First inhabited by pygmies, present-day Congo was later settled by Bantu groups that also occupy parts of present-day Angola, Gabon and Congo-Kinshasa, forming the basis for ethnic affinities and rivalries among those states. Several Bantu kingdoms - notably those of Kongo, Loango and Téké - build trade links leading into the Congo River basin. In the sixteenth century Portugal established relations with Téké.
In 1876, a conference of Africa explorers and geographers was held in Brussels, at the invitation of King Leopold II., and the International Association for the Exploration and Civilisation of Central Africa was founded, with King Leopold as president. In 1877, Belgian expeditions, venturing out from the island of Zanzibar, penetrated into central Africa and in 1879, the first station was founded at Karema on the eastern bank of Lake Tanganyika. Meanwhile, after several expeditions through the African interior, Henry Morton Stanley applied to the British government to finance further expeditions, in 1877, and was refused. However, King Leopold II. of Belgium was interested.
In 1878, the International Association for the Exploration and Civilisation of Central Africa was renamed International Association of the Congo, it was still presided by King Leopold, with H.M. Stanley as chief agent. He arrived at the Congo River estuary in 1879, establishing an administrative center at VIVI in 1880, from where he explored (and claimed) the Congo River Basin. Treaties were signed with indigenous chiefs, granting sovereignty to the association.
After 1880 France acquired it at the initiative of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza possesions at the west of the Congo River and established the colony of French Congo in 1888, including its possesions in Gabon. With Congo as a basis, France acquired Gabon, Oubangui-Chari, and Chad and added these regions to French Congo. In 1910 the colony was re-organized into French Equatorial Africa. This was a federal colony of which the southern part became the Colony of Middle Congo. Staying part of French Equatorial Africa, Middle-Congo became a French overseas territory in 1946. When French Equatorial Africa was dissolved in 1958 Middle Congo received autonomy as the Republic of Congo. Jacques Opangoult became the president of the council of government, and later that year he was succeeded by Fulbert Youlou of the Union Démocratique pour la Défense d'Intérêts Africains (Democratic Union for the Defence of African Interests, UDDIA) as prime minister.
After independence in 1960 Youlou became the first president. Youlou's three years in power were marked by ethnic tensions and political rivalry. In 1963 Youlou was overthrown in a popular uprising. The army took charge of the country and installed a civilian provisional government headed by Alphonse Massamba-Debat. He was elected president in 1963 and named Pascal Lissouba as prime minister. Massemba-Débat formed the Mouvement Nationale de la Révolution (National Revolution Movement, MNR) as the only legal party in 1966. When Massemba-Débat dissolved parliament in 1968, the army staged a coup. As a result of this coup Congo became a socialist one-party state of the Parti Congolais du Travial (Congolese Workers' Party, PCT), led by Marien Ngouabi. Under his presidency the state was renamed People's Republic of Congo in 1970. In 1977 Ngouabi was succeeded by Joachim Yhombi-Opango, who was succeeded in 1979 by Denis Sassou-Nguesso.
The state was renamed Republic of Congo in 1992 after the rule of Sassou-Nguesso and Congo became a presidential democracy. The first elections in 1992 were won by the Union Panafricaine pour la Démocratie Sociale (Pan-African Union for Social Democracy, UDAPS) and its leader, Pascal Lissouba became the president of Congo. The UDAPS had no clear majority and new elections were necessary in 1993. These elections were won by an UDAPS-led coalition. These results were not recognized by the PCT and allies. Congo's democratic progress derailed in 1997. Just before the presidential elections tensions between the Lissouba and Sassou camps mounted. In a 4-month conflict much of Brazzaville was destroyed. Angolan troops invaded Congo on the side of Sassou and later that year the Lissouba government fell. Soon thereafter, Sassou declared himself president. He was re-elected in 2002. Congo was formally a presidential democracy, but the opposition did not have a fair chance at elections.
The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal analyses Congo as follows:
Category: Mostly Unfree
Total area: 342,000 sq. km
GDP: $2.6 billion
GDP growth rate: 3.5%
GDP per capita: $700
Major exports: petroleum, timber, sugar
Exports of goods and services: $1.9 billion
Major export trading partners: South Korea 20.3%, China 9.4%, US 804%, Germany 6.6%, France 5.1%
Major imports: petroleum products, construction materials
Imports of goods and services: $2.3 billion
Major import trading partners: France 22.1%, Italy 8.5%, China 6.2%, Belgium 6.0%, US 5.2%
Foreign direct investment (net): $239 million
The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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