Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents




High school students, Bas-Za´re Region


Parents with a newborn on the way to having the baby baptized, Bandundu Region

The majority of Zairians belong to one Christian church or another. Although statistics are imprecise, roughly 46 to 48 percent are Roman Catholics; 24 to 28 percent, Protestants; and as many as 16.5 percent may belong to the indigenous Kimbanguist Church. Islam counts only a small number of adherents in Zaire, perhaps 1 percent of the population, principally clustered in the former Maniema Subregion of Kivu (now Maniema Region) and in pockets in eastern Zaire from Kisangani south to Shaba. Most of the remaining population practices traditional African religions.

A clear delineation of religious affiliation into these membership categories can give a misleading picture of Zairian reality. The number of persons who can be categorized as belonging exclusively to one group or another is limited. Overlapping affiliations are more common. As with class identity or with ethnic identity, an individual Zairian's religious identity may be situational. Different spiritual traditions, agents, and communities may be sought out for assistance, depending on the situation at hand. For example, Christian students in Christian schools may employ sorcery with the objective of improving their individual exam scores or of helping their school's soccer team win in competition against their opponents. Sophisticated urbanites, faced with disease in a family member, may patronize indigenous healers and diviners. And Zairians practicing traditional African religions may also go to both established Christian clergy and breakaway Christian sects in search of spiritual assistance. In the search for spiritual resources, Zairians have frequently displayed a marked openness and pragmatism.

Data as of December 1993