The Republic of Congo (ROC), also referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, will hold presidential elections on 20 March 2016. The incumbent president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, has ruled the central African state for 31 of the past 36 years since coming to power in 1979. He was voted out of office in the first multi-party elections in 1992 but returned to power in 1997, during the Second Congolese Civil War with the backing of the Angolan military.
Since then, he won controversial presidential elections in 2002 and 2009 and is now seeking a third term after a constitutional referendum in October 2015 allowed him to remove presidential term and age limits. Sassou Nguesso won the referendum by a landslide as most opposition parties boycotted the poll while related protests saw security forces in the capital, Brazzaville, fire on demonstrators, killing at least four people. Several opposition leaders were put under house arrest for the duration and the two largest opposition alliances, Initiative for Democracy in Congo and The Republic Front for the Respect of the Constitutional Order and Democratic Transition (FROCAD), have now stated that they will participate in the 20 March ballot, provided that there is an independent election and that the voters’ roll is reliable.
With the main opposition contenders stepping up to the electoral plate the chance of more demonstrations and violent protests ahead of the polls elevates exponentially with at least some clashes between those backing the opposition and the ruling Congolese Labour Party (PCT) almost inevitable. Any such unrest will likely meet an unqualified heavy hand from Sassou Nguesso’s security forces, as seen during the referendum fallout.
Clashes and crackdowns are also unlikely to be limited to pre-election conflict as the chances of the free, fair and independent elections the opposition want are remote. In this context, Sassou Nguesso will probably be declared the winner yet again and challenges to electoral legitimacy could well see protests continue, particularly in the capital as well as the coastal oil hub of Pointe Noire.
With this election mirroring regional trends to extended presidential tenure and attendant unrest and upheaval in Burundi, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the investor climate is showing signs of stress and a keen focus on developments in the next few months is a non-negotiable risk management tool.