|Democratic Republic of Congo|
Information on the pre-arrival experiences of humanitarian entrants can be difficult to obtain. Refugee camps in the Central Africa region are often difficult to access and conditions vary widely from camp to camp.
Camp sizes vary greatly. Some camps give shelter to tens of thousands of
people and some a few thousand. Some camps provide basic accommodation and services, like health clinics, education and employment programmes, while others do not have the resources. Camp residents may be able to maintain some independence through small-scale farming and trade. In other areas, services for residents are limited and residents may be entirely dependent on food rations for survival. Refugees may have moved between different camps due to camp closures, fleeing attack or seeking better conditions. Some Congolese were forced to flee their country more than once, having left DRC in 1996, returning in mid 1998 only to seek refuge in other countries again in late 1998 when further violence erupted. Congolese entrants may have spent up to a decade living in camps. During this time they may have experienced loss of independence and self-determination. Not all Congolese refugees come from camps – many refugees established themselves in urban areas following flight from their country. These entrants may be more familiar with urban lifestyles and technology but are still likely to have been living in poverty with limited education and employment opportunities and inadequate healthcare.
By law, primary school is compulsory and free in DRC. In reality, there are not enough schools or teachers. As a result, these entrants may have limited experience of formal education and limited or no literacy and numeracy skills. Young entrants may require assistance to understand formal schooling practices and to develop basic literacy and numeracy skills necessary for further learning. Family size is another consideration, particularly in provision of appropriate housing. Pupils may be required to bring some form of payment, either money or food, in return for classes. In the early 1990s fewer than 50 per cent of school-aged children were enrolled in primary and secondary school (58 per cent of boys and 39 per cent of girls).
Primary school begins at six years of age and is taught in Kikongo, Tshiluba, Lingala or Kingwana. French is the official language of secondary and tertiary education. Boys are more likely to receive education than girls, with only five ut of every 100 girls finishing their schooling. In 2003, it was estimated that approximately 65 per cent of the population was literate, that is, aged 15 or over and able to read and write in French, Lingala, Kingwana or Tshiluba (76 per cent male and 55 per cent female). Refugee education levels may be considerably lower
There are between 200-250 ethnic groups in DRC, each with different languages or dialects and customs.
The majority groups are Bantu (including the Mongo, Luba and Kongo/Congo Tribes) and the Mangbetu-Azande (Hamitic). These two ethnic groups make up about 45 per cent of the population. Ethnicity, citizenship and nationality are complex factors. Nationality, for example, can be seen as an artificial construct, having been created through the imposition of colonial rule without regard to ethnic boundaries. People are likely to identify themselves in relation to their tribal or ethnic backgrounds and the region from which they come. Relationships between ethnic groups in DRC vary. During the country’s turbulent recent history, many competing interests have at times encouraged and exploited ethnic tensions to gain political, military and economic power.
Up to 250 different African languages are spoken in DRC, most belonging to
the Bantu family. The main languages spoken are Lingala (a lingua franca trade
language), Kikongo, Kingwana (a form of Swahili), and Tshiluba.
French is the country’s official language, used in government, secondary and
tertiary education. However, only a small proportion of the population uses French
as a working language - most speak local languages. Many Congolese can
communicate in a number of different local languages.
African society is traditionally organised by kinship groups. Family encompasses
a wide group of relatives, including extended family such as grandparents, aunts
and uncles, nephews and nieces, and cousins. Congolese people take pride in
coming from a good family, and are taught to contribute to the family’s well being
by respecting their elders and providing for family members. It is common for
people to take in nephews and nieces if necessary.
The legal age for marriage in DRC is 18 years, although in rural areas, girls may
be prepared for marriage at a much earlier age. While polygamy is illegal, the
practice continues. In the past, marriages were often arranged by the family, although this is
becoming less common. When a couple marries, the man may pay a ‘bride-price’
to the bride’s parents, which will be returned if the marriage ends in divorce.
Couples may have a number of wedding ceremonies, including a civil service,
a family celebration with traditional exchanges of gifts, and a church ceremony.
Particularly in rural areas, festivities can last for days, with singing and dancing.
Marriage is seen as a union between two families rather than just two individuals,
and is an important factor in developing kinship ties and community strength.
For this reason, divorce, while legal, is uncommon. In cases of family conflict,
negotiation and mediation to maintain the relationship is the preferred approach,
often by respected elders and other family members.
Gender roles are traditional, particularly in rural areas. Men undertake hunting,
clearing the forest and much of the important decision-making. Women tend
to crops, prepare meals, care for children and look after the home. Women’s
legal rights are limited – married women cannot open a bank account, obtain a
passport or rent or sell property without their husband’s permission.
Congolese people can be very conscientious about physical contact between
sexes. Personal relationships are a private matter and public displays of affection
are not encouraged. It may also be seen as socially unacceptable for women to
go out alone in the evenings.
Families are usually large, as children are considered a sign of prosperity both
for the family and the community. Contraception is not commonly practised and
may be frowned upon, as it deprives the community of growth. In early 2006, the
fertility rate was estimated at around 6.5 children per woman.
As with many African cultures, child rearing is often a community responsibility,
with all adults in the community taking a role in providing guidance, discipline and
protection. Children are expected to be obedient and respectful of elders, and
may not be consulted on decisions made about them.
There has been an increase in violence against children in DRC as a result of the
conflict. Many factions have used child soldiers, some as young as 10 years old.
Some accounts suggest that up to one third of the country’s children have been
forced to take up arms at some stage during the conflict.
Historically, Christian missionaries were very active in DRC, and around 70 per
cent of the population follows Christian beliefs (50 per cent Roman Catholic and
20 per cent Protestant). Around 10 per cent of the population is Muslim and
the remaining 20 per cent follow either traditional or syncretic beliefs (churches
blending traditional and Christian beliefs).
While freedom of religion was guaranteed under the 1967 constitution, President
Mobutu’s authenticity program, which encouraged a return to African traditions,
saw religious instruction banned in schools, Christian names replaced by African
ones, and the secularisation of religious holidays. Today, the Roman Catholic
Church, the Protestant Church of Christ, the Kimbanguist Church, the Greek
Orthodox Church, and the Muslim and Jewish faiths are officially recognised.
|Last Updated: 3/17/09|