Country

Geography and climate

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 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.[23]

Since the country is located on the Equator, the climate is consistent year-round, with the average day temperature being 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 south in the Niari valley 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.[24]

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.[25]

Economy

Cassava is an important food crop in the Republic of Congo.

The economy is a mixture of village agriculture and handicrafts, an industrial sector based largely on petroleum,[26] 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.[27] 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. The January 12, 1994 devaluation of Franc Zone currencies by 50% resulted in inflation of 46% in 1994, but inflation has subsided since.[28]

Kinshasa seen from Brazzaville. The two capitals are separated by the Congo River.

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 privatisation 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 Congo; it was re-admitted to the group in 2007.[29][30]

The Republic of the Congo also has large untapped base metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits.[31] The country is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).[32] The Congolese government has signed an agreement to lease 200,000 hectares of land to South African farmers to reduce its dependence on imports.[33][34]

Demographics

Religion in Republic of the Congo
religion percent
Roman Catholic 50.5%
Protestant 40.2%
Muslim 1.3%
Animism 2.2%
Baha’i 0.4%
Other 2.2%

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 urbanised 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[36]—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 northwest and in Brazzaville and form 12% of the population.[37][38] Pygmies make up 2% of Congo’s population.[39]

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.[35] Around 300 American expatriates reside in the Congo.[35] Nearly 2,000 white South African farmers have expressed interest in going to Congo.[40]

The people of Republic of the Congo are largely a mix of Catholics and Protestants, who account for 50.5% and 40.2% of the population respectively. The majority of Christians in the country are Catholic, while the remaining comprises various other Christian denominations. Followers of Islam make up 1.3% of the population, and this is primarily due to an influx of foreign workers into the urban centres.[41]

Health

Public expenditure on health was at 1.2% of the GDP in 2004, whereas private expenditure was at 1.3%.[42] HIV prevalence is at 3.4% among 15- to 49-year-olds.[43] Health expenditure was at US$ 30 per capita in 2004[42] A large proportion of the population is undernourished.[42] There were 20 physicians per 100,000 persons in the early 2000s (decade).[42]

Culture

School children in the classroom,