Official Name: Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

Language: The official language is French but Swahili, Lingala, Kikongo and Tshiluba are also recognised as national languages. More than 200 other languages are also in use.

Population: Estimated to be around 47,000,000. This is made up of more than 200 ethnic groups almost entirely of native African descent, with the largest being the Kongo, Luba, Lunda, Mongo and Zande.

Size: 905,366 square miles. This large country is almost 80 times larger than Belgium, the former colonial power. Its river basin is home to the second largest tropical rainforest left in the world.

National Dish: A typical speciality of the country is moambe chicken, cooked in fresh palm oil with rice and spinach.

Best Monument: The 197ft-high Insiki Falls at Zongo are well worth a visit, as are the caves in the region of Mbanza-Ngungu. This resort is also home to the Frÿre Gillet Botanic Gardens with their world-famous rare orchids. But all potential tourists should remember that this huge country is possibly one of the most difficult in the world to travel around in.

Most Famous Citizen: Former president Sese Seko Mobutu, with his trademark "African" headgear, eventually converted himself into the profligate-leader-of-bankrupt-third-world-country par excellence. He is thought to have spent more money on his presidency than on the entire social services budget of Zaire. His personal wealth was estimated at $3bn to $4bn.

Best Moment In History: Hard to think of any. The country was given full independence from Belgium in June 1960 as the Republic of the Congo, but things soon started to go wrong - the province of Katanga declared its independence from the rest of the country and fighting promptly broke out. Things have not got better since, even though Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 by rebels led by Laurent Kabila.

Worst Moment In History: Many. In the 19th century this vast area of Africa was reduced to the status of personal fiefdom of King Leopold of the Belgians, who raped and pillaged the country without the slightest regard to the welfare of its inhabitants, setting an unsavoury precedent for Mobutu to follow in the subsequent century.

Essential Accessory: It seems to be more a case of what not to take. Foreign visitors are advised not to take mobile telephones, cameras, binoculars, computers, maps, tools or knives. Likewise, do not take anything to wear that is green as it is likely to be mistaken for military clothing and confiscated.

What Not To Do: Do not attempt to photograph public buildings, military personnel, vehicles or bridges as this may lead to your camera being confiscated. Be very careful when exchanging money. Avoid any contact at all, if possible, with the security forces, whose principal source of income is extortion from hapless civilians.

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