Republic of the Congo

The Congo, also informally called Congo-Brazzaville, in long form the Republic of Congo, is a country in Central Africa, located on either side of the equator. Its neighbors are Gabon to the west, Cameroon to the north-northwest, the Central African Republic to the north-northeast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the northeast, southeast and south – from which it is partly separated by the Congo River then the Oubangui – and Cabinda (Angola) to the southwest. The country stretches 1,500 km from north to south and 425 km from east to west. The Republic of Congo is frequently called “Congo-Brazzaville” to distinguish it from the other Congo, officially named “Democratic Republic of Congo”, also called “Congo-Kinshasa”. It also bore the name of the People’s Republic of the Congo from 1969 to 1992.

Before French colonization, the current territory of Congo was occupied by several political entities, among which the kingdom of Loango (founded between the tenth and the twelfth century), the Kongo (founded in the thirteenth century) and the kingdom Tio (founded in the seventeenth century). Following several exploration missions, the most notable of which remains that of Savorgnan de Brazza (the country’s capital today bears his name), this territory was integrated into the second French colonial empire at the end of the 19th century. After 70 years of colonization, it gained independence in 1960, with Father Fulbert Youlou as its first head of state. The next two decades were marked by a large number of coup attempts, four of which were successful (1963, 1968, 1977 and 1979). The current head of state is Denis Sassou-Nguesso; he was in power from 1979 to 1992, then from 1997 to the present. In 1991, a sovereign national conference was organized with the aim of putting an end to the one-party system and installing democracy. Following large general strikes, President Sassou-Nguesso gave in and elections were held. Pascal Lissouba was elected President of the Republic in 1992 for a 5-year term, the end of which was marked by a civil war against Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who returned to power in 1997 and has not left him since. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the stabilization of the political situation and the boom in the production of hydrocarbons have ensured relative prosperity from a macroeconomic point of view, despite poor public infrastructure and services as well as strong inequalities. in the distribution of oil revenues.

Republic of the Congo’s history 

Ancient history The Mbuti Pygmies are the first inhabitants of the Congo. The country was then affected by the great migration of Bantu, who came from the north along the coast and the rivers. Several kingdoms, whose origins are not yet well known, succeed or coexist. First the kingdom of Loango (founded between the tenth and twelfth centuries) throughout the southern part, the Mayombe massif and on the coast. Then the Kongo (founded in the 13th century) in the territories of northern Angola and Cabinda, in the southeast of the Republic of the Congo, the western end of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and part of Gabon. Finally, the Tio kingdom (founded in the 17th century) in the plateaux, Pool, Lékoumou and eastern Gabon regions. The Bantu introduce ironwork and build a commercial network in the Congo Basin. Schematically, the Congolese pre-colonial geopolitical structures can be simplified into two categories: stateless societies, based on chiefdoms which are as many micro-nations as difficult geographic and demographic conditions have kept in relative isolation, this in the northern half of countries, lands Mboshi, Makaa, etc. ; state-organized societies in the southern half around three essential poles: the old kingdom of Loango des Vili founded between the tenth and twelfth centuries, the Kongo founded in the thirteenth century and the Tio kingdom founded in the seventeenth century. Vestiges, tenuous certainly, but quite numerous, attest to fairly advanced cultures on present Congolese territory, well before these states that we know: pottery, remains of metal ovens, major works (tunnel under Mount Albert near Mouyondzi ) date back to a period prior to the 13th century, sometimes before the year 1000.

Colonization The first contacts with Europeans took place in the 15th century, and trade was quickly established with the local kingdoms. The coastal region is a major source during the transatlantic slave trade. When it ended in the 19th century, Bantu powers eroded to make way for colonialism. In 1482, after the first reconnaissance by Portuguese navigators, the explorer Don Diogo Cão reached the mouth of the Congo. Contacts with the kingdom of Kongo created tensions. The trade operates a large demographic drain and considerably destabilizes political entities and societies in Central Africa in general. French penetration began around 1875 with Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza; he reached the Congo in 1879 up the course of the Ogoué, to the mouth of the current Mbamou Island. In 1880, he had a sovereignty treaty signed by Makoko, the king of the Tekes in Mbé (100 km north of Brazzaville), and founded the post of Mfoa, in reference to a river which serves the city, and which will later become Brazzaville. At the same time, Lieutenant Cordier explores the region of Kouilou and Niari, and has King Maloango sign a treaty which recognizes the sovereignty of France over the kingdom of Loango, and in turn founded in 1883 Pointe-Noire , whose CFCO train station is inspired by that of Deauville in France. In 1885, the Congo became one of the four states of French Equatorial Africa, and Brazzaville, the capital of the AEF. The colony of the French Congo was created in 1891, the current Gabonese territory was part of it until 1904.

In 1899, the territory was ceded to concessionary companies, which paid tax to the French administration. These companies mainly exploit rubber. They receive for thirty years, immense domains varying between 200,000 and 14 million hectares. The said companies must pay 15% of their profits as taxes to the French administration. They exploit the natural resources of the colony such as sugar, rubber, ivory or precious wood. The main defender of this economic system was Eugène Étienne, then undersecretary of state for the colonies. Another undersecretary of state for the colonies, Théophile Delcassé, discreetly grants, without official publication of the contract, a concession of 11 million hectares (or 1/5 of France), located in Haut-Ogooué. Then, from March to July 1899, the Minister of Colonies Guillain granted, by decree, forty concessions to the French Congo. Many concessionary companies are in the hands of many shareholders, including Léopold II of Belgium who buys shares under a false name. This fact, discovered after the death of the Belgian sovereign, shocked the French authorities of the time very much, who had to note that their colony was exploited by a foreign country.

Way of independence In 1926, André Matswa founded a friendly responsible for helping the skirmishers (veterans who participated alongside the French army in the First World War). The harsh operating conditions of the colony (cf. Congo-Ocean Railway) explain why nationalism quickly developed in the Congo. This friendship quickly became a protest movement, the colonial administration took fright, and imprisoned Matsoua, who died in prison in 1942, in conditions that remained obscure. The movement is transformed then into a church which recruits especially in the ethnic group of origin. Congolese nationalism really takes shape after the Second World War. On October 21, 1945, the Congolese elected the first Congolese deputy, Jean Félix-Tchicaya, to the constituent assembly of Paris. In 1946, he founded the Progressive Congolese Party (PPC), a Congolese section of the African Democratic Rally (RDA). Tchicaya opposes Jacques Opangault. Both were speeded up by Father Fulbert Youlou, founder of the Democratic Union for the Defense of African Interests (UDDIA), who brilliantly won the municipal elections of 1956. In 1958, the referendum on the French Community obtains 99% of “yes” in the Middle Congo. Congo becomes an autonomous republic, with Fulbert Youlou as Prime Minister. In 1959, unrest broke out in Brazzaville and the French army intervened: Youlou was elected president of the Republic, and, on August 15, 1960, the Congo gained independence.

The Congolese Republic On August 13, 14 and 15, 1963, Father Fulbert Youlou, first president of the Republic of the Congo, was forced to resign under pressure from unionists and the army. From 1963 to 1968, Alphonse Massamba-Débat succeeded him at the head of the State. He got closer to Communist China in matters of international politics, and declared himself in favor of “scientific socialism”. Alphonse Massamba-Débat uses the expression of “Bantu socialism”, establishes a single party, and abandons political pluralism. But this civil and socialist power suffers from numerous internal contradictions. On August 1, 1968, President Alphonse Massemba-Debat dissolved the Congolese National Assembly and attempted to dismiss the political bureau of the National Revolution Movement (the single party). But this attempt to regain control remains short-lived, and on August 2, a priori incapable of imposing his authority, he withdrew to his native village. The army takes power. Congolese officers create a council of the revolution and repeal the Constitution. A provisional government is formed under the leadership of Captain Alfred Raoul who assumes for several months the office of Head of State. Then, on December 30, 1968, another officer, Marien Ngouabi was appointed head of state, while Alfred Raoul, promoted to commander, went into the background, as Prime Minister and then Vice-President. From an ideological point of view, the socialist option is reaffirmed: the Congolese Republic even becomes a people’s republic, the People’s Republic of the Congo.

The People’s Republic of Congo :People’s Republic of the Congo. The regime is unstable and has to deal with many upheavals. During this period, the Congo remains dependent on the outside world, in particular with regard to food and manufactured products. Its economy is based on exports of raw raw materials (wood, potash, petroleum, iron, etc.), to which are added modest petroleum resources. Finally, on March 18, 1977, President Marien Ngouabi was assassinated in his residence. In the days that followed, Cardinal Émile Biayenda, Archbishop of Brazzaville (March 22) and former President of the Republic Alphonse Massamba-Débat were also assassinated. On April 5, 1977, Colonel Joachim Yhombi-Opango, became President of the Republic, until February 1979. Then on February 5, 1979, Colonel Denis Sassou-Nguesso took power by a coup, that he describes it as “a resolute response by all of the left forces in our country against the right-wing current” 8 “. He remained in power until August 1992, with a single party and a centralization of power. Denis Sassou-Nguesso poses as the only legitimate heir to Marien Ngouabi. Faced with an increasingly strong opposition, Denis Sassou-Nguesso organized a National Conference, from February 25 to June 10, 1991. In March 1992, the new Constitution was massively adopted by referendum. It confirms the establishment of a multi-party democracy in the country and establishes a semi-parliamentary regime concentrated around three political bodies: the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the bicameral Parliament. The President of the Republic is elected for 5 years by direct universal suffrage, re-eligible once. In the presidential election of August 1992, Sassou-Nguesso obtained 16.87% of the votes, 10 in third position behind Pascal Lissouba, former Prime Minister of Alphonse Massamba-Débat and Bernard Kolélas. In the position of arbitrator for the second round, Sassou-Nguesso agrees with Lissouba for the second round of the presidential election and their respective parties sign a government agreement. On August 31, 1992 Sassou-Nguesso made the transfer of power with Pascal Lissouba, and withdrew. However, the political situation remained tense during the presidency of Pascal Lissouba. On January 26, 1997, Sassou-Nguesso, settled in France, returned to the Congo, and was greeted with fervor by his supporters. The situation degenerated into a civil war from May 1997 to October 1997.

On October 15, 1997, the Angolan army engaged in the conflict alongside Sassou-Nguesso and tipped the scales in his favor. On October 15, Lissouba’s forces were defeated. Pascal Lissouba and his relatives leave the country. Sassou-Nguesso’s forces, supported, in addition to the Angolan army, by Chadian soldiers and Rwandan mercenaries, control the main cities of the country. The death toll from the civil war is estimated at around 400,000. Massacres are being perpetrated, particularly in the Pool region.

Sassou-Nguesso new president, from October 1997 to today On October 25, 1997, Sassou-Nguesso proclaims himself President of the Republic and promulgates a fundamental act which provides for a transition of flexible duration. It established three governing bodies: the Presidency of the Republic, the government and the National Transitional Council. In 2002 a new constitution was adopted, abolishing the post of Prime Minister, strengthening the powers of the President of the Republic. The president is elected for a mandate of 7 years renewable only once. The same year takes place the election of the president of the Republic: Denis Sassou-Nguesso is reappointed to this post. The septennial of Denis Sassou-Nguesso from 2002 to 2009 is marked by the return to civil peace. In 2009, Denis Sassou Nguesso was re-elected president of the Congo, with 78.61% of the vote after the July 12 vote. On October 25, 2015, a new constitution was adopted by referendum. It comes into force on November 6, 2015, after its promulgation by Denis Sassou-Nguesso. At the end of December 2019, Denis Sassou-Nguesso was again nominated candidate of his party (the PCT) for the presidential election of 2021.

Republic of the Congo’s politics 

The current head of state is Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who after a first presidency from 1979 to 1991, returned to power after a civil war probably at least partly funded by the French company Elf, of June 5, 1997 to October 15, 1997, during which he prevailed over the outgoing president, Pascal Lissouba. The Congo’s constitution, adopted by referendum on January 20, 2002, established a presidential regime. Denis Sassou-Nguesso was re-elected in 2002, then on July 12, 2009 with 78% of the votes. According to the Congolese Interior Ministry, the participation rate was 66%, ​​a figure that is not very credible according to independent local and international observers. The Congo’s constitution, adopted by referendum on January 20, 2002, establishes a presidential regime. The President of the Republic, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, came to power following the 1997 civil war, a civil war that started after the attack of June 5, 1997 (a few months before the end of the mandate by Pascal Lissouba). On October 15, 1997, Denis Sassou Nguesso triumphantly emerged from this civil war during which he benefited from financial support from the French company Elf and certain foreign states, notably Angola by José Eduardo dos Santos (also funded by Elf ). After a transitional period, presidential elections were held in 2002. Sassou won these elections in the absence of the big names in Congolese politics. Seven years later, Denis Sassou-Nguesso again won the elections which led him to 2016. He was re-elected on March 20, 2016 under conditions deemed suspicious by his opponents. The regime is described as authoritarian even dictatorial. 

Republic of the Congo’s economy

The Congo is a developing country, included in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPCP) . The completion point of the HIPC initiative was reached in January 2010, with the approval of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Congolese economy is mainly based on the exploitation of hydrocarbons along the Atlantic coast; this activity represents around 90% of the country’s exports. Production is around 240,000 barrels per day, most of which is produced by the companies Total (Nkossa, Libondo fields, and especially Moho Bilondo, which started production in April 2008), ENI and Maurel & Prom , in partnership with the National Oil Company of Congo. Oil exploration and production, concentrated in the outskirts of Pointe-Noire, make it the economic capital of the Republic of Congo. Wood accounts for a significant share of Congo’s exports, the surface of which is almost 60% forested, for a total of twenty-one million hectares. We can distinguish two large areas of logging, one in the south of the country (Mayombe and Chaillu massifs), where we find in particular okoumé and limba, and the other entirely in North (sapelli, sipo), especially around the town of Pokola, center of the activities of the Congolese industrialist in the woods. Most of the agricultural production (cassava, fruit and vegetables) is consumed locally; however, the Agricultural and Industrial Sugar Refining Company (SARIS), located in Nkayi, in Bouenza, markets its products in other Central African countries. The little developed industrial activity is based on the production of goods mainly intended for local consumption: cigarettes, cement, textiles, soap, alcoholic drinks, shoes, etc. Given the plans to exploit iron, wood, and others, we can believe in a good development of the Congo over the next 10 years.

Republic of the Congo’s demography

With just over five million inhabitants, Congo-Brazzaville is a country with low population density, with an average of 13 inhabitants / km2; the only less densely populated countries in sub-Saharan Africa are Gabon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Mauritania, Namibia and Botswana. Most of its population is urban (62.2% of the population); it is concentrated in the country’s two main cities, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, located in the southern part of the country. We can speak of “macrobicephaly”, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire have respectively around 1,100,000 and 650,000 inhabitants, while the country’s third city, Dolisie, has just 100,000 inhabitants. The urban fabric is very sparse, with fifteen cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants for a territory of 342,000 km2. The rural regions of the south are relatively densely populated (between 5 and 40 inhabitants / km2), the maximum being reached in and around the Boko (Pool) region. On the other hand, the northern part of the country can be described as a human desert, with densities generally between 0 and 2 inhabitants / km2, in particular in the marshy regions of the northeast.

Republic of the Congo’s language

The official language of the Republic of Congo is French. French is spoken by 56% of the Congolese population (78% of those over 10 years old), the second highest percentage in Africa in 2010, behind that of Gabon. About 88% of Brazzavillians over the age of 15 say they have an easy expression in writing in French. The other languages ​​are essentially Bantu languages. Thus, the two vehicular national languages ​​of the country are Kituba and Lingala (13%), followed by the Teke languages ​​(17.3%), Lari and more than forty other languages ​​including the Pygmy languages ​​(1, 4%) who are not Bantu languages. According to Laval University, “due to the civil wars that have rocked the country, the French language has become a refuge language for the various armed factions. For example, incompetent speakers of Kituba or Kikongo (especially in the north) and Lingala (especially in the south) prefer to speak French for security reasons. For fear of revealing their ethnic origin, the Congolese switch to French, which keeps them incognito.