The Closing Of Political Space Ahead Of The Republic Of Congo’s July Elections And The Likely Effects On Human Security

Political space is closing ahead of the elections on the 16th and the 30th of July, and with many opposition leaders in jail, the election results themselves seem set to turn out the incumbent President, Dennis Sassou-Ngeusso, as the winner. According to the CIA World Factbook, the importance of the opposition leaders’ physical access to the population cannot be overstated here, as the vast majority of the electorate remains offline, with only an estimated 7.6% having access to the internet. Compounding the lack of information was a 15-day internet outage in June that was supposedly caused by a Chinese fishing vessel having cut a key submarine cable.

The Groupe de Travail sur la Detention Arbitraire, acting under the UN Commission on Human Rights, has been investigating the conditions of some prisoners currently being held by the Congolese government and sent their report to the government at the end of April. There has been no response as yet. Jeff Kitoko, a reporter for the BrazzaNews, has suggested that this silence indicates that the findings of the report, which list forms of torture used against the prisoners, are valid.

However, the pre-charge detention of American farmer, Marcel Pika, who has now been detained for over 450 days, tells a different story. To expand, despite diplomatic efforts, no progress has been made, and the Congolese governments’ silence on the report can be read, not as confirmation, but as disregard. Thus, with no movement on either front, this election heralds the continuation of these human rights violations and a stagnation of attempts from the Americans to resolve the unlawful custody of Pika.

Additionally, Pika’s children have spoken out against his arrest, attributing it to his having voted against Sassou in the last election. With that said, the continued detention might be a deterrent for this election, but it seems unlikely that, with so many opposition leaders in jail and the state-controlled news dominating, there is any doubt about Sassou’s looming victory. However, there remains the threat of Pika’s fate being repeated following this election, and there seems to be little immunity for a naturalized American, never mind a Congolese citizen.

Meanwhile, aside from the detention of political prisoners, there has been growing violence in the Pool region of the country, in which the president believes insurgents are based. More than 80,000 people have fled their homes and Sassou’s army has carried out aerial bombardments of the region. Although evidence of a resurgence of violence would be damaging for Sassou just before the election, there is difficulty finding out the impact of this attack as many of the displaced are out of the reach of aid workers, and it is unclear what the Congolese voters will base their decision on. As such, the violence looks set to continue, at least until the election.

Behind the possible stagnation of human rights and welfare issues for the country, as Sassou seems about to cement his position for another term, is the prospect of a disturbance. The country is one of the greatest producers of petroleum, but the yield is slowing and something will have to change soon to maintain the financial structures of the country. However, given the president’s disregard for the opinion of his people, this might be one of the only destabilizing forces on his reign, but the way in which he might manage a transition is unpredictable. It is likely, though, that any change made to the status quo would be accompanied with a great deal of violence given the unrest, which is escalating due to the elections.

Therefore, human security, which was never strong, has continued to dwindle. Nonetheless, whatever the outcome of the election, more arrests and more violence seems likely. As well, whether Sassou or the rest of the leadership begins economic preparations for the slowing down of petroleum production, there is likely to be further instability to come.