only 4 minutes; in fact, flights have been known to cost single digit figures in USD. The border between the two nations is largely unmanned and citizens cross with little hassle, even if they aren’t carrying passports. Visitors are welcomed by the residents on both sides of the border – the historical relationships in the area, which predates the formation of nations and is influenced greatly by longstanding cultures and traditions, has not been lost. However, though these cities lie just four minutes apart, there is a world of difference in the lives of the residents of these cities.
It’s worth mentioning that the two Congos are not separate as a result of conflict or political disagreement, which is the case with other similarly named countries such as South Sudan and Sudan. In reality, the existence of two Congos is a result of European settlement in Africa. The area known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was formerly a Belgian colony whereas modern-day territory belonging to the Republic of the Congo was originally colonized by the French. Following the Second World War, many European countries began to release control of their overseas territories in order to quickly recover from the vast damages of the war – as a result, these territories became self-governing. In 1960, both Belgian Congo and French Equatorial Africa dissolved, forming independent states. French Equatorial Africa would divide into five nations: Congo, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon and the Central African Republic. Each independent nation had already been operating under its own leadership with very little influence from leaders in Europe and as a result, there were leaders in place from the get-go. With leaders of both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo bringing their countries to life on the international stage, there was no room for the cultures to reunite and thus, the divide remains to this day. Though the people of the Congo’s have been known to welcome each other and treat each other like their own, there is no potential for Congolese reunification.
The tale of the two Congo’s tells the story of two nations with similar fighting spirits and vastly different leadership. As a result, the people of Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville have been given very different lives.
Until recently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the world’s poorest country when comparing gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity) per capita. It is only surpassed by the war-torn nation of the Central African Republic. The economic hardships that the Democratic Republic of the Congo faces are visible in the everyday lives of working class civilians. Visitors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are likely to see people walking the street with large bags over their head – this is a common form of material transport in the country. Technological advancements in the DRC have been minimal, which has clearly influenced the methods of work in the country.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo gained independence before the Republic of the Congo and has a 15-times larger population – the Democratic Republic of the Congo has 6-times more land than the Republic of the Congo and yet, there is a massive economic and social deficit facing the republic. Many people question whether this is a result of poor governing; in fact, the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been replaced twice and therefore, the country is in it’s Third Republic. While this may be a contributing factor, the underlying cause for DR Congo’s economic troubles comes from the land itself. While the nation has an abundance of resources such as gold, coltan, copper and the cobalt ore, these are resources that are extracted through mining. Without proper technology, mining processes take longer and transportation of resources is very difficult. Many of the bags that people have on their heads actually contain resources that have been dug up. This shows that state control over resources is very limited and individuals end up working on their own or for other organizations, including terrorist cells, to make profits. This points to the fact that the early leadership struggle to develop and maintain control over the land has been a deciding factor in the economic state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. DR Congo’s most visible issue to the rest of the world is, simply, their misfortune in the resources they have – cultivation is more difficult than in industries such as agriculture, which is difficult in the region, and forestry, which poses larger transportation problems.
Though resources are the same across the border, the situation in the Republic of the Congo is vastly different from that of DR Congo. The Republic of the Congo, though still a developing nation, has made significant strides down the Fragile States Index, in which DR Congo has continuously ranked in the top 5, in recent years. The Republic of the Congo continues to grow in a positive direction both socially and economically.
Political instability has not been an issue lost on the Republic of the Congo, as the nation has faced a coup d’etat and leadership struggles have caused a civil war. However, stability and unity began in a controversial election in 2002. The unswerving presence of Denis Sassou Nguesso, however questionable, has led the Republic of the Congo into a better era for the nation. While his political opponents strongly oppose his claims, there is no evidence to refute the progress that the country has made in recent years. Across the border is a country that was dangerously affected by the Rwandan Genocide and is still caught in a massive firefight. The country has become a home for Ugandan and Rwandan drug lords, as it provides unparalleled cover and this has only added to do the violence that remains from the civil war.
The lack of war in the Republic of the Congo and the ability to recover from destruction has greatly assisted the economic growth in the nation, but there is one more distinguishing factor. While Joseph Kabila’s government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo struggles to maintain control over the resources, neighboring Republic of the Congo has established partnerships with companies and foreign entities to allow extraction of resources, such as coltan and gold, for a substantial cost or investment paid to the government. While this may not be the most beneficial choice, it allows the nation some profit and they are not forced into technological investments. As the nation has some established control over their resources and territory, they have made significant progress on the international stage. It is worth recognizing that the Republic of the Congo has far less land and is in one of the less volatile parts of Africa and so the difficulty they would face in maintaining their territory.
Essentially, the Congos share a name but the lifestyle of the people is incredibly different. Poverty is visible on the lackluster roads of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and people are often thrust into working alone and trying to sell their goods, without even a vending booth. On the other hand, while there is poverty in the Republic of the Congo, government investment in basic infrastructure and roads, as well as control and regulation of resources, has yielded several positive results. Though the Democratic Republic of the Congo fails to live up to the quality of life it’s neighbour provides civilians, there are too many factors to determine why exactly this happens.
All that can be said is that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo suffer as a result of these actions.