Continued Attacks in Congo-Brazzaville Will Not Topple Government

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016 6.25pm/ BMI Research

BMI View: Sporadic political attacks will continue in the Republic of Congo over coming quarters as resentment towards the government remains high following the changes to the country’s constitution in November 2016, allowing the president to run for another term in office. Nonetheless, these attacks will not reach the point whereby they begin to destabilise the government or undermine Congo’s economic growth trajectory.

Political violence will continue over coming quarters in the Republic of Congo as resentment towards the government harboured by certain elements of the population translate into intermittent attacks.

This follows from the government's rewriting of the constitution in November, which allowed the incumbent president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, to run for another term in office earlier in 2016. In April, armed gunmen attacked various government buildings in the capital, while the Congolese embassy in France was hit by petrol bombs in June.

The likelihood of further attacks weighs on Congo-Brazzaville's political risk profile, encouraging us to revise down the country's score in our proprietary Short-Term Political Risk Index. The country now scores 55.8/100 (with 100 representing minimum risk), compared to a previous score of 58.3 prior to the attacks.

However, this is a small downgrade, informed by our view that these attacks will pose little risk to government stability or to the country's robust trajectory for economic growth. We expect real GDP growth to average 5.6% per annum between 2016 and 2020 on the back of strong growth in crude oil production. So far, the attacks have been only sporadic and limited in terms of their impact on the business climate. In order to warrant a more significant downgrade to our political risk, attacks would to have to escalate in terms of scale and frequency.

In coming months, we expect attacks on government and police buildings will continue.

With a divided opposition and a government accused of stifling fair elections, we believe elements in the wider population feel there is no way to voice their discontent with the status quo, apart from these attacks.

Moreover, the government's aggressive military response to the attacks that have already been carried out has likely worsened tensions between the state and wider population.

Following armed raids on various government, military, and police buildings after the March presidential election, the government carried out a full-scale military campaign in large swathes of territory to the north of the capital, understood to be harbouring those responsible for the attacks.

According to some observers, the death toll has reached the hundreds, increasing antipathy between the government and the large portions of the population which either support the opposition outright or feel the change to the constitution was a step too far.

Further, as the June attack on the Congolese embassy in Paris suggests, this souring of relations is not limited to those domiciled in Congolese territory.

Attacks Will Not Destabilise Government
Despite our outlook for attacks to continue, we do not believe these will reach the level necessary to destabilise the government's position in power. In the three months since the presidential election, anti-government attacks appear isolated from the wider opposition movement.

While the government has attributed the attacks to the Ninja milita group – armed opposition prolific in the 1990s – we believe it is more likely the 'Ninja' label has been used to discredit the attacks by associating them with what is now a largely defunct extremist group.

While the attackers' disparate nature will make it difficult for the government to eradicate the threat entirely, the lack of apparent leadership for this form of opposition will also likely prevent it from becoming a serious threat to the government's position.

Further, the international community has been relatively quiet on the issue of President Sassou Nguesso's constitutional amendments.

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