The official language of the Democratic Republic of Congo is French. It is widely recognized as the Congo’s lingua franca, enabling communication among the country’s numerous ethnic groups. According to a study published by the OIF in 2014, 33 million Congolese individuals (or 47% of the population) can read and write in French. 67 percent of the people in Kinshasa, the capital, can read and write French, and 68.5 percent can speak and comprehend it.
Only four languages are recognized as national languages: Kituba (“Kikongo ya leta”), Lingala, Tshiluba, and Swahili. Although some individuals use these regional or trade languages as their first language, the majority of the population speaks them after their tribal tongue. Under Belgian colonial control, Lingala was the official language of the colonial army, the “Force Publique,” and it is still the majority language in the armed services today. Since the recent rebellions, a large portion of the troops in the East has been speaking Swahili in areas where it is spoken.
The four native languages were taught and used in elementary schools while the country was a Belgian colony, making it one of the few African countries to have literacy in indigenous languages throughout the European colonial period. Following independence, this tendency was reversed, with French being the only language of instruction at all levels. Since 1975, the four national languages have been reinstated in the first two years of primary school, with French being the only language of instruction from the third year onwards; nevertheless, many primary schools in metropolitan areas utilize French exclusively from the first year onwards.