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Official Country Name: Republic of the Congo
Region: Africa
Population: 2,830,961
Language(s): French, Lingala, Monokutuba, Kikongo
Literacy Rate: 74.9%

Congo is commonly called Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its neighbor, Zaire, which recently renamed itself as The Democratic Republic of Congo (informally called Democratic Congo). Congo has a landmass of 342,000 square kilometers and a population of about 2.5 to 3 million. Its capital is Brazzaville, which is located on the Congo River directly across from Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Congo. The population of Brazzaville is about 1 million. Congo is situated on the Atlantic Ocean of equatorial Africa and is bounded by Democratic Congo in the east and south. It is also bounded in the south by Cabinda, a small oil-rich territory that belongs to Angola. It is bounded by the Central African Republic (CAR) and Cameroon in the north and Gabon in the west.

The boundary between Congo and Democratic Congo is the Congo River, starting at about 80 kilometers south of Mindouli all the way north to Liranga. At that point the Congo River turns east into Democratic Congo. North of Liranga the river is called Oubangui. It continues to be a boundary between the two Congos until the Oubangui also turns east to become a boundary between CAR and Democratic Congo.

Congo formed part of French Equatorial Africa (FEA) until its independence from France in 1960; FEA included what are now known as Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, CAR, and Chad. It broke apart into five independent Francophone states after 1960. Brazzaville was also the capital of FEA. In its longstanding history as capital, first of FEA and then of Congo, Brazzaville has been privileged in every respect. It is the center of industry, commerce, and education in Congo. Its medical facilities and infrastructure are the best in the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) has one of its African headquarters in Brazzaville. The national university, known as Université Marien Ngouabi, is situated right in its center.

Congo's population could reasonably be divided into three groups: the Bakongo, the Bateke, and the rest. The Bakongo are the largest ethnic group. They constitute about 40 to 50 percent of the total population and inhabit the southern quarter of the country. The Bateke are the second largest group. They occupy the territory directly north of the Bakongo, stretching quite far to the north and northwest. Their numbers are greatest towards the south. The northern two-thirds of the country are very sparsely populated. The territory north of the Bateke is even more sparsely inhabited. It is made up of small groups and several speech communities that have larger numbers of speakers in Gabon, Cameroon, CAR, and Democratic Congo.

Congo must contend with five major languages—Kikongo and its various dialects, Kituba, Kiteke, Lingala, and French. Of these, Kituba, Lingala, and French are the major competitors as languages spoken across ethnic lines within broad-based speech communities. Of these three, French is the official language in government and education at all levels. Kituba, Lingala, and Kiteke have a strong presence at the unofficial levels of government and education, including informal discussions between teachers and students. The educational system is based on the French system inherited from precolonial days. Only a small number of Congolese, however, are fluent enough in French to satisfy all aspects of their lives. A Congolese citizen must of necessity be quadrilingual in Kiteke or a dialect of Kikongo, Kituba, Lingala, and French to negotiate successfully through Congolese life.

The government of Congo is acutely aware of these circumstances. The university, Université Marien Ngouabi, has dynamic and substantive departments of foreign languages, Langues Vivantes Etrangères (LVE) and linguistics, Département de Linguistique et Litérature Orale, where intensive research is carried out in Congolese languages, particularly Kituba and Lingala. In addition the government funds two research institutes, Institut National de Recherches et d'Action Pédagogique (INRAP) and Institut Supérieur des Sciences de l'Education (INSSED), where intensive efforts are under way to develop Kituba and Lingala textbooks for the primary and secondary levels of education. There is no effort to supplant French. Congolese society seems to have reconciled itself to becoming at least a trilingual society in French, Kituba, and Lingala. The greater hope, certainly the government's hope, is for Congolese society to evolve into a bilingual society in French and Kituba.

Informal education at the very age when children would attend primary schools progresses as it has from time immemorial. Cultural information and first language fluency is passed down from generation to generation quite effectively. In the case of Congo, this kind of ethnocentric education does not pose a problem. The presence of two African languages—Kituba and Lingala—and a Western language of colonial legacy, French, provides means of communication that do not compete with Congolese society's own Afro-ethnic languages. Indeed the Congolese feel particularly free to exercise their knowledge and education in French concurrently with Kituba or Lingala.


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—Haig Der-Houssikian

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