Congo-Brazzaville, a country of 5.5 million is not a democracy despite regular elections. First elected in 1979, President Sassou has been in power for 36 of the 61 years has been independent from France.
The economy is stagnant. Civil servants go months without wages and pensions. Hospitals go months without basic medicine. Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks Congo-Brazzaville among the world’s top 20 most corrupt countries. The democracy watchdog Freedom House, which scores countries on their political and civic freedoms, lists Sassou’s Congo as “not free”. The UN’s Human Development Index positions the country at 149 out of 189, two points above Assad's Syria.
In last month’s presidential election it brought no surprises. After 36 years in power, Sassou was awarded 88% of the vote with a turnout of more than 67%. Accusations of vote irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, were widespread. His closest rival, who had urged for a “vote for change” died of Covid on the day of the vote.
Most likely, the African Union, the US, the EU, the UK and former colonial power France will simply turn a blind eye to yet another disputed election result while Congolese are dying from extreme poverty. Sassou rules with an iron fist. During the 2021 campaign, Sassou ordered internet services to be shut down for almost a week, including on election day. The interior minister, Raymond Zéphirin Mboulou, not the electoral commission, announced his victory. Many of Sassou’s most vocal opponents, including his former challenger Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and his former minister André Okombi Salissa, have either been jailed, exiled or are dead. Not long before the March 2021 election, human rights defender Alexandre Ibacka Dzabana was arbitrarily arrested by Sassou’s intelligence officers. He is still detained in Brazzaville where he has been denied access to his lawyer and family. Yet there is barely any indignation from outside the country.
It is an oil-rich country. Congo-Brazzaville is Africa’s sixth-biggest oil producer, earning huge revenues. However, amid Sassou’s kleptocracy, the country remains paradoxically poor, with nearly half the population living below the poverty line.
The theft is a family affair.
His daughter Julienne Sassou Nguesso and her husband, Guy Johnson, have been charged with corruption and money laundering in France.
Global Witness alleged in April 2019 that his other daughter Claudia Sassou Nguesso, who is an MP and the president’s head of communications, received almost $20m (£15m) of apparently stolen state funds and used it to buy a luxury flat in Trump Tower, New York.
His son, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, also an elected member of the Congolese parliament, is being groomed to succeed his father. He also allegedly took more than $50m from the Congolese treasury funds for his personal gain, according to a Global Witness.
In 2019, Sassou announced the discovery of new oil deposits which would increase the republic’s daily production from 350,000 barrels a day to 980,000, tripling Congo’s revenues from the oil and natural gas sector. Perhaps this is why power has not changed hands by the ballot box, and serious reforms have not been enacted, while the international community sees nothing, hears nothing and does nothing.