On March 23, 2021, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Congo's president for 36 years, was officially re-elected with an extraordinary 88.57% of the vote. Entangled in a debt crisis caused by calamitous economic management, the Congolese, already without any great illusions, are once again deprived of political change. The electoral masquerade organized by the Congolese government reminds us of the international habituation to authoritarianism in Central Africa, and reinforces the need to continue the fight for democratic change in Africa, as elsewhere.
The presidential election in Congo-B held on March 21, 2021 was based on poor electoral governance and a political situation that rendered null and void any possibility of a democratic alternation of power. As Tournons La Page Congo pointed out in its report on electoral governance, the entire electoral process, from the census to the counting and validation of results, suffers from legal and institutional shortcomings. Without a new, more reliable electoral register, a fairer electoral division, and reform of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court, the organization of free and transparent elections in the Congo is illusory.
Moreover, civic space has been completely locked since 2015 during the campaign to change the Constitution that enabled President Denis Sassou Nguesso to blow up the two (02) term limit to maintain himself in power. Between 2015 and 2017, the number of political prisoners reached a record level, with nearly 130 detained. The main political opponents, Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and André Okombi Salissa, were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment after sham trials. The kidnapping of Doctor Alexandre Dzabana Wa Ibacka ten days before the last elections, and the arbitrary detention of Raymond Malonga, editor of Sel-Piment, a satirical newspaper, since February 2, 2021, attest to the actions of a government allergic to any dissenting voice.
As in 2016, the March 21, 2021 presidential election was held behind closed doors. The refusal to issue accreditation to the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Congo (preventing them from deploying their observers on polling day), the cutting off of internet, social networks and SMS, not only bear witness to violations of the right to information and freedom of expression, but also and above all to the opacity in which the said election was organized. Finally, freedom of the press was also violated when RFI's special correspondent Florence Morice was refused accreditation to cover the elections.
During the vote, Tournons La Page members observed numerous irregularities. These included: the absence of election materials (ballot boxes, polling booths, etc.) and documents (electoral lists, voters' registers), which in many cases led to the merging of polling stations; unsealed ballot boxes; counting carried out outside several polling stations: refusal to hand over results reports to opposition candidates' delegates; failure to post results reports in front of each polling station; violent expulsion of voters wishing to attend the ballot counting, which is supposed to be public under the new article 97 of the electoral law.
The proclamation of the provisional results in 72 hours leaves any informed observer in doubt, given the extremely difficult logistical conditions surrounding all elections in the Congo, which make it impossible to centralize the results so quickly. Could this haste be due to a desire to bring the election to a close as quickly as possible, and take the wind out of the sails of the political opposition, which could call for a postponement of the election following the death of candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolélas? Article 70 of the Congolese Constitution is in fact quite clear on the fate of a presidential ballot in the event of the death or definitive impediment of one of the candidates: "If before the first round, one of the candidates dies or is definitively impeded́, the Constitutional Court pronounces the postponement of the election". Alas! Respect for the Constitution is not one of the habits of leaders and institutions in the Republic of Congo.
Faced with this situation, the Tournons La Page movement offers its support and solidarity to its activists and all civil society organizations who are fighting, despite violence and repression, for a better future. We also extend our condolences to all the Congolese people who are mourning the death of candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolélas.
We also call on the international community, following the example of the United States of America (which is calling on "Congolese political leaders to adhere to the democratic principles of good governance") to take action and stand firm in the face of one of the continent's most repressive and corrupt political regimes. From this point of view, it must:
Condemn the cutting off of the Internet, the non-accreditation of independent national observers and the electoral fraud observed;
Demand that the Congolese authorities publish election results on a polling station-by-polling station basis, so as to enable monitoring of the compilation of results and the transparent handling of potential electoral disputes;
Demand the immediate release of political actors, civil society and journalists arbitrarily detained, and ensure the protection of human rights defenders calling for democracy, notably through political and financial support as defined in the European Union's guidelines in this area.
We call on the European Union to integrate the demand for democracy into political discussions, by setting up biometric electoral files on the one hand, and to make official development aid more conditional on the holding of genuinely free, fair and transparent elections, the consequence of which is the installation of responsible and accountable leaders.
We call on France to be a greater guarantor of the need for democratization in French-speaking African countries, as decided at the 1990 France-Africa summit in La Baule and endorsed by French President François Mitterrand.
We ask the African Union to enshrine the aspiration of African peoples to democracy and freedom, values which guided the struggles for decolonization and independence, and to encourage all its member states to sign and ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, which the Republic of Congo signed on June 18, 2007, but has not yet ratified.
Marc ONA ESSANGUI, President of Tournons La Page (TLP)
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Laurent DUARTE, Tournons La Page International Coordinator (TLP)
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