The Republic of Congo is made up of a rich landscape of falls, swamps and rapids, with the northern country distinguished by huge tracts of virgin forest and an abundance of wildlife.
The forest is also home to several indigenous tribes who have maintained their traditional way of life. The narrow sandy coastal plain is broken by lagoons, behind which rise the Mayombe Mountains. The capital, Brazzaville, has a host of fascinating sights to see and places to explore, and local musicians enliven the atmosphere at night.
In 1960, the country now known as the Republic of Congo was granted full independence. Abbé Fulbert Youlou, a Catholic priest, was elected president and guided the Congo into a single-party state, in accordance with the trend throughout Africa.
Since independence, the country has been been plagued by civil wars and militia conflicts.The former French colony experienced the first of two destructive bouts of fighting when disputed parliamentary elections in 1993 led to bloody, ethnically-based fighting between pro-government forces and the opposition. In 1997, ethnic and political tensions exploded into a full-scale civil war, fuelled in part by the prize of the country's offshore oil wealth, which motivated many of the warlords.
By the end of 1999, the rebels had lost all their key positions to the government forces, who were backed by Angolan troops. Although a peace accord was signed with southern rebels in 2003, remnants of the civil war militias (known as ninjas) are still active in the southern Pool region.