Republic of the Congo Presidential Election: March 21, 2021

Supporters of the 2015 referendum to remove presidential term limits and allow Sassou to run for another term demonstrate in front of the parliament building in Brazzaville. Elections in the Republic of the Congo have been marred by fraud and violence. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Daniel Massamba (CC BY 2.0)

Freedom House Rating

Not Free
Government Type
Presidential Republic
5.3 million
Presidential Election
March 21, 2021
Parliamentary Elections
July 2022 (due)
Parliamentary Elections
July 7, 2017
Presidential Election
March 20, 2016

The Republic of the Congo (sometimes called Congo-Brazzaville) has scheduled a presidential election for March 21, 2021.

Political Context

Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled the Republic of the Congo as president almost continuously since 1979. Called a “Pierre Cardin Marxist” because of his affection for luxury goods, Sassou has ruled with an iron fist and maintained power by repressing his opponents. He lost an election to Pascal Lissouba from the main opposition party Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS) in 1992. However, Sassou ousted Lissouba in 1997, following a civil war, the country’s second in a decade. He has remained president ever since.

Prior to the 2016 presidential election (the country’s most recent), Sassou Nguesso held a referendum to remove presidential term limits, which sparked protests, some violent. A crackdown on the opposition followed. The opposition boycotted the referendum, and it therefore passed overwhelmingly

The opposition called the last elections, in 2016, an “electoral holdup” amidst widespread reports of electoral fraud and an internet and mobile blackout. Following the election, Sassou jailed his two of his opponents: Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Andre Okombi Salissa.

The 2021 Election in the Republic of the Congo

Sassou is running for yet another term. His Congolese Party of Labor (PCT) unanimously nominated him as a candidate. Six other candidates are on the ballot, although the main opposition (UPADS) is boycotting and thus not running a candidate.

Pascal Tsaty Mabiala was going to be the candidate of Lissouba’s UPADS, which is currently the main opposition party, holding eight seats in the legislature (Lissouba died in August). He served as defense minister during Lissouba’s presidency. However, UPADS announced a boycott of the election in January 2021.

Sassou’s challengers include Guy Brice Parfait Kolélas, who placed second in 2016 with 15 percent of the vote, former finance minister Mathias Dzon, economist Anatole Limbongo Ngoka (himself a former PCT activist).

Many – including the country’s Catholic bishops – believe that the election will not be fair. Moreover, Sassou has purchased a cache of weapons from Azerbaijan ahead of the election. He had reportedly used weapons from Azerbaijan to attack the opposition after the last election. Therefore, this move has raised additional concerns about the elections.

Curated News and Analysis

Al Jazeera (March 21, 2021): Polls open in Congo as main opposition party boycotts election

Matthieu Vendrely, TV5Monde (March 15, 2021 – in French): Presidential in Congo: Denis Sassou Nguesso, chronicle of a presidency for life

Africanews (March 12, 2021): Congo: Human rights activist arrested 10 days before election

Guiseppe Liguori, Focus on Africa (February 28, 2021 – in Italian): Republic of the Congo: Sassou-Nguesso, a bloodthirsty and ruthless tyrant

Khadija Sharife and Mark Anderson, OCCRP (February 22, 2021): Congo-Brazzaville Strongman Buys Secret Weapons Haul from Azerbaijan

Catholic News Service (February 5, 2021): Bishops in Republic of Congo worried presidential election won’t be fair

AFP (January 31, 2021): Main opposition to boycott Congo elections

Elie Smith, Bloomberg (October 22, 2020): Congo Republic Plans to Settle Domestic Debt Ahead of 2021 Vote

Andréa Ngombet, Vanguard Africa (March 20, 2020): We mustn’t allow another sham election in the Republic of Congo

Amnesty International (March 23, 2020): Congo-Brazzaville: Opposition supporters spending fourth month in jail must be released

AP (December 31, 2019): Congo’s Veteran President Set to Run Anew in 2021

21votes does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed in the linked articles; rather, our goal is to curate a wide range of voices. Furthermore, none of the individuals or organizations referenced have reviewed 21votes’ content. That is to say, their inclusion should not be taken to imply that they endorse us in any way. More on our approach here.

Updated March 21, 2021
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