Five things to know about Republic of Congo
Congo is holding presidential elections Sunday, with incumbent Denis Sassou Nguesso seeking a third term after a controversial change over the constitution that allows him to extend his 32-year grip on power.
– Dwindling oil output –
The country has substantial deposits of oil, timber and diamonds, but oil production is its most important economic sector, and Congo is the fourth biggest producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
The epicentre of oil-based activities is at Pointe-Noire, the economic centre in the south-west on the Atlantic Coast.
In 2013, Sassou Nguesso warned that national oil output had declined, in part because reserves that had already been tapped were dwindling.
After civil wars ravaged the economy, growth resumed in 2000 to average out at five percent over the past five years, an IMF report said last year.
But almost half the population of 4.5 million people still lives in poverty, and according to World Bank data, per capita income stood at $2,720 (2,448 euros) in 2014. Economic reform programmes have been set up with help from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
– A vast forest –
The central African country of 342,000 square kilometres (136,800 miles) borders Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Angolese enclave of Cibinda.
With 60-65 percent of its territory covered with forest, Congo has begun to increase activity in the forestry sector, now its second biggest export, and the Congo River Basin is the world’s second biggest rainforest after the Amazon.
China is by far the primary destination for Congolese exports, absorbing 52 percent in 2012 according to the CIA World Factbook.
– Brazzaville, capital of “Free France” –
Brazzaville, the area north of the Congo River across from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, came under French sovereignty in 1880 under French-Italian explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza.
Brazzaville became the capital of French Equatorial Africa (AEF) from 1910 to 1960 and of “Free France”, the French government-in-exile led by Charles De Gaulle, between 1940 and 1944 during World War II.
It was also in Brazzaville that De Gaulle in 1958 proposed the creation of a Franco-African community.
– Instability after independence –
Since its independence in 1960, the country has been through a dozen putschs, attempted coups and insurgencies.
Three civil wars broke out — in 1993-94, leaving some 2,000 people dead, in 1997 when between 4,000 and 10,000 people died, and in 1998-99, killing thousands more. Fighting followed in the southern region of Pool between government troops and insurgents.
– Sassou Nguesso: 32 years in power –
Sassou Nguesso served as president from 1979 to 1992 at the head of a single party, and returned to power in 1997 following a civil war.
After the introduction of multi-party politics in the early 1990s, he won two successive mandates, in 2002 with 85 percent of the result, and in 2009 with 68 percent, but both tallies were contested by opposition parties.
A controversial new charter adopted in October by referendum removed a 70-year age limit and a ban on presidents serving more than two terms, opening the way for Sassou Nguesso to stand for a third term at the March 20 election.
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