Democratic Republic of the Congo: The Versailles of the Jungle

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dhe Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state in Central Africa and the second largest country on the continent, only Algeria is slightly larger. The Kingdom of the Congo, one of the most important Central African states of that time, was located here between the 14th and 18th centuries.

The kingdom gave two states their current names, so it is easy to confuse them with its western neighbor, the Republic of the Congo. For this reason, the capitals of both countries are often included: that of the Republic of the Congo, a former French colony, is called Brazzaville, and that of the Democratic Republic, a former Belgian colony, is called Kinshasa.

Despite the melodious name of the state, human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are massively restricted in the Democratic Republic, arbitrary police force and corruption are widespread. Which in turn explains that the country of 100 million people, in which around 200 peoples live, is a blank spot on the tourist map of the world – before Corona, only a few hundred thousand guests visited it annually.

There would be a lot to see, especially the natural wealth is enormous. The rainforest is the second largest in the world, the country is home to at least 5000 species of plants that can only be found here. The okapi, a forest giraffe that only lives in the Ituri rainforest in the north of the republic, is also unique.

Source: WORLD infographic

Gorillas pose like humans

Only in Congo-Kinshasa do three of the four existing great ape species occur: gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. The latter live in groups, led by the females, exclusively in the tropical rainforest south of the Congo River, which they never cross as non-swimmers.

A couple of gorillas in Virunga National Park made a name for themselves in April 2019 when the ranger Mathieu Shamavu posted a selfie on Facebook in which he was seen with two upright female gorillas. The two monkeys came to the park as infants, consider the people looking after them as their parents and imitate their behavior, including walking upright.

The legacy of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko

The former small town of Gbadolite in the far north of the country was considered the Versailles of the jungle during the reign of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The head of state, who ruled from 1965 to 1997, had his place of birth transformed into a residential city.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: dictator Mobutu Sese Seko also had a motel built in Gbadolite

In Gbadolite, dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, shown here in a portrait, once had a motel built

Source: JOHN WESSELS / AFP via Getty Images

Ministries were built, an airport with a runway long enough for the Concorde, which the President occasionally chartered, a four-lane highway, a motel and a hospital. Mobutu had three palaces built for himself and his family: one was decorated with marble and jade, one designed in the style of Gaudí and one resembled a Chinese pagoda.

He commissioned the German organ builder Oberlinger for an organ for the Catholic palace church. After Mobutu was deposed, Gbadolite was captured and sacked by rebels, and since then the jungle has been conquering the ruined city bit by bit.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: This Mobutus palace was decorated with marble and jade - all that remains today is a desolate ruin

This palace Mobutus was decorated with marble and jade – today only a desolate ruin remains

Source: JOHN WESSELS / AFP via Getty Images

Nyiragongo volcano is a hotspot

One of the country’s main attractions with enormous thrill potential is the 3470 meter high Nyiragongo volcano north of the city of Goma. In its crater there is a lava lake with a diameter of 200 meters, the largest on earth.

The lava rises again and again over the crater rim and pours onto the surrounding land. In the past 140 years this has happened 34 times, most recently in 2012. Scientists warn that the next outbreak could occur within the next three years; Increased volcanic activity was already registered in autumn 2020.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Nyiragongo volcano could erupt within the next three years

Nyiragongo volcano could erupt within the next three years

Quelle: picture alliance / Mary Evans Picture Library/Ardea/Adrian Warren

Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman

It was the most important sporting event on African soil to date: on October 30, 1974, the American heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali and George Foreman met in Kinshasa. The fight took place here because the income generated was tax-free. Dictator Mobutu used the spectacle as an advertising measure for his country, which was called Zaire under his rule between 1971 and 1997.

Foreman, at 25 seven years younger than Ali and unbeaten as a professional, was the clear favorite, while the sympathies of the 100,000 spectators in the stadium belonged to the charismatic Ali, who won in the eighth round by knockout. The boxing match went as Rumble in the Jungle into the history of sport.

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Most of the species of butterflies in the world

1300 species of butterflies are native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than any other country in the world. 181 of them only exist here, such as the bright orange Erikssonia cooksoni. Because of its biodiversity, the Congo Basin, through which the river of the same name meanders, is considered the green heart of Africa.

The quote

“Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free people”

That said Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first independent prime minister. Born in 1925 and initially a post office worker, he was one of the founders of the Mouvement National Congolais party, which advocated independence for Belgian Congo from colonial power. In the first parliamentary elections in May 1960, the party became the strongest political force and Lumumba was the prime minister of the country that had gained independence.

At the urging of the USA and Belgium, Lumumba, who pursued a socialist policy, was ousted from office that same year and was killed in February 1961. The exact background is still unclear today. Lumumba is a symbol of the African independence movement. The GDR erected a memorial in his honor in Leipzig in 1961.

Quirky, record-breaking, typical: You can find more parts of our regional geography series here.

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This text is from WELT AM SONNTAG. We will be happy to deliver them to your home on a regular basis.

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