New Internationalist

Congo

Issue 149

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COUNTRY PROFILE

Congo

Map of Congo

Leader: Denis Sussou-Nguesso (President)

Economy: GNP per capita $l.180 (t982 estimate) main exports: oil and hardwood People 1.6 million (1982)

People: Infant mortality 130 per 1,000 live births.

Life expectancy: 46 years

Percentage of population with access to clean water:
40% (urban), 8% (rural).

Culture: A variety of tribes with their own language living on both sides of the Zaire River. Lingala, a local trading language. is widely spoken as is French. Religion is Roman Catholic and animist.

Sources: World Bank World Development Report 1984, State of the World’s Children 1985.

FILM BUFFS will know that at the end Casablanca’ Humphrey Bogart goes off to join the Free French in Brazzaville. Today Brazzaville is the capital of the People’s Republic of Congo, a military Marxist state with off-shore oil and a pragmatic approach to capitalism.

This country of nearly two million people lies on the north bank of the wide River Zaire which separates Congo from the much larger and better known country of Zaire. once the Belgian Congo.

In the far north dense tropical forest provides a source of valuable hardwoods and a home for tribal peoples. In the centre of the country. around Brazzaville. poor sandy soil supports open savannah. In the south is the industrial centre of Pointe Noir on the Atlantic coast where the oil is pumped ashore by Elf-Congo. President Sussou-Nguesso’s government holds a 20 per cent stake in this company which is a subsidiary of the French Elf-Aquitaine. Oil accounts for 96 per cent of Congo’s exports and as much as 70 per cent of government revenue. So far the government has been remarkably effective in seeing that the oil wealth is used equitably. There is poverty but no obvious hunger and 85 per cent of children attend both primary and secondary school. State enterprises, a large army and a flourishing economy have created many jobs.

Congo’s two main problems are the high infant mortality rate and the fact that most food is imported from Zaire or France.

In the towns eight children in every hundred never reach their first birthday. In the countryside. where health provision is poor. the figure is 11 per cent, which compares with around one in a hundred deaths in a typical industrial country. But most people live in the towns, half a million of them in Brazzaville alone.

At present flour for bread is imported from France. vegetables from Zaire and even half the fish. (a local staple) is caught outside Congo territory.

The government, which has considerable local support from the army and trade unions, is committed to improving primary health care and is pledged to achieve food self-sufficiency by the turn of the century. But this will be difficult.

Sussou-Nguesso is happy to accept aid from Russia. China. France and the European Community. French and Japanese companies are well established in the country and British firms are beginning to compete. Generally foreign investment operates in conjunction with the government on development projects.

The contrast between debt-burdened Zaire with its tremendous poverty and Congo could not be greater, although both populations are largely Roman Catholic and speak the same Lingala language. Humphrey Bogart, as a private entrepreneur. would still make a good living in Congo but its future is heavily dependent on continued French investment through Elf-Congo.


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Oil wealth used equitably: but still wise-spread poverty

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Government aims at food self-sufficiency by year 2000

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Little recognition or representation

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Pragmatic military Marxist government

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44% for women; 70% for men

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Few political prisoners

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Poor at 46 years

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