BTI 2010 | Congo, Rep. Country Report

Key Indicators

Population (M) 3.6
Pop. growth 1 (% p.a.) 1.8
Life expectancy (years) 54
Urban population (%) 61.0
HDI 0.60
HDI rank of 187 136
UN Education Index 0.74
Gender inequality 2 -
GDP p.c. ($) 305
Gini Index 47.3
Poverty 3 (%) 74.4
Aid per Capita ($) 33.7
Sources: The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2013 | UNDP, Human Development Report 2013. Footnotes: (1) Average annual growth rate. (2) Gender Inequality Index (GII). (3) Percentage of population living on less than $2 a day.

Executive Summary

During the period under review, the transformation of the Republic of Congo (also referred to as Congo-Brazzaville) was marked by political and economic consolidation after years of civil war and violence, and it is under a still-fragile peace process. With the support of Angola and France, the Sassou-Nguesso regime was able to turn the tide of civil war (1997; 2002 – 2004), thereby consolidating its political power and stabilizing the state’s authority. Thanks to both political stabilization and a boom in oil prices, the economy also improved. However, Congo-Brazzaville’s political transformation did not in any way mean democratization. Rather, the outcome of the transformation and consolidation process has been a caricature of democracy that props up an authoritarian and largely personalized regime that relies largely on clientelistic networks and corruption. The opposition remains weak and is unable to challenge the government effectively. The regime has been able to consolidate its position against potential challengers with divisive bait-and-switch tactics. The regime is more threatened by internal divisions than it is from outside forces. Economic stabilization, which helped to consolidate the political system and the peace process, was organized by policies modeled on IMF and World Bank conditionality, which opened up the opportunity for Congo-Brazzaville to gain access to debt relief. The implementation of market-economy policies has been slow, however, while the urgently needed diversification of the economy has not yet materialized. The management and steering capabilities of the government to promote economic as well as political transformation are still limited. Transformation in terms of political democratization, economic liberalization and deregulation is initiated by external pressure from the IMF, the World Bank and other donors; reforms do not originate in domestic politics. Policies to stimulate the development of the country should include a campaign against corruption. Educating and empowering women, youth and children should become a political priority.

History and Characteristics of Transformation

The political and economic transformation of the Republic of Congo began in 1989/1990. Domestic and external pressures combined to convince the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist government of General Denis Sassou-Nguesso to take steps in the direction of major political and economic change. Given the country’s historical burdens and structural weaknesses, transformation became an extremely conflict-ridden affair, inciting insoluble power struggles, political violence and civil war, which caused considerable destruction of infrastructure, serious disruption of parts of the economy and tremendous hardships for a substantial portion of the population. Thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands uprooted, with most of them becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs), while smaller numbers left the country as refugees. Congo-Brazzaville was repeatedly wracked by political turbulence and waves of violent destruction between 1993 and 2002, raising serious doubts about the country’s ability to manage transformation.

The country’s political conflicts began in 1960, when it won its independence from France. The colonial power left the country without providing for a political environment that would have ensured stability and socioeconomic prosperity. Ethnic rivalry, social and regional disparities, and mounting power struggles over the control of oil, the main export product, all resulted in two decades of political instability and crisis. Weak leadership, military coups and political murder – including that of the most prominent victim, President Marien Ngouabi, in 1977 – have endangered the country’s future. Although in 1970, two years after the 1968 military coup, a “People’s Republic” under the one-party rule of the Parti Congolaise du Travail (PCT) was established, the country became politically stable for a decade only after Sassou-Nguesso seized power in 1979. Under his leadership, the “People’s Republic of Congo” consolidated as a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist state with much encumbering state involvement in economic, social and cultural affairs.

After the fall of several eastern European communist and African autocratic governments in 1989/1990, the Sassou-Nguesso regime officially renounced Marxist-Leninist ideology and introduced a multiparty system in 1991. A national conference brought together the major political forces of the country, paving the way for a new constitution and the renaming of the country from the “People’s Republic” to the “Republic” of Congo. The constitution that was endorsed in a national referendum included articles regarding the separation of powers, multiparty rule, civil liberties and human rights.

In the elections of 1992 and 1993, Sassou-Nguesso and the PCT lost power to a coalition of political parties under the leadership of Pascal Lissouba, who became the new president of the country. Although Lissouba, who was politically committed to democratic and market-economy structures, won the second ballot by 61% against Bernard Kolélas (Sassou-Nguesso came in third in the first round), the results of the 1993 legislative elections were violently disputed. Violence between militias loyal to Lissouba, Kolélas and Sassou-Nguesso escalated to such an extent in 1993/1994 that Brazzaville was eventually compared to the then-war-ravaged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. In the Congolese capital of Brazzaville, the violent power struggle was fuelled by political rivalries that overlapped with divergent ethnic and regional constituencies.

Lissouba and his political party, the Union Panafricaine pour la Démocratie Sociale (UPADS), were primarily backed by the so-called Nibolek region (which comprises the administrative units of Niari, Bouenza and Lekoumou) in the central-southern part of the country, which is inhabited by a number of ethnic groups, including the Bemba, Teke and Nzabi. Kolélas and his Mouvement Congolais pour la Démocratie et le Développement Intégral (MCDDI) had their strongholds in the Bacongo population, especially the Lari subgroup, in Brazzaville and the surrounding Pool region in the extreme south. By contrast, Sassou-Nguesso, the PCT and the majority of the country’s military officers had their roots in the Mbochi ethnic group of the central-northern part of the country. The Bacongo, a highly heterogeneous group with many subgroups that were first subordinated by a centralized state power in the pre-colonial Congo kingdom, make up about 50% of the population, which is divided into 15 main ethnic groups and over 70 subgroups. Second in number are the Teke and related groups, with a population share of around 20%. By contrast, the Mbochi constitute a minority of about 12%. Given their supremacy in the military, however, they are a much stronger power in the country than their numbers might suggest.

In October 1997, Sassou-Nguesso was able to return to power after a civil war that raged for five months. His victory was due to both decisive military support from Angola and political backing from France. While Lissouba and Kolélas fled into exile, forces loyal to them reorganized under the umbrella of the Conseil National de Résistance (CNR) and its military wing, the Force d’Autodéfense et de Résistance (FADR). These forces, however, were no match for Sassou-Nguesso’s military might, and the government has been able to impose a “national dialogue” (Dialogue National sans exclusif) and peace regulations on them since 2001, which included disarmament and amnesty for combatants who were willing to lay down their arms. The government’s legitimacy was further consolidated when Kolélas and Lissouba were sentenced in absentia in 2000 and 2001, respectively, the former to death and the latter to 30 years of hard labor.

With the backing of Angola and France, the second Sassou-Nguesso regime was able to impose a new political system on the country, largely by military supremacy rather than negotiation. More than four years after the takeover, this system was founded on a new constitution endorsed by a national referendum in January 2002. Like that from the 1990s, this constitution included articles concerning the separation of powers, multiparty rule, civil liberties and human rights, but it also strengthened the president’s position, including his or her right to dismiss the prime minister. Subsequently, Sassou-Nguesso and the PCT, in coalition with a huge set of allied parties and self-proclaimed “Independents,” won the presidential, legislative, senatorial and local elections (March – July 2002) with tremendous margins, owed mainly to substantial irregularities. The elections were overshadowed by ongoing violence in the Pool region, where balloting was impossible in eight out of the 12 electoral districts. These elections enabled Sassou-Nguesso and his political allies to establish and maintain a strong authoritarian-style government, which has committed human rights violations.

Owing to its military supremacy, in March 2003, the Brazzaville regime was able to impose a peace agreement on a CNR militia still inhabiting the Pool region, which was now headed by a Protestant clergyman and commander named Frédéric Bitsangou, also known as “Pasteur Ntoumi.” The Congolese government started working with international donors to demobilize and disarm combatants and rebuild the region’s shattered infrastructure. However, rebel mistrust of the government continued, and quite a few of them refused to lay down arms. While hundreds of thousands of IDPs and refugees returned to their regions of origin, the process of demobilizing, disarming and reintegrating former militia fighters has been much-delayed by continued mutual distrust between the government and its armed opponents. The World Bank-sponsored Programme National de Démobilisation, de Désarmément et de Réinsertion (PNDDR) and the EU-supported Projet de Collecte d’Armes pour le Développement (PCAD), which were both launched in 2005, gained momentum only gradually. Some 5,000 combatants remained under the control of Ntoumi in mid-2008 in spite of another peace deal that had been imposed on his militia in May 2007. Ntoumi himself continuously refused to come out of the “bush,” although the government officially appointed him to serve as the general delegate in charge of promoting peace and post-conflict reconstruction. Nevertheless, there were also signs of optimism regarding peace when the government was able to hold ceremonies of weapons and ammunition destruction beginning in 2006. One of these ceremonies took place in the vicinity of Brazzaville in September 2008.

Even today, despite the peace deals, the situation in parts of the Pool and Bouenza regions remains fragile. In Brazzaville, bloody clashes occurred in October 2005, when Kolélas was allowed to return to the Republic of Congo for the burial of his wife and, again, in September 2007, when Ntoumi was scheduled to arrive at the Congolese capital to assume his government post. While Ntoumi did not go to Brazzaville because he feared for his personal safety, Kolélas came back in 2005 under an amnesty granted to him on the initiative of Sassou-Nguesso himself. At a later point, the MCDDI leader was rewarded for choosing to work for peace under the Brazzaville regime. By contrast, former president Lissouba preferred to stay in exile (he has been in France since 2004), although Sassou-Nguesso stated in 2007 that he would allow his return and annul the 2001 jail sentence. (In late 2008, there was a sign of symbolic rapprochement between the actual and the former president when their spouses met in France to pray for peace in their country.)

The process of political transformation in Congo-Brazzaville has been overshadowed and shaped by violent power struggles. Efforts to transform the country’s economy from a highly state-interventionist (“socialist”) system to a more market-oriented system have also been impeded by these conflicts. Since the 1990s, violent conflict, economic crisis and poverty have fuelled each other. Each successive conflict has brought about further economic decline and heightened social tensions. Impoverished and marginalized groups make easy prey for political activists, and some of the poorest youth have been lured into militia groups.

As a consequence of violence and war, the performance of the domestic economy – agriculture, industry and services – has been adversely affected. However, since 2003, there have been substantial reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in these sectors. This is reflected in the above 5% GDP annual growth of the non-oil economy during the period between 2003 and 2007. By contrast, the oil sector, which is largely concentrated in the offshore region close to Pointe-Noire, remained largely intact even in wartime. For decades now, oil has formed the backbone of the Congolese export economy, accounting in 2007 for 62% of GDP, 81% of state revenues and 92% of total export earnings.

The main export product could have produced a major source of funds to redirect the economy toward diversification, less state intervention and more market integration. However, oil has actually catalyzed power struggles over the control of the allocation of state and foreign exchange income. Since the oil sector in Congo-Brazzaville is dependent upon the technology of multinational oil companies from abroad, Congolese power struggles have been overshadowed by competition between major French and U.S. oil companies. Eventually, France’s TotalFinaElf became a major player in the Congolese oil industry after Sassou-Nguesso regained power in 1997.

Congo’s violent power struggles have seriously disrupted, delayed and protracted the transformation process toward a market economy, although Brazzaville governments have been under strong pressure by the IMF, the World Bank and other donors to move in the direction of IMF-style stabilization policies since the early 1990s. However, it was only in 2004, seven years after its return to power, that the Sassou-Nguesso regime was able to conclude a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) agreement with the IMF, stretching to June 2008. Subsequently, Congo-Brazzaville concluded debt-rescheduling agreements with the Paris Club in 2004 and 2006, and the country gained access to the IMF and World Bank HIPC debt-reduction initiative in 2006. In November 2007, London Club creditors were ready to concede a comprehensive debt-relief arrangement, too. In order to gain the benefits of the external debt arrangements, Congo-Brazzaville remains obliged to implement IMF-style economic programs that combine the objectives of economic recovery and transformation with improvements in poverty reduction.

Still, performance under the PRGF agreement has been unsatisfactory, according to IMF criteria. Thus, the PRGF has been replaced by (IMF) staff-monitored programs stretching from April to September 2007 and January to June 2008, paving the way for a new PRGF arrangement in December 2008.

The BTI combines text analysis and numerical assessments. The score for each question is provided below its respective title. The scale ranges from 1 (worst) to 10 (best).

Transformation Status

I. Political Transformation

Democratic transformation has been overshadowed and shaped by major power struggles, violence and war. Although the 2002 constitution calls for the foundation of a democratic system, Brazzaville-style political procedures and processes remain authoritarian and mostly centered around the person of President Sassou-Nguesso. Political competitors are not able to seriously challenge the democratic constitutional order. The heterogeneity and weakness of the opposition indirectly strengthen the regime’s political position. Despite de jure multiparty rule, the Congolese political system is effectively run by a single party. The opposition’s only leverage is to boycott elections and other political procedures.

Over the last two years, the government has continued to corrupt the political process by buying out at least parts of the opposition. It has been able to do so by using windfall state revenue caused by the global market boom in oil prices.


1 | Stateness

Monopoly on the use of force

The monopoly on the use of force is intact in most regions within the Republic of Congo. Nevertheless, there are instances in which members of the security forces act independently of government authority, committing what are sometimes serious human rights abuses.

As a result of years of war and violence, parts of the Pool and Bouenza regions, which are not easily accessible, remain fragile despite continued efforts to enforce the March 2003 and May 2007 peace deals. IRIN reports stated in mid-2008 that about 5,000 combatants were still under Pasteur Ntoumi’s command, while 19,000 ex-militia fighters were ready to demobilize. Ntoumi himself, who had been appointed general delegate in charge of the promotion of peace and post-conflict reconstruction by Sassou-Nguesso, has repeatedly refused to go to Brazzaville, alleging that he fears for his personal safety.

State identity

Constitutionally and legally, all people born in the Republic of Congo are citizens. While citizenship itself is not disputed, major discrimination patterns between the country’s ethnic groups are common. According to the constitution, Congolese citizens are allowed to change their nationality or to adopt the citizenship of another country without losing their Congolese citizenship. So-called Pygmies suffer systematic discrimination that amounts to a withholding of citizenship rights.

No interference of religious dogmas

The constitution provides for the separation of church and state, and Article 18 unequivocally forbids the use of religion for political aims. Catholicism, by far the largest denomination in the country, exerts a strong influence on the government leadership. However, the social and political influence of other Christian denominations – such as Protestantism, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism – is growing. In total, the population is largely Christianized, although remnants of traditional African religions remain strong, especially in rural areas. About 2% of the population practices Islam.

Basic administration

Administrative and public security systems are in place, but their performance is impaired by corruption, low professional skills, ethnic rivalries and heterogeneous state structures. Decentralization is not working well, and state authority remains a highly centralized affair. Administration is further complicated by the number of languages spoken in Congo-Brazzaville; however, there are two national languages, Kituba and Lingala, which enable communication with most of the country’s population.

2 | Political Participation

Free and fair elections

The 2002 constitution calls for free and fair elections with universal suffrage, but elections organized within that framework have been corrupted by both the regime’s dominance and the opposition’s weakness. As was the case in 2002, the 2007 national parliamentary elections were marred by irregularities and widely viewed as poorly run and highly disorganized, and four district results were overturned by the judiciary. These elections, as well as the 2008 senatorial by-elections and 2008 local elections, reinforced the supremacy of the PCT and President Sassou-Nguesso, who consistently refrains from promoting an open, competitive multiparty system. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the regime’s commitment to holding free and fair elections had been poor in recent years.

Under these circumstances, the 2007 parliamentary elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties after the government ignored calls to create an independent electoral commission. Parties and individuals who want to participate in the political process can only have influence if they work within the framework imposed by the regime. Opposition parties and civic organizations wield very limited power. Opposition candidates suffer from low funding and inadequate organization, and they also receive less media coverage. Elections in Congo-Brazzaville are best described as forced consent to the regime.

Effective power to govern

The government is not elected democratically, but it is able to rule effectively, although there are persistent difficulties with the consolidation of state authority in some conflict-ridden regions. Since the president’s power base is the military, it is highly unlikely that the military would act as a veto power. However, were the 2009 presidential elections (against all expectations) to result in a new regime, the military would have to be considered a significant potential veto power.

Association / assembly rights

According to the constitution, political and civic organizations can form freely. However, the political system is shaped in favor of those organizations close to regime. Organizations representing interests contrary to those of the regime are allowed to exist, but their influence remains limited. The civilian political opposition is fragmented into more than 100 organizations and remains too weak to confront the government effectively.

Freedom of expression

According to the constitution, opinions may be expressed freely by citizens, political and civic organizations as well as the mass media, including those based online. In reality, this freedom is restricted and regulated when it comes to criticism of the regime and its political priorities. However, the authorities allow moderate criticism as an outlet to ease political tensions. In the 2008, the Republic of Congo ranked 92nd out of 173 countries in the World Press Freedom Ranking of Reporters Without Borders and 106th out of 195 countries in the Freedom House’s Global Press Freedom Rankings, which classified the country as only “partly free”.

There are 15-20 small private (mostly weekly) newspapers, which are concentrated in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The state publishes one newspaper. Some private newspapers are closely allied with the regime. The government has been slow to loosen its grip on the broadcast sector and continues to run the Radiodiffusion-Télévision Congolaise (RTC). The political profile of private radio remains generally low. Political parties are not permitted to run their own radio or television programs. Internet sites that are radically critical of the regime can only operate outside the country. However, individuals and groups can engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including via e-mail, inside the country.

3 | Rule of Law

Separation of powers

The 2002 constitution provides for the separation of powers, including an independent judicial system and an effective “fourth power,” the media. In practice, however, there are not adequate checks and balances among these powers, since President Sassou-Nguesso and the “barons” of his political party, the PCT, dominate all sectors of the political, judicial and media systems, including the government, both chambers of the national parliament, the Constitutional Court, other high-level courts and the broadcast media. Control mechanisms exercised by the legislative powers, the courts or the media are almost nonexistent (or exist only on paper). Political decision-making remains in the hands of the president and his closest advisers and allies in the PCT. Constitutionally, the president cannot be removed from office by a parliamentary vote. On the other hand, the president is not allowed to dissolve the parliament.

Independent judiciary

While the judiciary is independent in theory, in practice it continues to be overburdened, underfinanced and subject both to political influence and corruption. In general, it is largely politically compliant to the Sassou-Nguesso regime. From time to time, politically motivated judgments are handed down against regime opponents (e.g., in the cases of Lissouba and Kolélas). Moreover, after years of civil war and political instability, the technical capacities of the judiciary are still weak. There is a serious lack of trained staff members who are able to work effectively when it comes to administering the rule of law. As a consequence of the weaknesses of the “modern” system, traditional courts retain broad jurisdiction, particularly in rural areas.

Prosecution of office abuse

In theory, officeholders may be prosecuted under criminal law in cases involving corruption, abuse of power and high treason. In practice, however, evidence of such prosecution is extremely limited. If prosecution occurs, it is more motivated by the desire to remove and weaken potential competitors than by the desire to strengthen the rule of law. Sometimes, critics of corruption are more likely to be punished than corrupt lawbreakers. For instance, two anti-corruption activists who had been arrested and fined in 2006 for demanding more transparency in the oil sector suffered further harassment by the judiciary and other state actors in 2007.

Civil rights

Civil liberties (e.g., freedom of the press, expression, assembly and religious affiliation) are guaranteed by the constitution. Nevertheless, though it has improved since 2002, the general human rights record of Congo-Brazzaville still remains poor. Nevertheless, the government claims to be committed to improving human rights and civil liberties by creating a National Human Rights Commission and renaming the Ministry of Justice the “Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.” However, this approach lacks credibility.

To begin with, Congo-Brazzaville still numbers among those countries that inflict the death penalty. Nevertheless, capital punishment is currently not being carried out, according to Amnesty International. In addition to having the death penalty, human rights violations remain serious, including arbitrary arrests, physical abuse, torture, rape, killing (e.g., beating to death) and perpetrator impunity. Remnants of non-state militia continue to threaten the human rights and civil liberties of Congolese citizens, too. As is traditional in Congolese society, women and children suffer considerably from discrimination and violence, including sexual harassment, rape, compulsory labor, forced prostitution and human trafficking. The state does not effectively protect them. Moreover, there is strong discrimination against ethnic minorities, including some 300,000 non-Bantu Pygmies (which amounts to a de facto denial of citizenship). In most regions of the country, local ethnic majority populations discriminate against local minority ethnic groups. Since the state does not protect the population, citizens sometimes resort to vigilante justice, including killing suspected criminals. It remains very difficult in Congo-Brazzaville for citizens to get justice for human rights violations committed by state actors. For instance, families of 353 refugees who “disappeared” without a trace in the 1999 “Beach” incident after returning to the Republic of Congo continue to search for legal avenues to pursue their claims of criminal wrongdoing by individuals and the Congolese government. They do not accept a 2005 Brazzaville court ruling that acquitted 15 members of the state security forces of charges of committing crimes against humanity related to the unsolved fate of these 353 persons. Human rights groups and relatives of the missing have claimed they were arrested, tortured and then executed upon returning to Congo-Brazzaville from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo on the shore of the Congo River. They also claim that the security forces suspected them of backing a rebel group. The government has assumed responsibility for the disappearances in general terms without conceding any individual’s guilt. In 2006, the Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal.

4 | Stability of Democratic Institutions

Performance of democratic institutions

Despite its essentially undemocratic character, the institutions of the executive and legislative branches, the government and parliament seem to be relatively stable. However, conflicts, clientelism and corruption threaten stability. Public administration and the judiciary suffer from pervasive corruption, a lack of professionalism and poor performance. The legitimacy of state institutions may be at risk.

Commitment to democratic institutions

A large part of the population is unable or unwilling to challenge the stability of these institutions. However, powerful vested interests within the PCT framework, including the military as well as remnants of armed non-state actors, may be a matter of concern. The stability of the Republic of Congo’s institutions will be put to the test in the 2009 presidential elections.

5 | Political and Social Integration

Party system

A heterogeneous and fragile multiparty system emerged from the transformation process of the early 1990s that was fragmented along ethnic, communal and regional lines. From the civil-war years of 1997 to 2002, however, by co-opting many small parties and “Independents,” the former single-state party, the PCT, has been able to restore its political supremacy in the country. In 2007, the PCT-led coalition, including the MCDDI and other then co-opted opposition parties, won a commanding majority of 125 out of 137 seats in the National Assembly. In August 2008, the PCT-dominated Rassemblement de la Majorité Présidentielle (RMP), which had been formed in late 2007 by some 60 independent organizations, gained 33 out of 42 seats in a partial renewal of the Senate. In the June 2008 local elections, the RMP and other pro-presidential parties took 614 out of 846 contested seats. Still, the RMP remains a loose alliance rather than a united entity, and the PCT itself has limited support outside of its northern strongholds. Thus, there is a perpetual need to build and maintain coalitions in order to organize a “majorité présidentielle.”

A large part of the opposition has been co-opted into the presidential system, attracted by the oil-wealth allocations offered by the regime. For instance, the MCDDI, under the leadership of Kolélas, eventually chose to cooperate with the PCT and the RMP. Since the MCDDI has a strong constituency in the Bacongo ethnic group and in Brazzaville, the coalition is important to Sassou-Nguesso for the purpose of national reconciliation, which he administers in a patronizing way . However, the relationship with the MCDDI remained uneasy and burdensome during the period under review, and in 2008, there were serious indications that the MCDDI might choose to act as a genuine opposition party once again. Apart from the MCDDI, major opposition parties include the Union Panafricaine pour la Démocratie Sociale (UPADS) and the political party-turned CNR forces, which was officially renamed the Conseil National des Républicains in 2007.

Opposition alliances formed in 2007 include the UPADS-led Alliance pour la Nouvelle République (ANR) and the Alliance pour la République et la Démocratie (ARD), an extra-parliamentary platform headed by the Parti Social-Démocrate du Congo (PDSC). However, the viability of these alliances may be as limited as the viability of the former opposition alliances that eroded before the 2007 elections. Many of the opposition parties are burdened with internal problems, including a lack of resources, organization and personnel as well as internal frictions and leadership struggles. Many parties seem to be dependent upon a single person. One of the erstwhile relevant opposition parties, the Union pour la Démocratie et la République (UDR-Mwinda), almost faded away when its leader, former Prime Minister André Milongo, became sick long before dying in 2007.

In general, the political opposition outside the PCT-RMP caucus appears weak and fragmented, which is reducing the checks and balances on the executive in the country. None of the opposition parties enjoys a powerful political base at the national level. Political parties and alliances are largely based on regional frameworks, although there are few real policy differences between them. For the most part, the leadership of opposition parties and alliances appears almost as personalized and autocratic as it is at the PCT-RMP level.

Interest groups

The regime’s stranglehold on power seriously impairs the ability of civic organizations to mediate between social forces and the political system. The topography of interest groups is meager, and important social interests (e.g., those of informal-sector workers, the rural population and women) are underrepresented. The trade unions, including the PCT-friendly Confédération Syndicale des Travailleurs Congolaise (CSTC), the Confédération des Syndicats du Congo (CSC) and the Confédération des Syndicats Libres et Autonomes du Congo (COSYLAC), focus on basic issues important to their members, but they try to avoid direct political conflicts. In the area of human rights, organizations such as the Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH), the Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme (RPDH) and the Commission Justice et Paix (CJP) are striving to establish themselves as independent and trustworthy forces, but they have to act carefully in order to avoid repression. Some of the most influential players are church leaders who have stressed the importance of national reconciliation and criticized, for instance, the lack of transparency and accountability in the handling of state resources, particularly oil.

Approval of democracy

There is no empirical evidence regarding the citizens’ consent to democratic norms. While the official voter turnout ratios of 77.5% at the 2002 constitutional referendum and 74.7% at the 2002 presidential election were highly suspect because of irregularities at the polls, international observers have estimated voter participation in the 2007 parliamentary elections and the 2008 local elections to be very low. Although no official figures have been published, the Economist Intelligence Unit has spoken about an “estimated 10-15%” voter turnout in the 2008 local elections.

However, the unwillingness to support the voting procedures imposed on the Congolese electorate by the government should not be misinterpreted as a lack of consent to democratic norms. Rather, staying away from the ballot box might indicate a certain degree of frustration, disillusionment and silent protest among a growing majority of the people.

Social capital

Poverty, along with the low standard of economic and social development of the non-oil sectors of the country, has impaired the ability of individuals and society to organize. Although oil is the backbone of economic development and the elites, the majority of the population is forced to rely on the informal sector and subsistence agriculture to survive. Extended families, village communities and women’s groups are major frameworks of solidarity and self-organization. Within these forms of self-organization, interpersonal trust appears to be high. In other contexts, matters are different; due to the series of wars, interpersonal trust has remained low.

II. Economic Transformation

Congo-Brazzaville continues to face enormous challenges left over from years of civil war and political turbulence. After the rule of law was formally restored in 2002, the country has also been in urgent need of economic and social reconstruction. While the oil and gas sectors concentrated in the Pointe-Noire coastal region have remained largely intact, even during the worst times of war, the non-oil economy and infrastructure, particularly in the regions between Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville, have been severely damaged. Since 2002, the Sassou-Nguesso regime has not only faced the challenge of reconstruction but also the pressure of the IMF and international creditors to transform a strongly state-interventionist economy into a free market economy. During the period under review, progress has been made only slowly toward a more market-oriented economy; but poor infrastructure, rampant corruption and burdensome regulation discourage investment. Moreover, the government has resisted World Bank pressure to improve transparency in the oil sector, which accounted in 2007 for 58% of GDP, 91% of exports and 81% of government revenue.

6 | Level of Socioeconomic Development

Socioeconomic barriers

In the UNDP HDI update of 2008, Congo-Brazzaville attained an HDI value of 0.619, ranking 130th out of 179 countries. Congo continues to be wracked by severe social, economic and regional disparities that are a consequence of its one-sided integration into the global market economy, corruption and incompetence in government and economic management. Oil has been the backbone of the Republic of Congo’s economy for decades, a fact which was reinforced by the global market boom beginning in 2004, which translated into windfall revenues that benefited the treasury and the Sassou-Nguesso regime. The oil sector is concentrated in the coastal zone near Pointe-Noire, which is the economic capital of the country. Oil is a capital-intensive industry with low labor requirements. As such, it remains an enclave in a country where 40% of the population still lives in rural areas and an estimated 50%, suffers from poverty, according to national standards. In 2007, agriculture, fisheries and forestry combined contributed 6% of GDP, while non-oil industry, mining, energy and construction made up 11% and services made up 25%. Much of the non-oil-based GDP is generated in the informal sector.


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Sources: The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2009 | UNESCO Institute for Statistics | International Labour Organization, Key Indicators of the Labour Market Database | Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Yearbook: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security.

7 | Organization of the Market and Competition

Market-based competition

The government is moving from a state-run economy to a more market-oriented system, but progress has been slow, and the country remains plagued by corruption, deficiencies in the rule of law and inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Although the regime has been forced to pursue economic policies in line with IMF and World Bank conditions, the economy was still classified as “mostly unfree” in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation. Between 2006 and 2008, the Republic of Congo’s score improved only slightly, while in the ranking, the country dropped from 143rd to 146th out of 157 countries.

Despite the government’s avowed commitment to pursuing market-oriented policies, including the privatization or restructuring of some major SOEs, the Republic of Congo still has a long way to go before it will have a fully functioning, competitive market economy. In particular, the IMF has urged the Republic of Congo: “to bring the internal controls and accounting system of the state-owned oil company (Société Nationale des Pétroles du Congo, SNPC) up to internationally recognized standards; prevent conflicts of interests in the marketing of oil; require SNPC officials to publicly declare and divest any interests in companies having a business relationship with SNPC; and implement an anti-corruption action plan with international support.”

Anti-monopoly policy

There is no information regarding anti-cartel legislation. However, there is clear evidence that state monopolies operate in “strategic” sectors of the economy, including that of oil. In a sometimes cat-and-mouse-like game, the Sassou-Nguesso regime tries to defend state monopolies against external pressure to liberalize and deregulate the economy, but it sometimes has to compromise in order to appease the IMF, the World Bank and international donors.

Liberalization of foreign trade

Although the Republic of Congo is officially committed to the liberalization of its economy, to a large extent, the foreign trade regime remains under the control of the state and its actors. The most significant barriers include import and export quotas, restrictive import licensing rules, bureaucracy, government export-promotion programs, an inefficient customs service and, once again, corruption.

Banking system

The financial sector and the banking system have been largely privatized. Major banks, including Crédit du Congo, BGFI Bank Congo, La Congolaise de Banque and Banque Commerciale Internationale, are now in foreign private hands (e.g., from France, Gabon and Morocco). Ravaged by war and political turbulence, however, the financial sector is still weak and in need of further consolidation. The state is still dealing with non-performing loans accumulated by formerly state-owned banks before privatization owing to poor management and political interference

Regulation and supervision is inadequate, and there is no functioning capital market. A micro-finance sector, which aims to support small-scale projects, especially in rural areas, is being developed. Non-resident investors face bureaucratic obstacles to getting access to loans in CFA francs.

II. Market Economy

Congo-Brazzaville continues to face enormous challenges left over from years of civil war and political turbulence. After the rule of law was formally restored in 2002, the country has also been in urgent need of economic and social reconstruction. While the oil and gas sectors concentrated in the Pointe-Noire coastal region have remained largely intact, even during the worst times of war, the non-oil economy and infrastructure, particularly in the regions between Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville, have been severely damaged. Since 2002, the Sassou-Nguesso regime has not only faced the challenge of reconstruction but also the pressure of the IMF and international creditors to transform a strongly state-interventionist economy into a free market economy. During the period under review, progress has been made only slowly toward a more market-oriented economy; but poor infrastructure, rampant corruption and burdensome regulation discourage investment. Moreover, the government has resisted World Bank pressure to improve transparency in the oil sector, which accounted in 2007 for 58% of GDP, 91% of exports and 81% of government revenue.

8 | Currency and Price Stability

Anti-inflation / forex policy

As a member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC), Congo-Brazzaville uses the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro. Thus, the stability of the currency is to a large extent influenced by decision-making in the euro zone. Another important factor is the monetary policy of the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), the central bank of the CEMAC countries, which is located in Yaoundé, Cameroon. According to the IMF, BEAC policy aims to maintain price stability and strengthen the external position of CEMAC members. Congo’s average annual rate of inflation scored 3.8% between 2006 and 2008. One risk factor regarding price stability at the national level is the world market boom in oil and gas prices, which has raised Congo’s export income and state revenue to unforeseen levels since 2004. As a result, the country has not only received large surplus amounts of foreign exchange but has also faced the challenge of a major increase in the amount of money in circulation. Given the Congo’s dependency on food imports, inflationary pressures can also be attributed to soaring international food prices. Moreover, local effects of the global financial crisis, which began in 2008, may also be a cause for major concern.


Driven by the global market boom in oil prices, Congo-Brazzaville produced high GDP growth and mounting budget surpluses beginning in 2003. At the same time, the inflation rate was moderate, the current account assumed a positive trend and the relative and nominal amounts of external and general public debt took an impressive downturn. Moreover, the GDP share of government consumption was considerably reduced. As a result, the government used windfall oil profits to consolidate its macroeconomic and external economic position, which at the same time, still struggling to cope with the damage caused by civil wars during the period between 1993 and 2002. Thanks to its compliance with IMF conditionality, the government was able to conclude debt-rescheduling agreements with the Paris Club (2004, 2006) and to gain access to major debt relief offered by the HIPC initiative beginning in 2006. The government also succeeded in concluding a debt-restructuring agreement with London Club creditors. Subsequently, the external debt of the country fell from 81.5% of GDP in late 2006 to an estimated 58.3% in late 2008, with the potential for a further decline to 42.8% by late 2010.

Nevertheless, macrostability is highly vulnerable to challenges of any kind caused by national or international developments in the oil sector. This was underlined in 2007, when a severe accident at an important oil platform (in Nkossa) not only caused a drop in oil production from 98.7 million barrels in 2006 to 81.7 million barrels, but also a 1.6% decline in overall GDP. At the same time, the current account plunged from a 2.3% ($176 million) GDP surplus to a 19.3% deficit ($1.479 million), while the inflation rate fell from 4.7% to 2.6%. As the oil sector recovered in 2008, GDP growth was estimated to be at 9.1%, inflation at 4.0% and the current account at a 10.7% GDP surplus ($1.410 million). However, projections for oil production have been readjusted from a high of 105 million barrels in 2008 to 89 million barrels. Given the supremacy of oil, the general impression is that macrostability lacks a diversified economic base.

9 | Private Property

Property rights

The state remains a major property owner of both real estate and land. The Heritage Foundation, speaking on behalf of the interests of private investors, has complained about “increasing evidence of the weakness of property rights protection” in Congo-Brazzaville. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has mentioned “security risks to business in Congo” resulting from “the lack in clarity of regulation, and slow and poorly functioning government institutions on which investors may depend for routine matters.” The EIU has also complained that the “security of contracts and the enforcement of justice cannot be guaranteed through the slow-moving justice system.” The country’s overburdened and insufficiently funded judicial system offers limited protection for business and property rights.

Private enterprise

The Brazzaville government is under strong pressure to improve the investment climate for private, and especially foreign, capital. Bowing to the IMF and the World Bank, the government has declared its official commitment to encouraging private-sector investment and to allowing the privatization of state-owned enterprises. There are several major obstacles to privatization, including vested interests within the state elite that wish to retain public ownership, a lack of political will to ensure the smooth privatization of state companies, and areas of political instability and corruption that act as disincentives to private investment. The very poor performance of the Brazzaville government regarding the private-sector issue has been reflected in the World Bank report “Doing Business 2009,” which ranked the Republic of Congo 178th out of 181 countries assessed.

10 | Welfare Regime

Social safety nets

In the Republic of Congo, most people are forced to rely on family and community structures as the social basis of survival. Subsistence agriculture and the informal sector shape the living conditions of a large majority of the population. For employees in the formal economy, a basic social security system has been established that provides for insurance in cases of accidents, illnesses, disability, old age and death, as well as maternity and family allowances. Moreover, a legal minimum wage is in place. Retired high-level civil servants and state employees are supported by the Caisse de Retraite des Fonctionnaires (CRF), whereas the Caisse Nationale de Sécurité Sociale (CNSS) is responsible for other beneficiaries. Since the state coffers have profited from the oil boom in recent years, President Sassou-Nguesso announced a substantial increase in payments for 2007, but the amounts available for most beneficiaries remain generally low. With international assistance, special programs have been created for demobilized civil-war combatants in order to encourage their reintegration into civilian life.

Equal opportunity

Equal opportunity does not exist. In particular, there are strong biases in terms of ethnicity and gender. There are institutions tasked with compensating for gross social differences, but they are limited in scope and quality. Discrimination against women is ubiquitous in most sectors of the economic, social and political systems, while access to – and exclusion from – opportunities is highly dependent on the ethnic origin of the individuals involved. Discrimination also limits access to secondary and tertiary education as well as to public office.

11 | Economic Performance

Output strength

While the oil sector has remained largely insulated from the ravages of war, the domestic economy and infrastructure, especially in the southern part of the country, have suffered substantial damage. Reconstruction and rehabilitation have been supported by international assistance since 2002, while the oil sector has continued to dominate export earnings, state revenue and GDP. The oil boom was stimulated by increasing international demand and high market prices, which have in turn led to increased reconstruction, rehabilitation and economic development. The generally strengthened internal and external position of the economy enabled Congo-Brazzaville to cope with the accident in the oil sector in 2007 (see “macrostability”). In the crisis year, the economic downturn (-1.6% growth) could be alleviated by robust growth (6.6%) in the non-oil sectors driven by domestic demand. As oil production was projected to recover, the IMF estimated that GDP growth rates would stand at 9.1% in 2008 and 12.5% in 2009. Since the beginning of the new constitutional dispensation in 2002, the non-oil economy has consistently displayed high growth rates. They climbed from figures above 5% to almost 6% in 2006 and climbed even higher, to 6.6%, in 2007; and they were projected to climb to 6.9% in 2008.

As Congo-Brazzaville is in the midst of a long-term period of postwar reconstruction and economic stabilization, economic trends remain erratic and fragile, depending largely on oil revenue and the level of national oil production. Although the subsistence subsector of agriculture is an important part of the economy in terms of employment and food provision, agriculture in general is also a sector traditionally neglected by governments and their developmental policies. Thus, Congo-Brazzaville remains heavily dependent on food imports to meet the needs of the urban – and increasingly urbanizing – population. Moreover, the industrial sector outside the oil industry remains fairly weak, and the tertiary sector does not form a pillar of the economy strong enough to compensate for losses caused by a downturn in the oil industry.

12 | Sustainability

Environmental policy

The Republic of Congo is a country of tropical rainforests, which still cover more than half of its territory. However, wood is harvested on a commercial scale and, after oil, it is the second most important source of foreign exchange income. Deforestation, soil erosion and the pollution of the air, soil and water are the Republic of Congo’s primary environmental concerns. The country is also slightly affected by the local and subregional consequences of global warming, which sometimes means less rainfall than is usually expected and, at other times, heavy rains and flooding. A special sphere of environmental concern is the oil-producing region in the vicinity of Pointe-Noire, which brings especially high risks of pollution to the air, soil and water. Ecological aspects of sustainability remain secondary in the formulation of economic policy; foresting licenses are often dispensed with little or no consideration of environmental impact. However, the Brazzaville government has chosen to participate in international – and, especially, central African – agreements on protecting tropical rainforests.

Education policy / R&D

Education and training facilities are mostly concentrated in the large cities of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, and most of the country does not have sufficient educational institutions. Furthermore, although the education sector was significantly damaged during the civil war, the government has worked hard to rehabilitate it with international assistance. For instance, the gross enrollment rate at primary schools, which had plunged to a meager 50% in 1999, recovered to 108% (and 102% for girls) in 2006. Major deficiencies of the education sector were reflected in the net enrollment rate, which was only 55% (and 52% for girls) in the same year.

Research and development are nascent at best. Shortcomings in the education and technology sectors form a huge obstacle to the country’s economic and social development.



I. Level of Difficulty

Structural constraints

Although the high price of oil has produced a windfall of revenue in recent years, the political leadership’s governance capacity is constrained by the Republic of Congo’s extremely high dependence on the export of oil and the international raw-material markets. Policy implementation at all levels is mitigated by: vulnerability to external economic forces and globalization; insufficient and still-damaged infrastructure; domestic ethnic, regional and social conflicts; the weakness of civil society; and high levels of corruption.

Civil society traditions

Traditions of civil society outside the PCT caucus are still weak in terms of political power, but there are organizations dedicated to modest reform. These organizations are careful to articulate their positions in the least threatening manner possible, since criticism of the regime could result in a political backlash. As a rule, civil society organizations and NGOs avoid political statements that may provoke an unpleasant reaction from the state; instead, they pursue low-profile political issues in order to protect their specialized fields of activity from state interference. Many civil society organizations have an ethnic or ethno-regional basis.

Conflict intensity

Ethnic, regional and social conflicts, including mass poverty, all contributed to the political turbulence and civil wars in the 1990s and early 2000s. These factors may also seriously endanger the peace and political processes, as well as social and economic development, in the years to come. Congolese society remains torn by conflicts that are boiling under the surface in an only superficially pacified country.

II. Governance Performance


14 | Steering Capability


In order to overcome the problems posed by its violent recent past, the government must improve its governance and tackle corruption. Although the present government is aware of the scope of the problems it faces and has enacted policies to improve performance, policy implementation leaves much to be desired. The management capabilities of the government, the administration and individual actors are too limited to usher the country into a better future of sustainable development.

Given its large majority at the national parliamentary level, the political leadership should be able to organize its policy agenda without worrying about political competition. IMF, World Bank and donor pressure influence policy formation. The government lacks the capability and qualified personnel in the areas of administration and security that it needs to rule the country effectively and without external support. The steering capability of the political leadership is hampered by conflicting vested interests in the ruling political elite. A severe shortage of qualified professionals also adversely affects institutional capacity and effectiveness. The government is almost entirely preoccupied with short-term political needs, but it is occasionally able to articulate long-term developmental plans. The leadership is officially committed to building democracy and a market economy, but its strategic aims are not commensurate with the country’s situation, problems and needs. The government does not formulate security, political, social, economic and environmental policies consistently enough to articulate clearly identifiable objectives and strategic priorities. Even if policies convey the impression of being in line with such objectives and priorities, the government does not really intend to follow these lines at all costs. Sooner or later, policies are corrupted by vested interests of at least parts of the state elite. Economic diversification and political decentralization, for instance, are both desirable objectives, but they are predicated on the economic and political history of the country with its one-sided dependency on oil at the economic level and the heterogeneity of the population at the political level. Both objectives were subsequently adopted as valuable objectives by the government. Although the government is able to formulate such objectives and priorities, the realities of policy implementation are different. Economic diversification, for example, is far from coming to the surface, given the fact that the oil sector is still dominant. In the political sphere, administrative decentralization has not resulted in any real transfers of powers and competencies from the state to regional and local authorities. Although the constitution calls for a decentralized state, it effectively remains a highly centralized state.


The political leadership appears to understand the goals of both constitutional democracy and a socially responsible and ecologically sustainable market economy. However, the government tends to execute policies derived from these insights only when pressured by the IMF, the World Bank or other international actors.

The 2004 PRGF arrangement with the IMF went off-track in late 2006 as a result of, as the IMF put it, “unsatisfactory macroeconomic and structural policy implementation, largely because of poor monitoring, weak ownership and political pressures to spend aggressively as world oil prices continued to rise.” In June 2007, for instance, the PRGF agreement that was meant to cover the period through June 2008 was replaced by a so-called (IMF) staff monitored program (SMP) covering the period between April and September 2007. However, the implementation of the SMP was “not satisfactory,” according to the IMF, which made a move back to the PRGF arrangement impossible. Thus, the 2007 SMP was followed by another SMP that covered the period between January and June 2008. This, in turn, paved the way for a new PRGF arrangement in December 2008, which would be followed by further debt relief under the enhanced HIPC initiative of the IMF and the World Bank.

Policy learning

The political leadership responds to mistakes and failed policies with small adjustments. Yet, once again, this only happens under external pressure from the IMF, the World Bank or other actors. Subsequently, failed policies are not corrected until they have failed completely or only when the economy displays indisputable symptoms of deterioration. Such slow policy learning makes the donor community reluctant to commit further resources to the Republic of Congo.

15 | Resource Efficiency

Efficient use of assets

Due to the power of vested interests, the government uses only some of its available oil resources efficiently. To some extent, government officials and their entourages consume state resources themselves. For example, as a result of clientelism, the cabinet comprises over 36 ministers. According to IMF figures, the budget took a positive turn in the years following 2002, but this was due mainly to the international boom in oil prices, which boosted the Congolese economy by inflating export income and state revenue. The government used some of these resources to repay debts and to reduce domestic and foreign debt. The state bureaucracy currently employs about 68,000 people, a high level that has not been reduced despite long-standing donor pressure. The IMF, the World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit consider this number to be too high. Furthermore, the bureaucracy suffers from a lack of skills and professionalism since it is, to a large extent, shaped by ethnic and regional clientelism rather than by merit.

Policy coordination

The government has tried to balance conflicting objectives and interests in the allocation of resources, but it often fails. Vested personal and corporate interests remain opposed to the government’s goals of economic diversification and decreased reliance on the oil sector. Different parts of the government tend to compete with each other, often with counterproductive effects.

Anti-corruption policy

Congo-Brazzaville takes part in the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The government has committed itself – rhetorically, at least – to combating corruption and to implementing mechanisms of good governance. Nevertheless, under the pressure of vested interests in the state apparatus, the government is unable to effectively fight corruption. The IMF has given some political credit to the government for its steps to reform the state oil company, to privatize a troubled bank (COFIPA) and to reintegrate the country into the so-called Kimberley process regarding “conflict diamonds,” to which the Republic of Congo was officially readmitted in November 2007. However, these improvements are overshadowed by a generally unsatisfactory performance when it comes to issues such as governance, transparency and corruption. In general, corruption is rampant at all levels and is considered a major obstacle to reforms by international observers, such as World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

16 | Consensus-Building

Consensus on goals

In the rhetoric of the regime, a market economy and democracy are major political objectives. As such, on a superficial level at least, these objectives are shared by a large part of Congolese society. It is, however, highly doubtful whether the government and the political forces backing it are really committed to a market economy and democracy. Sassou-Nguesso himself, as well as strong factions in the PCT, acted as major advocates of state interventionism and one-party rule from the 1970s through the 1990s. If they are now presenting themselves as advocates of a market economy and democracy, this is due to the dominant international political climate and the need to gain the support of the donors rather than to a whole-hearted change of mind. The real advocates of democracy and market economy are more likely to be found in the weak opposition parties and in civil society. Despite a referendum and a state-orchestrated “national dialogue,” the government unilaterally imposed the new constitutional order rather than negotiating it multilaterally. In essence, substantial consensus-building has not taken place.

Anti-democratic actors

In general, the political forces supporting the government of Sassou-Nguesso and the PCT appear to be able – when they want – to exclude any actors that are not ready to cooperate with the government either politically or by force. Powerful veto actors have been defeated by divisive political maneuvers, including the use of force and incentives to allow co-optation. Given the authoritarian-style approach of the government, it is doubtful whether economic and political reform is really on the agenda. In this sense, the government itself is a major anti-reform veto actor.

Cleavage / conflict management

As the recent history of the Republic of Congo clearly demonstrates, the country’s conflicting political forces have not been able to manage political cleavages in a peaceful manner. Although the government has worked hard to integrate as many political and military forces as possible into the new system created in 2002, major ethnic, regional, social and political cleavages remain. There is still a potential in Congolese society for the eruption of violence, which is difficult to assess in concrete terms. Given the absence of deeper processes of reconciliation and reintegration, the risk of renewed violent conflict cannot be ruled out.

Civil society participation

In general, owing to its indisputable military strength and political supremacy, the political leadership shows more of an inclination toward ignoring civil society actors than to taking them into account. Nevertheless, the government does attempt to integrate conflict-prone elements that are likely to cause trouble.


Reconciliation between victims and perpetrators of past injustices is a very difficult affair in Congo-Brazzaville. The political leadership and the government are less involved in this than the churches and other religious and cultural actors. Religious leaders are a respected non-partisan voice in the country. They were already associated with the campaigns for democracy in the early 1990s, and they stressed the importance of national reconciliation as the foundation for sustainable peace. Governmental approaches to reconciliation and dialogue, which began as early as 1998, have had limited success because they have been imposed from above and, consequently, not accepted by many in the country. Moreover, although a round of talks conducted in 2001 was termed “Dialogue Nationale sans exclusive,” the approaches were not inclusive. Political and societal forces that have radically challenged the Sassou-Nguesso regime have been excluded from such talks. Radical forces have had to accept the peacemaking conditions set by the government if they want to participate. For instance, political leader and former Prime Minister Bernard Kolélas was granted amnesty from a death sentence in 2005 when he declared his readiness to work for peace within the government’s political framework.

17 | International Cooperation

Effective use of support

Following its violent return to power in 1997, as a consequence of the stigmatization of non-constitutional takeovers by major powers and international organizations, the Sassou-Nguesso regime was internationally isolated. However, the government has been able to restore sustainable working relationships with most political groupings, including the European Union, the United Nations, the African Union and some African subregional organizations. Reacting to the electoral victory of Barack Obama in November 2008, the Brazzaville government stated its readiness to improve its still-uneasy relationship with the United States. China is an increasingly important partner to the Sassou-Nguesso regime (both are interested in expanding Chinese stakes in the Congolese oil, forestry and mining sectors). France has remained the regime’s main Western sponsor. Moreover, Sassou-Nguesso continues to be backed by Angola, which is ready to renew its military support for his regime (it remains unclear whether Angolan troops are still present in the country).

Major donors in the country are the World Bank, the European Union, France, the African Development Bank and organizations within the United Nations system. Following the years of civil war and political turbulence, the Brazzaville government has made strong efforts to restore full reintegration into the international community and to foster the image of being a reliable and disciplined partner that has democratic norms and stabilization-oriented macroeconomic policies and uses external support in line with the needs of reconstruction, development and poverty reduction. The country works closely with international donors and generally uses international support to improve its policies. In general, political actors strive to cultivate cooperative international relationships. Although the government works with bilateral and multilateral international donors (e.g., the IMF and the World Bank), this does not facilitate significant policy learning and improvement. In order to improve its international image, however, the government has tried to make effective use of the resources provided by international partners. Nevertheless, corruption and a lack of transparency work as counterproductive factors.


In general, the government tries to present itself as a credible and reliable partner in its relations with the international community. This is especially the case at the levels of the United Nations, the African Union and other international organizations, with which the country can gain positive standing without much financial and political cost. Thanks to its image of reliability, Congo-Brazzaville was chosen to become a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council (for two years), and Sassou-Nguesso was chosen to lead the African Union for one year, beginning in January 2006.

Regional cooperation

In general, the political leadership cooperates with many neighboring states and complies with the rules set by regional and international organizations. Relations with neighboring states are fairly positive. Even relations with the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, which have been traditionally difficult, are currently stable. A special relationship has been established with Gabon, whose president, Omar Bongo, is married to Edith Lucie Nguesso, Sassou-Nguesso’s daughter. The Republic of Congo is committed to subregional organizations, such as the CEMAC and the Communauté Economique des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale (CEEAC), as well as to other recently agreed-upon security frameworks. For instance, the Sassou-Nguesso regime has contributed troops to the CEMAC peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic. The Brazzaville government also took part in international subregional agreements on protecting tropical rainforests. In a broader subregional context, the Republic of Congo is striving to improve its relationship with the regional powerhouse, South Africa.

Strategic Outlook

The Republic of Congo remains burdened with political and economic problems. The government remains only barely capable of managing sustainable political and economic transformation. Congolese democracy is more of an imposed system shaped to the advantage of the Sassou-Nguesso regime than a system suitable for developing full-scale democratic structures. Economically, the country is still characterized by a high level of state intervention. Although, when pressured, the country has taken steps toward introducing and implementing IMF- and World Bank-style policies directed at the emergence of a market economy, vested oil interests still wield a great deal of power and influence. Corruption continues to adversely affect considerable parts of the economy and society.

No major change can be expected from the presidential elections of 2009. Most probably, President Sassou-Nguesso and his political coalition will continue to dominate the political scene. The opposition outside the PCT-RMP caucus will presumably remain marginalized. It is more likely that growing dissent within the ruling coalition will cause change rather than that there will be a challenge from outside. Regarding the mid- and long-term transformation of the country, ambitious rehabilitation and development objectives have been set, and they were formulated in the framework of the 2004 poverty reduction and growth program that went off track in 2006. Major aims are to: consolidate peace and good governance; consolidate the macroeconomic framework and recovery of the key productive sectors; improve access to basic social services and social protections; develop basic infrastructure; and strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDS, which is becoming more and more problematic.

The following factors may be considered essential in developmental terms:

• An anti-corruption campaign: Since rampant corruption is one of the main impediments to rehabilitation and development, the fight against it should be intensified. Measures should go beyond economic incentives, specific legislation and administrative measures; the culture of corruption must be targeted. For instance, the educational system should combat this culture of corruption.

• Empowerment of women: Women have a major role to play in the country, and they are the group that is most seriously affected by AIDS. Thus, empowerment measures – including improvements in education, qualification and literacy – are crucial to the development of Congo-Brazzaville. Discrimination against women is a serious impediment to development that can be prevented through increased educational opportunities for girls and women at all levels of the educational system. Education should also teach boys and men to accept gender equality as a strategic objective that is of vital importance to the country’s future.

• Social service provision to children and youth: Since impoverishment and disillusionment among Congolese youth heavily contributed to the violence of the civil war, the empowerment of children and youth is a vitally important factor for the future development of the country. Empowerment could assume the form of education, vocational training and job creation, as well as the provision of opportunities for leisure-time activities. Peace education, including instruction on nonviolent solutions to conflict situations, would also help greatly in preventing violent conflict.

• Education and training: Given the importance of education and training in the areas stressed above, improvement in education is highly crucial to the future development of the country. Although the importance of education has been identified in various reports, as well as in political action, this issue should receive greater attention.