The Republic of Congo is often called the Congo-Brazzaville to avoid confusion with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The country is located on the west coast of Central Africa, and has since been independently characterized by political turmoil, coups and civil war. The Republic of Congo has many natural resources, including a significant oil production, which attracts investment. But the country is being criticized for being among the world’s most difficult to trade.
The World Bank has so far been dissatisfied with Congo-Brazzaville’s willingness to adapt, and is increasingly demanding that the country’s government implement economic reforms.
The Republic of Congo gained its independence from France in 1960. In 1963, President Alphonse Massemba-Debat introduced an anti-Western foreign policy and one-party government based on Marxist-Leninist principles. After a series of pro-democracy demonstrations towards the end of the 1980s, and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the 1992 regime was forced to hold free elections.
But this period was short-lived. Today’s president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, was president of the one-party government, taking back power in a military coup in 1997. The ensuing turmoil eventually developed into a civil war between the various political groups, which also reflects the different ethnic groups in the country.
President Sassou-Nguesso eventually won the civil war with the help of Angolan rebel forces, and was re-elected by 89 percent of the vote in 2002. The civil war left much of the Congo-Brazzaville infrastructure destroyed, and especially lack of transport routes is now a political battle.
The country has experienced explosive population growth according to COUNTRYAAH.COM. From 1985 to 2005, the number of inhabitants doubled. Over half of the country is covered by tropical rainforest, and the population is among Africa’s most urban. Over 60 percent of the population is concentrated in the cities of Brazzaville and Point-Noire, or along the railway between the two. The Civil War also made people seek refuge in the cities. In addition, the government has long pursued a policy that favors industrial production growth over agriculture. In rural areas, economic activity has been significantly reduced, and these areas now depend on government subsidies and support.
Between 5 and 10 percent of the population are pygmies. They are subjected to both extensive discrimination and slave labor. The pygmies who are kept as slaves belong to their bantu masters from the very birth, in a relationship the bantu maintains as an honorable tradition. The Congo-Brazzaville Parliament is in the process of voting on a bill to protect the pygmies.
Congo-Brazzaville has been extracting oil since 1960, and is the fifth largest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa. Oil revenues accounted for 70 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007. The largest oil fields are in the sea off the coast, and are estimated to be able to produce oil for the next 20 years at today’s production level. In addition to the oil, the country is believed to have large reserves of iron, bauxite, copper and diamonds.
More than 60 percent of the population are employed in primary industries, and are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Although many different agricultural products are grown, such as beans, corn, rice, bananas, coffee and sugar cane, the country is only self-sufficient with a quarter of the food, the rest must be imported. The production of timber accounts for 10 percent of the country’s export revenues, despite the recent increase in the cost of forestry.
French and Chinese interests
The former colonial lord France is Congo-Brazzaville’s most important western ally, and much of the support is linked to France’s interests in the oil sector. French company Elf accounts for 70 percent of the country’s oil production. The United States and China are the largest importers of Congolese oil.
China is getting stronger on the field in Congo-Brazzaville. In addition to oil extraction, the Chinese have particular interests in the country’s mining and timber production. Congo-Brazzaville has voted on several occasions to increase China’s influence in the UN, as a result of increasing economic cooperation. Other players are also looking at the opportunities in Congo-Brazzaville. An Australian mining company is looking into the possibilities of extracting an iron ore in the country. Brazil, Malaysia and Korea are also now trying to increase diplomatic relations with Congo-Brazzaville to secure licenses to operate mines and to extract the natural resources that are believed to be hidden in the jungle.
Congo-Brazzaville has made changes to attract foreign investment. However, the country is not considered an attractive place to run production, due to high labor, energy, commodity and transport costs, as well as low productivity and militant unions. The World Bank considers Congo-Brazzaville to be 178 out of 181 countries when it comes to facilitating private investment. Much of the criticism is about poor financial management of the public sector and regulations that make it difficult for private industry.
Oil production is a source of conflict over Congo-Brazzaville’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Among other things, the IMF objects to the privatization of the oil sector not being carried out in accordance with the structural adjustment programs, and that the government continues to subsidize fuel. The president, for his part, fears that an increase in gasoline prices will make him unpopular against the 2009 election.
In security, the Congo-Brazzaville regime is largely dependent on Angola, who assisted the president with soldiers during the civil war. It is assumed that Angola will continue to support the president and do the same if new unrest arises. The government of Congo-Brazzaville has expressed concern that the unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could destroy for their own political stability.