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Moyen-Congo (Middle Congo)

Middle Congo is the third largest and the least generously endowed by nature of the four former French territories—Moyen-Congo (Middle Congo), Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (now the Cen¬tral African Republic)—that formed the Federation of French Equa¬torial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Frangaise--AEF) from 1910 to 1958. In 1484 Diego Cao discovered the mouth of the Congo River and initiated the period of Portuguese interest in the region of equatorial Africa. During the fifteenth century the Portuguese established a number of trading and missionary posts along the coast and introduced the cultivation of corn and manioc.

With the rise of the slave trade, British, Dutch, and French interests established themselves in competition with the Portuguese. French commerce increased rapidly and, at the time of the French Revolution in 1789, there were over seventy French companies engaged in coastal trading. In the second decade of the nineteenth century the European powers agreed to suppress the slave traffic. In order to enforce the agreement France established a number of posts along the coast, and French vessels patrolled the shipping routes. The post of Libreville was founded when the commander of a French naval vessel intercepted a slave ship and freed its captives, settling them at the entrance to the Gabon estuary.

Throughout most of the colonial period, the Congo shared its history with three other African territories in the Federation of French Equatorial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Francaise — AEF), created in 1910. The four territories — Moyen-Congo, Gabon, Oubangui-Chari (now the Central African Republic), and Chad (Tchad) — were jointly administered from the federation's headquarters in Brazzaville. Between 1882 and 1891, treaties were secured with all the main local rulers on the river's right bank, placing their lands under French protection. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa (AEF), comprising its colonies of Middle Congo (modern Congo), Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (modern Central African Republic). Brazzaville was selected as the federal capital.

Economic development during the first 50 years of colonial rule in Congo centered on natural resource extraction by private companies. In 1924-34, the Congo-Ocean Railway (CFCO) was built at a considerable human and financial cost, opening the way for growth of the ocean port of Pointe-Noire and towns along its route.

Reflecting a preoccupation with financial problems, French colonial administration in the period before World War II suffered from lack of a well-defined policy. Frequent changes were made in the administrative framework in attempts to overcome the many difficulties of communication and organization inherent in such a vast territory as AEF. In an effort to promote economic development and at the same time make the territories self-supporting, vast land concessions were given to private companies for the exploitation of the natural resources. The period for which concessions were granted was marked by the abuses of forced labor and the alienation of Afri-cans from their lands.

The Second World War gave Franco-Congolese links a special dimension: in turn, on 26, 27 and 28 August 1940, the territories of Chad (under the leadership of its governor Félix Eboué), the Middle Congo, Oubangui rallied to Free France, of which Brazzaville became the capital. In October 1940, General de Gaulle made his first trip to Brazzaville, where, from a private radio station, he made a first radio broadcast. On November 12, 1940, he appointed Félix Eboué as Governor General of the AEF. Thus began a succession of trips and speeches of the General that punctuated in particular the Conference of Brazzaville, officially opened on January 30, 1944 by the Speech of Brazzaville, homage to the work of progress accomplished in "French Africa" And the announcement of reforms that would allow, at the appropriate time, the "men living under our flag to participate in their own management of their own affairs".

The Brazzaville Conference of 1944 heralded a period of major reform in French colonial policy, including the abolition of forced labor, granting of French citizenship to colonial subjects, decentralization of certain powers, and election of local advisory assemblies. Congo benefited from the postwar expansion of colonial administrative and infrastructure spending as a result of its central geographic location within AEF and the federal capital at Brazzaville.

Brazzaville's participation in the war effort provided the colony with significant economic benefits. Brazzaville was enriched throughout the 1940s with fine examples of twentieth-century architecture, due in particular to the very young architect Erell (pseudonym of Roger Lelièvre), the architect of the Sainte-Anne Basilica, the Stade Félix Eboué and de la Case De Gaulle, residence of the General and future residence of France. Brazzaville had 50,000 inhabitants in 1945.

In the aftermath of World War II, a series of administrative and social reforms contributed to the development of African political awareness and provided for increasing African participation in the governing process. The number of educated elite, however, was very small. Because African enterprise was not encouraged and because little attention was given to the training of Africans for responsible positions before 1955, there was no African middle class of any significance when independence was achieved.

The Loi Cadre (framework law) of 1956 ended dual voting roles and provided for partial self-government for the individual overseas territories. Ethnic rivalries then produced sharp struggles among the emerging Congolese political parties and sparked severe riots in Brazzaville in 1959. After the September 1958 referendum approving the new French Constitution, AEF was dissolved. Its four territories became autonomous members of the French Community, and Middle Congo was renamed the Congo Republic. Formal independence was granted in August 1960.

Colonial rule had not fostered a sense of national unity among the numerous ethnic groups of the territory, and competition between Congolese political parties developed along ethnic lines. The fostering of a sense of national unity has been a major goal of the successive governments of the independent republic.

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Page last modified: 14-06-2017 19:45:42 ZULU