Victory for Congo's incumbent virtually a foregone conclusion

Saturday July 15 2017

Congo's newly elected President Denis Sassou-Nguesso in Brazzaville in March 2016. PHOTO | MARCO LONGARI | AFP

Congo's newly elected President Denis Sassou-Nguesso in Brazzaville in March 2016. PHOTO | MARCO LONGARI | AFP 

By CIUGU MWAGIRU
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As the season of African elections gathers steam, the Republic of Congo holds a legislative election on Sunday.

The polls are, however, expected to rubberstamp and perpetuate policies of a badly sullied regime.

The country’s President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is regarded as the quintessential African strongman, having held sway in the country for decades.

Also renowned as an autocrat who presides over one of the world’s most corrupt regimes, he is believed to have carefully manipulated a 2015 constitutional referendum that did away with presidential term limits. Ultimately, he won the election in March 2016.

LEADERS ARRESTED

The ensuing protests led to the arrest of opposition leaders, including two of Sassou-Nguesso’s main rivals in the presidential election, who are still in jail.

Still on the topic of dictatorship, there are mounting fears that Zambia is rapidly headed in that direction.

Just a week ago, President Edgar Lungu declared “the threat of a state of emergency”.

Widely viewed as the declaration of a state of emergency, the decision is seen as allowing him to circumvent lawful checks and balances.

ETHIOPIA'S SITUATION

The declaration was reminiscent of the situation in Ethiopia, which is already nine months into a state of emergency.

Discontent culminated in protests across the country, claiming hundreds of lives and only abating when security agencies quelled them.

In Zambia, earlier developments had already alarmed activists in and outside the country.

On April 11, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested when heavily armed police officers laid siege to his residence. Police reportedly used teargas in an attempt to smoke him out of the house.

SAFE ROOM

Hichilema later said he and members of his family had taken refuge inside a safe room while his workers were tortured.

Zambia’s simmering political crisis was further aggravated by the detention of Hichilema on treason charges. Officials said he endangered Lungu’s life.

The origin of the claim was a traffic incident during which Hichilema allegedly refused to give way to Lungu’s motorcade earlier in the year.

The claim was widely described as ridiculous, given that Hichilema has been a longtime rival of Lungu’s.

SIDELINE HIM

Analysts and activists said the charges were designed to silence and consequently sideline the popular opposition leader, who narrowly lost to Lungu in the 2016 presidential election.

Hichilema and his followers said the poll was stolen.

The extended state of emergency gave Lungu special powers to, among other things, suspend parliament.

The president also restrict freedom of movement, order arrest “troublemakers” and declare curfews.

'UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED'

There was scepticism when state radio reported on Tuesday that parliament had “unanimously approved” the extension of the emergency.

The claim of unanimity was despite the fact that 48 MPs from the largest opposition party were absent during the parliamentary session.

The lawmakers belonging to Hichilema’s United Party for National Development were suspended for a month in mid-June.

In Congo-Brazzaville, Sassou-Nguesso has in recent times detained civil society leaders and journalists perceived to be opposed to his rule.

BIG DYNASTY

The veteran president has over the years created one of the biggest dynasties in the continent, and relies on a web of cronies and relatives, including son Dénis Christel, to maintain his grip on power.

Not surprisingly, a reported eleven of Sassou-Nguesso’s relatives will compete in Sunday’s election and are expected to emerge victorious.

The upshot is that the family members may ultimately constitute more than 7 per cent of the National Assembly’s 153 deputies.

By all indications, victory for the incumbent and his cohorts is virtually a foregone conclusion.