The Republic of Congo or Congo Republic is a country located in the heart of the African continent. It was known as the French Congo till it gained its independence on August 16, 1960. It is the second largest country in the mainland in terms of area. It is the fourth largest oil producer in the Gulf of Guinea, but because of unequal distribution of the revenue earned, it remains backward in terms of many things.
The Congo Republic has been a major tourist attraction because of the natural beauty and the wildlife it has to offer. The imagery, though, which comes to one’s mind when someone takes the name Congo might not be a very positive one. There are many interesting things about this country, which are not much known to the outside world.
1. Music – The Congo Republic has given the world some of the best names in the world of music. Be it Koffi Olamide or Papa Wemba or Werrason or the Congolese rumba, soukous and ndombolo.
Father of Rumba, Wendo Kolosoy started his seven-decades-long singing career singing while working on the barges, which ply in the Congo River. It has also given the society, a segment of well-dressed sapeurs or in a layman’s term, atmosphere-makers. These sapeurs are always dressed in the best European-cut suits with matching Italian leather shoes and branded sunglasses. A legacy left behind by its former rulers.
2. The Concorde had a landing place in the jungles of the Congo. An airport was built in the town of Gbadolite for the Concorde to land. Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko had developed Gbadolite out of a jungle on the banks of the Oubangui River. The town was a replica of a French village. Mobutu got one of the longest airstrips in Africa built in this tropical rainforest so that the sleek supersonic jet could have a base. Apart from the airbase, the town of Gbadolite has two huge palaces, one in the style of a big Chinese pagoda.
3. The world’s second largest French-speaking town – Kinshasa. After Paris, Kinshasa is believed to have the maximum number of French-speaking population. This was the reason it hosted the Summit of La Francophonie in October 2012. La Francophonie is the largest gathering of heads of state of French-speaking countries.
4. The Congo Republic was part of the Second World War. The uranium used in the construction of the atomic bomb was sourced from the Shinkolobwe Mine in the Katanga province of the Congo.
5. Mayonnaise is a staple ingredient in the Congo dishes. The local cuisine has mayonnaise as a common ingredient, from fish and meat to veggies and salads. It is also mixed with the local pepper chilli sauce called peri-peri.
6. Kinshasa and Brazzaville are the world’s closest capitals, separated just by the Congo River. They are apart only by five kilometres. People can cross over either on a speedboat or ferries. Disabled people are allowed free access to trade goods. Citizens of both the countries speak the same language but when together, look like people from two different worlds!
7. The exotic wildlife. The rich wildlife in the rainforests of the Congo makes it a heaven for tourists and wildlife enthusiasts. The remote Ituri Forest is home to the rare okapi, one of the fifteen hundred native animal species of Congo. Okapi is built like a deer but with zebra stripes and measures six feet at the head and five feet at the shoulder. Okapi has been listed on the endangered animals list and for its preservation, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve was established in 1992.
8. Congo is not a pothole of Ebola virus. As the newspapers and news reports would have us believe, Congo is not rife with Ebola virus all the time. Though there have been quite many scenes of the virus outbreak, the situation has been controlled, the symptoms and causes arrested to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala