Providing Advocacy, Education and Information for former Refugees.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

French, Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba & Swahili

Predominantly: Christian


70 million

245 (Census 2000)

Since 1996, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC; Congo) has been embroiled in violence that has killed as many as 5.4 million people. The conflict has been the world’s bloodiest since World War II. The First and Second Congo Wars, which sparked the violence, involved multiple foreign armies and investors from Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, Libya and Sudan, among others, and has been so devastating that it is sometimes called the “African World War.”

Fighting continues in the eastern parts of the country, destroying infrastructure, causing physical and psychological damage to civilians, and creating human rights violations on a mass scale. Rape is being used as a weapon of war, and large-scale plunder and murder are also occurring as part of efforts to displace people on resource-rich land.

Today, most of the fighting is taking place in North and South Kivu, on the DRC/Rwanda border. Some fighting is political, resulting from unrest caused by Hutu refugees from the Rwandan genocide now living in DRC, while other fighting results from an international demand for natural resources. DRC has large quantities of gold, copper, diamonds, and coltan (a mineral used in cell phones, computers and other electronic devices), which many parties desire to control for monetary reasons. However, money from the sales of these resources has not reached average citizens. Currently the education, healthcare, legal, and road systems are in shambles.

Refugees from DRC have been arriving in New Zealand since 1999. Settling in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Wellington.

The common greeting for western of Congo is Mbote in Lingala (Hello), Eastern of Congo, people are Swahili speakers: Jambo (hello) the response is Mbote or Jambo.

Upon entering a room for the first time, a person shakes hands with each individual.  Friends greet each other with a handshake, followed by a hug and three alternating kisses to the cheek.  Men and women generally shake hands, smile and greet each other verbally. Some rural women greet men by clapping their hands a few times and bowing slightly.

It is best to wait until the adult or superior extends the handshake.

Congolese are considered courteous and friendly and careful not to offend

The use of eye contact depends on the age of the person. It is not permitted to have direct eye contact with older people of people higher status (e.g. father, teacher, employer etc.)

Objects are held with the right hand or with both hands, never with the left hand alone.  The left hand is reserved for hygiene purposes.

Family and friends often stop by to visit with each other unannounced. However, strangers are expected to make arrangements prior to visiting.  A visitor must never enter a home or sit down unless invited.

Guests are expected to initially decline an offer of food or sharing a meal but should ultimately accept the invite.  Declining an invitation, especially the offer of food, is considered rude. 

The Congolese often judge guests’ sincerity by the way they eat.

Gifts will not be opened in front of the giver

When visiting it is necessary to take a gift

It is always polite to cover the mouth when yawning.

Congolese shown respect to people by calling their titles rather than first names.

In Lingala: older man must be called “Tonton” means “Uncle”. Older woman is “Tantine “ means “Aunt”. Parents are sometimes called by their children’s names. For example Mama Louise (Louise’s mother) or papa Louise (Louise’s father)

I found Congolese people very open and interested in almost anything. A good starting point would be positive comments on the area, their nice house. A little bit further in the conversation you can ask about the family etc. If it is not appreciated you will notice immediately since the answer will be polite but avoiding the issue.

Please don’t ask about the tribe, politic and how the person became refugee.

Extended families live often together

In western Congo, families are mostly matriarchal; the mother’s brother, rather than her husband, is the male with the greatest authority in the family.

In other areas families are patriarchal and may be polygamous.

Children are expected to be polite, obedient to the community members.

Children take on chores early in life and older girls help their mother with most daily tasks.

The Congolese value education and work hard to find a way to pay for their children’s schooling.  

Extended families live often together

Pointing directly at a person with the index finger is considered impolite.

It is rude to ask personal questions

It is better not to touch the head of an adult

When visiting a Congolese home, do not enter bedrooms unless invited

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