The two countries in Central Africa were part of the Kongo Kingdom. Photo: TRT Afrika

By Susan Mwongeli

Many people around the world wonder why there are two Congos - both in Africa - the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo.

The two countries are neigbours in central Africa.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, the second largest country in Africa, covers an area of about 2.3 million square kilometres and has a population of about 110 million.

The Republic of Congo covers about 342,000 square kilometres with a population of 5.7 million.

The Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC, has Kinshasa as its capital while the Republic of Congo has Brazzaville as its capital.

So, to avoid ambiguity, the two countries are often differentiated with the names of their capital cities - Congo Kinshasa and Congo Brazzaville.

Felix Tshisekedi became DRC's president in 2019. Photo: Others

The current president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) is Felix Tshisekedi while the current president of the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) is Denis Sassou Nguesso.

Colonial influence

Before colonialism, the two Congos were part of one Kingdom – the Kongo Kingdom - which also included present-day Angola.

Both countries not only share a similar name, their people still speak the same languages – the Lingala and Kikongo languages.

They also both have French as their official language because of their colonial history.

Congo-Brazzaville was colonised by France. Although, Congo Kinshasa on the other hand was colonised by Belgium, the Belgians were also speaking French as the official language.

Cobalt is one of the vast mineral resources in the DRC. Photo: AFP 

The European nations brutally exploited resources of the two Congos. The two countries surround the Congo River and are endowed with huge natural resources including gold, cobalt and copper.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

It’s important to mention that the modern-day borders in Africa were drawn during the partitioning of the continent when European countries allocated themselves territories at the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference.

King Leopold II of Belgium persuaded the conference to allow him to control the Congo area, due to his so-called ‘humanitarian efforts’ there.

He then named it the Congo Free State - which is the current Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, numerous atrocities were committed during his rule including torture and starvation.

Congolese people were compelled to work for resources such as rubber and ivory so that Leopold could enrich himself.

Estimates vary, but over 10 million people – that’s half of the Congolese population at that time – died due to the atrocities.

The Belgian government took over in 1908, and it became known as Belgian Congo.

Congo gained independence on June 30, 1960, and adopted the name ‘’The Democratic Republic of the Congo.’’

However, in 1971, its leader Mobutu Sese Seko changed the country’s name to the Republic of Zaire – a word derived from the local Kikongo language – meaning the ‘River that swallows other rivers’.

When he died in 1997, the name was changed back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Democratic Republic of Congo is often called Congo-Kinshasa to differentiate it from the Republic of Congo, which is often referred to as Congo-Brazzaville.

Felix Tshisekedi is the current President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He came to power in 2019 and is serving his second term in office following his reelection in December 2023.

The Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville)

While the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was colonised by Belgium, the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) was colonised by France from the 1880s and the colonisers named Brazzaville as its capital.

The French, who were focused on recruiting labour and extracting raw materials, compelled Africans to construct infrastructure to help the colonial economy.

For example, it's estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 Africans died during the construction of the Congo-Ocean Railway between 1921 and 1934.

Denis Sassou-Nguesso became leader of the Republic of Congo in 1997. Photo: AFP

Congo-Brazzaville gained independence on August 15, 1960 and adopted the name "The Republic of Congo," which it has retained to this day.

The current president of the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) is Denis Sassou Nguesso who came to power in 1997.

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TRT Afrika