Denis Sassou Nguesso

Amanda Lucidon / White House

It seems like almost every day, someone asks me “J.D., what is the difference between the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo?” Usually, I just say “Kate, go back to sleep, it’s the middle of the night and I don’t feel like talking about the Congo.” But perhaps it is time to address this vexing question once and for all.

It has to be said that I can hardly blame Kate…superficially, these two countries have a lot in common.

First, their names are very similar. And the common practice of referring to them by acronyms only helps a little. Calling the Republic of the Congo “the ROC” can be misleading because this is also the acronym for South Korea (“Korea” is spelled with a “C” in Korean). And referring to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as “DROC” can get tricky because you might slip up and pronounce it “D-Rock”, which in turn will probably make you start dancing and forget what you were talking about.

But fortunately for purposes of disambiguation (a word which wikipedia invented, I should note, and which I defy you to pronounce correctly on your first try), this is the only real similarity between the two countries. Following are only a handful of the key differences between the two Congos.

• The ROC is not the largest French-speaking country in the world. In sharp contrast, the DROC is the largest French-speaking country in the world.

• The capital city of the ROC, “Brazzaville”, has a name that makes it sound like a super fun place to be. The capital of the DROC, on the other hand, is “Kinshasa.” “Kinshasa”…well, actually, “Kinshasa” sounds like a pretty fun place too. Neither city, however, is fun.

• ROC President Sassou Nguesso has a private militia named “The Cobras,” which means the ROC is more like Johnny’s dojo in “The Karate Kid” than the DROC.

• In the ROC, the ruling Bantu ethnic group keeps the minority Pygmy group in virtual slavery, inheriting individuals and paying them with cigarettes or old clothes, if at all. In the DROC, people only wish they had slaves. (As if this absolutely true ROC slavery fact weren’t horrific enough, it should be noted that unlike house elves, pygmies are not freed when you give them old clothes.)

• People from the ROC claim that the movie based on the Michael Crichton novel “Congo” was filmed in the ROC. Those in the DROC know better, and will tell you that along with “Jurassic Park,” “Congo” was filmed on location in Jurassic Park.

• In the Republic of the Congo, half the population lives under the poverty line of $1.25 a day. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, everyone lives off fat trust funds, sipping cocktails on the beach till night, and dancing in the clubs till dawn.