In 1960 what had been French Equatorial Africa, a federated dependency with its capital at Brazzaville, attained sovereignty as four republics -- Gabon, Congo (formerly Middle Congo), Chad and the Central African Republic (formerly Ubangui-Chari). The ex-French Congo Republic is now termed ' Congo ( Brazzaville)', to distinguish it from the larger, ex-Belgian, Congo Republic across the river, which for the same reason is known as ' Congo ( Leopoldville)'.
Less than six million people inhabit this great area, although only north of Lake Chad does the desert begin. There is some concentration of population around the lake, but while Chad contains 21/2 million people, Gabon has only 400,000, Congo ( Brazzaville) 800,000, and the Central African Republic 1.2 million. The thinly peopled interior is little developed. Communications are poor, except where the rivers are navigable. The only railway links the coast with Brazzaville and the extensive river system upstream -- the Congo below Brazzaville is not navigable, owing to rapids (22, 24). The densely forested equatorial south produces palm oil and timber, the drier north cotton. Rich manganese deposits near Franceville have not yet been exploited. Lambaréné is known for the mission hospital associated with the philosopher, Dr Albert Schweitzer.
Brazzaville, with over 100,000 inhabitants, is the only important town, and although it is no longer the federal capital the inland republics are still linked with it by various ties. In an attempt to counter the 'balkanization' that resulted from the setting up of separate republics, Chad, Central African Republic and Congo ( Brazzaville) created a 'Union of Central African Republics', but Gabon, being relatively more developed and prosperous, held aloof from this scheme, although it was only a loose and temporary association. The four, however, maintained a customs union, which Cameroon too joined in 1961.
Brazzaville is politically dominated by the (Ba-)Kongo people, who also inhabit adjoining areas of the ex-Belgian Congo and Portuguese Angola. Aspirations for reunion of the Kongo people, who once constituted a large African state, have been one of the forces straining the territorial unity of the ex-Belgian Congo (24).