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Congo

zaire nguesso french river

Congo, Republic of the Congo, formerly part of French Equatorial Africa. It lies on the equator, with Gabon and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and Zaire to the east.

Land

A low, treeless plain extends from the coast inland for about 40 mi (64 km). The land then rises to the mountainous area of the Mayombé Escarpment, with its series of sharp ridges, a region of dense tropical rain forest. To the north is a plateau covered with grassland. The Zaire (Congo) River basin in the northeast is an area of numerous rivers and dense, tropical forests. The Zaire and its tributary, the Ubangi River, form most of the border between Congo and Zaire.

People

Some 60% of the population is rural, but there has been a major drift to the towns. Most people are Bantu speakers. French is the official language. The government has placed an emphasis on education, but the rate of illiteracy is still high.

Economy

Although the Congo has rich oil resources, a varied manufacturing sector, and ports providing it and its neighbors with vital outlets to the world market, it has had serious economic setbacks, mainly due to political instability and poor economic planning and management. The agricultural sector is underdeveloped.

History

The Congo was originally part of the Kingdom of the Kongo, a region first explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century and later broken up into smaller states and exploited by European slave traders. It became a French colony in 1891, an overseas territory of France in 1946, and an independent republic in 1960. Periodic civil strife from 1963 onward led to an army takeover in 1968. Following a presidential assassination in 1977 and subsequent martial law, the Congolese Labor Party, the sole legal party since 1970, confirmed a military head of state, Col. Denis Sassou-Nguesso, in 1979. Democratization in the early 1990s was accompanied by trouble and violence which eased off after a while. In 1997 the capital was largely destroyed as a result of the power struggle between Sassou-Nguesso (supported by Angolese troops) and the Congo government. Sessou-Nguesso ousted the democratically chosen president Pascal Lissouba (elected in 1992). Shortly afterwards, the country was closely involved in the power struggle in the neighboring country Congo (Kinshasa).

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