Zaire Table of Contents
Because of its large land area, Zaire as a whole is not overpopulated, but population distribution is uneven, and some regions are very densely populated. Although most of Zaire's land area is habitable, more than half of the country is still thinly populated, and some 10 percent almost totally uninhabited. Twothirds of the population is estimated to live on one-quarter of the land area.
The population is least dense throughout the nation's center, in the Congo River basin. Two areas with relatively high densities (greater than twenty-five inhabitants per square kilometer) are found along the eastern border north of Lake Tanganyika and from Bas-Za´re in the southwest intermittently throughout the southern savanna to Kasai-Oriental. The greater-than-average population density in the eastern highlands can be related to the superior soils and rainfall there, but no obvious natural reason accounts for the greater density of the southern savanna.
Average population density throughout Zaire was relatively low at 14.9 persons per square kilometer in 1990, but regional distribution was uneven (see table 5, Appendix). Kinshasa was by far the most densely populated region in the country (266.3 inhabitants per square kilometer in 1984), followed by Bas-Za´re (36.5 inhabitants per square kilometer) and Kivu (since the early 1990s divided into Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu, and Maniema; 20.2 inhabitants per square kilometer overall--however, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu are very densely populated, but Maniema is sparsely populated). Shaba was the least densely populated (7.8 inhabitants per square kilometer), exceeded only slightly, however, by ╔quateur and Haut-Za´re (both 8.4 inhabitants per square kilometer in 1984).
In consonance with the high average annual growth rate of the total population, adjusted data from the five official censuses (1938, 1948, 1958, 1970, and 1984) clearly show a high rate of population increase in all regions after 1948. There are, nevertheless, substantial regional variations (see table 6, Appendix).
Internal migration to the capital city of Kinshasa has caused a spectacular rate of population growth for that area since 1938. Although the growth rate is declining, it measured 6.2 percent for the 1970-84 period. Growth rates in Kivu, Shaba, and Kasai-Oriental were also higher than the national average (i.e., over 3 percent) in the same period.
Immigration also accounts for some of the discrepancies in regional increases in population at various times. For example, refugees from the 1961 Angolan anticolonial struggle flooded parts of Bas-Za´re between 1958 and 1970, swelling statistics. Substantial numbers of refugees from what are now Rwanda and Burundi fled to Kivu, first under Belgian colonial rule in the 1927-45 and 1949-55 periods, and later in response to domestic political unrest in the 1960s, in the 1970s, and in the early 1990s. Political unrest was also the major factor behind the entry of Sudanese and Ugandans into Haut-Za´re in 1970 and 1984. In Shaba the rising growth rate from 1958 to 1970 can be attributed to both foreign immigration and internal migration, particularly from Kasai-Oriental to Shaba's thriving mining centers.
In the early 1990s, Zaire had to contend with an increasingly large population of internally displaced persons, the victims of ethnic conflict (see The Significance of Ethnic Identification , this ch.; Interest Groups , ch. 4). In 1992-93 several hundred thousand Luba-Kasai residing in Shaba (many whose families had been there for three to four generations) were forced from their homes and businesses. Most sought refuge in and around train stations (many literally living on station platforms), awaiting transport to the Kasai area. Because of their lack of funds and the unreliability of the country's dilapidated rail system, many never made it out of Shaba, and in mid-1993 there were reported to be 100,000 refugees trying to leave the region. There were also about 100,000 refugees in Kasai-Occidental and Kasai-Oriental who had succeeded in leaving Shaba but were awaiting resettlement in the "homeland" that many had never before visited.
In addition, densely populated Nord-Kivu had over 150,000 internal refugees displaced by violence against the so-called Banyarwanda, members of the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups originally from Rwanda and Burundi who had immigrated to Zaire over the years. Indigenous local groups, traditionally hunters, were locked in a struggle over land use with the more prosperous Banyarwanda, who were primarily farmers. The Banyarwanda, although numbering about 2 million and constituting about one-half the population of NordKivu , were still widely regarded as "foreigners," and many of them had in fact been deprived of citizenship by a 1981 law that was finally invoked in 1991. Thus, they made convenient targets. Attacks began in March 1993; by August 1993, they had resulted in the deaths of over 7,000 Banyarwanda and the displacement of 150,000 people from both sides of the conflict.
The Zairian government is unable to deal with the social and health care needs of the displaced. Church groups and international organizations are in essence the only agencies delivering health care and other assistance to these internal refugees. Yet even their efforts are hampered by the near total collapse of the country's infrastructure, continuing corruption at all levels of officialdom, and widespread lawlessness and civil unrest.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents