The Republic of Congo or Congo Brazzaville should not be confused with the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Congo Kinshasa. The two capitals face each other across the River Congo with Congo Brazzaville to the North.
The earliest known inhabitants of the area we now know as the Republic of Congo were Bambuti people, a pygmy tribe who were replaced by Bantus from the north around 1000 B.C.
The Portuguese arrived in the late 1480s and Christianity was introduced into the area. Although the Portuguese built good relations with the local kingdoms, especially the Kongo, the growing slave trade led to de-population of the area and eventual conflict.
The Battle of Mbwila in 1665 was won by the Portuguese and the weakened Kongo Kingdom never recovered, eventually being abolished by the Portuguese in 1914.
The late 1800s saw the British, French, Belgians and Portuguese vying for the area and its raw materials. The Belgians won land south of the Congo River and its hinterland whilst the French took control of the Kingdom of the Tété in 1880.
The French were a pretty brutal ruler and the Code de l’Indigénat Act introduced forced labour and took away many rights of the indigenous people.
The area went through a number of name changes under the French. In 1886 it became the Colony of Gabon and Congo, then the Colony of French Congo in 1891 and then French Equatorial Africa in 1910.
French rule continued until 1940 when Vichy France lost control to General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French in Africa forces.
After the war the French retained control but independence calls grew louder and on 12th July 1960 the area gained independence from the French and on 15th August the same year the Republic of Congo came into force with its first president, Fulbert Youlou.
Youlou attempted to introduce a one party state with only one trade union. This led to Les Trois Glorieuses, a three day uprising in which his presidential palace was surrounded and he was ousted. The military took over and installed a civilian government led by Alphonse Massamba-Debat. This government was eventually overthrown in August 1968 by a group of army officers led by Captain Marien Ngouabi.
Ngouabi assumed the presidency and in 1969 proclaimed the People’s Republic of the Congo with one legitimate party, the Congolese Party of Labour (PCT).
In 1977 Ngouabi was assassinated and was replaced by Colonel Yhombi-Opango between 1977 and 1980 before Colonel Sassou-Nguesso took over in 1980.
After 24 years of Marxist-Leninist rule pressure for democratisation grew and Sassou-Nguesso agreed to hold a national Conference which led to a multi-party constitution being adopted and fresh elections were held in 1992. Pascal Lissouba of the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS) took 61.32% of the vote in the second round beating Bernard Kolélas of the Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development (MDCCI); Sassou-Nguesso came third with 16.87% of the vote.
The new president dissolved parliament a few months later and clashes between the military and militias based around the political parties led to further instability. This led to a four month conflict in 1997 which only ended when Angola intervened in favour of former president Sassou-Nguesso.
Sassou-Nguesso declared himself president once more in October 1997 and former President Lissouba fled the country. In January 1998 a National Forum for Reconciliation was established but elections were delayed for three years. Fighting erupted once more and it took the intervention of President Omar Bongo of Gabon in 1999 before an uneasy peace was agreed with rebels taking ministerial positions in the government.
Fresh elections were finally held in 2002 with Sassou-Nguesso winning with 89.4% of the vote; his Congolese Labour Party (PCT) won 53 of the 153 seats in the National Assembly and became the largest party. Further elections in 1997 saw slight erosion of the PCT vote, but in 2009 Sassou-Nguesso won once more with 78.6% of the vote.
The President is elected for a 7 year term and can serve a second consecutive term.
The bicameral parliament has a Senate and a National Assembly. The Senate has 72 members indirectly elected to serve a five year term. The National Assembly has 139 members directly elected, also serving a five year term.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places the Republic of Congo at joint 159th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 20 (where 100 is least corrupt).