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Death of opposition leader Kolélas overshadows Sassou's latest coronation

Concerns that another disputed election could trigger more conflict as oil-dominated economy hits more trouble

The death of opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas from Covid–19 has cast a shadow over another orchestrated election victory for President Denis Sassou-Nguesso after voting on 21 March. Internet services were shut down on the previous day and remained out of action for the election and the count.

Sassou-Nguesso, having ruled for 36 of the last 41 years, is certain to win another five-year term.

Video footage confirmed as authentic by Kolélas's aides show the former government minister say that he was 'fighting death,' and urged Congolese to 'stand up and vote for change'.

With opposition parties again facing restrictions on their campaigning, and accusations of bribery and vote-rigging, Sassou-Nguesso will have a wide margin of victory. A bigger question is whether unrest will follow. In 2016, the day after polling day, which was also marked by an telecommunications blackout everywhere apart from the presidential palace and ruling party campaign headquarters, the two leading opposition candidates, Kolélas and former army general Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, were arrested (AC Vol 57 No 7, Sassou makes it modest).

Mokoko was subsequently given a 20-year jail sentence for 'violating state security', while Kolélas reluctantly accepted the result. Prolonged fighting in the Pool region, north of Brazzaville, between government and rebel forces then began, lasting until a peace agreement in 2017.

Despite a stagnant oil–based economy that is in worse shape than five years ago and a debt burden which put the government on the brink of debt distress before the Covid–19 pandemic, Sassou and the first family have retained a tight grip on power and resources (AC Vol 62 No 2, Sassou soldiers on).

The government has launched a $182 million bond issue to finance a series of a series of infrastructure, energy and other public projects at a steep 6.25% interest rate over five years.

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