Two sovereign Congo Republics appeared on the map in 1960: the ex-Belgian Congo, almost as large in area as India, with 14 million inhabitants, and the smaller ex-French Equatorial dependency, once called Middle Congo (pop. 800,000) (16, 24). Officially, the two are now distinguished by the names of their capitals, as Congo ( Leopoldville) and Congo ( Brazzaville). The two capitals, often called Leo and Brazza, face each other across the river whose navigable waterways are the main basis of such unity as each state possesses.
When the Portuguese reached the Congo mouth in 1482, they found a well established monarchical state of the (Ba-)Kongo people, which endured until the 17th century. Today the 3 million Bakongo are divided between the two Congos and Portuguese Angola and Cabinda (24, 34). The rapids below Leo and Brazza blocked exploration up river, and the huge Congo basin remained unknown until, in the 1870s, Stanley, crossing Africa from east to west, traced the Congo down to its mouth. It was found navigable above Leo as far as Stanley Falls, and again above the falls, where it is called the Lualaba river; big tributaries like the Ubangui and Kasai are also navigable for large river craft (P).
The 'scramble' for Africa (G) was largely set off by Stanley's discoveries, which Leopold II of Belgium quickly followed up, forming a private International African Association to exploit the interior. At the 1884-5 Berlin conference the European powers accepted Leopold's claims. His association ruled what was known as the Congo Free State, and treated as the king's personal domain, until 1908, when the Belgian government took it over as a colony, after the world had been shocked by revelations of the brutal treatment of its peoples by the king's agents. Meanwhile France had secured most of the west bank of the Lower Congo and Ubangui. During the 1890s Leopold's men, thrusting south and east from Katanga, met Rhodes's men thrusting north (31), and hard bargaining produced the oddly shaped Congo-Rhodesia border, which cuts across the rich mineral area (32). After 1918 Belgium took over Ruanda-Urundi from Germany (26).
In the Congo Basin Treaties of 1885, 1890 and 1919, the European powers and the United States agreed to regulate trade and other matters throughout an area embracing the whole river basin and much of East Africa. The provisions for completely free trade were later modified, but equal treatment for traders of all nations in the area was maintained for many years.