The economy of most countries in Central Africa revolves around agriculture, a sector which accounts for the majority of the employment of the population. The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is no exception, with two thirds of the population sustained by agriculture. Production is divided into products to ensure their livelihood, drawing in 4 million families (80% of the population) whilst a small part of production (equal to little more than 3%) is exported. The lack of adequate facilities for internal transport together with ongoing problems at a social and political level, have thwarted the development of forward-looking trade policies and remains one of the biggest limitations for the country.
Coffee is the first agricultural product in the country and the third at export level after copper and oil. In 1890, the Belgian Gallain introduced Coffea canephora congolensis after having studied and selected it in a nursery in Brussels. The first plantations flourished in the central-southern part of the country and the plants turned out to be very productive and resistant to rust. Arabica plantations were introduced later, finding their ideal habitat near Lake Kivu, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda at circa 1500 metres above sea level.
THE CONGO CRISIS
As already mentioned, the Democratic Republic of Congo´s history has been deeply afflicted from the social-political perspective, impacting the economy and curbing development. In 1908, the country became a Belgian-influenced colony in effect, even adopting the Belgian-Congo name. Durante the Second World War, Congo came into contact with nationalist aspirations from neighbouring French colonies and the first independence movements appeared. By granting some reforms mainly in the agricultural sector, the Belgian government sought to limit this autonomous impulse, emancipating a narrow segment of the population, the so-called “evoluì” (literally “evolved”) which flanked the Belgians in the coffee production.
However, Independence in 1960 was followed by dark years for the country. Mobuti, the Army Chief of Staff, overthrew President Kasavubu in a coup and swiftly acquired absolute power. 1971, the state was renamed Zaire and a large part of the reforms from previous years were annulled. Plantations were nationalized and the country took an increasingly authoritarian stance with the support of Eastern Europe in particular. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disappearance of its historic supporters saw Mobuti lose power, forced to flee to Morocco and leaving his country in economic collapse and civil war. Problems were far from solved and subsequent years were characterised by bloody conflicts that remained unresolved. Therefore, the political climate of the country remains unstable, especially in the eastern provinces, which among other things is home to the bulk of coffee production.