The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about the size of Western Europe, is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). DRC is endowed with exceptional natural resources, including minerals such as cobalt and copper, hydropower potential, significant arable land, immense biodiversity, and the world’s second-largest rainforest.
Most people in DRC have not benefited from this wealth. A long history of conflict, political upheaval and instability, and authoritarian rule have led to a grave, ongoing humanitarian crisis. In addition, there has been forced displacement of populations. These features have not changed significantly since the end of the Congo Wars in 2003.
DRC is among the five poorest nations in the world. In 2021, nearly 64 % of Congolese, just under 60 million people, lived on less than $2.15 a day. About one out of six people living in extreme poverty in SSA lives in DRC.
In 62 years of independence, DRC did not experience its first peaceful transition of power until January 2019. Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, son of Etienne Tshisekedi, the country’s longstanding opposition leader, won the December 2018 presidential election and succeeded Joseph Kabila, who had led the country for 18 years.
There are indications that a new social contract may be emerging between the state and its citizens, through the roll-out of free primary education, increased transparency and public sector reforms, and an emphasis on conflict prevention and stabilization in the East.
However, despite conflict prevention and stabilization efforts, pockets of insecurity still persist in the country, particularly in the eastern region. The country is preparing for the next general election which is slated for late 2023. The smooth running of this election could allow the country to continue on the path of political stability and to pursue the necessary reforms to enable most of its people to benefit from the enormous potential that the country abounds.
Economic growth is estimated at 6.1% in 2022, keeping the strong momentum from 2021 (6.2%). Mining sector investment and exports remain the key drivers of growth supported by improved mineral prices and higher public investment. Non-mining sectors (particularly services) are likely to slow down to 4.1% in 2022, from 4.5% in 2021. Higher metal prices are likely to offset higher food and oil prices and lead to improved terms of trade and a balanced current account (from -1.0% in 2021), thereby helping to build up reserves to an estimated 8.3 weeks of imports in 2022, from 6.3 weeks a year earlier, and limiting excessive exchange rate fluctuations. Higher global energy and food prices due to the ongoing war in Ukraine exert upward pressures on domestic inflation lifting the average inflation rate from 9.1% in 2021 to an estimated 9.5% in 2022.
The fiscal deficit is projected to deteriorate to 3.0% in 2022 (from 1.0% in 2021) as improved revenue mobilization cannot fully offset higher capital and current transfer spending. Revenues are estimated at 14.4% of GDP in 2022, owing to favorable commodity prices and digitalization of the revenue collection process, while expenditures (18.7% of GDP) are expected to increase due to wage adjustments and fuel subsidies. The medium-term outlook for DRC is favorable with growth estimated to accelerate to 6.4 % by 2024. However, DRC’s economy remains vulnerable to commodity price swings and growth performance of major trading partners which might be disturbed by geopolitical conflicts and a COVID-19 pandemic resurgence. The economic consequences of the war in Ukraine, through rising global food costs and higher oil prices, could exert stronger pressure on fiscal deficit, on inflation and on households’ consumption thus exacerbating poverty and inequality.
Given persistent conflicts in the East, DRC’s immediate challenge is to strengthen security and maintain political and macroeconomic stability while stepping up ongoing reforms to ensure sustainable growth.
DRC ranks 164 out of 174 countries on the 2020 Human Capital Index, reflecting decades of conflict and fragility, and constraining development. DRC’s Human Capital Index is 0.37 which is below the SSA average of 0.4. This means that a Congolese child born today can expect to achieve only 37% of their potential, compared to what would have been possible if they had benefited from a full, quality schooling experience and optimal health conditions. The main contributors to the low score are low child survival rates under age five, high child stunting, and low quality of education.
DRC has one of the highest stunting rates in SSA (42% of children under age five), and malnutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of the deaths of children under the age of five. Unlike other African countries, the prevalence of stunting in the DRC has not decreased over the past 20 years. Due to the very high fertility rate, the number of stunted children has increased by 1.5 million.
Access to education has improved considerably over the past two decades, especially for girls and at earlier ages. Between 2000 and 2017, primary net enrollment increased by 50%, from 52 to 78%. However, the quality of education is extremely poor. In terms of learning and achievement, the primary completion rate is only about 67 %, and an estimated 86% of 10-year-olds in DRC are in learning poverty, meaning they cannot read and understand simple text.
Congolese women face significant barriers to economic opportunities and empowerment, including high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) and discrimination. Only 16.8 % of women have completed secondary school—about half of the rate of completion for men. Early marriage and high fertility rates represent a challenge, where women and girls without any education have a fertility rate twice that of women who complete secondary school (7.4 children compared to 2.9, DHS 2014). Half of women report having experienced physical violence, and almost a third has experienced sexual violence, most commonly at the hands of an intimate partner (DHS 2013).
Women’s labor force participation rate in the DRC is estimated at almost 62%, most of whom work in agriculture. While participation is relatively high, women earn considerably less than men and own fewer assets. A 2021 DRC Gender Diagnostic Report identifies three major factor contributing to persistent and significant gender gaps: control over land, voice and agency, and risk and uncertainty including vulnerability to shocks and GBV.
DRC’s health care delivery has been greatly affected by the continued long-standing complex humanitarian crises in the world, exacerbated by recurrent disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, cholera, measles, and Ebola. There has been significant COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in DRC and there is evidence that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the utilization of health services since March 2020. There has been a reduction in the number of antenatal care visits, an increase in the number of pregnancies, as well as increased incidence of sexual and GBV. Close to 23 million children missed out on routine vaccinations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the highest number in more than a decade, according to recent WHO/UNICEF data. There is concern that the temporary interruption of basic health-care delivery may lead to a secondary health crisis.
Last Updated: Oct 11, 2022