Congolese ‘dinosaur’ will remain despite age debate after decades in power

Brazzaville. Denis Sassou Nguesso’s 40-year rule in Congo-Brazzaville has sparked a debate over the appropriate age for a president, and the African ‘dinosaur’ is already expected to win the next elections that will not be held until 2026.

The former paratrooper was president of Congo-Brazzaville from 1979 to 1992 under a single-party regime, then returned to power in 1997 after a civil war and has dominated politics ever since.

Nicknamed the “emperor”, Sassou Nguesso, who is officially 80 years old and still fit, is expected to run for a fifth term in 2026.

“He doesn’t hide it,” a diplomat told AFP.

Last September, a rumor of a possible coup spread on social media following a series of coups that have shaken the Sahel since 2020, including in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Gabon. But all remained calm in the oil-producing country.

After successive elections in 2002 and 2009, Sassou Nguesso took the presidential reins in 2016 and 2021 by making a constitutional change in 2015 that circumvented the original age limit, 70, and increased the number of terms from five years to three.

Sassou Nguessou can be considered one of the so-called “dinosaurs” of the continent, said Thierry Moungalla, government spokesman and Minister of Communication, but he remains in office.

“The Congolese regime is still here,” although the younger regimes have been swept away “by the pro-Russian junta,” Moungalla noted.

Also for Parfait Iloki, spokesman for the Congolese Labor Party (PCT), a Marxist-Leninist turned social democrat of the president, old age can be a good thing. “It’s not a problem, it’s wisdom.”

“Expelling the ruling party has never led to anything,” Iloki said.

“By the way, how old is the president of the world’s leading power?” he joked, alluding to US President Joe Biden, 81.

But Congo also recently saw Senegal elect its youngest president yet, 44-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

“Senegal has a democratic tradition… here I don’t see how a change of this nature could happen,” said chaplain Jonas Koudissa, director of the Catholic Academy of Ethics in Brazzaville.

For Koudissa, Congolese politicians “lack vision” and take advantage of their situation but do not care about the future of their country.

In 2015, protests against a constitutional change led the government to tighten the reins, explained Maixent Animba of the Forum for Governance and Human Rights.

The protests “mobilized many people” and “the regime realized that it was hanging by a thread.”

“In general, we are going backwards… in terms of freedom of expression, access to state media, the right to demonstrate and recognition of parties and NGOs,” Animba added, citing electoral fraud, embezzlement of public funds, privatization and a power judicial “under orders.” “.

“We are not afraid, but we are cautious.”

The people milling about the streets of Brazzaville echoed Animba’s caution.

“Here we are careful what we say, otherwise we will end up in prison,” admitted a taxi driver on condition of anonymity. “Sassou will never leave.”

While shopping at the Total market, Brazzaville’s eldest Eveline, 55, agreed: “We want new blood.”

‘Where does the money go?’

Shoppers in the market’s muddy aisles agreed that life is too expensive and difficult, with dire impacts on daily life.

“A clan has a lot of money, but we don’t,” adds Eveline, who is also a mother. “There is no work, our children’s diplomas are at home, we cannot receive medical treatment.”

To make matters worse, fuel prices have increased in recent months.

The government spokesman explained the increase as the need to respond to the International Monetary Fund’s call to end fuel subsidies and move toward “real prices.”

The inhabitants of Brazzaville also deplore the frequent electricity and water cuts and wonder “where the money goes” from oil.

Opposition leader Pascal Tsaty Mabiala believes money is being misappropriated, especially in “eye-catching projects” such as the twin 30-story towers recently added to the capital’s skyline on the right bank of the Congo River.

He added that he believes that Denis Sassou Nguesso will run for re-election in 2026, facing an all-powerful PCT and a fragmented, muzzled and resourceless opposition.

“We are a little tense, as if we lack confidence in ourselves,” lamented the opposition leader.