#PartyPolitics: Central Africa Republic
August 14, 2016
GetToKnow: Gabon
August 17, 2016

#AfricanHistory: Congo

The Republic of the Congo is a central African country along the Atlantic Ocean, also informally called “Congo-Brazzaville”. Pygmies were the first inhabitants of the region.[1] With time and different immigration waves, chiefdoms developed and evolved in more complex forms of societies. Eventually, three kingdoms emerged in the southern part of the country: Loango, Tio and Kongo.[2]

In 1482, the Portuguese navigator Don Diego Cão landed in Kongo and established the first forms of international trade between Europe and African coastal states.[3] The relations between the people of Congo and the Portuguese were initially good. However, they started to deteriorate because of the rapid expansion of the slave trade and the demand of slave labour in São Tomé. By the early 19th century, the slave trade had intensified enormously. The development of new food crops (corn and manioc) had raised the demand for slave labour in the region. The Congo River thus became a major trade boulevard in the region; liaising between the coastal counters and the rest of the territory.

In 1880 – despite the Portuguese and British presence in the region – Pierre de Brazza signed an agreement with the Tio ruler, giving the French a protectorate over the north bank of the Congo River.[4] He founded the now-called city of Brazzaville, which soon became the capital of the country and in 1885, of the French Equatorial Africa as well, which united all the central African French colonies.[5] French domination expanded in the region until it became a French colony in 1891.

The colonial history of Congo was marked by unyielding and oppressive French labour policies. The project of the Congo-Ocean Railway – built between 1921 and 1934 from Pointe-Noire to Brazzaville – cost the lives of 15 000 to 30 000 Africans; to this day the project remains the deadliest colonial endeavour.[6]

In 1956, French adopted the Loi Cadre (enabling act), which granted its African colonies with more autonomy and endowed them with elected governments. Consequently and along the rest of the countries of the French Equatorial Africa, Congo acquired independence in 1960.[7]

After the independence of Congo, the African Socialist Movement (Mouvement Socialiste Africain – MSA) and the Democratic Union for the Defence of African Interests (Union Démocratique pour la Défense des Intérêts Africains – UDDIA) contributed to the polarisation of the country by leaning on the  tensions between the North and the South. This hostility stemmed from privileges granted to southern ethnicities during the colonial era.[8]

In 1958, Fulbert Youlou, leader of the UDDIA, founded the first parliamentary government and became Prime Minister. A year later, the Assembly became “National” and elected Youlou President.[9] However, his rule did not last long and in 1963, Youlou was ousted by Alphonse Massamba-Débat. With Massamba-Débat, Congo took a turn to the left: the National Revolutionary Movement (Mouvement National de la Révolution – MNR) was established as the sole party and started seeking support from China and the Soviet Union.[10]

Policy failures resulted in a military coup d’état in 1968, led by Maj. Marien Ngouabi. The socialist line was maintained and the Congolese Labour Party (Parti Congolais du Travail – PCT) replaced the MNR. Ngouabi relocated the control of the country in the North – his place of origin – which triggered the creation of strong opposition movements in Brazzaville and the surrounding areas. Ngouabi was assassinated in 1977, causing the country to dive further into political instability. Yhombi-Opango took over to lead in 1979. Despite being a dedicated militant of the PCT and drafting a new constitution that headed towards building a Marxist-Leninist society, he was considered more moderate than his predecessors and was able to re-establish friendly relations with the French.[11]

In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the unprecedented petroleum crisis severely impacted the Congolese economy. Facing this impasse, the country had no choice but to sign an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restore its national economy.[12]

In March 1992, a new constitution was adopted by referendum and in August Pascal Lissouba was elected President as a result of the first democratic presidential elections.[13] However, vehement contestation followed the 1993 parliamentary elections which soon erupted into bloody conflict. A successful insurrection led by Sassou-Nguesso in 1997 allowed him to reclaim the presidency. However, because the political leader had spent years politicising ethnic differences and sponsoring militias, any attempts to establish a cease-fire remained insufficient. In the next two years, the Civil War of Congo-Brazzaville devastated the country, causing almost 10 000 people to die in Brazzaville alone.[14]

Eventually, peace agreements were signed between the warring parties over the year 1999. The re-opening of the national dialogue made the drafting of a new constitution possible, as well as its promulgation in January 2002. Yet, the re-election of Sassou-Nguesso a year later jeopardised the newfound peace and stability.[15]

Despite suspicion of election rigging and opposition parties boycotting the elections, Sassou-Nguesso was successfully re-elected in 2009. In 2015, he organised a referendum which allowed him to modify the Constitution and seek another mandate. Opposition protests and contestations failed to invalidate the results of the referendum, such that they remained unwarranted until March 2016 when Sassou-Nguesso obtained over 60% of the presidential election votes. [16]



Independence Day 30 June 1960
President Denis Sassou Nguesso
Government Republic
Capital City Brazzaville
GDP $8.553 billion (2015) [16]
Population 4.2 million (2015) [17]
Religions Christianity, indigenous African beliefs
Major language French
Currency CFA franc
Life expectancy Men : 57 years

Women : 59 years [18]



[17][18] [19]

[1] InfoPlease. 2012. Republic of Congo – History. Available at: http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/world/congo-republic-the-history.html [Accessed 15 August 2016].

[2] CORDELL D. 2016. Republic of the Congo. Encyclopaedia Britannica (online). Available at : https://global.britannica.com/place/Republic-of-the-Congo [Accessed 15 August 2016].

[3] n.1

[4] n.2

[5] FIERRO, A. 2016. “Afrique Equatoriale Française » Encyclopaedia Universalis (online). Available at: http://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/afrique-equatoriale-francaise/ [Accessed 15 August 2016].

[6] MENSAH, C. 2006. Chemin de fer Congo-Océan : le chantier sanglant. Afrik.com. Available at: http://www.afrik.com/article10151.html [Accessed 15 August 2016].

[7] EGLEY, G. 2006. Gaston Defferre fait adopter la loi-cadre sur l’évolution des territoires d’outre-mer. Available at: http://www.archivesdefrance.culture.gouv.fr/action-culturelle/celebrations-nationales/2006/vie-politique-et-institutions/gaston-defferre-fait-adopter-la-loi-cadre-sur-l-evolution-des-territoires-d-outre-mer [Accessed 15 August 2016]

[8] n.2

[9] Bazenguissa-Ganga, R. 1997. Les voies du politique au Congo : essai de sociologie historique. Éditions Karthala.

[10] n.2

[11] Ibid

[12] Bhattacharya R. & Ghura D. August 2006. Oil and Growth in the Republic of Congo. IMG Working Paper. African Department. Available at: https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2006/wp06185.pdf [Accessed: 15 August 2016].

[13] n.1

[14] Global Security. 2003. Republic of Congo Civil War. Available at: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/congo-b.htm [Accessed: 15 August 2016]

[15] n.2

[16] France24. 2016. Le président congolais Denis Sassou-Nguesso réélu au premier tour. Available at: http://www.france24.com/fr/20160324-congo-brazzaville-president-congolais-denis-sassou-nguesso-reelu [Accessed: 15 August 2016].

[17] World Bank. 2016. Republic of the Congo. Available at: http://data.worldbank.org/country/congo-republic  [Accessed 15 August 2016]

[18] BBC. 2016. Republic of the Congo country profile. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14121191  [Accessed 15 August 2016].

[19] Ibid