For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Republic of the Congo
Area: 342,000 sq. km (132,000 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New Mexico.
Cities: Capital--Brazzaville (pop. 800,000). Other cities--Pointe-Noire (450,000), Dolisie (150,000).
Climate: Tropical. Tropical jungle in the North (country seasonally split--half lies above the Equator; half below the Equator).
Terrain: Coastal plains, fertile valleys, central plateau, forested flood plains.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Congolese (sing. and pl.).
Population (2004 est.): 2,998,040.
Annual growth rate (2004 est.): 1.4%.
Ethnic groups: 15 principal Bantu groups; more than 70 subgroups. Largest groups are Bacongo, Vili, Bateke, M'Bochi, and Sangha. Also present is a small population (less than 100,000) of Pygmies, ethnically unrelated to the Bantu majority.
Religions: Traditional beliefs 50%, Roman Catholic 35%, other Christian 15%, Muslim 2%.
Languages: French (official), Lingala and Munukutuba (national).
Health: Infant mortality rate (2004 est.)--93.86 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (2004 est.)--49.51 yrs.
Work force: About 40% of population, two-thirds of whom work in agriculture.
Independence: August 15, 1960.
Constitution: New constitution adopted in nationwide referendum on January 20, 2002.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative--bicameral legislature made up of a Senate and a National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court, Court of Accounts and Budgetary Discipline, Courts of Appeal (Title VIII of the 2002 constitution), and the Constitutional Court (Title IX of the 2002 constitution). Other--Economic Council and Human Rights Commission.
Administrative subdivisions: 10 departments, divided into districts, plus the capital district.
Political parties: More than 100 new parties formed (but not all function) since multi-party democracy was introduced in 1990. The largest are the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), Congolese Labor Party (PCT), Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development (MCDDI), Coalition for Democracy and Social Progress (RDPS), Coalition for Democracy and Development (RDD), Union of Democratic Forces (UFD), Union of Democratic Renewal (URD), Union for Development and Social Progress (UDPS). Following the June-October 1997 war and the 1998-99 civil conflict, many parties, including UPADS and MCDDI, were left in disarray as their leadership fled the country. By 2002, many of the leaders had returned, with several notable exceptions--former Presidents Pascal Lissouba and Joachim Yhomby-Opango, and former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GDP (2003 est.): $2.186 billion.
Per capita income (2003): $700.
Natural resources: Petroleum, wood, potash, lead, zinc, uranium, phosphates, natural gas, hydropower.
Structure of production (2001): Government and services--40.3%; petroleum sector--38.9%; agriculture and forestry--10.5%; utilities and industry--6.0%; other--4.3%.
Agriculture: Products--manioc, sugar, rice, corn, peanuts, vegetables, coffee, cocoa, forest products. Land--less than 2% cultivated.
Trade (2003 est.): Exports--$2.293 billion: petroleum (89% of export earnings), lumber, plywood, sugar, cocoa, coffee, diamonds. Imports--(2003 est.) $666.9 million: capital equipment, construction materials, foodstuffs.
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 urbanized countries in Africa, with 70% of its total population living in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, or along the 332-mile railway that connects them. In southern rural areas, industrial and commercial activity suffered as a consequence of the civil wars in the late 1990s. Except in Kouilou province and Pointe Noire, commercial activity other than subsistence activity came nearly to a halt. A slow recovery began in 2000.
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.
First inhabited by Pygmies, Congo was later settled by Bantu groups that also occupied parts of present-day Angola, Gabon, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), forming the basis for ethnic affinities and rivalries among those states. Several Bantu kingdoms--notably those of the Kongo, the Loango, and the Teke--built trade links leading into the Congo River basin. The first European contacts came in the late 15th century, and commercial relationships were quickly established with the kingdoms--trading for slaves captured in the interior. The coastal area was a major source for the transatlantic slave trade, and when that commerce ended in the early 19th century, the power of the Bantu kingdoms eroded.
The area came under French sovereignty in the 1880s. Pierre Savorgnon de Brazza, a French empire builder, competed with agents of Belgian King Leopold's International Congo Association (later Zaire) for control of the Congo River basin. Between 1882 and 1891, treaties were secured with all the main local rulers on the river's right bank, placing their lands under French protection. 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 by private companies. In 1924-34, the Congo-Ocean Railway (CFCO) was built at a considerable human and financial cost, opening the way for growth of the ocean port of Pointe-Noire and towns along its route.
During World War II, the AEF administration sided with Charles DeGaulle, and Brazzaville became the symbolic capital of Free France during 1940-43. The Brazzaville Conference of 1944 heralded a period of major reform in French colonial policy, including the abolition of forced labor, granting of French citizenship to colonial subjects, decentralization of certain powers, and election of local advisory assemblies. 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.
The Loi Cadre (framework law) of 1956 ended dual voting roles and provided for partial self-government for the individual overseas territories. Ethnic rivalries then produced sharp struggles among the emerging Congolese political parties and sparked severe riots in Brazzaville in 1959. After the September 1958 referendum approving the new French Constitution, AEF was dissolved. Its four territories became autonomous members of the French Community, and Middle Congo was renamed the Congo Republic. Formal independence was granted in August 1960.
Congo's first President was Fulbert Youlou, a former Catholic priest from the Pool region in the southeast. He rose to political prominence after 1956, and was narrowly elected President by the National Assembly at independence. Youlou's 3 years in power were marked by ethnic tensions and political rivalry. In August 1963, Youlou was overthrown in a 3-day popular uprising (Les Trois Glorieuses) led by labor elements and joined by rival political parties. All members of the Youlou government were arrested or removed from office. 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 5-year term and named Pascal Lissouba to serve as Prime Minister. However, President Massamba-Debat's term ended abruptly in August 1968, when Capt. Marien Ngouabi and other army officers toppled the government in a coup. After a period of consolidation under the newly formed National Revolutionary Council, Major Ngouabi 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 Labor Party (PCT).
On March 18, 1977, President Ngouabi was assassinated. Although the persons accused of shooting Ngouabi were tried and some of them executed, the motivation behind the assassination is still not clear. An 11-member Military Committee of the Party (CMP) was named to head an interim government with Colonel (later General) Joachim Yhomby-Opango to serve as President of the Republic. Accused of corruption and deviation from party directives, Yhomby-Opango was removed from office on February 5, 1979, by the Central Committee of the PCT, which then simultaneously designated Vice President and Defense Minister Col. Denis Sassou-Nguesso as interim President. The Central Committee directed Sassou-Nguesso to take charge of preparations for the Third Extraordinary Congress of the PCT, which proceeded to elect him President of the Central Committee and President of the Republic. Under a congressional resolution, Yhomby-Opango was stripped of all powers, rank, and possessions and placed under arrest to await trial for high treason. He was released from house arrest in late 1984 and ordered back to his native village of Owando.
After two decades of turbulent politics bolstered by Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Congolese gradually moderated their economic and political views to the point that, in 1992, Congo completed a transition to multi-party democracy. Ending a long history of one-party Marxist rule, a specific agenda for this transition was laid out during Congo's national conference of 1991 and culminated in August 1992 with multi-party presidential elections. Sassou-Nguesso conceded defeat and Congo's new President, Prof. Pascal Lissouba, was inaugurated on August 31, 1992.
Congolese democracy experienced severe trials in 1993 and early 1994. President Lissouba dissolved the National Assembly in November 1992, calling for new elections in May 1993. The results of those elections were disputed, touching off violent civil unrest in June and again in November. In February 1994, all parties accepted the decisions of an international board of arbiters, and the risk of large-scale insurrection subsided.
However, Congo's democratic progress was derailed in 1997. As presidential elections scheduled for July 1997 approached, tensions between the Lissouba and Sassou camps mounted. When President Lissouba's government forces surrounded Sassou's compound in Brazzaville with armored vehicles on June 5, Sassou ordered his militia to resist. Thus began a 4-month conflict that destroyed or damaged much of Brazzaville. In early October, Angolan troops invaded Congo on the side of Sassou and, in mid-October, the Lissouba government fell. Soon thereafter, Sassou declared himself President and named a 33-member government.
In January 1998, the Sassou regime held a National Forum for Reconciliation to determine the nature and duration of the transition period. The forum, tightly controlled by the government, decided elections should be held in about 3 years, elected a transition advisory legislature, and announced that a constitutional convention would finalize a draft constitution. However, the eruption in late 1998 of fighting between Sassou's government forces and a pro-Lissouba and pro-Kolelas armed opposition disrupted the transition to democracy. This new violence also closed the economically vital Brazzaville-Pointe Noire railroad, caused great destruction and loss of life in southern Brazzaville and in the Pool, Bouenza, and Niari regions, and displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. In November and December 1999, the government signed agreements with representatives of many, though not all, of the rebel groups.
The December accord, mediated by President Omar Bongo of Gabon, called for follow-on, inclusive political negotiations between the government and the opposition. During the years 2000-01, Sassou-Nguesso's government conducted a national dialogue (Dialogue Sans Exclusif), in which the opposition parties and the government agreed to continue on the path to peace. Ex-President Lissouba and ex-Prime Minister Kolelas refused to agree and have been exiled for all practical purposes. They were tried in absentia and convicted in Brazzaville of charges ranging from treason to misappropriation of government funds. Ex-militiamen were granted amnesty, and many were provided micro-loans to aid their reinsertion into civil society. Not all opposition members participated. One group, referred to as "Ninjas," actively opposed the government in a low-level guerrilla war in the Pool region of the country. Other members of opposition parties have returned and have opted to participate to some degree in political life. A new constitution was drafted in 2001, approved by the provisional legislature (National Transition Council), and approved by the people of Congo in a national referendum in January 2002. Presidential elections were held in March 2002, and Sassou-Nguesso was declared the winner. Legislative elections were held in May and June 2002. In March 2003 the government signed a peace accord with the Ninjas, and the country has remained stable and calm since the signing. Internally displaced persons are returning to the Pool region.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Before the 1997 war, the Congolese system of government was similar to that of the French. However, after taking power, Sassou suspended the constitution approved in 1992 upon which this system was based. The 2002 constitution provides for a 7-year presidential term. There is a parliament of two houses, whose members serve for 5 years.
Principal Government Officials
President--Denis Sassou Nguesso
Prime Minister, Coordinator of the Action of the Cabinet and of Privatizations--Isidore Mvoumba
State Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Relations with Francophone Countries--Rodolphe Adada
State Minister, Minister of Planning, National and Regional Development--Pierre Moussa
State Minister, Minister of Hydrocarbons--Jean-Baptiste Tati Loutard
Minister of Economy, Finance and Budget--Pacifique Issoibeka
Ambassador to the United States--Serge Mombouli
Ambassador to the United Nations--Basile Ikouebe
The Congo maintains an embassy in the United States at 4891 Colorado Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20011 (tel: 202-726-5500). The Congolese Mission to the United Nations is at 14 East 65th Street, New York, NY 10021 (tel: 212-744-7840).
The Congo's economy is based primarily on its petroleum sector, which is by far the country's major revenue earner. The Congolese oil sector is dominated by the French oil company TotalFinaElf. In second position is the Italian oil firm Agip. ChevronTexaco (in partnership with TotalFinaElf) is the primary American oil company active in petroleum exploration or production. Murphy Oil has signed a contract but has not begun exploration or production. Congo's oil production is expected to decline over the next 15 years with fields yielding less. However, based on an agreement with Angola signed in 2002 to jointly administer certain Congo-Cabinda border areas, Congo's production could rise if exploration is successful. Murphy Oil signed a Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) with Congo in 2003 for two deepwater off-shore permits. Congo hopes to offset declining production in other fields with these new PSAs.
The country's abundant northern rain forests are the source of timber. Forestry, which led Congolese exports before the discovery of oil, now generates less than 7% of export earnings. Wood production came to a standstill during the war years but has recommenced, and new concessions were leased in 2001.
Earlier in the decade, Congo's major employer was the state bureaucracy, which had 80,000 employees on its payroll--enormous for a country of Congo's size. The World Bank and other international financial institutions pressured Congo to institute sweeping civil service reforms in order to reduce the size of the state bureaucracy and pare back a civil service payroll that amounted to more than 20% of GDP in 1993. The effort to cut back began in 1994 with a 50% devaluation that cut the payroll in half in dollar terms. By the middle of 1994, there was a reduction of nearly 8,000 in civil service employees.
Between 1994-96, the Congolese economy underwent a difficult transition. The prospects for building the foundation of a healthy economy, however, were better than at any time in the previous 15 years. Congo took a number of measures to liberalize its economy, including reforming the tax, investment, labor, timber, and hydrocarbon codes. In 2002-03 Congo privatized key parastatals, primarily banks, telecommunications, and transportation monopolies, to help improve a dilapidated and unreliable infrastructure. As of the end of 2003, Congo remained in discussion with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) regarding fiscal changes that need to be further advanced to secure an IMF program.
By the end of 1996, Congo had made substantial progress in various areas targeted for reform. It made significant strides toward macroeconomic stabilization through improving public finances and restructuring external debt. This change was accompanied by improvements in the structure of expenditures, with a reduction in personnel expenditures. Further, Congo benefited from debt restructuring from a Paris Club agreement in July 1996.
This reform program came to a halt, however, in early June 1997 when war broke out, and the return of armed conflict in 1998-99 hindered economic reform and recovery. President Sassou-Nguesso has moved forward on improved governance, economic reforms, and privatization, as well as on cooperation with international financial institutions. President Sassou-Nguesso also has made speeches outlining the need for good governance and transparency in the Congo, particularly during his 2003 and 2004 National Day Addresses.
Before June 1997, Congo and the United States ratified a bilateral investment treaty designed to facilitate and protect foreign investment. The country also adopted a new investment code intended to attract foreign capital. The country has made some commendable efforts at political and economic reform, but despite these successes, Congo's investment climate has challenges, offering few meaningful incentives for new investors. High costs for labor, energy, raw materials, and transportation; a restrictive labor code; low productivity and high production costs; and a deteriorating transportation infrastructure have been among the factors discouraging investment. Five years of civil conflict (1997-2003) further damaged infrastructure, though the privatization of some statal and parastatal enterprises has generated some interest from U.S. companies. In 2004, the IMF noted improvement in Congolese efforts toward greater fiscal responsibility and transparency, though significant challenges remain, and has agreed to a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility. The Congolese government will consistently need to meet its large arrears payments to bilateral and multilateral creditors.
For the two decades preceding Congo's 1991 national conference, the country was firmly in the socialist camp, allied principally with the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc nations. Educational, economic, and foreign aid links between Congo and its Eastern bloc allies were extensive, with the Congolese military and security forces receiving significant Soviet, East German, and Cuban assistance.
France, the former colonial power, maintained a continuing but somewhat subdued relationship with Congo, offering a variety of cultural, educational, and economic assistance. The principal element in the French-Congolese relationship was the highly successful oil sector investment of the French petroleum parastatal Elf-Aquitaine (now called TotalFinaElf), which entered the Congo in 1968 and has continued to grow.
After the worldwide collapse of communism and Congo's adoption of multi-party democracy in 1991, Congo's bilateral relations with its former socialist allies have become relatively less important. France is now by far Congo's principal external partner, contributing significant amounts of economic assistance, while playing a highly influential role. However, there is a growing interest in attracting American investors.
Membership in international organizations includes the United Nations, African Development Bank, African Union, World Trade Organization, Economic Commission for Central African States (CEMAC), Central African Customs and Economic Union, International Coffee Organization, Union of Central African States, INTERPOL, Nonaligned Movement, and Group of 77. Congo holds a seat on the UN Commission for Human Rights.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Congo were broken during the most radical Congolese-Marxist period, 1965-77. The U.S. Embassy reopened in 1977 with the restoration of relations, which remained distant until the end of the socialist era. The late 1980s were marked by a progressive warming of Congolese relations with Western countries, including the United States. Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso made a state visit to Washington in 1990, where he was received by President George H.W. Bush.
With the advent of democracy in 1991, Congo's relations with the United States improved and were cooperative. The United States has enthusiastically supported Congolese democratization efforts, contributing aid to the country's electoral process. The Congolese Government demonstrated an active interest in deepening and broadening its relations with the United States. Transition Prime Minister Andre Milongo made an official visit to Washington in 1992, where President Bush received him at the White House.
Then-presidential candidate Pascal Lissouba traveled to Washington in 1992, meeting with a variety of officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman J. Cohen. After his election in August 1992, President Lissouba expressed interest in expanding U.S.-Congo links, seeking increased U.S. development aid, university exchanges, and greater U.S. investment in Congo. With the outbreak of the 1997 war, the U.S. Embassy was evacuated. The Embassy was closed, and its personnel became resident in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 2001 Embassy-suspended operations were lifted, and Embassy personnel were allowed to travel to Brazzaville for periods of extended temporary duty from the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. As a result, U.S.-Congo bilateral relations have been reinvigorated. In 2003 and 2004 this practice continued, and the Embassy in Brazzaville is working toward establishing an interim office facility in which to conduct temporary duties. A site for eventual construction of a new Embassy was acquired in July 2004. Relations between the United States and the government of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso are strong, positive, and cooperative.
Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Sharon Rutherford
Deputy Chief of Mission--vacant
Economic/Consular Officer--Chelsea Bakken
Office Manager--Judy Copenhaver
The U.S. Embassy's operations in Brazzaville were suspended on June 18, 1997, because of the war. The suspension was officially lifted in 2001, but there is no permanent office facility yet in Brazzaville. An office representing U.S. interests in Brazzaville is located at U.S. Embassy Kinshasa, 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its mailing address is Brazzaville Embassy office, c/o American Embassy Kinshasa, Unit 31550, APO AE 09828-1550, tel: (243) 81-225-5872 x2141.