Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents



Size and Growth

Figure 8. Population by Age and Sex, 1990
Source: Based on information from Federal Republic of Germany, Statistisches Bundesamt, Lšnderbericht ZaÔre, 1990, Wiesbaden, 1990, 23.

Zaire's population was estimated at 39.1 million in 1992, making the country among sub-Saharan Africa's most populous. This figure represents a substantial increase over the 29.7 million inhabitants recorded in the last official census, taken in July 1984, which in itself had indicated a near doubling of the 16.2 million population at independence in 1960 (see table 2, Appendix).

Fluctuations in the country's population over time follow a clear pattern, correlating to political and economic developments. Between 1880 and approximately 1920, a period of colonial conquest and consolidation, Zaire suffered a drastic decline in population. European and Arab penetration disrupted traditional agricultural organization and introduced diseases such as sleeping sickness, smallpox, influenza, and venereal diseases, devastating local populations and reducing their numbers by roughly one-third to onehalf . In the 1940s, population decline was also hastened by the conditions under which mandatory labor was imposed by the colonial government during World War II. Compulsory labor for porterage, road construction, mining, and the harvesting of rubber disrupted the planting and harvesting of food crops, provoking famine.

Only after 1948 did the country's population show rapid growth, reflecting improved nutrition, health, and economic development. Since that time, the average annual rate of population growth has been consistently high even by African standards. It was estimated at just above 2 percent for most of the period from 1950 to 1970. Thereafter, the rate has been near or above percent. In 1992 the annual population growth rate was estimated at 3.3 percent (see table 3, Appendix). Moreover, the growth rate is projected to remain at or above 3 percent until at least 2015. Zaire is thus expected to continue to see its population grow at a faster rate than its economy, exacerbating the economic and social deterioration prevailing in the early 1990s. The United Nations (UN) estimates that Zaire's population will total between 78.4 million and 100.9 million by 2025.

Zaire's high population growth rate is fueled by a high crude birth rate: forty-five births per 1,000 population in 1992, little changed from the forty-seven births per 1,000 population recorded in 1965 (see table 4, Appendix). The total fertility rate in 1992 was estimated to be 6.1 children born per woman. In the same year, the crude death rate was estimated at thirteen per 1,000 population, down substantially from the twenty-one per 1,000 noted in 1965 and thus another contributing factor to total population growth. The infant mortality rate, although substantially improved from the rate of 140 per 1,000 live births recorded in 1965, was, however, still high at ninety-seven per 1,000 live births in 1992. The under-five mortality rate was estimated at 150 per 1,000. Life expectancy was relatively low at fifty-two years for males and fifty-six for women in 1992.

The distribution of Zaire's population by age and sex is typical of that of a developing nation and quite dissimilar from that of the developed world. Most striking is the youthfulness of the population. In 1990 approximately 45 percent of the population was under the age of fifteen, 71 percent under the age of thirty, and 87 percent under the age of forty-five (see fig. 8). The number of males and females was nearly equal, estimated at 49 percent and 51 percent of the population, respectively, in 1990. Because of their greater longevity, females outnumbered males primarily in the older age-groups.

The size and composition of the population are also affected by uncontrolled and continuing immigration to Zaire. Both prior to and since independence, there have been periodic influxes of refugees from neighboring countries, such as Angola, Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda and Burundi (the last two peoples known collectively in Zaire as the Banyarwanda). Emigration of Zairians has offset only some of the population increases. In the 1960s, some sources indicate that Zaire gained 500,000 inhabitants through immigration. In May 1985, the number of refugees in Zaire was estimated at about 330,000.

In 1992 the U.S. Committee for Refugees estimated that Zaire was home to over 470,000 refugees: 310,000 from Angola, 104,000 from southern Sudan, 45,000 from Burundi, 10,000 from Uganda, and 1,300 from other African nations. Most of the Angolan refugees had been in Zaire for over twenty years and were self-supporting and socially integrated into Zairian society. About 80,000 were, however, more recent refugees, having fled to Zaire since 1985.

In late 1991, an estimated 20,000 foreigners, mostly European and United States citizens, left Zaire because of the country's political unrest and economic deterioration. A small number of Zairians are also reported to have fled from Zaire to Angola. However, by contrast with the repatriation of 15,000 Angolan refugees and the reduction of Western expatriates in Zaire during 1991, the number of refugees from Burundi and Sudan increased in the early 1990s.

In general, the Zairian government welcomed refugees, allowing them to settle on empty land or seek employment. Further assistance to displaced persons was provided by international relief agencies.

Data as of December 1993

Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents