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Congo, Republic of the

Population: 4.66 million (#125 out of countries)

Reaching the Nations

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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. Seventy percent (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 the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 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 twelve administrative departments.

 

Peoples

Kongo: 40.5%

Teke: 16.9%

M’Bochi: 13.1%

Foreigners: 8.2%

Sangha: 5.6%

Mbere/Mbeti/Kele: 4.4%

Punu: 4.3%

Pygmy: 1.6%

Oubanguiens: 1.6%

Duma: 1.5%

Makaa: 1.3%

Other: 0.7%

 

The Kongo comprise nearly half the population and populate southern areas between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The Sangha live in northern areas; Teke, Mbere/Mbeti/Kele, M’Bochi reside in the middle and northern areas. The Punu live in southern areas near the Gabonese border.

 

Population: 5,417,414 (July 2021)

Annual Growth Rate: 2.36% (2021)

Fertility Rate: 4.41 children born per woman (2021)

Life Expectancy: 60.27 male, 63.16 female (2020)

 

Languages: Kituba (32%), Teke dialects (17%), Yombe (9%), Lingala (4%), Mbosi (4%), Suundi (4%), Laari (3%), Kunyi (3%), Ngbaka Ma’bo (3%), Beembe (2%), Bobangi (2%), Mbere (2%), Sango (2%), other or unknown (13%). French is the official language and spoken as a second language by 51% of the population. Fifty-five indigenous languages are spoken. Lingala is also spoken widely in the southern Republic of the Congo as a second language. Kituba (1.7 million) is the only indigenous language spoken as a first language by more than one million people.

Literacy: 80.3% (2018)

 

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 that also included Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (Central African Republic). During the first fifty 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 until 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: $3,673 (2019) [58.7% of U.S.] 

Human Development Index: 0.574 (2019)

Corruption Index: 19 (2020)

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. However, changes in oil prices have resulted in government income shortfalls which threaten national budgets and increase public debt. Natural resources also include a rich supply of precious metals. The Congo Civil War damaged infrastructure and set back earlier achieved economic progress. The economy struggles to diversify itself in order to maintain greater social and economic stability. Industry generates 51.0% of the GDP, whereas services generate 39.7% of the GDP. Agriculture accounts for approximately 10% of the GDP. Common crops or agricultural products include cassava, sugar cane, palm oil, and a variety of fruits of vegetables. Services account for 44.0% of the workforce, whereas agriculture and industry account for 35.4% and 20.6% of the workforce, respectively. Much of the current economic problems resulted in poor economic management and civil unrest. More than half of exports are destined for China. Imports primarily come from France, China, and Belgium.

 

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: 85.9%

Muslim: 1.6%

Other 1.2%

None: 11.3%

 

Christians

Denominations – Members – Congregations

Roman Catholic – 1,220,000

Evangelicals – 598,234 

Jehovah's Witnesses – 9,192 – 117

Latter-Day Saints – 8,542 – 27

Seventh Day Adventists – 1,257 – 23

Religion

Christians constitute a strong majority. Approximately 55% of the non-foreign population is Protestant—most of whom are Evangelical. Kimbanguists may account for as much as nine percent of the population. Atheists may account for as much as two percent of the population. Muslims are overrepresented among foreigners who have fled as refugees from neighboring countries.[4]

 

Religious Freedom

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.[5] There have been no recent reports of concerns regarding societal abuses of religious freedom.[6]

 

Largest Cities

Urban: 67.8% (2020)

Brazzaville, Pointe Noire, Dolisie, Nkayi, Impfondo, Ouesso, Madingou, Owando, Sibiti, Gamboma.

Cities in bold do not have congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

Three of the ten most populous cities have a Latter-day Saint congregation. About 70% of the population lives in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, and Dolisie, whereas the other 30% of the population lives in the other parts of the country.

 

Latter-day Saint History

The Church was formally recognized in the Republic of the Congo in December of 1991. The following year on August 24, the country was dedicated for missionary work by Elder Richard G. Scott. A fireside was held with sixty-five local members and leaders in attendance.[7] 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. In 2014, the Republic of Congo Brazzaville Mission was organized from the Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission to administer the Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Central African Republic. In 2020, the Cameroon Yaoundé Mission was organized which resulted in only the Republic of the Congo being assigned to the Republic of the Congo Brazzaville Mission. That same year, the Republic of the Congo was reassigned to the newly organized Africa Central Area.

 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 8,542 (2019)

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 4% to 6%. Membership increased from 2,958 in 2002 to 3,404 in 2004, 3,824 in 2006, and 4,194 in 2008. In the 2010s, the Church reported periods of more rapid membership growth with annual membership growth rates reaching as high as 9-10%. Church membership totaled 4,799 in 2010, 6,053 in 2014, and 7,903 in 2018. In 2019, one in 606 was a Latter-day Saint, or 0.16% of the population.

 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 24 Branches: 3 (January 2021)

There were three branches in 1991[8] and five branches in 1993, seven branches in 1997, and six branches in 1999. There were eight branches in 2000, seven of which were part of the Brazzaville Republic of Congo District, and one branch functioned in the coastal city of Pointe-Noire. Four new branches were created in 2001 bringing the total of branches in the country to twelve.

 

In 2003, the Brazzaville Republic of Congo Stake was organized with six wards and two branches which 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 were not part of a stake or district. In early 2011, a ninth ward was organized in the Brazzaville Republic of Congo Stake (Nkombo Ward).

 

In 2014, the Makelekele Republic of Congo Stake was organized, comprising the Makelekele, Kinsoundi, Bacongo, Mafouta, Mfilou, and Guynemer wards. The Church created its first official branch in Dolisie in 2019—the first time the Church organized a branch in a city where no branch previously operated since the first branch was created in Pointe-Noire in 1997. In October 2020, the Pointe-Noire stake was organized with six wards and two branches including a branch in the small city of Dolisie. In November 2020, the third stake in Brazzaville, the Diata Republic of Congo Stake, was organized with five wards and one branch (the Diata, Mfilou 1st, Ouenze, Tsieme, and Moungali Wards, and the Mfilou 2nd Branch).

 

Local member reports in late 2020 noted that there are also plans to create a fourth stake in Brazzaville during 2021 and plans to create a second Pointe-Noire stake in 2022. These reports also noted that one of the Brazzaville stakes plans to create five new wards in 2021, increasing the number of wards in the stake from six to eleven. There is a member group in the city of Ouesso which pertains to the mission branch. However, it is unclear whether the member group is officially organized and has regular Church meetings.

 

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 fourteen 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.[9] 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. In the late 2010s, 60% of converts remained active one year after baptism. At this time, approximately sixty attended the Kinsoundi Ward, whereas approximately 110 attended the Mikalou Ward.

 

The average number of members per congregation in the Republic of the Congo increased from 202 in 2000 to 300 in 2008 and 362 in 2013. However, the average number of members per congregation decreased to 293 in 2018. Active church membership is likely no greater than 3,500, or 40% of total Church membership.

 

Language Materials

Languages with Latter-day Saint Scripture: French, Lingala.

All Latter-day Saint 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. The Church announced in 2017 plans to translate the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price into Lingala.[10]

 

Meetinghouses

There are three Church-built meetinghouses in the Republic of Congo: two in Brazzaville and one in Pointe-Noire. Most congregations meet in rented spaces or renovated buildings.

 

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 3.1% 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.[11]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. In 2017 to 2018, there was a humanitarian couple that served in Brazzaville who oversaw

school construction well construction. 

 

 

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 over the decades. However, no legal or social restrictions limit proselytism or other Church activities.

 

Cultural Issues

Eighty-six (86%) 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 growth and encourage self-sufficiency in leadership and full-time missionary service. However, there are no culturally-adapted Latter-day Saint outreach approaches for those following indigenous religions, and it is unclear whether many who adhere to traditional religions have joined the Church. Poverty is a major concern, as many members struggle to be financially self-reliant.

 

National Outreach

High rates of urbanization result in two-thirds of the national population resides in the three cities with a Latter-day Saint congregation. The Church operates nineteen congregations in Brazzaville and seven in Pointe-Noire which provide penetrating outreach to both cities. However, Dolisie is the only city outside of the two metropolitan areas inhabited by one million or more people with a Latter-day Saint presence. 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 urbanized 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. Furthermore, the creation of the Cameroon Yaoundé Mission has significantly reduced the administration burden on the Republic of Congo Brazzaville Mission which now ranks among the missions in Africa with the smallest populations. This development presents good opportunities for provide more penetrating outreach due to a smaller target population for missionary activity.

 

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. The mission president has visited different cities that seem favorable to open for missionary work. Three cities in particular are Ouesso, in the north bordering Cameroon, and Nkyai and Madingou in the south of the country on the road between Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville. There is a member group of about 40 members in Ouesso. 

 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Moderate member activity and convert retention have occurred for much of the Church’s history of the Republic of the Congo as evidenced by less than half of members on Church records attending services on a regular basis. Recent convert retention rates one year after baptism appears good and have been tied to member-missionary participation. However, the Church appears to have struggled with the long-term retention of converts as evidenced by little net increases in the number of active members since the early 2000s.

 

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 three cities have likely reduced potential ethnic integration challenges at church.

 

Language Issues

High literacy rates for the region preset good opportunities to utilize Church materials, particularly in French. Departments without a Church presence present challenges for outreach, including the need to translate church materials and scriptures into languages presently without church materials. Only half of Congolese speak French as a second language. The Church has yet to translate materials into Kituba—an important language for future materials given it is the only native language spoken by more than one million people. 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 that do not proficiently speak 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. However, the Republic of the Congo continues to appear reliant on the international Church to adequately staff its full-time missionary needs. 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. Young North American missionaries began to serve in Pointe-Noire in the late 2000s. In March 2020, Pointe-Noire had fourteen missionaries and four missionaries in Dolisie, part of the Pointe-Noire Zone. Non-African missionaries began serving in the capital of Brazzaville in 2016. In March 2020, there were thirty-six missionaries serving in Brazzaville. There is normally a senior missionary couple assigned to the mission office in Brazzaville, and there hasn’t been a senior couple in Pointe-Noire since at least 2016.

 

Leadership

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. For the most part, leaders are serious about their callings and strive to grow the Church in the area and to fulfill their callings. Maturity in local Church leadership is evident with the establishment of four stakes in the country notwithstanding fewer than 10,000 members.

 

Temple

The Republic of the Congo is assigned to the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo Temple district. A few members attended the temple in South Africa before the Kinshasa temple was dedicated. The temple is across the Congo River from Brazzaville and is close enough for all Congolese members to attend. Senior missionaries in Pointe-Noire prepared and organized a temple trip for members in 2009. Members travel to the temple individually and in ward or branch groups. Brazzaville appears a likely candidate for a small temple in the foreseeable future given difficulties crossing the Congo River by boat, good local leadership development, and the operation of three stakes in the city.

 

Comparative Growth

The Church in the Republic of the Congo experienced membership and congregational growth rates lower than most of Sub-Saharan Africa during the 2000s, albeit growth rates in the 2010s were comparable to most countries in the region. More rapid growth coincided with the creation of the Republic of Congo Brazzaville Mission in 2014. The Church in the Republic of the Congo possesses one of the most self-reliant and well developed leadership bases in the world among developing countries with less than 10,000 members, as evidenced by the operation of four stakes. 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 Church given that two-thirds of the population live in cities with official congregations. Member activity rates are significantly lower than in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo where 80% of Church-reported membership regularly attends worship services. Lower member activity rates in the Republic of the Congo appear attributed to the lack of a mission headquartered in the country until 2014 as missionary outreach and support was at times inconsistent or much less than what was warranted.

 

Other nontraditional, missionary-minded Christian denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists, typically report moderate or rapid growth. However, these denominations have significantly fewer members in the Republic of the Congo compared to most neighboring countries. The total number of Latter-day Saints and Latter-day Saint congregations in the Republic of the Congo is higher than what is reported by Seventh-day Adventists in the country—an anomaly given that Adventists generally report significantly larger numbers of members and congregations than Latter-day Saints in most Sub-Saharan African countries. Although the number of adherents for both Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses are comparable (i.e., approximately 9,000), there are more than four times as many Witness congregations in the country than Latter-day Saint congregations. For example, Witnesses report approximately fifty congregations in Brazzaville alone, including several which hold worship services in local languages such as Kituba and Lari. Moreover, there are also approximately thirty cities in the Republic of the Congo where Witness congregations operate, whereas Latter-day Saints operate official congregations in only three cities. It is unclear why Adventist and Witnesses have reported slower membership growth in the Republic of the Congo than in many other African nations, albeit the civil war in the late 1990s and the Marxist-controlled government ruling for over two decades are likely explanations for this lack of growth.

 

Future Prospects

A highly receptive population to Latter-day Saint teachings, good recent convert retention rates, and a centralized population which primarily resides in only a handful of major cities generates a favorable outlook for future growth in the Republic of the Congo. With three stakes in Brazzaville and a new stake in Pointe-Noire, the Church has established a strong foothold from which to expand missionary efforts. Greater growth in the Republic of the Congo in the future will be dependent on how well local members follow the teachings of the Church and fulfill their member missionary responsibilities, as well as on achieving an adequate missionary allotment to allow new areas to be opened. Additional cities may have branches organized, particularly those between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire given proximity to mission headquarters and easier accessibility.



[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] “2019 Report on International Religious Freedom: Republic of the Congo.” U.S. Department of State. Accessed 16 February 2021. https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/republic-of-the-congo/

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

[6] “2019 Report on International Religious Freedom: Republic of the Congo.” U.S. Department of State. Accessed 16 February 2021. https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/republic-of-the-congo/

[7] 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

[8] 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

[9] 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

[10] Letter dated October 8th, 2018. Lds.org. Accessed 16 February 2021. https://www.lds.org/bc/content/ldsorg/church/news/2017/10/09/15159_000_letter.pdf?lang=eng

[11] “Projects—Congo,” Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 14 March 2011. http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607–1–2008–144,00.html