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The "Congo" - when you're talking about the nations by that name - actually can refer to one of two countries that border the Congo River in central Africa. The larger of the two countries is the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southeast, while the smaller nation is the Republic of the Congo to the northwest. Read on to learn about the interesting history and facts related to these two distinct nations.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo, also known as "Congo-Kinshasa," has a capital called Kinshasa, which is also the country's largest city. The DRC was formerly known as Zaire, and before that as the Belgian Congo.
The DRC borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi in the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo, the Angolan exclave of Cabinda, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The country has access to the ocean through a 25-mile stretch of Atlantic coastline at Muanda and the roughly 5.5-mile-wide mouth of the Congo River, which opens into the Gulf of Guinea.
DRC is Africa's second largest country and covers a total of 2,344,858 square kilometers, which makes it slightly larger than Mexico and about a quarter the size of the U.S. Around 75 million people live in the DRC.
Republic of the Congo
The smaller of the two Congos, on the western edge of the DRC, is the Republic of the Congo, or Congo Brazzaville. Brazzaville is also the country's capital and largest city. It used to be the French territory, called Middle Congo. The name Congo stems from the Bakongo, a Bantu tribe that populates the area.
The Republic of the Congo is 132,046 square miles and has a population of about 5 million. The CIA World Factbook notes some interesting facts about the country's flag:
"(It is) divided diagonally from the lower hoist side by a yellow band; the upper triangle (hoist side) is green and the lower triangle is red; green symbolizes agriculture and forests, yellow the friendship and nobility of the people, red is unexplained but has been associated with the struggle for independence."
Both Congos have seen unrest. Internal conflict in the DRC has resulted in 3.5 million deaths from violence, disease, and starvation since 1998, according to the CIA. The CIA adds that the DRC:
"… is a source, destination, and possibly a transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; the majority of this trafficking is internal, and much of it is perpetrated by armed groups and rogue government forces outside official control in the country's unstable eastern provinces."
The Republic of the Congo has also seen its share of unrest. Marxist President Denis Sassou-Nguesso returned to power after a brief civil war in 1997, derailing the democratic transition that took place five years before. As of fall 2017, Sassou-Nguesso is still the country's president.