A nation of W central Africa, largely covered by dense equatorial forest and marshland . The history of the Congo before the arrival of Portuguese explorers in the late 15th century is conjectural. Several kingdoms existed at that time, including the Kongo Kingdom, the Loango Kingdom, and the Bateke Kingdom. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Portuguese actively worked with the coastal tribes to funnel large numbers of inland peoples to the holds of waiting French, English, and Dutch slavers who competed for the lucrative trade.
In the late 19th century the French turned their colonial ambition toward interior central Africa. In 1880 they induced a local king to agree to a French protectorate along the N bank of the Congo River and in 1885 achieved international acceptance of their control, eventually making the territory part of French Equatorial Africa. The territory was brutally exploited by private concessionaires as the French government was content to collect taxes and rents from them and to ignore their administration of the region. By 1907 international outrage forced France to establish some control over the private concessions, but lasting damage had been done to the native population and to the ivory and rubber trade. Further devastation was visited upon the Africans of the Congo by the French as they used forced labor to build the Congo-Ocean railway after World War I. An estimated 17,000 people died during its construction.
Brazzaville, the capital, was an important center of Free French resistance during World War II. After the war the Congo gradually received greater autonomy until it became independent on August 15, 1960. A military coup brought an end to democracy in 1968 when Marien Ngouabi seized control and moved toward closer ties with the Soviet Union. Ngouabi was assassinated in 1977, and the new military rulers swiftly moved to resume diplomatic ties with the United States and the West while remaining a Marxist-Leninist state with close Soviet and Chinese ties. In 1992 the country had democratic elections and Prof. Pascal Lissouba was elected, but he shortly thereafter dissolved the parliament and called for elections the following year. The elections of 1993 were disputed by the opposition and only international arbitration averted civil war. In 1997 former president Sassou with Angolan assistance overthrew the government. There continues to be unrest.