With a surface area equivalent to that of Western Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa. While its poverty rate has fallen slightly over the past two decades, particularly in rural areas, the DRC nonetheless remains one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2018, 72% of the population, especially in the North West and Kasaï regions, was living in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day.
The DRC is still recovering from a series of conflicts that broke out in the 1990s. After several postponements of the presidential elections, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo—the son of Etienne Tshisekedi, the country’s longstanding opposition leader—won the December 2018 election, succeeding Joseph Kabila who had been at the country’s helm for 18 years.
- After reaching 5.8% in 2018, economic growth slowed to 4.4% in 2019, owing to the drop in commodity prices, particularly for cobalt and copper, which account for over 80% of the country’s exports.
- The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is expected to trigger an economic recession (-2.2%) in 2020, stemming from weaker exports caused by the global economic downturn. However, the gradual recovery of global economic activity and the start of production at the Kamoa-Kakula mine should pave the way for a rebound in economic growth to 4.5% in 2022.
- Higher spending and revenue stagnation widened the fiscal deficit from close to balance in 2018 to a deficit of 2% of GDP in 2019. Additional public expenditures covered mainly civil service salary increases, free basic education, and infrastructure projects. Declining tax revenues are attributable in part to low corporate income tax collection, especially in the mining sector.
- The latest sustainability estimates show that the debt risk remains moderate. However, fairly weak revenues are limiting the government’s flexibility to implement fiscal policies aimed at tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The current account deficit widened to 4.2% of GDP in 2019 (against 3.6% of GDP in 2018), owing to the deterioration in the terms of trade and lower export volumes. Capital inflows and other financial flows in 2019, including foreign direct investments (FDI), have helped protect official reserves, limit the depreciation of the Congolese franc, and curb inflation.
- Although the DRC initiated reforms aimed at strengthening governance in the management of natural resources and improving the business climate, the country is ranked 184 out of 190 countries in the Doing Business 2019 report on business regulations and must address a host of challenges if it hopes to attract investors in key sectors.
Social Context and Development Challenges
- The DRC is making headway against the Ebola epidemic, which has been raging for almost two years in the Nord Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces, where 3,453 cases and over 2,200 deaths have been reported.
- The country has also been battling the COVID-19 pandemic since March 10, 2020 and is currently implementing urgent measures to contain its spread.
- The DRC ranks 135 out of 157 countries in terms of human capital, with a human capital index score of 0.37%, which is below the average in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.40). This means that a child born today will be 37% less productive in adulthood than a child who received a complete education and proper health care. Congolese children spend an average of 9.2 years in school and 43% of children are malnourished.
Currently, 43% of households have access to drinking water (69% in urban areas, 23% in rural areas) and only 20% have access to sanitation. With an average of 6.1 children per woman, the DRC’s fertility rate is higher than the Sub-Saharan average (4.8). The early childbearing rate is equally high, with 125.24 births per 1,000 adolescent girls (15-19 years).
Last Updated: May 04, 2020