Reaching the Nations

Republic of the Congo

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 342,000 square km.  The Republic of the Congo is located in Central Africa and borders the Atlantic Ocean, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Angolan exclave Cabinda.  Tropical rainforest dominates the landscape with low-laying plains.  70% of the population lives in the capital city of Brazzaville, the coastal city of Pointe Noire, or in the region between.  The Congo River flows between the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The capital of Brazzaville is located immediately across the river from Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire, with which it forms the world's most populous trans-border metropolitan area.  Seasonal flooding is a natural hazard.  Environmental issues include pollution, lack of potable water, and deforestation.  The Republic of the Congo is administratively divided into ten regions and one commune.

Population: 4,243,929 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 2.835% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 5.68 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: male 53.62, female 56.25 (2011)

Peoples

Kongo: 48%

Sangha: 20%

Teke: 17%

M'Bochi: 12%

Europeans and others: 3%

The Kongo comprise nearly half the population and populate southern areas between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.  The Sangha live in northern areas; Teke and M'Bochi reside in the middle and northern areas. 

Languages: Kituba (29%), Kongo (25%), Teke dialects (19%), Yombe (9%), other (18%).  French is the official language.  62 indigenous languages are spoken.  Lingala is also spoken widely in the southern Republic of the Congo as a second language.  Languages with over one million speakers include Kituba (1.16 million) and Kongo (1 million).

Literacy: 83.8% (2003)

History

The first known inhabitants were Pygmies.  Bantu tribes settled the region from surrounding areas and several Bantu kingdoms were established along the Congo River.  Europeans first entered the region in the late fifteenth century and traded slaves from interior regions with coastal Bantu kingdoms.  Named Middle Congo by the French, the territory of present-day Republic of the Congo came under French sovereignty in the 1880s and Brazzaville became the federal capital of French Equatorial Africa which also included Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (Central African Republic).  During the first 50 years of French colonial rule, natural resource extraction fueled economic growth and a railway was established linking Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville.  Independence from France occurred in 1960 following increased autonomy and sharp ethnic rivalries.  Political instability ensued during the following decade, resulting in the rise of a Marxist government that remained in power from the late 1960s to 1992 when multi-party elections occurred.  A civil war in 1997 returned former Marxist ruler Denis Sassou-Nguesso to power.  The war lasted until the end of 1999 and resulted widespread destruction in Brazzaville.  Since this time the country has maintained a fragile peace that is marked by periodic, questionable elections consistently won by President Denis Sassou-Nguesso.[1]

Culture

The Republic of the Congo enjoys one of the higher literacy rates and has one of the most urbanized populations in Central Africa.  Meat is rarely eaten and most subside on vegetables, fruit, and grains.  Plum wine and beer are consumed during religious festivals, although alcohol consumption is lower than most nations.  Adultery is only illegal for women and men often pay a bride price to get married.  Clean dress is important in culture.[2]

Economy

GDP per capita: $4,200 (2010) [8.86%]

Human Development Index: 0.489

Corruption Index: 2.1

Lumber was originally the largest industry and backbone of the Congolese economy until recent years.  Oil has grown in importance in the past few decades and provides much of the country's GDP and exports.  The greater extraction of petroleum resources enabled greater economic and social progress from higher government revenues.  Natural resources also include a rich supply of precious metals.  The Congo Civil War damaged infrastructure and set back earlier achieved economic progress.  Profits from oil earnings continue, but the economy struggles to diversify itself in order to maintain greater social and economic stability.  Industry generates 64% of the GDP whereas services generate 32% of the GDP.  Much of the currently economic problems resulted in poor economic management and civil unrest.  More than two thirds of exports go to the United States and China.  Imports primarily come from France, China and South Korea.  Subsistence agriculture forms an important part of the economy as well, despite accounting for less than six percent of the country's GDP.

The Republic of the Congo is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  Mob violence, security force beatings, mistreatment of captured persons, human trafficking, discrimination against the pygmies, and child labor are major corruption and human rights issues.  Irregularities in elections have occurred.[3]

Faiths

Christian: 50%

Indigenous beliefs: 48%

Muslim: 2%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic: 2,000,000

Jehovah's Witnesses  5,484  74

Latter-Day Saints  4,799  17

Seventh Day Adventists  723  13

Religion

Half of the population is Christian and 48% of the population practice indigenous religions.  Most Christians identify as Catholic.  Two percent of Congolese practice Islam.

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution allows for religious freedom which is upheld by government.  Religious persecution or discrimination is forbidden.  Religious groups must register with the government and recognition is usually granted although the process can be slow.  Christian and many Catholic holidays are national holidays.  Open proselytism is permitted.[4]

Largest Cities

Urban: 61%

Brazzaville, Pointe Noire, Loubomo, Nkayi, Mossendjo, Owando, Ouesso, Kinkala, Loandjili, Sibiti.

Two of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  About 45% of the population lives in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire and 53% of the population lives in the 10 largest cities. 

LDS History

The Church was formally recognized in the Republic of the Congo in December of 1991.  The following year on August 24th the country was dedicated for missionary work by Elder Richard G. Scott.  A fireside was held with 65 local members and leaders in attendance.[5]  Missionaries were assigned from the neighboring Zaire Kinshasa Mission and temporarily withdrawn in 1992 due to political instability.  When the new Africa West Area was organized in August 1998, the Republic of the Congo was included in the new area.  In 2003 the Republic of the Congo was transferred to the Africa Southeast Area along with five other nations in Central Africa.  The Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission continues to administer the Republic of the Congo.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 4,799 (2010)

There were 800 Latter-day Saints in 1993, 1,400 in 1997, and 1,919 in 2000.  Rapid membership growth occurred during the early 2000s as annual membership growth rates were over 20% in 2001 and 2002.  During the remainder of the 2000s annual membership growth rates generally ranged from four to six percent.  There were 2,958 members in 2002, 3,404 in 2004, 3,824 in 2006, and 4,194 in 2008.  Membership has typically increased by around 200 a year since the beginning of 2002.  Missionaries in Pointe-Noire reported at least 50 baptisms for the first nine months of 2009 and that convert baptisms were occurring more frequently in early 2010. In 2009, one in 951 was LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 9 Branches: 8

There were three branches in 1991[6] and five branches in 1993, seven branches in 1997, and six in 1999.  There were eight branches in 2000, seven of which were part of the Brazzaville Republic of Congo District and one functioned in the coastal city of Pointe-Noire.  Four new branches were created in 2001 bringing the total of branches in the country to 12. 

In 2003, the Brazzaville Republic of Congo Stake was organized with six wards and two branches and included the BaCongo, Diata, Kinsoundi, Makelekele, Mfilou and Mikalou Wards and the Guynemer and Massa Branches.  By the end of 2005 the number of wards increased to eight.  Of the six remaining branches, four were in Brazzaville and pertained to the stake and two were in Pointe-Noire and not part of a stake or district.  In early 2011, a ninth ward was organized in the Brazzaville Republic of the Congo Stake (Nkombo Ward).

Activity and Retention

In 2003, an astounding 3,090 people attending the conference in which the new stake was organized, including some government officials.  Activity rates appear some of the highest the Church has seen considering by the end of 2003 there were 3,262 members meeting in 14 congregations.  At this time activity rates may be as high as 90% for the membership in the country if those members who attended the conference were also regularly attending church meetings and followed church teachings.[7]  Missionaries serving in Pointe-Noire in the fall of 2009 reported convert retention rates of 95% in that city during the year.  The number of students enrolled in seminary or institute increased between the 2007-2008 and the 2009-2010 school years from 501 to 720.  The average number of members per congregation in the Republic of the Congo increased from 202 in 2000 to 300 in 2008.  Active church membership is likely around 2,500, or half of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: French, Lingala

All LDS scriptures and a wide selection of Church materials are available in French.  The Church has only two Church materials translated into Kongo: Gospel Principles and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  The Church has translated the Book of Mormon along with several church materials such as the Articles of Faith and the book Our Heritage into Lingala.  General Conference addresses are translated into Lingala. 

 

Meetinghouses

Most congregations meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces.

Health and Safety

Tropical diseases including malaria and schistosomiasis are endemic; travelers are advised to take anti-malarial drugs and to avoid contact with fresh water where schistosome larvae live.  Tuberculosis is an increasing concern.  An outbreak of poliomyelitis began in October 2010 with 30% of global cases reported in the Republic of the Congo. HIV/AIDS infects 3.5% of the population.  HIV/AIDS infection rates are lower than most Central African countries. Health infrastructure is limited and sanitation is often poor. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has done many humanitarian and development projects in Pointe-Noire, including measles vaccinations and neonatal resuscitation training.[8]  In early 2010, the Church began drilling wells in the Pointe-Noire area for those without access to clean water.  Senior missionaries have also taught locals about hygiene. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Like many African nations, the Republic of the Congo has experienced political instability that has challenged the Church's efforts to conduct missionary work.  However, no legal or social restrictions limit proselytism or other Church activities.

Cultural Issues

50% of the population identifies as Christian, providing abundant opportunities for Latter-day Saints to teach and proselyte those who already have a Christian background.  Interest in religion, the lack of ethno-religious ties, the support of traditional family values, and higher literacy rates than most Central African nations have fueled LDS Church growth and encourages self-sufficiency in leadership and full-time missionary service.  There are no culturally-adapted LDS outreach approaches for those following indigenous religions and it is unclear whether many who adhere to traditional religions have joined the LDS Church.  Poverty is a major concern as many members struggle to be financially self reliant. 

National Outreach

45% of the national population resides in the two cities with an LDS congregation.  The LDS Church operates over a dozen congregations in Brazzaville and two Pointe-Noire, providing penetrating outreach to both cities.  The Church has the potential to reach a larger portion of the population in the Republic of the Congo than in many other African nations due to its small geographic size and constrained geography of the population.  The Republic of the Congo has the highest percentage of Church members in Central Africa due to rapid membership growth among the country's small population.  In 2011, the Republic of the Congo was the African nation with the smallest Church membership with its own stake.

Although the headquarters for the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission is located just across the Congo River from Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo is isolated due to the international boundary and the Congo River.  The demands of the rapidly growing membership of the Democratic Republic of the Congo strains mission resources available resulting in the Republic of the Congo receiving limited training and missionaries.  Reduced interaction with mission leadership and limited resources has likely contributed to self-sufficiency and effective utilization of mission resources by local leaders.  Notwithstanding the organization of a second mission for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2010, mission resources continue to be limited throughout the region and unable to meet local needs and receptivity.

Lesser-reached communities of Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville and unreached cities between Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville appear most favorable for expanding national outreach in the foreseeable future.  Cities which may open for missionary work in the coming decade include Loubomo and Nkayi due to their large populations.  Prospects appear poor for expanding national outreach in central and northern areas as these locations are sparsely populated, remote, and are populated by ethnic groups with no LDS materials available in their native languages.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

High member activity and convert retention rates appear strongly linked to successfully member-missionary activity over the past two decades.  Activity rates continue to number among the highest in the world for the Church notwithstanding a dramatic slowdown in congregational growth during the mid and late-2000s.  It is unclear as to why membership growth rates declined sharply in the 2000s.  Possibilities for why such a slowdown in growth occurred may include membership lessening their involvement in missionary activity, growing disinterest in the Church by the population, or greater mission emphasis on training members and reaching out to less-actives at the expense of proselytism.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Few problems appear to have occurred integrating differing ethnic groups into the same congregations notwithstanding acute ethnic tensions in the country's past.  The widespread use of French as a language of interethnic communication and the Church's limited presence to just two cities have likely reduced potential ethnic integration challenges at church.

Language Issues

Departments without a Church presence will present challenges including the need to translate church materials and scriptures into languages presently without church materials.  Additional language materials will likely be translated into Congo due to the language being one of the most widely spoken in the country and already spoken by many members.  The Church will likely not translate materials or scriptures into additional languages until either the Church becomes established in currently unreached areas of the country where these languages are spoken or if many converts join the Church in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire which do not proficiently speak Congo, French, or Lingala.

Missionary Service

Missionaries have regularly served from the Republic of the Congo; most serve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Mission or other African missions.  Greater numbers of missionaries have been assigned to the Republic of the Congo in recent years.  In 2007, there were five missionary companionships serving in Brazzaville.  There were seven companionships at the beginning of 2009.  North American missionaries began serving in Pointe-Noire in the late 2000s.  Pointe-Noire had four young elders and a senior couple serving as full-time missionaries as of the beginning of 2009.  At present only African missionaries serve in Brazzaville. 

Leadership

The Church has had to correct some false notions by members of the Church in the Republic of the Congo which resulted from misunderstandings of doctrine or Church policy.  For example, senior missionaries reported that they had to correct many members' belief that only men sustained those receiving callings in their branches.  Overall, Congolese members have carried out their Church duties and responsibilities very well, especially considering that nearly all members are the first in their families to have joined the Church and have received only limited training from mission leaders.  Inadequate numbers of priesthood leaders in some areas prevent the organization of additional congregations.

Temple

The Republic of the Congo is assigned to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple District. Very few members have attended the temple as travel costs are unaffordable for most.  The Johannesburg South Africa Temple is 2,000 miles away and requires significant preparation in planning temple trips and preparing needed documentation.  Senior missionaries in Pointe-Noire prepared and organized a temple trip for members in 2009.  The Church has organized and partially financed temple trips for members in countries like Madagascar and Armenia but it is unclear whether any trips to the temple are conducted regularly from the Brazzaville Republic of the Congo Stake.  Prospects of a future temple in neighboring Kinshasa to service French-speaking Central Africa is highly likely in the coming years as six stakes comprise the Kinshasa-Brazzaville metropolitan area and growth among priesthood leadership has been impressive.  No plans have been officially announced by the Church for a temple in Kinshasa, but past mission presidents and missionaries have alluded to the likelihood of a temple announced for the city in the near future. 

Comparative Growth

The LDS Church in the Republic of the Congo experienced membership and congregational growth rates lower than most of sub-Saharan Africa during the 2000s, but exhibits one of the most self-reliant and active LDS populations in the world as evidenced by the operation of an LDS stake in an impoverished country of fewer than 5,000 members that has had an official church presence for only two decades.  Slow congregational and membership growth rates in the 2000s appear due to hesitant area and mission leadership to expand national outreach and conduct church-planting approaches to missionary work.  The Republic of the Congo has one of the highest percentages of Latter-day Saints in the general population and is among the most-reached countries in Africa by the LDS Church.

Other missionary-minded Christians have small church that are representative of other Central African nations.  Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses report extremely slow membership and congregational growth.  It is unclear why these denominations have seen slower membership growth in the Republic of the Congo than in many other African nations, but it may in part be due to the civil war in the late 1990s and the Marxist-controlled government ruling for over two decades.

Future Prospects

A highly receptive population to LDS teachings, high convert retention rates, close proximity to mission headquarters in Kinshasa, and a centralized population to only a handful of major cities generates a favorable outlook for future LDS Church growth in the Republic of the Congo.  With nine wards and four branches, the Brazzaville Republic of Congo Stake will likely divide to create a second stake in the near future upon the organization of additional congregations and the maturation of branches into wards.  Missionaries report that additional branches will likely be organized in Pointe-Noire in the near future to form a district. Greater growth in the Republic of the Congo in the future will be dependent on how well local members follows the teachings of the Church and fulfill their member missionary responsibilities, as well as on achieving adequate missionary allotment to allow new areas to be opened.  A separate LDS mission based in Brazzaville may be forthcoming in the next decade if missionary resources dedicated to the Africa Southeast Area are increased and the number of local members serving full-time missions increases. 


[1]  "Background Note: Republic of the Congo," LDS Church News, 14 December 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2825.htm

[2]  "Republic of the Congo," Countries and their Cultures, retrieved 20 March 2010.  http://www.everyculture.com/Bo-Co/Republic-of-Congo.html

[3]  "Republic of the Congo," Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 8 March 2006.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61564.htm

[4]  "Republic of the Congo," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127227.htm

[5]  Mostert, Mary.  "Prayers of dedication offered on 4 nations in central, southern Africa," LDS Church News, 26 September 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22452/Prayers-of-dedication-offered-on-4-nations-in-central-southern--Africa.html

[6] Mostert, Mary.  "Prayers of dedication offered on 4 nations in central, southern Africa," LDS Church News, 26 September 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22452/Prayers-of-dedication-offered-on-4-nations-in-central-southern--Africa.html

[7]  Orton, Ferrin and Peggy.  "First stake organized in Republic of the Congo," LDS Church News, 6 December 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44757/First-stake-organized-in-Republic-of-Congo.html

[8]  "Projects - Congo," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 14 March 2011.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-144,00.html