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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Full Country Name: The Republic of Congo
Area: 342,000 sq km (132,000 sq miles)
Population: 4.01 million
Capital City: Brazzaville (population: 1.28m)
People: 15 main Bantu groups, the largest being Bacongo, Vili, Bateke, M'Bochi, and Sangha. There are also over 70 subgroups and a small pygmy population (making up around 5% of the population).
Language(s): French (official), Lingala, Kikongo and Munukutuba (national)
Religion(s): traditional beliefs (50%), Roman Catholic (35%), other Christians (15%), Muslim (2%)
Currency: Central African Franc CFA (fixed to euro), shared with Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Major political parties: The largest political party is the incumbent Congolese Labour Party (PCT). Other parties include the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development (MCDDI), Mouvement Action et Renouveau (MAR), Mouvement pour la Solidarité et le Développement (MSD) and Union pour la Démocratie et la République-Mwinda (UDR-Mwinda)
Head of State: President Denis Sassou-Nguesso
Membership of international groupings/organisations: African Development Bank (AFDB), Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

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HEALTH

The Republic of Congo suffered from disease outbreaks throughout 2011. There were reports of an outbreak of Chikungunya (a viral disease transmitted by mosquito bites) in Brazzaville, with at least 20 confirmed cases since early June 2011 and a further 900 suspected cases.

An outbreak of measles was been reported in early 2011 Pointe Noire and the Kouilou region. At least 800 people have been infected since the beginning of 2011 - over 600 required hospital treatment. More than 30 have died.

Malaria is endemic throughout the Republic of Congo. For more information on any health risks, please visit the Republic of Congo Travel Advice page.
(http://www.fco.gov.uk/content/en/travel-advice/sub-sahara-africa/congo/fco_trv_ca_congo)
Health Needs (http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/)

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US $12 bn (2010)
GDP per head: US $3,113 (2009)
Annual GDP growth: 8.8% (2010)
Major Industries: Petroleum, timber, phosphates, natural gas.
Major trading partners: France, US, China.
Exchange rate: 1 Euro = CFA 655.96 (fixed rate).
The economy remains dependent on oil, although production peaked in 2000 at 283,000 barrels per day (BPD) - at which point oil accounted for 95% of exports. After a dip in production, volumes were back up to 239,000 BPD by 2008. Short of new discoveries in deep and ultra-deep waters, production is likely to decline in the medium-term. The oil sector has long been dominated by the French company TotalFinaElf but many new players, including UK and US-based multinationals, have entered the market in recent years. While the oil sector was largely insulated during the civil war, the rest of the economy was severely disrupted. Timber also forms a significant source of the country’s exports and it is expected that the export of base metals (particularly gold and magnesium) will likely contribute more to the economy in the future.

Successive post-independence governments have struggled to translate the oil dividend into improvements in living conditions for the population. However, the government has worked with both the World Bank and the IMF towards structural reform, re-establishment of basic public services, and promotion of post-conflict recovery through macro-economic stabilisation. In December 2004, the IMF approved a first Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility for three years valued at US$84.4 million, and in March 2006 approved Congo’s attainment of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) decision point. In 2010, the IMF concluded that the country had reached the Highly Indebted Poor Country completion point and thus approved debt relief totalling US$1.9 billion. The Republic of Congo now intends to improve its business environment, which currently stands at 181 out of 183 on the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings.

IMF Country Reports: Republic of Congo (http://www.imf.org/external/country/COG/index.htm)

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HISTORY

The first European contact with the country dates from the late 15th century. But it was not until 1880 that an explorer, Pierre de Brazza, concluded the treaties that secured the new territory as a colony for France. In 1910 the Republic of Congo became the administrative centre of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa (AEF). It achieved independence in August 1960.

The post-independence experience of civilian government was short-lived. In 1963 a one-party Marxist-Leninist state was introduced. In 1968 there was a military coup. For the next 24 years, there was a succession of military governments – led by Captain Ngouabi (1968-77), Colonel Yhombi-Opango (1977- 80) and Colonel Sassou-Nguesso (1980-92). All 3 military leaders hailed from the sparsely populated north of the country. The military continued to be guided by Marxism-Leninism with the sole legal party, the PCT, as the vanguard.

Following pressure for democratisation, Sassou-Nguesso agreed to a National Conference which produced a new multi-party constitution, endorsed in a referendum in 1992. Elections followed, and in the presidential election, Pascal Lissouba of UPADS won with 61.37% of the vote beating his nearest rival Bernard Kolelas of MDCCI. Sassou-Nguesso of the PCT came third in the first round. UPADS and the MCDDI, representing the centre-south and south respectively, also won the majority of seats in both the National Assembly and Senate, leaving the PCT poorly represented. The power shift destabilised the country. Conflict between the Army (the old regime’s power base) and militias sponsored by the political parties (PCT, UPADS and MCDDI) broke out. Some 2,000 deaths were reported in the second half of 1993. Despite a peace agreement being brokered between the parties, the militias were not disbanded, with the MCDDI-founded ‘Ninja’ militia becoming particularly disruptive in the Pool region surrounding the capital, Brazzaville.

Full scale civil war broke out one month before the next elections, scheduled for July 1997. It continued for five months causing thousands of deaths, displacing populations and refugees, together with destruction of infrastructure and damage to other key assets. The civil war was finally settled when Angola lent its military support to Sassou-Nguesso. After gaining military supremacy in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, Sassou-Nguesso returned to power proclaiming himself President. The ousted President Lissouba and Prime Minister Kolelas fled. The planned elections did not take place, the constitution was suspended and a 3-year transitional arrangement was put in place. The militias continued to fight sporadically, displacing some 700,000 Congolese from the south. A fragile peace agreement was reached in November 1999, but notably without the agreement of the Ninja militia, who continued to remain active in the Pool region. The Ninja militia, lead by Pastor Ntoumi, were accused of human rights violations by international organisations – specifically of killing thousands of unarmed civilians, taking hostages and hijacking trains. In 2007, Pastor Ntoumi signed a peace agreement that gave him a ministerial position within the government in return for the dissolution of the Ninja militia. The PCT, and Sassou-Nguesso, won elections held in 2002 and 2009.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Sassou-Nguesso has very close relations with Angola which intervened decisively in the 1997-99 civil war. Congo has traditional ties with neighbouring Gabon, where the same ethnic groups are separated by the shared border. President Sassou-Nguesso's daughter was married to President Bongo of Gabon until their deaths in 2009. Relations with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have improved in recent years. However, tensions remain over a large number of refugees displaced by rebel activity in the Equateur region of the DRC and also militia groups crossing the border. Congo, Angola and DRC now cooperate closely on border security. Congo is beginning to look eastward, with the President visiting Rwanda at the end of 2011. Congo is currently a member of the UN Human Rights Council, with their term due to end in 2014.

France is Congo's primary international partner, and the strongest supporter of the Sassou-Nguesso government. French companies retain significant investments in most sectors, most significantly in the oil industry. The expatriate population before the civil war of 1997 was 8,500, mostly French, although it may have halved since.

Congo was readmitted to the Kimberley Process in 2007 after convincing the Kimberley Secretariat that it was undertaking necessary reforms to counter trade in illicit “conflict diamonds”.

About the Kimberley process (http://www.kimberleyprocess.com)

Congo's Relations with the UK

Diplomatic Representation

The UK is represented in the Republic of Congo by Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Congo Neil Wigan, resident in Kinshasa, DRC. The Republic of Congo is represented in the UK by His Excelleny Monsieur Henri Marie Joseph Lopes, resident in Paris, France.

Visits

The Minister of Finance, Gilbert Ondongo visited the UK in December 2011.

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GEOGRAPHY

Congo is twice the size of the United Kingdom and is covered mostly by rainforest. It is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and the Angolan enclave of Cabinda. Brazzaville, the capital, is on the opposite bank of the Congo River from Kinshasa, the capital of DRC – they are the world’s two closest capital cities. The main port, Pointe Noire, is the centre of the offshore oil industry, linked to Brazzaville by road and a 330 mile railway.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

Total bilateral trade with the UK amounted to £172 million in 2010. There is no UK bilateral aid programme. However, the UK continues to contribute to the Congo Basin Forest Fund which aims to help sustainable forestry initiatives throughout the Congo. As of 2012, the UK has contributed £50 million to the Fund.

Development

Congo is one of the most urbanised countries in Africa, with over 66% living in Brazzaville, Pointe Noire or towns along the railway between the two. Approximately 70% of the population live in poverty. The Republic of Congo was ranked 137 out of 177 countries in the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index. Life expectancy is 57.4 years. Congo used to have one of the most developed education systems in Africa, reflecting its historic role as the capital of French Equatorial Africa. But, primary education attendance dropped from 90% in 1990 to 40% in 2000, though 83.8% of the population were estimated to be literate. The civil war caused huge social disruption, when an estimated 35% of the population were displaced. Social services suffered accordingly.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (http://www.undp.org/)
World Bank (http://web.worldbank.org)

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POLITICS

A new constitution, reaffirming the multi-party system was adopted in 2001 and endorsed by a referendum in January 2002. This provided for a strong Executive President, with a limit of 2 terms, but it increased the term length from 5 to 7 years. But the checks and balances between the executive and the legislature written into the 1992 constitution were lost. It also provides for a bicameral legislature elected every 5 years for the 137-member National Assembly, and 6 years for the upper house, the 66-member Senate. While retaining the principle of multiparty politics, the constitution banned parties organised on regional, ethnic or religious lines - in recognition of the damage caused by ethno-regional parties in the 1992-97 period.

Presidential elections were subsequently held in March 2002. They were managed by the Ministry of the Interior rather than an independent electoral commission. Most of the key candidates were either banned or withdrew at the last minute. This left Sassou-Nguesso to win virtually unopposed with 89% of the vote. The Legislative elections which followed in May and June brought a massive majority in the National Assembly for the PCT and its allies – together winning 117 out of 137 seats. There had been an almost total boycott by the opposition. The manipulation of the process, as noted by EU and other observers, provoked militias from the south into restarting their insurgency. Various peace agreements were signed, but sporadic rebel activity still continued. Exiled former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas returned to the country in October 2005. In January 2005, President Sassou-Nguesso appointed a new government made up exclusively of members of the PCT. In July 2009 the latest presidential election was held, with Sassou-Nguesso gaining another large majority. However, the elections were marred by the withdrawal of the six main opposition candidates, who claimed that the elections were characterised by fraud and irregularities. Sassou-Nguesso will remain in power until his term as President finishes in 2016.

BBC Africa Country Profile: Republic of Congo (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1076794.stm)
BBC News: Africa (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/)

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HUMAN RIGHTS

The human rights record of the Sassou-Nguesso government is poor. The security services are reported to be responsible for beatings, arbitrary arrest, looting and rape. Prison conditions are reported to be harsh. The judiciary is subject to political direction. Congo has three independent human rights organisations, but the government is strongly intolerant of their reporting. The independent press lacks freedom. Restrictive legislation affecting human rights defenders and judicial harassment against human rights defenders remains.

Human Rights (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/global-issues/human-rights/around-the-world/human-rights-report/)

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Last Updated: February 2012

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