Country FilesCentralRepublic of Congo Country Profile 2015:Better late than never


Posted on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 09:00

Republic of Congo Country Profile 2015:Better late than never

By The Africa Report

altPresidential and legislative elections are not due until mid- 2016, but the big issues that will almost certainly decide the result are on the table already.


If, as widely expected, the constitution is changed to allow President Denis Sassou Nguesso a third consecutive seven-year term, his eventual victory is for practical purposes assured.

If the constitution is not revised, the regime has a substitute on the bench, the head of state's son, Denis-Christel Sassou Nguesso.

Although the constitution incorporates safeguards against any change to two key limiting articles – relating to term limits and presidential age – there is little to stop Sassou Nguesso from amending or replacing it.

The image of Sassou Nguesso's 17 years in the presidency is marked more by memories of conflicts and brutal repression than of the latter-day era of economic growth.

The past few years have revealed a new awareness of development needs and the judgment of posterity, with the grandiose announcement of a Chemin d'Avenir (Path for the Future) programme, notable for its ambitious promises to build hospitals, schools and roads.

Generals upset

The security sector could prove problematic, however.

Exiled critics claim there is resentment among senior officers who worry that they may end up on trial in Europe for human rights abuses – such as the 1999 'Beach Affair' disappearance of 353 male opposition sympathisers.

In October 2014, French courts confirmed their investigation relating to General Norbert Dabira's connection to the Beach Affair.

The opposition remains enfeebled, held back in part by the regime's control of the electoral system.

altBut opposition parties such as the Union Panafricaine pour la Démocratie Sociale are also hampered by their own factional rivalries and their failure to develop a credible campaign agenda.

The government continues to intimidate the media.

In the run-up to the September 2014 municipal elections, the authorities arrested Reuters correspondent Sadio Kanté several times and then expelled her.

Harassment of the opposition and the media is likely to intensify until the 2016 election.

On the international scene, Sassou Nguesso will continue to play the statesmanlike role that serves his country's security and his own diplomatic credentials.

His assistance over the Central African Republic, hosting peace talks and sending peacekeeping troops, has been particularly appreciated in Paris and at UN headquarters.

After some relatively quiet years, the oil sector is set for a substantial rebound, following discoveries by Eni in the Nene Marine offshore field.

During 2015, the Italian group will be working on preparations for the expected 2016 start of production from a field that contains an estimated 1.2bn barrels of crude.

Eni has also been studying the feasibility of exploiting Congo's reserves of tar sands.

Iron ore galore

Australia's Equatorial Resources hopes to begin production at the planned Mayoko iron ore project around the end of 2015.

Once an improved rail link and maritime export terminal at Pointe-Noire have been built, production could rise to 10m tonnes per year.

Meanwhile, Equatorial, Core Mining and Congo Iron are working on iron ore projects in the north of the country.

Development of these will require infrastructure investment, probably connecting to the rail networks in Gabon or Cameroon.

The poor condition of Congo's infrastructure has been a serious drag on development.

The heavy concentration of population in the main urban centres has facilitated a relatively high level of power and water service coverage, but the quality of the network has suffered from under-funding.

There are plans to improve the Djoué hydropower plant, while initial proposals have been prepared for further hydropower stations at Bas Congo and Sounda Gorge.

A recent decline in oil revenue put public finances under short-term pressure. The national budget for 2014 was revised to trim expenditure.

Even so, the government plans to accelerate a programme of hospital construction and the building of a flyover at Talangaï, a sports complex at Kintélé, a bypass and new road junctions in Brazzaville as well as new university facilities.



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