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Brief History

The Republic of the Congo, is also known as Congo-Brazzaville, Little Congo, or simply the Congo. It gained independence from the French on 15 August, 1960. The People's Republic of the Congo was a Marxist-Leninist single-party state from 1970 to 1991. In 1992, a democratically elected government took office. A brief civil war in 1997 restored former Marxist President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, and ushered in a period of ethnic and political unrest. Controversial elections in 2002 saw Sassou win with almost 90% of the vote cast. Southern-based rebel groups agreed to a final peace accord in March 2003, but the calm is tenuous and refugees continue to present a humanitarian crisis. The presidential elections in 2009 announced Sassou as a winner, even though they were marked by very low turnout and fraud and irregularities.

Geography

Congo, capital Brazzaville-which is the largest city - is located in Western Africa covering an area of 342,000 square kilometers. It is bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Angolan exclave province of Cabinda, and the Gulf of Guinea. Congo has a tropical climate characterized by high humidity and heat. There are two wet and two dry seasons. The country has two river systems: that of the coastal rivers, which flow into the Kouilou River, and that of the Zaire River and its tributaries. Congo is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, timber, potash, lead, zinc, uranium, copper, phosphates, gold, magnesium, natural gas and hydropower.

People

Congo has a population of 4,125,916 (2010). The population belongs to four major ethnic groups -the Kongo, Sangha, Teke, and M'Bochi - which comprise more than 40 tribes. In addition, there are small groups of Pygmies, possibly Congo's original inhabitants, in the high forest region. French is the official language, and there are other languages such as Lingala and Monokutuba many local languages and dialects as Kikongo which is the most widespread. Note that the country knows 62 spoken languages. The literacy rate is 83.8%. Its religions are distributed among 50% Christians, 48% Animists, and 2% Muslims.

Government

The government of Congo is subject to a republic system. Its legal system is based on French civil law system and customary law. It has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is both chief of state and head of government since October 25, 1997 following the civil war in which he toppled the elected president Pascal Lissouba. The official currency is the Central African CFA Franc where 534 francs are equivalent to US$1.

Economy

The Congo's economy is built on its petroleum resources, lumber, transport services, and agriculture, and its government is characterized by budget problems and overstaffing. Petroleum is Congo's most significant resource, contributing over 50% of exports in 2002.

Oil has supplanted forestry as the mainstay of the economy, providing a major share of government revenues and exports. In the early 1980s, rising oil revenues allowed for large-scale development projects achieving 5% growth-one of the highest rates in Africa. In 2008, the oil sector accounted for 65% of the GDP, 85% of government revenue, and 92% of exports, raising the GDP per capita to US$ 4100 in 2009.

Other export commodities include lumber, plywood, sugar, cocoa, coffee, and diamonds, providing the Congo with US$8.181 billion (2009).

The livestock industry is small and subject to health limitations imposed by the prevalence of the tsetse fly.

Natural gas and diamonds are also recent major Congolese exports. The Congo also has base metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits. The Republic of the Congo is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). The Congo government has signed an agreement to lease 200,000 hectares of land to South African farmers to reduce its dependence on imports.

After several prosperous years in the 1980s, the price of oil declined and the economy fell apart, and there were major debt burdens and chronic revenue shortfalls. Economic reforms continued with the support of international organizations, especially the IMF and World Bank, but these came to halt with the start of the civil war in 1997 when the economy worsened considerably, at -1.9% annual GDP growth, rebounding in 1998 to 2.5%, but falling again in 1999 due to renewed fighting.

The current administration presides over an uneasy internal peace and faces difficult economic problems of stimulating recovery and reducing poverty. However, recovery of oil prices has boosted the economy's GDP and near-term prospects. In March 2006, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) treatment for Congo.

The Congo has an inflation rate of 4% (2009), and its Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is estimated to be US$1,973.36 in 2010.


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