THE REPUBLIC OF CONGO — The Republic of Congo has long been suffering from political corruption and violent protests. The political crisis in the Republic of Congo has ceased national progress as government officials continually neglect the needs of their citizens and militia groups lead rebellions throughout neighborhoods. Consequently, much of the population in the Republic of the Congo live in poverty. More than half of Congolese live in one of two cities: Brazzaville or Pointe-Noire. This leaves the rest of the country vastly underdeveloped. The country’s economic crisis has continually grown in recent years due to political turmoil.
Tight Grip on Power
Denis Sassou Nguesso has held political power in the Republic of Congo almost consistently since 1979 when he was installed as president by the military. He was recently elected for a third term in 2016. Sassou Nguesso’s long-standing reign is one of the longest recorded in all of Africa. The President’s win, however, did not occur without suspicion.
In 2015, the government called for a constitutional referendum that allowed Sassou Nguesso to run for a third term in office. It was also reported that the government targeted forces of opposition, including other candidates, journalists and critics of the current leadership. This is just one example of political corruption in the Republic of Congo. Its power has become increasingly concentrated despite identifying as a democracy.
The political corruption in the Republic of Congo has caused a considerable backlash. A militia group referred to as “Les Ninjas” (the Ninjas) has led a series of insurgencies in response to government corruption, much of which has plagued several Congolese neighborhoods. International organizations have continually accused the Ninjas of human rights violations since their rise to rebellion during a 1993 civil war.
The human rights violations perpetrated by the Ninjas include acts of genocide, assassinations, rape, theft, fraud and torture. Their founding leader, former Congolese Prime Minister Kolelas, was sentenced to death for the group’s crimes. The group has since greatly decreased in size. Even so, the remaining Ninjas continue to perpetrate violence throughout the Republic of the Congo. Villagers are often the targets of their attacks. During times of war, “combatants reportedly killed hundreds and possibly thousands of unarmed civilians”. This makes the Republic of Congo not only a center of political corruption but one of violence as well.
Due in part to these issues, the Republic of Congo has struggled with persistent poverty. The government monopoly over the oil industry is a primary concern in the country as it is one of the largest oil producers in all of the sub-Sahara. Evidence shows that the state-owned oil company, SNCP, is funneling money towards the nation’s elites. This corruption has also seeped into the forestry industry, mining and timber. These sectors dominate the economy, leaving little to the consumption of private business.
The central government has done little to mitigate the political corruption that has contributed to so much penury in the nation. It has adopted some policies, including the U.N.’s Anti-Corruption Legislation, but judicial enforcement is insufficient. Poor regulation has led to extortion by police and hindered investigations by the Human Rights Commission. Furthermore, the individual rights embedded in the constitution are often limited in practice.
Freedom House Detroit
These issues have led many Congolese citizens to seek refuge and asylum status in other countries. The United States ranks just below Canada in its number of accepted refugees in 2018, suggesting that many Congolese may look to the U.S. as a possible future home. In Detroit, Michigan, genuine efforts to help refugees like those fleeing the Republic of Congo can be found at Freedom House Detroit.
Freedom House Detroit is a home for refugees and asylum seekers from around the world. According to the organization’s Chief Executive Director, Deborah Drennan, Freedom House is unique in that it “[provides]on-site legal aid, including representation at asylum hearings/interviews, on-site counseling, and case management and transportation.” This is the only organization in the U.S. that fully covers costs to provide for its inhabitants. Many of those living in Freedom House come from the Republic of the Congo. In fact, about 75 percent are French speakers who come from sub-Saharan countries.
Drennan believes that there is more than the U.S. can do to provide for and to protect refugees. Foreign aid should focus on “[eliminating]war and violence that creates a refugee crisis.” This insight points a finger at the political corruption in the Republic of Congo. A more stabilized government would deter its citizens from fleeing their homes by increasing comfort and freedoms domestically.
It is no surprise that Freedom House has recently been awarded the Community Project Award. It will stand as a model for current and future organizations looking to provide for vulnerable populations. Freedom House truly shows us that small, spirited organizations can challenge the world’s biggest antagonists, such as the ongoing political corruption in the Republic of Congo.
– Annie O’Connell