Although the corona virus pandemic has drowned out pretty much all stories about democracy and elections, political processes haven’t simply stopped. Here Andréa Ngombet, a civil society leader and presidential candidate, sets out his fears for the upcoming election in the Republic of Congo.
One year from today, on 20 March 2021, another election will take place in my home country, the Republic of Congo. Since the last electoral sham, which happened in March 2016, the situation in the country – on the economic and political fronts – has unsurprisingly deteriorated. During the previous election, the nation’s internet, radio and phone lines were cut in an attempt to conceal the grand manipulation taking place. The mastermind behind this deceit was President Denis Sassou Nguesso, one of the longest-ruling leaders in the world, who had a year prior, in 2015, changed the constitution that allowed him to run for office once again, albeit virtually unopposed.
These craven moves to cling to power were strengthened by the public support of then President of France, François Hollande – emboldened thereafter, Nguesso imprisoned his two main political rivals, Jean Marie Michel Mokoko and André Okombi Salissa, both of whom remain behind bars on the grounds of “threatening the internal security of the state.”
In order to further safeguard the electoral coup d’état in 2016, the Nguesso regime waged a brutal 20-month war, which lasted through December 2018, during which bombs were dropped indiscriminately on civilian populations, namely in the restive Pool region. The bloodshed and the crimes against humanity went largely unnoticed by the outside world.
The situation remains grim, and more recent events have combined to form a negative forecast for the upcoming 2021 polls. The repression has indeed intensified. Since October 2019, for example, young civic activists have been arrested and charged with conjured crimes, again on the pretext of “attacks on the internal security of the state,” which has become the norm. This particular case demonstrates the fragility of a political system that desperately fears any semblance of civic education and a truly free and fair election.
To be blunt, President Nguesso is again preparing for war – mainly focusing his ire on Congo’s nascent pro-democracy movement as well as activists who have the courage to both envision and demand a more democratic future. And once again, France is playing a supporting role. President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, has looked the other way amid mounting human rights abuses because of our country’s strategic importance in the realm of energy supply. This tacit approval of the ongoing oppression has no doubt emboldened the Nguesso regime again.
After serving over three decades as head of the nation, Nguesso has very little to show for his efforts. In fact, one-third of our population is currently undernourished. 1 out of 4 children now suffer from malnutrition. And relatedly, infant mortality stands at 55%, a staggering number that places our country in the bottom twenty in the world. Despite holding massive oil reserves and other vital natural resources, our country suffers greatly, and has been irresponsibly held back for decades due to grand corruption that is by now well-documented, though largely ignored.
We Congolese are tired of the corruption and the heists, the human rights abuses and the rigged elections. We have done all we can to change our leadership peacefully and through democratic processes, shunning violence and instead choosing the ballot box. But tensions are noticeably rising, and they cannot be staved off indefinitely. Simply put, we no longer wish to participate in the ideological agenda of irresponsible powers, including that of our homegrown dictator.
One year from today, we Congolese head to the polls again. We implore world powers, and global activists and citizens alike, to help elevate our voices. Do not let another fundamentally marred election take place in my country. It will plant the seeds for future unrest and future atrocities. We deserve much better.
Andréa Ngombet is a civil society leader, a One Young World Ambassador, and is currently running for President of the Republic of the Congo. He is a member of the International Coalition for Democratic Renewal and previously served as global coordinator of the #Sassoufit Collective, which advocates for democracy and rule of law in Congo.
This article first appeared at Vanguard Africa