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Pre-20th-Century History Before the French turned up in the late 19th century, Congo was a group of separate but trading kingdoms comprising the Kongo, Lari, Mbochi, Teke and Vili peoples, among others. On his arrival in the early 1880s, the French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza set about busily getting local Onkoos (tribal leaders) to sign away their territorial rights to France. In return for their complicity, the Onkoos received paltry trinkets and fabric, but also a certain unexpected and controversial legitimacy. The French referred to Onkoos who had signed treaties as tribal 'kings' and a new distinction of rank among Onkoos was imported to Congolese culture. The French government then made free use of Congo's considerable natural resources such as ivory, tropical hardwood and rubber, as well as the local population who were used as forced labour. French colonial rule in Congo was easily as brutal as the notorious plunder of the Belgian Congo across the river, but received far less attention. In addition, the French approach of simply corralling different tribes into one territory did not succeed in laying to rest tribal rivalries, and they abjectly failed to create a cohesive country over their 80-year rule. Successive Congolese governments haven't done any better since the country gained independence in 1960 - instead, leaders from the northeast have used their time in office to let their pals from back home pillage the country and subjugate southerners, and vice versa. Unsurprisingly, tensions between the north and south have given rise to three civil wars and a year of localised fighting in the southwest Pool region. Modern History Perhaps because he was widely perceived as a puppet of the French, Youlou, Congo's first president, lasted only three years in office. In 1963 Youlou was swept aside when he made the mistake of taking on the unions, which had become a focus for the struggle for independence from colonial rule. His successor, Massamba-Débat, tried to secure his position by founding the Mouvement National de la Revolution and declaring a one-party state, but he was in turn ousted by Captain Marien-Ngouabi in 1968. Ngouabi was one of a new generation of northern Congolese who would usher in an era of Marxism and greater ties with the Soviet Union. He would also establish a long dominance of Congolese politics by players from the north. However, not even his friends from the north were prepared to play fair, and in 1977 he was assassinated, allegedly by rivals within his own circle. The army chief of staff, Yhombi, stepped into the breach and ruled by means of a military commission. In 1979 Yhombi was ousted by an alliance of the unions with the Congolese Worker's Party (PCT), and Denis Sassou Nguesso, a rising star in the army, took power. Many Congolese see Sassou's monument to the 'Immortal Glory of Marien-Ngouabi' as confirmation that Sassou was the real orchestrator of the political intrigue surrounding Ngouabi's death. Sassou has certainly shown that he has the ruthlessness to survive at the top of Congolese politics where others have failed. He ruled with the PCT as the single party until 1992, a time referred to by the Congolese as Sassou I. In 1992 multiparty democratic elections were held and the unimposing academic Pascal Lissouba was voted in. A southerner, Lissouba promised to redress southern Congo's years spent exiled from development and from access to the country's top jobs. Once in office he continued a fine tradition of pocketing the country's oil revenues and used his personal militia (known as the Cocoyes) to antagonise inhabitants of the capital who rallied around the ousted Sassou. In 1993 the situation erupted into civil war with Sassou's Cobra militia on one side, and the Cocoyes, together with the militia of Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas (the so-called Ninjas) on the other. Lissouba clung on to power until another - and this time decisive - civil war all but obliterated Brazzaville in 1997. Sassou took charge for the second time and Lissouba fled. But the real losers were Congo's civilians, who spent months hiding in the forests. Many children died - if not from bullets then from malnutrition. In 1999 the war started again on a smaller scale, this time fought predominantly between the Cocoyes and the Ninjas. Recent History In 2002 Sassou bowed to international pressure and legitimised his presidency with multiparty elections. Although they were carried out with much fanfare, they have been called 'seriously flawed'. Sassou's election campaign was widely dubbed 'me or hell', a reference to the alternative of civil war if he was not elected. A resurgence of fighting between the Ninjas and government forces in the Pool region dogged Sassou's first year as president, but a peace agreement was bashed out between Sassou and the leader of the Pool insurgency, Pasteur Ntoumi, in March 2003. To date, the peace has held with optimism that improvements to infrastructure will further stabilise the country. In January 2006 President Sassou raised both his and the Congo's international profile when he was elected Chairman of the 53 nation African Union.






   


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