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Congo-Brazzaville - People

Congo's sparse population is concentrated in the southwestern portion of the country, leaving the vast areas of tropical jungle in the north virtually uninhabited. Thus, Congo is one of the most urbanized countries in Africa, with 70% of its total population living in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, or along the 332-mile railway that connects them. In southern rural areas, industrial and commercial activity suffered as a consequence of the civil wars in the late 1990s.

Except in Kouilou province and Pointe Noire, commercial activity other than subsistence activity came nearly to a halt after the the 1997 and 1998/9 civil wars. A slow recovery began in 2000 and continued through 2010. Before the 1997 war, about 9,000 Europeans and other non-Africans lived in Congo, most of whom were French. Only a fraction of this number remained. The number of American citizens residing in Congo typically hovers around 300.

More than 60 percent of the Congo’s more than three million people live in cities. These citizens could be found in the capital, Brazzaville (1,059,000), the economic capital and coastal port of Pointe Noire (647,000), and Doilise (with 80,000 residents or half of the Congo’s remaining urbanites, the Congo’s third largest city).

Much of the rural population and almost all of the major towns and cities were located in the southwestern one-third of the country, whereas the northern two-thirds for the most part remained an undeveloped hinterland supporting less than one person per square mile.

The population was unevenly distributed, and by indepedence urban overcrowding had become a social and economic problem. Nearly three-fourths of the population was concentrated in the southern part of the country, west of Brazzaville, and occupied less than one-third of the total land area. In contrast, the northern portion of the country was sparsely settled, with small population clusters grouped in villages along the navigable stretches of the Congo River tributaries.

In spite of the problems encountered in the city, migrants usually stayed, and there has not been a significant movement of people from the cities back to the rural areas. People who have participated in urban life for a long period of time cannot easily resettle in a rural milieu. The more distant the city, the less likely it is that the rural Congolese would return to the home village. After five or more years of urban residency, the urban dweller has been unlikely to return to the countryside. Among Brazzaville residents, members of the Mboshi and Lali ethnic groups demonstrated the least inclination to return to village life.

Among much of the newly urbanized population, and throughout the rural majority, traditional attitudes remained dominant. The traditional clan, lineage, and extended family continued to function as the basic social units. Twentieth-century changes, such as the introduction of a money economy, increases in the availability of formal education, and urbanization, had modified the attitudes and life styles of the small middle class and a smaller urban elite, but they had had only a limited effect upon cultural values and ethnic loyalties in the rural villages and the growing suburbs.

Young men and women traveled to the cities to seek employment, to avoid traditional kin-group responsibilities and restrictions, or to escape the monotony of subsistence farming. Yet they usually sought the help of relatives or friends, who had preceded them to the city, and retained some of their ethnic customs and loyalties as they adapted to a new, less rigid urban life pattern.

Social contact in the burgeoning cities had tended to reduce some of the mistrust on the personal level, especially among the young. Nevertheless, ethnic loyalties and rivalries were tacitly recognized by government leaders as major problems in the political process and as detriments to the development of the national loyalties that they considered necessary to their goals of political stability and economic growth.

Education is free and compulsory for children from age 6 to age 16. Primary education begins at age 6 and ends at age 12. Secondary education comprises of two cycles, the first cycle lasts for 4 years and the second cycle lasts for 3 years. Despite this, the number of females attending secondary school has progressively declined, which is a trend that continues into university. Adult literacy levels are at 77 percent, but drop to 70 percent in the case of women. Girls are known to exchange sex for better grades. Sometimes this is done voluntarily, though sometimes it is done under pressure. Traditionally the Republic of Congo has had comparatively strong education system, with high enrolment rates. However, the series of civil wars and natural disasters had taken its toll on participation in schools. Enrolment rates dropped by 19 percentbetween 1980 and 2000 for elementary schools.

The average diet tended to be high in starch and low in protein, an imbalance that predisposed many people, especially children, toward various tropical and other diseases. With a scarcity of medical and social services, poor sanitation, and a high incidence of disease, infant mortality was high, and overall life expectancy was estimated as of 1970 to be thirty-seven years. Nevertheless, population growth was estimated to be above 1.4 percent per year, possibly as high as 2.2 percent, increasing problems of food supply, medical services, and schools.

AIDS infection rates were highest among young people in the 15-49 years age bracket. In 2001, the AIDS pandemic was accountable for 14 percent of all deaths in the Republic of Congo and became the first cause of hospitalisation in that year. HIV/AIDS treatment is available in the Republic of Congo but the treatment is basic. Some 40 percent of all hospital beds in the Republic of Congo are occupied by HIV/AIDS victims. The Republic of Congo had the third largest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in central Africa. In 2000, the rate was 14.7 percent for Pointe-Noire, the second city and 5 percent for the capital, Brazzaville.

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