The central African country often referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, in order to distinguish between neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (or Congo-Kinshasa), was formerly part of the French colony French Equatorial Africa. The name of it’s capital city is taken from the surname of Italian explorer and naturalized French citizen Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazzà, later known as Pierre Paul François Camille Savorgnan de Brazza, who opened the way for the French to colonize the area in the 1880s.
The most prominent Congolese politician until 1956 was Jean-Félix Tchicaya, born in Libreville on 9 November 1903 and a member of the royal family of the Kingdom of Loango. Together with Ivorian leader Félix Houphouët-Boigny and others, he formed the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) in 1946 and, in 1947, the Parti Progressiste Africain. On 21 November 1945, Tchicaya became one of the first African leaders elected to the French parliament, giving him great prestige in his native country.
Although Tchicaya was on the left of the French political spectrum, he never strongly questioned French colonial rule. This resulted in a loss of influence as the Congo prepared for independence, influenced by nationalist anti-colonial leaders as Kwame Nkrumah from Ghana and Egyptian PresidentGamel Abdel Nasser. Only by aligning himself with his erstwhile enemy, the more radical Jacques Opangault in the parliamentary elections of March 31, 1957 could he continue to play a leading role in Congolese political life.
Prior to independence, the French establishment and Catholic Church feared Opangault’s radicalism and favored the rise of Fulbert Youlou, a former priest. The defection of Georges Yambot from the African Socialist Movement (MSA) to Youlou’s Union Démocratique pour la Défense d’Intérêts Africains (UDDIA) helped Youlou become Prime Minister in 1958. This led to the establishment of the Republic of Congo on 28 November 1958 (with Brazzaville replacing Point Noire as the country’s capital).
On 16 February 1959, a revolt organized by Opangault and his MSA erupted in clashes along tribal lines between Southerners, supporting Youlou, and people from the North, loyal to the MSA. The riots were suppressed by French army and Opangault was arrested. In total about 200 people died. Prime Minister Youlou then held the elections for which Opangault had previously asked in vain. After the May 9 arrest of several politicians, including veteran politician Simon Kikhounga Ngot, because of an alleged communist plot, parliamentary elections were convincingly won by Youlou. On 12 July 1960 France agreed to Congo becoming fully independent. On 15 August 1960, the Republic of Congo became an independent country and Fulbert Youlou became its first President.
In November that year, Youlou released Opangault, Ngot and other adversaries, as part of an amnesty. In return both politicians, as well as Germain Bicoumat, joined Youlou’s government and received ministerial posts, effectively destroying any organized political opposition.