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Republic of the Congo

Related subjects: Africa; African Countries

Background Information

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Coordinates: 1.44°S 15.556°E / -1.44; 15.556

Republic of the Congo
République du Congo  (French)
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Unité, Travail, Progrès" (French)
"Unity, Work, Progress"
Anthem:  La Congolaise  (French)
The Congolese
and largest city
4°16′S 15°17′E
Official languages French
Recognised regional languages
  • Kongo
  • Lingala
Ethnic groups
  • 48% Kongo
  • 20% Sangha
  • 17% Teke
  • 12% M'Bochi
  • 3% Europeans / others
Demonym Congolese
Government Dominant-party presidential republic
 -  President Denis Sassou Nguesso
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house National Assembly
 -  from France August 15, 1960 
 -  Total 342,000 km2 ( 64th)
132,047 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 3.3
 -  2012 estimate 4,366,266 ( 128th)
 -  Density 12.8/km2 ( 204th)
33.1/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $19.096 billion
 -  Per capita $4,666
GDP (nominal) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $13.692 billion
 -  Per capita $3,346
HDI (2013) Steady 0.534
low · 142nd
Currency Central African CFA franc ( XAF)
Time zone WAT ( UTC+1)
Drives on the right
Calling code +242
ISO 3166 code CG
Internet TLD .cg

The Republic of the Congo (French: République du Congo), also referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, is a country located in Central Africa. It is bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Angolan exclave of Cabinda.

The region was dominated by Bantu-speaking tribes, who built trade links leading into the Congo River basin. Congo-Brazzaville was formerly part of the French colony of Equatorial Africa. Upon independence in 1960, the former colony of French Congo became the Republic of the Congo. The People's Republic of the Congo was a Marxist-Leninist single-party state from 1970 to 1991. Multiparty elections have been held since 1992, although a democratically elected government was ousted in the 1997 Republic of the Congo Civil War.


The earliest inhabitants of the region were Pygmy people, who later were largely displaced and absorbed by Bantu-speaking peoples who found tribes during the Bantu expansions. The Bakongo are a Bantu ethnicity that also occupied parts of present-day Angola, Gabon and Democratic Republic of the Congo, forming the basis for ethnic affinities and rivalries among those countries. Several Bantu kingdoms—notably those of the Kongo, the Loango, and the Teke—built trade links leading into the Congo River basin.

The court of N'Gangue M'voumbe Niambi, from the book Description of Africa (1668)

The mouth of the Congo was reached by the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão in 1484. Commercial relationships were quickly established between the inland Bantu kingdoms and European merchants who traded various commodities, manufactured goods, and slaves captured from the hinterlands. For centuries, the Congo river delta was a major commercial hub for transatlantic trade. However, when direct European colonization of the African continent began in the late 19th century, the power of the Bantu societies in the region was eroded.

The area north of the Congo River came under French sovereignty in 1880 as a result of Pierre de Brazza's treaty with Makoko of the Bateke. This Congo Colony became known first as French Congo, then as Middle Congo in 1903. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa (AEF), comprising Middle Congo, Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (the modern Central African Republic). Brazzaville was selected as the federal capital. Economic development during the first 50 years of colonial rule in Congo centered on natural resource extraction. The methods were often brutal: establishment of the Congo–Ocean Railroad following World War I has been estimated to have cost at least 14,000 lives.

During the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, Brazzaville functioned as the symbolic capital of Free France between 1940 and 1943. The Conference of 1944 heralded a period of major reform in French colonial policy. Congo benefited from the postwar expansion of colonial administrative and infrastructure spending as a result of its central geographic location within AEF and the federal capital at Brazzaville. It also received a local legislature after the adoption of the 1946 constitution that established the Fourth Republic.

Following the revision of the French constitution that established the Fifth Republic in 1958, the AEF was dissolved and its constituent parts reformed into autonomous colonies within the French Community. During these reforms, Middle Congo became known as the Republic of the Congo in 1958 and published its first constitution in 1959. Antagonism between the pro- Opangault Mbochis and the pro- Youlou Balalis resulted in a series of riots in Brazzaville in February 1959, which had to be subdued by the French Army.

The Republic of the Congo was granted full independence from France on August 15, 1960. Fulbert Youlou ruled as the country's first president until labour elements and rival political parties instigated a three-day uprising that ousted him. The Congolese military took charge of the country briefly and installed a civilian provisional government headed by Alphonse Massamba-Débat. Under the 1963 constitution, Massamba-Débat was elected President for a five-year term. The regime adopted " scientific socialism" as the country's constitutional ideology.

The flag of the People's Republic of the Congo.

In 1965, Congo established relations with the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, North Korea and North Vietnam. Massamba-Débat was unable to reconcile various institutional and ideological factions and his regime ended abruptly with an August 1968 coup d'état. Marien Ngouabi, who had participated in the coup, assumed the presidency on December 31, 1968. One year later, President Ngouabi proclaimed Congo to be Africa's first "people's republic" and announced the decision of the National Revolutionary Movement to change its name to the Congolese Labour Party (PCT). On March 16, 1977, President Ngouabi was assassinated. An 11-member Military Committee of the Party (CMP) was named to head an interim government with Joachim Yhombi-Opango to serve as President of the Republic. Two years later, Yhombi-Opango was forced from power and Denis Sassou Nguesso become the new president.

Sassou Nguesso aligned the country with the Eastern Bloc and signed a twenty-year friendship pact with the Soviet Union. Over the years, Sassou had to rely more on political repression and less on patronage to maintain his dictatorship.

Pascal Lissouba, who became Congo's first elected president during the period of multi-party democracy, attempted to implement economic reforms with IMF backing to liberalise the economy. In June 1996 the IMF approved a three-year SDR69.5m (US$100m) enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF) and was on the verge of announcing a renewed annual agreement when civil war broke out in Congo in mid-1997.

Congo's democratic progress was derailed in 1997 when Lissouba and Sassou started to fight over power. As presidential elections scheduled for July 1997 approached, tensions between the Lissouba and Sassou camps mounted. On June 5, President Lissouba's government forces surrounded Sassou's compound in Brazzaville and Sassou ordered members of his private militia (known as "Cobras") to resist. Thus began a four-month conflict that destroyed or damaged much of Brazzaville and caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths. In early October, the Angolan socialist regime began an invasion of Congo to install Sassou to power. In mid-October, the Lissouba government fell. Soon thereafter, Sassou declared himself President.

In the controversial elections in 2002, Sassou won with almost 90% of the vote cast. His two main rivals Lissouba and Bernard Kolelas were prevented from competing and the only remaining credible rival, Andre Milongo, advised his supporters to boycott the elections and then withdrew from the race. A new constitution, agreed upon by referendum in January 2002, granted the president new powers, extended his term to seven years, and introduced a new bicameral assembly. International observers took issue with the organisation of the presidential election and the constitutional referendum, both of which were reminiscent in their organisation of Congo's era of the single-party state. Following the presidential elections, fighting restarted in the Pool region between government forces and rebels led by Pastor Ntumi; a peace treaty to end the conflict was signed in April 2003.

The regime held the presidential election in July 2009. According to the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation, the election was marked by "very low" turnout and "fraud and irregularities." The regime announced Sassou as the winner.

Government and politics

Congo-Brazzaville has had a multi-party political system since the early 1990s, although the system is heavily dominated by President Denis Sassou Nguesso; he has lacked serious competition in the presidential elections held under his rule. Sassou Nguesso is backed by his own Congolese Labour Party (French: Parti Congolais du Travail) as well as a range of smaller parties.

Internationally, Sassou's regime has been hit by corruption revelations despite attempts to censor them. One French investigation found over 110 bank accounts and dozens of lavish properties in France; Sassou denounced embezzlement investigations as "racist" and "colonial".

Human rights

As of 2008, the main media are owned by the government but many more privately run forms of media are being created. There is one government-owned television station and around 10 small private television channels.

UNICEF and human-rights activists have voiced their concerns about the precarious conditions in which many Congolese Pygmies live. On December 30, 2010, the Congolese parliament adopted a law for the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. This law is the first of its kind in Africa, and its adoption is a historic development for indigenous peoples on the continent.

Administrative divisions

Pointe-Noire Department Pointe-Noire Department A clickable map of the Republic of the Congo exhibiting its twelve departments.
About this image

The Republic of the Congo is divided into 12 départements (departments). Departments are divided into communes and/or districts. These are:

  • Bouenza
  • Cuvette
  • Cuvette-Ouest
  • Kouilou
  • Lékoumou
  • Brazzaville

Geography and climate

Map of the Republic of the Congo
Climate diagram for Brazzaville

Congo is located in the central-western part of sub-Saharan Africa, along the Equator, lying between latitudes 4°N and 5°S, and longitudes 11° and 19°E. To the south and east of it is the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also bounded by Gabon to the west, Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the north, and Cabinda (Angola) to the southwest. It has a short coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

The capital, Brazzaville, is located on the Congo River, in the south of the country, immediately across from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The southwest of the country is a coastal plain for which the primary drainage is the Kouilou-Niari River; the interior of the country consists of a central plateau between two basins to the south and north. Forests are under increasing exploitation pressure.

Since the country is located on the Equator, the climate is consistent year-round, with the average day temperature being a humid 24 °C (75 °F) and nights generally between 16 °C (61 °F) and 21 °C (70 °F). The average yearly rainfall ranges from 1,100 millimetres (43 in) in south in the Niari valley to over 2,000 millimetres (79 in) in central parts of the country. The dry season is from June to August while in the majority of the country the wet season has two rainfall maxima: one in March–May and another in September–November.

In 2006–07, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society studied gorillas in heavily forested regions centered on the Ouesso district of the Sangha Region. They suggest a population on the order of 125,000 Western Lowland Gorillas, whose isolation from humans has been largely preserved by inhospitable swamps.


Cassava is an important food crop in the Republic of Congo.

The economy is a mixture of village agriculture and handicrafts, an industrial sector based largely on petroleum, support services, and a government characterized by budget problems and overstaffing. Petroleum extraction has supplanted forestry as the mainstay of the economy. In 2008, oil sector accounted for 65% of the GDP, 85% of government revenue, and 92% of exports. The country also has large untapped mineral wealth.

In the early 1980s, rapidly rising oil revenues enabled the government to finance large-scale development projects with GDP growth averaging 5% annually, one of the highest rates in Africa. The government has mortgaged a substantial portion of its petroleum earnings, contributing to a shortage of revenues. The January 12, 1994 devaluation of Franc Zone currencies by 50% resulted in inflation of 46% in 1994, but inflation has subsided since.

Kinshasa seen from Brazzaville. The two capitals are separated by the Congo River.

Economic reform efforts continued with the support of international organizations, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The reform program came to a halt in June 1997 when civil war erupted. When Sassou Nguesso returned to power at the end of the war in October 1997, he publicly expressed interest in moving forward on economic reforms and privatisation and in renewing cooperation with international financial institutions. However, economic progress was badly hurt by slumping oil prices and the resumption of armed conflict in December 1998, which worsened the republic's budget deficit.

The current administration presides over an uneasy internal peace and faces difficult economic problems of stimulating recovery and reducing poverty, despite record-high oil prices since 2003. Natural gas and diamonds are also recent major Congolese exports, although Congo was excluded from the Kimberley Process in 2004 amid allegations that most of its diamond exports were in fact being smuggled out of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo; it was re-admitted to the group in 2007.

The Republic of the Congo also has large untapped base metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits. The country is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). The Congolese government has signed an agreement to lease 200,000 hectares of land to South African farmers to reduce its dependence on imports.


Religion in Republic of the Congo
religion percent
Roman Catholic

The Republic of the Congo's sparse population is concentrated in the southwestern portion of the country, leaving the vast areas of tropical jungle in the north virtually uninhabited. Thus, Congo is one of the most urbanised countries in Africa, with 70% of its total population living in a few urban areas, namely in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire or one of the small cities or villages lining the 534-kilometre (332 mi) railway which connects the two cities. In rural areas, industrial and commercial activity has declined rapidly in recent years, leaving rural economies dependent on the government for support and subsistence.

Ethnically and linguistically the population of the Republic of the Congo is diverse— Ethnologue recognises 62 spoken languages in the country—but can be grouped into three categories. The Kongo are the largest ethnic group and form roughly half of the population. The most significant subgroups of the Kongo are Laari in Brazzaville and Pool regions and Vili around Pointe-Noire and along the Atlantic coast. The second largest group are the Teke who live to the north of Brazzaville with 17% of the population. Boulangui (M’Boshi) live in northwest and in Brazzaville and form 12% of the population. Pygmies make up 2% of Congo's population.

Before the 1997 war, about 9,000 Europeans and other non-Africans lived in Congo, most of whom were French; only a fraction of this number remains. Around 300 American expatriates reside in the Congo. Nearly 2,000 white South African farmers have expressed interest in going to Congo.

The people of Republic of the Congo are largely a mix of Catholics and Protestants, who account for 50.5% and 40.2% of the population respectively. The majority of Christians in the country are Catholic, while the remaining comprises various other Christian denominations. Followers of Islam make up 1.3% of the population, and this is primarily due to an influx of foreign workers into the urban centres.


Public expenditure on health was at 1.2% of the GDP in 2004, whereas private expenditure was at 1.3%. HIV prevalence is at 3.4% among 15- to 49-year-olds. Health expenditure was at US$ 30 per capita in 2004 A large proportion of the population is undernourished. There were 20 physicians per 100,000 persons in the early 2000s (decade).



School children in the classroom, Republic of the Congo

Public expenditure of the GDP was less in 2002–05 than in 1991. Public education is theoretically free and compulsory for under-16-year-olds, but in practice, expenses exist. Net primary enrollment rate was 44% in 2005, much less than the 79% in 1991. The country has universities. Education between ages six and sixteen is compulsory. Students who complete six years of primary school and seven years of secondary school obtain a baccalaureate. At the university, students can obtain a bachelor's degree in three years and a master's after four. Marien Ngouabi University—which offers courses in medicine, law and several other fields—is the country's only public university. Instruction at all levels is in French, and the educational system as a whole models the French system. The educational infrastructure has been seriously degraded as a result of political and economic crises. There are no seats in most classrooms, forcing children to sit on the floor. Enterprising individuals have set up private schools, but they often lack the technical knowledge and familiarity with the national curriculum to teach effectively. Families frequently enroll their children in private schools only to find they cannot make the payments.

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