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Congo-Brazzaville: The deep end of the pool
2 September 1999

Congo-Brazzaville lies at the heart of one of Africa’s most unstable regions. To the south, Angolan conflict remains in flux between pretences of peace agreements while the war continues to rage on. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) experienced a rebel takeover, only to be constantly threatened by rebels with a further takeover. Gabon seems relatively stable, but conditions in the Central African Republic continue to boil underneath the surface. With Congo-Brazzaville in the throes of skirmishes between guerrilla fighters and a combination of government and Angolan forces, a full-blown eruption in this country will severely compromise what little peace is to be found in the entire region.

Congo-Brazzaville’s history since independence in 1960, throws light on the country’s relentless woes. It has scarcely known a time when political power did not depend upon the sanction of armed force. Samuel Decalo has summed up the situation most pithily: "The complex political strife so characteristic of Congo is ... in essence a straightforward tug-of-war between ambitious elites within a praetorian environment ... power and patronage are the name of the game."1 His argument is convincing: what we have in Congo is a competition for scarce resources, made more desperate by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) insistence on budgetary austerity and cuts in the numbers and pay of civil servants. More than half of the country’s three million people live in the towns of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, many in shanty suburbs defined according to the ethnic and regional origins of their inhabitants. 


Hanlie de Beer and Richard Cornwell Africa Early Warning  Programme, Institute for Security Studies