Congo, Republic of the
- Republic, west-central Africa.Area: 132,047 sq mi (342,000 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 2,899,000. Capital: Brazzaville. Nearly half of the population belongs to one of the Kongo tribes. The Teki are less numerous, as are the Ubangi people. Language: French (official), various Bantu languages. Religions: Christianity, traditional religions. Currency: CFA franc. A narrow coastal plain edges the Congo's 100-mi (160-km) stretch of Atlantic coastline, rising into low mountains and plateaus that slope eastward in a vast plain to the Congo River. The country straddles the Equator; rainforests cover nearly two-thirds of the land, and wildlife is abundant. The Congo has a centrally planned, developing economy. Mining products, crude petroleum, and natural gas account for more than 90% of the country's exports. A 1997 transitional constitution vested executive power in the president and legislative power in a national transitional council. In precolonial days the area was home to several thriving kingdoms, including the Kongo, which had its beginnings in the 1st millennium AD. The slave trade began in the 15th century with the arrival of the Portuguese; it supported the local kingdoms and dominated the area until its suppression in the 19th century. The French arrived in the mid 19th century and established treaties with two of the kingdoms, placing them under French protection prior to their becoming part of the colony of French Congo. In 1910 it was renamed French Equatorial Africa, and the area of the Congo became known as Middle (Moyen) Congo. In 1946 Middle Congo became a French overseas territory, and in 1958 it voted to become an autonomous republic within the French Community. Full independence came two years later. The area has suffered from political instability since independence. Congo's first president was ousted in 1963. A Marxist party, the Congolese Labor Party, gained strength, and in 1968 another coup, led by Major Marien Ngouabi, created the People's Republic of the Congo. Ngouabi was assassinated in 1977. A series of military rulers followed, at first militantly socialist but later oriented toward social democracy. Fighting between local militias in 1997 badly disrupted the economy; a peace process was under way at the beginning of the 21st century.
* * *▪ 2009Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2008 est.): 3,847,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, assisted by Prime Minister Isidore MvoubaNew voting cards were issued in the Republic of the Congo to all Congolese electors prior to the June 29 and Aug. 4, 2008, local and senatorial elections. In the balloting the presidential coalition took 600 of the 846 seats in local councils and captured 70 of the 72 Senate seats in the National Assembly. Charges of widespread fraud were made by opposition parties and international observers from the African Union. On August 12, representatives of the Alliance for the New Republic, an organization of three major opposition parties, withdrew from the National Electoral Commission, claiming that the entire process had been a “masquerade.” Nevertheless, presidential elections were still scheduled for 2009.On June 9 the program of demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of the former rebels known as “ Ninjas” was finally launched in Kinkala in the southern Pool region. The Ninja chief, Frédéric Bitsangou (alias Pastor Ntoumi), attended the ceremony. There were an estimated 30,000 combatants from the bloody 1998–2003 rebellion eligible for the program. While security had greatly improved in the region, the presence of thousands of former rebels still bearing arms continued to create a volatile situation.On March 5 the government lifted its ban on the adoption of children by foreigners. This ban had been imposed in November 2007, following the October arrest of several French aid workers in Chad on child-trafficking charges.Mobile laboratories to fight Ebola and other tropical viruses were being prepared. In May, Canadian health officials launched a program to train local specialists in the use of the equipment. On June 13 the government announced a new campaign to encourage the use of insecticide-treated mosquito netting for beds to reduce the spread of malaria. The following month the government also agreed to provide free antimalarial drugs to pregnant women and all children under age five. More than 20,000 Congolese children died annually from the disease.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2008Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2007 est.): 3,768,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoPreparations for the June 24, 2007, parliamentary elections in the Republic of the Congo were marked by controversy between opposition parties and the government of Pres. Denis Sassou-Nguesso. The dispute concerned the role and composition of the new National Electoral Commission (CONEL). Claiming that CONEL would not be sufficiently independent of the ruling Congolese Labour Party (PCT), the opposition refused to take part in the April 27 National Assembly vote, which thereby ensured a landslide victory in the vote for the establishment of the CONEL.Although some 40 opposition parties boycotted parliamentary elections, former rebel Frédéric Bitsangou, from the troubled Pool region, announced on June 7 that his National Council of Republicans would participate. Severe organizational problems were reported in the first round of the elections, when 53 of the 137 seats were decided outright. To counter opposition charges of fraudulent voting lists, the government postponed the second round until August 5 in an effort to issue new voting cards to the electorate. The PCT won a landslide victory, claiming 124 seats in the new parliament. On September 5, PCT member Justin Koumba was overwhelmingly elected president of the National Assembly.Congolese health authorities blamed poor hygiene for the severe cholera outbreak (about 6,500 cases were reported) in Pointe-Noire in January; at least 62 people died. On June 7 the government declared that in an effort to expand the availability of health care, it would seek to use traditional herbal remedies as a complement to modern medicine. In July the Ministry of Health announced that 400,000 children under the age of five had been vaccinated against polio, despite a continuing shortage of trained medical staff. Sponsored by the government and UNICEF, a special train left Pointe-Noire on August 9, carrying 300,000 insecticide-treated antimalaria mosquito nets for delivery to remote medical clinics along the southwestern coast.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2007Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2006 est.): 3,702,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoAttacks in January 2006 by armed gangs in the troubled Pool region of the Republic of the Congo caused the suspension of relief activities by the International Red Cross (ICRC) and Doctors Without Borders. The ICRC resumed its work on February 23, citing improved security. Although the World Bank granted $17 million in January for the disarmament and reintegration of 30,000 members of “Ninja” militias, as stipulated by the March 2003 peace agreement, demobilization had not been implemented. On March 14 Ninja leader Frédéric Bitsangou announced that he would not allow his men to be disarmed until a final political settlement had been agreed upon with the government. Bitsangou did signal his approval of a contract signed on March 22 for the rebuilding of the region's main arterial road from Kinkala to Brazzaville. He assured the builders that they would find favourable conditions for the reconstruction. At a March 25 press conference, Marius Mouambenga, head of the national peace commission, raised the possibility that voters in the Pool district would be excluded from participation in the scheduled 2007 legislative elections unless full security was restored.Pres. Denis Sassou-Nguesso was elected head of the African Union in January. In this capacity he met with U.S. Pres. George W. Bush in Washington on June 5 to discuss the deteriorating situation in the Darfur region of The Sudan. He also criticized U.S. policy in Somalia, claiming that the Bush administration was supporting what he termed Somali “warlords.”Despite a hefty increase of 8.5% in oil production, much of the country suffered continual fuel shortages throughout the year. All rail traffic was suspended for two weeks in April owing to lack of oil. Following a breakdown on March 22 of Brazzaville's main pumping station, the capital was also beset with severe water shortages. The price of water from private wells more than doubled.On March 9 the World Bank announced that the country would receive $2.9 billion in debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. In May the UN Agricultural Fund announced a loan of $8 million to strengthen markets and to improve food production.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2006Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2005 est.): 3,602,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoNew attempts were made in 2005 to disarm the remnants of the militiamen who had fought the government of the Republic of the Congo during the 1998–2003 civil wars. On January 31 former rebel leader Frédéric Bitsangou announced a drive to implement the peace agreement signed on March 17, 2003, to collect all guns belonging to his “ Ninjas” in the Pool district, north of Brazzaville. The government responded by launching a three-month program to demobilize, disarm, and finally reintegrate into the community 450 Ninjas who had already surrendered. An estimated 43,000 former rebels had yet to accept the pact, however. Sporadic outbreaks of violence by Ninjas continued, and on April 26, using grenades and rifles, one group attacked a UN aid convoy. Bitsangou's disarmament program was suspended on June 13, when he announced that Ninja weapons would not be destroyed until an unspecified “political compromise” had been reached with the government.On August 17 the trial ended for 15 high-ranking military and security officials who had been charged with the 1999 disappearance and presumed murder of 353 Congolese who were returning to Brazzaville from refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the returnees were suspected of being supporters of the Ninjas. The defendants were acquitted of murder charges on the grounds that they were not personally responsible for the disappearances.Despite world record oil prices, Congo's economy continued to lose ground. Though government revenues depended principally on exports of timber and oil, the majority of government expenditure went toward debt servicing and civil-service salaries. Economic-development strategies provided little in the way of job creation or poverty reduction. Health services were poor, and severe power shortages hampered growth in both the private and public sectors. Though relatively little revenue was left for improvements in infrastructure, on August 3 construction began on an electrical plant to serve Brazzaville.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2005Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2004 est.): 3,818,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoAn improved economic and political climate resulted in a series of meetings with the International Monetary Fund, which opened consultations with the Republic of the Congo government on May 24, 2004. The IMF announced in July that it would undertake a three-year program designed to reduce poverty and increase economic growth. While inflationary pressures had eased, there was still concern over the amount of new government debt incurred as a result of continuing budget deficits.The government admitted on June 5 that a large trade in illegal diamonds existed in the country but disclaimed all responsibility on the grounds that the diamonds were being illegally imported from neighbouring countries and then smuggled out to Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. On July 9 the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the international body established to eliminate the illicit sale of so-called conflict diamonds, signaled its disbelief in the government's denials by removing the Congo from its roster of countries producing legitimate diamonds. This effectively prevented Brazzaville from selling gems on the legal world market.On August 14 the Congo-Ocean Railway (CFCO) celebrated its 70th anniversary. Long the principal shipping artery between Brazzaville and the port of Pointe-Noire, the CFCO had seen its traffic drastically reduced during the civil wars of the past 10 years. It had received $13 million from the World Bank in January to help restore its track and rolling stock. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signed an agreement with the Brazzaville government on September 9 to provide electricity for magnesium and aluminum plants under construction in the district of Kouilou, in southern Congo.The country marked its 44th year of independence on August 15 with a huge military and civilian parade. The presidents of the DRC, Gabon, Ghana, and Nigeria attended the celebrations at Pointe-Noire.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2004Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2003 est.): 3,724,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoThe government and representatives of Pastor Frédéric Bitsangou, leader of the rebel “Ninja” militia, signed a peace agreement on March 17, 2003, ending a year of civil war. Thousands of displaced persons in the Pool region began returning home. The government promised to grant an amnesty to the rebels and to reintegrate them into the army. By the end of April, more than 1,000 Ninjas had turned in their arms and gone back to their villages and farms. By June the opening of road traffic from the capital to the Pool region had greatly alleviated the desperate food shortages resulting from the rebellion.The government renewed its truce with major trade unions for another two years on August 10. In return for the no-strike agreement, salary arrears were to be paid in full and pensions increased. On August 12, 35 members of the High Court of Justice, established under the January 2002 constitutional referendum, were sworn in. Justin Koumba, formerly president of the National Transition Council, was appointed president of the new National Commission for Human Rights.In the north an outbreak of the Ebola virus took at least 100 lives between February and April, and another outbreak was reported on October 31. The disease was estimated to have also killed 600 to 800 lowland gorillas, an endangered species that had one of its few remaining territories in northern Congo. On July 4 the government launched a vaccination program aimed at protecting 100,000 children from contracting measles and polio.The World Bank announced on June 24 that a credit of $41 million would be given to the country to facilitate its stabilization and recovery process. The national railway, severely damaged during the civil war, announced in July the receipt of a large shipment of construction materials as part of a second World Bank $16 million rehabilitation project.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2003Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2002 est.): 2,899,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoPres. Denis Sassou-Nguesso took 89% of the vote in the Republic of the Congo's March 10, 2002, presidential election, defeating seven little-known candidates. An estimated 75% of the electorate turned out for the vote. His major opponent, former prime minister André Milongo, had withdrawn two days earlier, claiming that the election was already rigged. On March 29, 16 opposition parties formed a new alliance, the Convention for Democracy and Salvation (CODESA), to prepare for legislative and municipal elections; it was to be led by Milongo. Parties supporting former president Pascal Lissouba and former prime minister Bernard Kolélas opted not to join CODESA.Widespread violence and charges of fraud in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, and Gamboma disrupted the first round of the legislative elections on May 26. Attacks by “Ninja” militia, loyal to Kolélas, severely affected voting in the southern Pool region of the country. The second round, held on June 23, saw parties supporting Sassou-Nguesso win an absolute majority in the new parliament. A new National Assembly replaced the appointed National Transition Council that, having governed since 1998, was officially dissolved on August 9. Fighting continued throughout the summer as guerrilla groups in Pool attacked trains and government positions and extended their activities to Brazzaville in June. An estimated 50,000 Congolese were displaced by the new outbreak of fighting.Despite rising oil revenues, the economy remained under stress, with 70% of its citizens living below the poverty line. The non-oil sector appeared to be recovering, although serious difficulties resulting from the prolonged civil unrest continued to hinder substantial economic growth. Civil servants demanded full payment of salary arrears, while Congolese university students studying in Brazzaville, Gabon, and Mali staged strikes and sit-downs in July and August to protest delays, for some as long as 26 months, in the disbursement of grants.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2002Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2001 est.): 2,894,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoThe search for national reconciliation continued during 2001 following the ravages of the 1997 civil war, in which an estimated 20,000 people perished. Nevertheless, opposition parties boycotted the first phase of inter-Congolese talks launched on March 22 by Pres. Denis Sassou-Nguesso and mediated by Gabonese Pres. Omar Bongo. The government announced four days later that regional assemblies had approved a draft constitution as a first step in the restoration of the democratic process. Representatives of political parties, including some opposition groups, community leaders, and members of the government, attended the second round of the peace conference, which opened on April 10. Although the conference ended with a symbolic burning of 800 rifles, its success was marred by the absence of deposed former president Pascal Lissouba and former prime minister Bernard Kolelas. The latter, sentenced to death in absentia in April 2000, was threatened with arrest if he returned to participate. Constitutional Minister Martin Mberi, in the cabinet since 1977 and a close associate of Lissouba, resigned on May 8; he criticized the draft constitution for placing too much personal power in the hands of the president. The parliament adopted the draft constitution on September 2, and the nation was expected to vote on it in January 2002. If the referendum was approved, presidential and legislative elections would follow. Sixty-four refugees from the civil war returned from Gabon to Brazzaville on August 7, but an estimated 14,000 people still remained in self-imposed exile there.Despite an increase in public debt, fueled by loss of revenues through evasion of customs duties and poor management of oil revenues, the government achieved a level of economic growth. On May 18 the European Union (EU), citing its support for Congo's efforts to restore civil stability and democracy, resumed economic aid to the country. The EU granted Congo 41.3 million (about $37.1 million) for humanitarian and development projects. The World Bank announced on May 10 that Congo, having repaid all outstanding service charges on loans, would once again be eligible for development credits.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2001Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(2000 est.): 2,831,000Capital:BrazzavilleHead of state and government:President Denis Sassou-NguessoEfforts to stabilize affairs in the aftermath of the Republic of the Congo's civil war achieved some success during 2000. On Dec. 29, 1999, representatives of the army had signed a new truce with rebel groups that were backing either exiled former president Pascal Lissouba or longtime opposition leader Bernard Kolelas. A pledge was made to open a national dialogue. Further progress was signaled when on March 20 a delegation from the army flew into the southwestern district of Zanaga, a centre of support for Lissouba, for new talks. This defused rumours of a military invasion of the area, although another rebel leader, Frederic Bintsangou of the National Resistance Council, issued a statement calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops before he would join the peace process. In late November the government began drafting a new constitution.Rebuilding the oil-rich country's shattered economy after three years of civil war remained a high priority. On January 6 the national legislature approved a new budget of $1,060,000,000, an increase of 23% over the previous year. Approximately 60% of the anticipated revenues were projected to come from the petroleum sector. Much of the increase was earmarked for capital investment and for the rebuilding of infrastructure badly damaged during the war. The entire Congo-Ocean Railway was officially reopened on August 15, the 40th anniversary of independence from France. It had been closed for 23 months.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 2000Area:342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population(1999 est.): 2,717,000Capital:BrazzavilleChief of state:President Denis Sassou-NguessoCivil war returned to the Republic of the Congo in January 1999 when rebel militias loyal to ousted Pres. Pascal Lissouba attacked the southern areas of Brazzaville. The government decreed a general mobilization on January 26, but militias launched new offensives on towns, the international airport, power stations, and dams. By March fighting had spread to the northern suburbs of Brazzaville, which suffered losses of power and drinking water. In April the “Ninjas,” militiamen supporting former prime minister Bernard Kolelas, destroyed a portion of the rail line linking the capital with the commercial centre, Pointe-Noire, and ambushed an army unit, killing three officers. Thousands of new refugees joined the approximately 50,000 who had fled the fighting in the capital's southern areas in January. By June 250,000 refugees swelled the population of Pointe-Noire, and thousands more sought safety in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon. In May the army repulsed another attack on the Brazzaville airport. In June the government claimed it had crushed two rebel bases in the northwest, killing at least 130 men, but fierce fighting continued in other parts of the country. On August 20 Pres. Denis Sassou-Nguesso called for talks with Lissouba and Kolelas, to be held in a neutral country under the auspices of France.The Congolese economy was devastated by the civil war. Forestry operations were cut back, and in some cases they were shut down completely. Periodic power cuts and the closing of the Pointe-Noire-to-Brazzaville rail line disrupted much of the export economy, as well as production for the home market. Rampant inflation battered the economy further. Disbursement of foreign aid was sharply cut because of security problems. Tens of thousands of civil servants were laid off to reduce government spending.Nancy Ellen Lawler▪ 1999Area: 342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population (1998 est.): 2,658,000Capital: BrazzavilleChief of state: President Denis Sassou-NguessoDespite several outbreaks of violence in Brazzaville by former militiamen loyal to ousted Pres. Pascal Lissouba, the Republic of the Congo managed in 1998 to return to a degree of normalcy after the previous year's civil war. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people died in that conflict, which culminated in the return to power of former military leader Denis Sassou-Nguesso in October 1997. In January 1998 the UN prepared to close down its refugee camp in neighbouring Kinshasa as thousands of Congolese began returning home. The airport reopened to commercial flights on February 18, and French businesses, a dominant presence in the private sector, returned to the country and resumed operations. Much of the capital had been destroyed in the shelling, and in April the government announced that a housing bank would be established to assist people in rebuilding homes. Although Sassou-Nguesso committed his government to a return to multiparty democracy by 2001, no new date was set for the elections that had been canceled as a result of the conflict. Sassou-Nguesso late in December signed a nonaggression pact with Pres. Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.The economy struggled to overcome the effects of the war; its cost was estimated at CFAF 500 billion (about $890 million). Gross domestic product in the oil-rich nation fell by 16.7% in 1997 owing to a combination of the disruption of production internally and a drop in world oil prices. The African Development Bank announced a $500,000 grant on June 24 for emergency health aid.NANCY ELLEN LAWLER▪ 1998Area: 342,000 sq km (132,047 sq mi)Population (1997 est.): 2,583,000Capital: BrazzavilleChief of state: Presidents Pascal Lissouba and, from October 25, Denis Sassou-NguessoHead of government: Prime Ministers David Charles Ganao and, from September 8, Bernard KolelasIn the first half of 1997, outbreaks of fighting between militias loyal to Pres. Pascal Lissouba and those allied with former head of state Denis Sassou-Nguesso escalated into full-scale civil war. On February 1 former Sassou-Nguesso militiamen in the process of integration into the national army mutinied at their training base in Loudima, some 250 km (150 mi) west of Brazzaville. Although the army restored order within days, tensions remained high, erupting into armed confrontations again in June, with widespread looting in the capital. At least 2,000 people died. French troops evacuated an estimated 5,000 foreign nationals and then withdrew from the country. On June 14 a fierce artillery attack was launched on the airport. Brazzaville was effectively split between the two factions, with neither side willing to negotiate despite calls from the UN Security Council and neighbouring states. Finally, on July 5, Lissouba and Sassou-Nguesso accepted terms of a truce brokered by Gabonese Pres. Omar Bongo. Sporadic shooting continued, however, for the next two months. On September 14 the presidents of eight African countries and other representatives met in Libreville, Gabon, to find a more permanent solution to the troubles, even as government helicopter gunships attacked opponents' positions in Brazzaville. Hopes of a peaceful resolution were dashed when, in October, Sassou-Nguesso's forces, aided by 3,500 soldiers from neighbouring Angola, seized control of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. On October 19 Lissouba fled to Burkina Faso, while members of his government sought asylum in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and on October 25 Sassou-Nguesso assumed the presidency.The economy of the oil-rich nation was badly hit by the fighting, and the educational system was in turmoil. In March security forces used tear gas to break up a student demonstration called to protest the 16-month delay in payments of their grants. There were fears that a second invalid school year would have to be declared.NANCY ELLEN LAWLERThis article updates Congo, history of (Congo).
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