Following the country’s independence as the Congo Republic on August 15, 1960, Fulbert Youlou reigned as the country’s first president until a three-day revolt organized by labor forces and opposing political parties removed him. The Congolese military temporarily seized control of the nation and established a civilian temporary administration led by Alphonse Massamba-Débat.
Massamba-Débat was elected President for a five-year term under the 1963 constitution, but his tenure was cut short by an August 1968 coup d’état. On December 31, 1968, Capt. Marien Ngouabi, a participant in the coup, seized the president. One year later, President Ngouabi declared Congo to be Africa’s first “people’s republic,” and announced the National Revolutionary Movement’s intention to rename itself the Congolese Labour Party (PCT). President Ngouabi was murdered on March 16, 1977. An temporary administration was formed, led by an 11-member Military Committee of the Party (CMP), with Col. (later Gen.) Joachim Yhombi-Opango serving as President of the Republic.
Congo completed its transition to multi-party democracy in August 1992, after decades of tumultuous politics fueled by Marxist-Leninist rhetoric and the fall of the Soviet Union. Denis Sassou Nguesso resigned, and Congo’s new president, Prof. Pascal Lissouba, took office on August 31, 1992.
Congo’s democratic development, however, was halted in 1997. As the July 1997 presidential elections neared, tensions between the Lissouba and Sassou camps grew. On June 5, President Lissouba’s government troops approached Sassou’s Brazzaville property, and Sassou ordered members of his private militia, nicknamed as “Cobras,” to fight. Thus started a four-month war that destroyed or damaged most of Brazzaville and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. Angolan troops invaded Congo on the side of Sassou in early October, and the Lissouba government fell in mid-October. Sassou proclaimed himself President soon after. The Congo Civil War lasted another year and a half until a peace agreement was reached between the different groups in December 1999.
In sham elections in 2002, Sassou received almost 90 percent of the vote. His two major opponents, Lissouba and Bernard Kolelas, were barred from running, and the only remaining viable contender, Andre Milongo, urged his followers to boycott the elections before withdrawing from the campaign. A new constitution, approved by referendum in January 2002, gave the president additional powers, prolonged his tenure to seven years, and established a new bicameral parliament. International observers were critical of the organization of the presidential election and the constitutional referendum, both of which were reminiscent of the Congo’s one-party state period. Congo currently has a rotational seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Opposition parties boycotted the July 2009 elections. Sassou was re-elected, although with a questionably high turnout. Riot police brutally suppressed demonstrations in Brazzaville.
The Republic of the Congo’s limited population is concentrated in the southwest, leaving large expanses of tropical forest in the north almost uninhabited. Thus, the Republic of Congo is one of Africa’s most urbanized nations, with 85 percent of its entire population residing in a few metropolitan centers, notably Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, or one of the tiny towns or villages along the 332-mile (534-kilometer) railway that links the two cities. Industrial and commercial activity in rural regions has decreased significantly in recent years, leaving rural economies reliant on the government for assistance and sustenance. Prior to the 1997 conflict, there were about 15,000 Europeans and other non-Africans living in Congo, the majority of them were French. Currently, just approximately 9,500 people remain.
Geography and climate
Congo is situated along the Equator in central-western Sub-Saharan Africa, between latitudes 4°N and 5°S, and longitudes 11° and 19°E. The Democratic Republic of the Congo borders it to the south and east. It is also bordered to the west by Gabon, to the north by Cameroon and the Central African Republic, and to the southwest by Cabinda (Angola). It has a short Atlantic Ocean shore.
Brazzaville, the capital, is situated on the Congo River in the country’s south, just across from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The southwest of the nation is a coastal plain with the Kouilou-Niari River as the main drainage; the center of the country is a central plateau between two basins to the south and north. Forests are increasingly under threat of exploitation.
Because the nation is situated on the Equator, the climate is constant all year, with an average day temperature of a humid 24 °C (75 °F) and nights ranging from 16 °C (61 °F) to 21 °C (70 °F). The average annual rainfall varies from 1,100 millimetres (43 in) in the Niari Valley in the south to more than 2,000 millimetres (79 in) in the country’s center regions. The dry season lasts from June to August, whereas the rainy season lasts from March to May and September to November across the bulk of the nation.
In 2006–07, Wildlife Conservation Society researchers examined gorillas in densely wooded areas focused on the Ouesso district of the Sangha Region. They estimate a population of 125,000 western lowland gorillas, whose seclusion from people is mainly due to unfavorable wetlands.
The economy is a combination of village agriculture and handicrafts, a petroleum-based industrial sector, support services, and a government plagued by budget difficulties and overstaffing. Petroleum extraction has replaced forestry as the economy’s backbone. In 2008, the oil industry contributed 65 percent of GDP, 85 percent of government income, and 92 percent of exports. The nation also possesses a significant amount of undiscovered mineral riches.
Early in the 1980s, fast increasing oil earnings allowed the government to fund large-scale development projects, with GDP growth averaging 5% per year, one of the highest rates in Africa. The government has mortgaged a significant part of its petroleum profits, leading to a revenue shortfall. The devaluation of Franc Zone currencies by 50% on January 12, 1994 led in 46 percent inflation in 1994, although inflation has subsequently decreased.
Economic reform initiatives were bolstered by foreign institutions, most notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. When civil conflict broke out in June 1997, the reform effort came to a stop. When Sassou Nguesso came to power at the conclusion of the conflict in October 1997, he openly stated his desire to go ahead with economic reforms and privatization, as well as to resume collaboration with foreign financial institutions. However, economic growth was hampered by falling oil prices and the return of armed conflict in December 1998, both of which exacerbated the republic’s fiscal imbalance.
Despite record-high oil prices since 2003, the present government rule over an uneasy internal peace and confronts severe economic challenges of encouraging recovery and eliminating poverty. Natural gas and diamonds are other recent significant Congolese exports; however, Congo was kicked out of the Kimberley Process in 2004 after accusations that most of its diamond exports were smuggled out of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo; it was re-admitted to the organization in 2007.
The Republic of the Congo also contains significant undeveloped reserves of base metals, gold, iron, and phosphate. The nation is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of African Commercial Law (OHADA). In 2009, the Congolese government agreed to lease 200,000 hectares of land to South African farmers in order to decrease its reliance on imports.
The Republic of the Congo’s GDP increased by 6% in 2014 and is projected to increase by 7.5 percent in 2015.