The Republic of the Congo, also known as the Congo Republic,West Congo, Congo-Brazzaville or simply Congo, is a country located in Central Africa. It is bordered by five countries: Gabon and the Atlantic Ocean to the west; Cameroon to the northwest; the Central African Republic to the northeast; the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the east and south; and the Angolan exclave of Cabinda to the southwest.
The region was dominated by Bantu-speaking tribes, who built trade links leading into the Congo River basin. Congo-Brazzaville was formerly part of the French colony of Equatorial Africa.Upon independence in 1960, the former colony of French Congo became the Republic of the Congo. The People's Republic of the Congo was a Marxist–Leninist one-party state from 1970 to 1991.
Multi-party elections have been held since 1992, although a democratically elected government was ousted in the 1997 Republic of the Congo Civil War and President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled for 26 of the past 36 years.
The political stability and development of hydrocarbon production made the Republic of the Congo the fourth largest oil producer in the Gulf of Guinea, providing the country with relative prosperity despite instability in some areas and unequal distribution of oil revenue nationwide.
Bantu-speaking peoples who founded tribes during the Bantu expansions largely displaced and absorbed the earliest inhabitants of the region, the Pygmy people, about 1500 BC. The Bakongo, a Bantu ethnic group that also occupied parts of present-day Angola, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formed the basis for ethnic affinities and rivalries among those countries. Several Bantu kingdoms—notably those of the Kongo, the Loango, and the Teke—built trade links leading into the Congo River basin.
Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão reached the mouth of the Congo in 1484.Commercial relationships quickly grew between the inland Bantu kingdoms and European merchants who traded various commodities, manufactured goods, and people captured from the hinterlands. After centuries as a major hub for transatlantic trade, direct European colonization of the Congo river delta began in the late 19th century, subsequently eroding the power of the Bantu societies in the region.
Congo-Brazzaville has had a multi-party political system since the early 1990s, although the system is heavily dominated by President Denis Sassou Nguesso; he has lacked serious competition in the presidential elections held under his rule. Sassou Nguesso is backed by his own Congolese Labour Party (French: Parti Congolais du Travail) as well as a range of smaller parties.
Sassou's regime has been hit by corruption revelations despite attempts to censor them. One French investigation found over 110 bank accounts and dozens of lavish properties in France; Sassou denounced embezzlement investigations as "racist" and "colonial".Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, son of Denis Sassou Nguesso, has been named in association with the Panama Papers.
On 27 March 2015, Sassou Nguesso announced that his government would hold a referendum on changing the country's 2002 constitution to allow him to run for a third consecutive term in office. On October 25 the government held a referendum to allow Sassou Nguesso to run in the next election. The government claimed that the proposal was approved by 92% of voters with 72% of eligible voters participating. The opposition, who boycotted the referendum, said that the government's statistics were false and the vote was a sham.
The election raised questions and was accompanied by civil unrest and police shootings of protesters;at least 18 people were killed by security forces during opposition rallies leading up to the referendum held in October.
Many Pygmies belong from birth to Bantus in a relationship many refer to as slavery. The Congolese Human Rights Observatory says that the Pygmies are treated as property the same way "pets" are.On 30 December 2010, the Congolese parliament adopted a law for the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. This law is the first of its kind in Africa, and its adoption is a historic development for indigenous peoples on the continent.
Congo is located in the central-western part of sub-Saharan Africa, along the Equator, lying between latitudes 4°N and 5°S, and longitudes 11° and 19°E. To the south and east of it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is also bounded by Gabon to the west, Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the north, and Cabinda (Angola) to the southwest. It has a short coast on the Atlantic Ocean.
The capital, Brazzaville, is located on the Congo River, in the south of the country, immediately across from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The southwest of the country is a coastal plain for which the primary drainage is the Kouilou-Niari River; the interior of the country consists of a central plateau between two basins to the south and north. Forests are under increasing exploitation pressure.
Since the country is located on the Equator, the climate is consistent year-round, with the average day temperature a humid 24 °C (75 °F) and nights generally between 16 °C (61 °F) and 21 °C (70 °F). The average yearly rainfall ranges from 1,100 millimetres (43 in) in the Niari Valley in the south to over 2,000 millimetres (79 in) in central parts of the country. The dry season is from June to August, while in the majority of the country the wet season has two rainfall maxima: one in March–May and another in September–November.
In 2006–07, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society studied gorillas in heavily forested regions centered on the Ouesso district of the Sangha Region. They suggest a population on the order of 125,000 western lowland gorillas, whose isolation from humans has been largely preserved by inhospitable swamps.
The economy is a mixture of village agriculture and handicrafts, an industrial sector based largely on petroleum, support services, and a government characterized by budget problems and overstaffing. Petroleum extraction has supplanted forestry as the mainstay of the economy. In 2008, oil sector accounted for 65% of the GDP, 85% of government revenue, and 92% of exports. The country also has large untapped mineral wealth.
In the early 1980s, rapidly rising oil revenues enabled the government to finance large-scale development projects with GDP growth averaging 5% annually, one of the highest rates in Africa. The government has mortgaged a substantial portion of its petroleum earnings, contributing to a shortage of revenues. 12 January 1994 devaluation of Franc Zone currencies by 50% resulted in inflation of 46% in 1994, but inflation has subsided since.
Economic reform efforts continued with the support of international organizations, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The reform program came to a halt in June 1997 when civil war erupted. When Sassou Nguesso returned to power at the end of the war in October 1997, he publicly expressed interest in moving forward on economic reforms and privatization and in renewing cooperation with international financial institutions. However, economic progress was badly hurt by slumping oil prices and the resumption of armed conflict in December 1998, which worsened the republic's budget deficit.
The current administration presides over an uneasy internal peace and faces difficult economic problems of stimulating recovery and reducing poverty, despite record-high oil prices since 2003. Natural gas and diamonds are also recent major Congolese exports, although Congo was excluded from the Kimberley Process in 2004 amid allegations that most of its diamond exports were in fact being smuggled out of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo; it was re-admitted to the group in 2007.
The Republic of the Congo also has large untapped base metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits. The country is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).The Congolese government signed an agreement in 2009 to lease 200,000 hectares of land to South African farmers to reduce its dependence on imports.
The GDP of the Republic of the Congo grew by 6% in 2014 and is expected to have grown by 7.5% in 2015.
Transport in the Republic of the Congo includes land, air and water transportation. The country's rail system was built by forced laborers during the 1930s and largely remains in operation. There are also over 1000 km of paved roads and two major international airports (Maya-Maya Airport and Pointe Noire Airport) which have flights to destinations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The country also has a large port on the Atlantic Ocean at Pointe-Noire and others along the Congo River at Brazzaville and Impfondo.
The Republic of the 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 a few urban areas, namely in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire or one of the small cities or villages lining the 534-kilometre (332 mi) railway which connects the two cities. In rural areas, industrial and commercial activity has declined rapidly in recent years, leaving rural economies dependent on the government for support and subsistence.
Ethnically and linguistically the population of the Republic of the Congo is diverse—Ethnologue recognises 62 spoken languages in the country—but can be grouped into three categories. The Kongo are the largest ethnic group and form roughly half of the population. The most significant subgroups of the Kongo are Laari in Brazzaville and Pool regions and Vili around Pointe-Noire and along the Atlantic coast. The second largest group are the Teke who live to the north of Brazzaville with 17% of the population. Boulangui (M’Boshi) live in the northwest and in Brazzaville and form 12% of the population.Pygmies make up 2% of Congo's population.
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.Around 300 American expatriates reside in the Congo.
According to CIA World Factbook, the people of the Republic of the Congo are largely a mix of Catholics (33.1%), Awakening Lutherans (22.3%) and other Protestants (19.9%). Followers of Islam makeup 1.6%, and this is primarily due to an influx of foreign workers into the urban centers.
According to a 2011–12 survey, total fertility rate was 5.1 children born per woman, with 4.5 in urban areas and 6.5 in rural areas.
The Congolese culture has been influenced by a wide variety of natural landscapes, stretching from the savannah plains in the North Niari flooded forests, to the great Congo River, to rugged mountains and forest of Mayombe, and including 170 km of beaches along the Atlantic coast. The presence of numerous ethnic groups and various political structures once (Kongo Empire, Kingdom of Loango kingdom Teke, Northern chiefdoms) provided an enormous amount of diversity in the traditional cultures as well as in many ancient artistic expressions. Vili Nail fetishes, Bembe statuettes which are very expressive despite their small size, the strange masks of the Punu and Kwele, reliquaries Kinabalu, Teke fetishes, curious cemeteries, with their monumental tombs, the Lari country.
The Congolese also have a considerable colonial architectural heritage, which they are rediscovering today as part of their ancestry, and their tourist capital. They are also taking great pains to restore these artifacts, at least in Brazzaville.
Tourism remains a very marginal resource in the Congo, reception facilities based out of Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville lack a sufficient and consistent communications network. Many sites are difficult to visit but, paradoxically, some of the South's most populous and developed locations are often the least accessible. For example, the massive Chaillu Mountains are almost impossible to visit.
Many Congolese singers have carried the country's image to the furthest reaches of the globe: the Franco-Congolese rapper Passi playing in France to whom we owe the release of several hit albums to like the "Temptations" with the famous song "I zap and I mate", without forgetting the M'Passi singer of the former group Melgroove, rappers Calbo of Arsenik group, Ben J of Neg Marrons, Mystic, RCFA, The group Bisso Na Bisso and Casimir Zao.
The Republic of Congo has several writers recognized in Africa and the French-speaking world: Alain Mabanckou, Jean-Baptiste Tati Loutard Jeannette Ballou Tchichelle, Henri Lopes, Lassy Mbouity and Tchicaya U Tam'si.
Other artistic genres such as movies often struggle to make breakthroughs. After a promising start in the 1970s, the troubled political situation and the closure of cinemas made production difficult. The country produces no feature film each year and generally the filmmakers directly broadcast their video production. Unfortunately, Congolese culture, art, and media has remained a poor investment due to the various successive governments creating instability.
Ile Mbamou Island — a government-owned island that is located about one hour from Brazzaville.
Lefini Reserve — the country's best known reserve, bordering Lesio-Louna to the north.
The Lesio Louna Gorilla Reserve — a park located north of Brazzaville and is dedicated to the protection of gorillas in the Congo.
Mount Fouari National Reserve
Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park — the largest and most remote of Congo's national parks and reserves, located in the far north bordering the Central African Republic's Dzanga Sangha National Reserve.
Odzala National Park — the country's most famous national park.
Tiger Fish Congo Camp. You can visit the Tiger Fish Camp to capture the biggest tiger fish in the world - the largest fish ever caught there was 56kg!
All foreigners need a visa to enter the Republic of Congo. Except for citizens of some West and North African countries, visas are not available on arrival, and showing up without one can cause many things you will want to avoid at all costs (fines, passport confiscation, etc.).
However transit without a visa is possible, if you take the next connecting plane and don't leave the airport.
Enter By Air
Maya-Maya Airport (IATA: BZV) in Brazzaville is linked by flights to by Air France, Douala in Cameroon, Addis Ababa and Kinshasa by Ethiopian Airlines, Nairobi, Casablanca and the national carrier, ECAir.
Enter By Car
It's safe to drive in the Republic of the Congo. A good sealed road goes north from Brazzaville, but only as far north as President Sassou's hometown of Oyo. Beyond Oyo, the roads get very bumpy and are totally impassable in the rain. It is also very hard to get a rental car you drive yourself
Entering By Boat
Passenger and VIP ferries operate daily between Brazzaville and Kinshasa roughly every 2 hours between 8AM and 3PM. Prices for the ferries are: US$15 for the passenger and US$30 for the VIP ferry. The VIP ferry is recommended as these are brand new boats and are not as cramped.
A valid visa for both countries is required in either direction. The bureaucracy at either end require some time. Entry and exit procedures in Brazzaville are "easy" and straight forward and people are very helpful in assisting to get through without troubles.
In contrast, these procedures are a bit difficult in Kinshasa and depend much on whether you are an individual traveller or assisted by an organisation or an official government representative. There are also speed boats to hire, either in a group or alone, however, it is not advisable to book them as they really speed across the river along the rapids.
Barges follow the Congo, then the Oubangui, rivers right up to Bangui.
Touring Pointe-Noire By Taxi Or Minibus
Ridiculously cheap shared taxis and minibuses run on an ad hoc basis between towns and villages, crammed with Congolese villagers taking all sorts of livestock for sale in Brazzaville.
In Brazzaville, taxis are green. FCFA 700 generally gets you around a neighborhood. This goes up to FCFA 1000 at night. Drivers are generally fair with prices, and haggling is not required before getting in.
The Congo-Ocean Railway (COR, or CFCO) links the Atlantic port of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo with Brazzaville, a distance of 502km.
The official language of the RoC is French. The main indigenous languages are Kituba and Lingala.
Epulu river in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve
Odzala National Park
Gorillas in Lesio Louna Gorilla Reserve.
Colonial and post-colonial architecture in Brazzaville.
Sangha Trinational - a forest in the Sangha and Likouala region that is an UNESCO World Heritage Site (shared with Cameroon and the Central African Republic).
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of the country is the Central African CFA franc, denoted FCFA (ISO currency code: XAF). It's also used by five other Central African countries. It is interchangeable at par with the West African CFA franc (XOF), which is used by six countries. Both currencies are fixed at a rate of 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs.
The U.S. dollar is not widely accepted.
All Ecobank ATMs in Gabon take Mastercard and Visa card for cash withdrawal.
There is an artisan mart and boutiques in the market near the BDEAC (Banque Developpement pour les Etats de l'Afrique Centrale). Really beautiful jewelry, masks, paintings, and other artwork.
All business is conducted in cash. Small change is very scarce and hard to come by. Do not accept torn or taped banknotes.
Dried fish for sale at the Oyo river market
There is good and healthy Chinese food at Osaka Restaurant, in Pointe Noire. The average price for a meal was US$12-18. All meals were served in nice clean dishes, the restaurant is indoors and has AC, with a back-up generator, just in case. Some of the workers speak English and French.
There are several great restaurants in Brazzaville. Any taxi driver can take you to one of these nicer places (FCFA 5000-15 000). Most places are closed on Sundays. Expect beers to be overpriced here (FCFA 1000-2000).
Palm wine is a local favorite in the village. Beer is the favorite in town next to Fanta, Coke etc. There is also a local red wine (SOVINCO) imported from Gabon and the "brique", a liter of imported, mostly Spanish wine from the box.
There is a big price range on beer (FCFA 500-5,000) depending on what neighborhood and type of bar or estaurant you're in.
Produced in Congo under Heineken supervision: N'Gok (meaning "Crocodile", blond, Congolese), Primus (blond, Belgium, Central Africa), Mütsig (blond, French Alsace Region), Guinness (dark, Ireland), and Turbo King (dark, Central Africa)
Imported: Heineken and Bavaria
If the above is too much there is also water of various local and imported brands sold in 1.5 litre plastic bottles.
In Brazzaville, petty street crime targeting foreigners is rare. However, muggings and pick pocketing do happen frequently near the ports in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville, and sometimes in the Congolese neighborhoods surrounding Brazzaville's City Center.
Criminal elements are known to target middle-class and affluent residences without 24-hour guards.
Police resources are limited and response to emergency calls is slow. In the case of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited and therefore, it is highly recommended to leave all valuable items at home.
There have been some demonstrations against the re-election of President Sassou in July 2009. Some foreign reporters were assaulted by riot police and had their equipment destroyed. It is generally safe to walk the streets, but stay well away from demonstrations.
White travelers should take care while travelling in the Republic. Racial tension and discrimination is not uncommon here, so be safe and keep to yourself.
You can talk to your loved ones using any of the three mobile operators MTN, CelTel (now Zain), or Warid
The local call rate are relatively cheap and cost you around FCFA 20-20 per minute.