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 2022, nearly 62% of Congolese, around 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 currently completing voter registration for the next general election which is slated for late 2023. But in recent months the security situation in North Kivu and Ituri provinces has deteriorated dramatically, with fighting between the army and armed groups forcing thousands to flee. 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 picked up to 8.6% in 2022, keeping the strong momentum from 2021 (6.2%). Mining sector investment and exports remain the key drivers of growth, owing to capacity expansion and recovery in global demand. However, growth in non-mining sectors (particularly services) was modest, slowing down to 3.0% in 2022, from 4.5% in 2021. Stronger export earnings could not offset higher food and fuel bills, and lead to a wider current account deficit estimated at 2.9% of GDP in 2022 (from -1.0% in 2021). Nevertheless, foreign direct investments (FDI) and external financing contributed to build up reserves, reaching 7.9 weeks of imports in 2022, from 5.4 weeks a year earlier, and limiting excessive exchange rate fluctuations. Higher global energy and food prices due to the ongoing war in Ukraine exerted upward pressures on domestic inflation, lifting the average inflation rate from 9.1% in 2021 to 9.2% in 2022.
The fiscal deficit deteriorated to 2.7% in 2022 (from 0.8% in 2021) as improved revenue mobilization could not fully offset higher capital and current spending. Domestic revenues peaked at 15.6% of GDP in 2022, owing to favorable commodity prices and digitalization of the revenue collection process, while expenditures (19.7% of GDP) increased due to exceptional security spending and arrears repayments, in addition to wage adjustments and fuel subsidies. The medium-term outlook for DRC is favorable with growth estimated at 7.5% by 2025. However, DRC’s economy remains vulnerable to commodity price swings and growth performance of major trading partners which might be disturbed by geopolitical conflicts. The continued economic consequences of the war in Ukraine, through rising global food costs and higher oil prices, could exert stronger pressure on fiscal deficit, inflation, and household 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.
The DRC is home to a diverse array of indigenous peoples (IPs) who have faced a range of challenges, including forced displacement from their ancestral lands, discrimination, and lack of access to basic services such as healthcare and education. Despite these challenges, IPs in the DRC continue to play an important role in preserving the country's cultural diversity and promoting sustainable resource management practices. While efforts are being made to recognize and protect the rights of IPs, much more needs to be done to ensure their full participation in society and the protection of their traditional ways of life.
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 completion rate at the primary level remains low at 75%. The quality of education is extremely poor with an estimated 97% of 10-year-olds in DRC being 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 have 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 factors 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 systems have been greatly impacted by its own protracted conflict, as well as by the continued long-standing complex humanitarian crises in the world. This has been greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and by recurrent disease outbreaks such as cholera, measles, and Ebola. There has been significant COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in DRC, with limited demand, and there is evidence that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the utilization of health services since March 2020 with a decrease in hospital visits, a reduction in the number of antenatal care visits, reduced access to family planning and contraception, increased food insecurity, as well as increased incidence of sexual and GBV. Close to 23 million children missed out on routine vaccinations in 2020 due to the pandemic, the highest number in more than a decade, according to recent WHO/UNICEF data. This highlights the disruption COVID-19 has had on health systems and a concern that the temporary interruption of basic healthcare delivery will likely lead to a secondary health crisis, if not addressed.
Last Updated: Mar 29, 2023