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Congo, D.R.C., Kinshasa, Brazzaville, Zaire, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo—throughout the years there has been major confusion over not just the names, but the impactful similarities between these two countries. Both countries share similar languages, cultures, and even natural resources, and yet the question remains as to what really makes these two countries different.
The Republic of Congo (French: République du Congo), also known as Congo-Brazzaville, the Congo Republic, West Congo, the former French Congo, or simply the Congo, is a small Central African country. It is bordered by five countries, one of which is the Democratic Republic of Congo situated to the east of Congo-Brazzaville. Congo-Brazzaville was formerly colonized by the French. After gaining independence the country officially became the Republic of the Congo.
The region that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo was first settled about 80,000 years ago. The Kingdom of Kongo remained present in the region between the 14th and the early 19th centuries. Belgian colonization began when King Leopold II founded the Congo Free State. The Democratic Republic of Congo gained its independence under the Belgium rulers in 1960. After its independence it became known as the Republic of Zaire between 1960 until 1997. Today this country is known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Congo-Kinshasa.
Although Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa may share near-identical names and quite similar cultures, both countries can be distinguished by a variety of factors. The name ‘Congo’ stems from the Bakongo, a Bantu tribe that populates both countries. Congo-Kinshasa is the third-biggest country in Africa. By contrast Congo-Brazzaville is very small both geographically speaking and with a population of only five million people. Congo-Kinshasa exceeds with a population of more than 10 million habitants.
Both countries gained independence in 1960, but they were colonized by different countries. Congo-Brazzaville was colonized by France while Congo-Kinshasa was colonized by Belgium. Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville also use different national currencies. In Brazzaville the currency is known as the Central African C.F.A., while in D.R.C. there are two main currencies with the most widely-used being the U.S. dollar. Travelers can also convert their money to Congolese francs, the other currency used in D.R.C.
Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa both use French as its official language, as well as the local language known as Lingala. Despite this, Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville still have a variety of different national languages within each. In Congo-Brazzaville some include Kituba, Mbochi, and Teke. While Congo-Kinshasa, as a much larger country, is home to more than 200 ethnical languages, including Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba to name a few of the most common.
It may be the case that each country is referred to in a multitude of ways, but at the end of the day the most important name is the one given by locals. In the Republic of Congo, locals refer to their country as Congo-Brazzaville and, likewise, in the D.R.C. locals call their home Congo-Kinshasa. Don’t worry though, people will always know which country you’re talking about regardless of the name you use, even if said in broken French. Just make sure that you do too.
Despite the differences between Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa both countries offer amazing experiences for travelers who are interested in discovering the beauty on a road less traveled. Both countries are filled with a variety of national parks. Kinshasa is well known for having the largest and most ecologically significant national reserves on the planet, such as Garamba National Park, Kahuzi-Biéga National Park, Kundelungu National Park, and Virunga National Park. This country is the perfect place for people who are interested in outdoor adventures. Congo-Brazzaville, on the other hand, is filled with just as many national parks including Reserve de Lesio Louna, Côte Sauvage in Pointe Noire, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Odzala-Kokoua National Park, and Loufoulakari Falls. All these spots are perfect for hiking trails, boat rides, or relaxing days by the beach.
Both countries can offer more for tourists seeking to explore and discover something new.