Congo -- Geography --
Official Name: The Republic of the Congo
Capital City: Brazzaville
Official Currency: Central African CFA franc
Religions: Animism, Catholicism, others
Population: 3,686,000 (2009)
Land Area: 342,000 sq km
Landforms: From the grasslands of the narrow coastal plain, the land rise into a south-central plateau, and the elevated regions along its border with Gabon. Further inland and north, the land flattens, and is covered by a dense equatorial rainforest.
Land Divisions: 12 regions; including Bouenza, Brazzaville, Cuvette, Cuvette-Ouest, Kouilou, Lekoumou, Likouala, Niari, Plateaux, Pointe-Noire, Pool and Sangha.
Congo -- History --
The earliest inhabitants of the region were Pygmy people, who later were largely displaced and absorbed by Bantu 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 inhabitants of the Congo river delta first came into contact with Europeans in the late 15th century with Portuguese expeditions charting the African coastline. 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, 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 eroded. The area came under French sovereignty in the 1880s. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa (AEF), comprising its colonies of Middle Congo (modern Congo), Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (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. 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.
Following independence as the Congo Republic 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-Debat. Under the 1963 constitution, Massamba-Debat was elected President for a five-year term. The regime adopted "scientific socialism" as the country's constitutional ideology. In 1965, Congo established relations with the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, North Korea and North Vietnam. Massamba-Debat was unable to reconcile various institutional and ideological factions and his regime was ended abruptly with an August 1968 coup d'etat. 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.
After decades of turbulent politics bolstered by Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sassou regime started to falter. Protesting Congolese students, workers, religious groups succeeded to bring end to Sassou's dictatorship. Congo had multi-party elections in August 1992. Sassou Nguesso conceded defeat and Congo's new president, Pascal Lissouba was inaugurated on August 31, 1992. At least two thousand people died after fighting broke at the end of 1993 between the troops loyal to Lissouba and the militia supporting Bernard Kolelas. Lissouba, another socialist, did not bring much change. He delayed economic reforms.
Congo's democratic progress was derailed in 1997 Lissouba and Sessou 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, Angolan socialist regime began invasion of Congo to install Sassou to power. In mid-October, the Lissouba government fell. Soon thereafter, Sassou declared himself President. In 1998, Sassou adopted a dual strategy of co-opting with some Congolese politicians and assassinating others. The Congo Civil War continued for another year and a half until a peace deal was struck between the various factions in December 1999. Sassou has received military backing from Angola and financial support from French interests.
Controversial elections in 2002 saw Sassou win 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 and also extended his term to seven years as well as introducing a new bicameral assembly. International observers took issue with the organization of the presidential election as well as the constitutional referendum, both of which were reminiscent in their organization of Congo's era of the single-party state. Following the presidential elections, fighting restarted in the Pool region between the government forces and rebels lead by Pastor Ntumi; peace treaty to end the conflict was signed in April 2003.
The regime held 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.
Congo -- Economy --
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. 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. Economic reform efforts continued with the support of international organizations, notably the World Bank and the IMF. The reform program came to a halt in June 1997 when civil war erupted. When Sassou Nguesso returned to power at the war ended in October 1997, he publicly expressed interest in moving forward on economic reforms and privatization 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. Republic of the Congo also has base metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits. The Republic of the Congo is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Congo -- Culture --
Congo's contributions to the world's cultural heritage may not be as numerous as those of other countries but there are quite a bit of Congolese musicians and writers.
Prominent writers include: Noelle Bizi Bazouma (1959– ), Silvie Bokoko (1960– ), Adele Caby-Livannah (1957– ), Cucile-Ivelyse Diamoneka (1940– ), Emmanuel Dongala (1941– ), Mambou Aimee Gnali, Floe Hazoume (1959– ), Justine M'Poyo Kassa-Vubu (1951– ), Francine Laurans (1962– ), Henri Lopes (1937– ), Alain Mabanckou (1966– ), Jean Malonga, Jean Makouta Mboukou, Guy Menga, Victor N'Gembo-Mouanda (1969– ), Diur N'Thumb, Theophile Obenga, Ghislaine Sathoud (1969– ), Tchicaya U Tam'si (1931–1988), Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Aleth Felix- Tchicaya (1955– ), Jeannette Balou Tchichelle (1947– ), Betty (Elisabeth) Mweya Tol'Ande (1947– ), Marie-Leontine Tsibinda, Brigitte Yengo, Patrice Yengo.
The Republic of the Congo has close musical ties to its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). DRC's homegrown pop music, soukous, are popular across the border, and musicians from both countries have fluidly travelled throughout the region playing similarly styled music, including Nino Malapet and Jean Serge Essous. Brazzaville had a major music scene until unrest in the late 1990s, and produced popular bands like Bantous de la Capitale that played an integral role in the development of soukous and other styles of Congolese popular music. The Hip-Hop group "Bisso na Bisso" also hailed from Congo-Brazzaville.
Though soukous has become much more closely associated with the popular music of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, early in the style's evolution both the local scenes of Kinshasa and Brazzaville played a very important role. In these cities, American style orchestras (called soukous, or kirikiri or kasongo) played rumba (a kind of Cuban music) influenced by traditional music and jazz. Soukous arose from this fusion of styles, popularized as dance music by a number of different orchestras in the 1950s and 60s.
Folk instruments in the Republic of the Congo include the xylophone and mvet. The mvet is a kind of zither-harp, similar to styles found elsewhere in both Africa and Asia. The mvet is made of a long tube with one or two gourds acting as resonators.
Congo -- Political system, law and government --
The Republic of the Congo is an authoritarian regime, according to the Democracy Index. It is ruled by Denis Sassou Nguesso. Internationally, Sassou's socialist 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".
Under the constitution of 2002, Congo is a republic. The executive branch of the government is headed by the president, who is popularly elected to a maximum of two seven-year terms and serves as both chief of state and head of government. The president appoints the Council of Ministers. The legislative branch is bicameral and consists of the Senate and the National Assembly; members are elected to serve six-year and five-year terms, respectively.
For administrative purposes, Congo is divided into regions and districts. Brazzaville has the status of a capital district.
The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary. Congo’s judicial system includes the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, and the Constitutional Court. The president heads a Higher Council of Magistrates and nominates Supreme Court judges at the suggestion of that council. Supreme Court judges may not be removed.
Since becoming a multiparty state in 1990, Congo has had more than 100 political parties. Among the most active are the Congolese Labour Party (Parti Congolais du Travail; PCT), the Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development (Mouvement Congolais pour la Democratie et le Developpement Integral; MCDDI), the Pan-African Union for Social Development (Union Panafricaine pour la Democratie Sociale; UPADS), Rally for Democracy and Social Progress (Rassemblement pour la Democratie et le Progres Social; RDPS), and the Union for Democracy and Republic (Union pour la Democratie et la Republique; UDR).
Although ethnic discrimination is proscribed by law, in practice the prohibition is not well enforced. Divisions along ethnic lines continue, and although those outside the dominant groups participate effectively in the government, the president’s group and those related to it factor prominently in the political process. Women have served in various government posts, including the National Assembly, the Senate, and the Council of Ministers.