WATCH: Could the DR Congo have been a real life Wakanda?
WAKANDA - noun. An African kingdom that's strong, independent, and wealthy. It's a land that's unmarred by colonialism and slave trade, thriving and technologically advanced. A place that is rich with natural resources such as uranium and diamonds, and in a fertile area of land.
Is this what the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could have been?
While the Marvel film Black Panther's Wakanda was, of course, fictional and presented an idealised version of a resource-rich, prosperous nation in Africa, we can't help but notice the striking parallels between the two countries. And in the comic-world, they share a border!
They both have boast vast amounts of mineral wealth - and, while Wakanda has its magical 'vibranium' along with uramium, coal and diamonds, the DRC has diamonds, coal, uranium, cobalt, rubber, and colton.
But even though their roots run thick in natural resources, this year's UN Human Development Index (HDI) the country at number 176 out of a list of 184 countries.
So, why isn't it one of the world's richest countries?
Well, while it's fictional sibling, Wakanda, was able to use vibranium to render the land 'invisible', the real DRC's mineral wealth made the region a magnet for exploitative imperialists.
It's early modern history laid in violent Belgian hands. King Leopold II ran it as his personal brutal fiefdom from 1885 to 1908. People were tortured, maimed and raped and the population was halved - up to 10 million Africans lost their lives. Leopold extracted over a billion dollars in profits for these atrocities.
But even after the Belgian state took over from Leopold, the Congolese continued to suffer. Their resources were rapidly being depleted and exported for the profit of Belgium.
Then came Patrice Lumumba. He advocated for state ownership over the land's resources and refused to praise the Belgian government.
Lumumba helped achieve independence for the DRC and could have been its first real leader.
But with the decades of colonialism, the state left in its wake was vulnerable to outside interference - particularly during the Cold War when its minerals were a strategic resource.
Lumumba eventually ended up being a victim to assassination in a CIA-aided plot and was replaced by Mobutu Sese Seko - a corrupt and authoritarian dictator.
The Congo became Zaire and plunged into huge debt. Mobutu robbed the national treasury and pocketed foreign aid.
By 1990 Zaire's debt had gone from relatively insignificant to over $10 billion (about over R152 billion @R15.17/$).
When Mobutu was eventually overthrown, partly as a consequence of the civil war and genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, he was replaced by Laurent Kabila who was backed by a loose alliance of rebels.
But the violence which brought Kabila to power continued under his rule. Things did not change much after he was assassinated and his son Joseph came into power in 2001.
Many of the DRC assets have been privatised with no compensation or benefit for the state treasury.
The little infrastructure the DRC had was used to bring minerals from the privatised resource-rich mines to the ports or borders for extraction.
In sum, unlike the flourishing fictional kingdom of Wakanda, whose borders were kept strictly monitored and isolationist, the DRC was brutalised and forced to trade with the outside world.
By the end of the Black Panther movie, Wakanda became a source of foreign aid - if the DRC had had the chance to use its huge resources for its own benefit, could its narrative have been very different?
Some highlights of the region:
Now that we've briefed the dark but key-to-know history of the region, here are some of the highlights you can encounter should you visit.
Despite its ongoing struggles and the historic pain of the region, it births so much life and is rich is national parks and lush, thriving greenery - making it a nature-lover's haven.
Plan your nature-lover escape to one of the following spots that caress the DRC land: