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Expectations of Congolese as election day nears

Cedric Sehossolo Africanews journalist   -  
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Republic of the Congo

There are now only a few weeks before the presidential elections in the Republic of Congo.

On the streets of Pointe noire, the central African country's economic capital, people go about their daily lives and might appear indifferent as election day approaches. But then there are huge concerns for the future of the country at least for the next five years.

"What we expect from the President is that he will give us work, because unemployment makes young people become bank robbers. If there are jobs, he can stay there for another 30, 40 years". a trader told Africanews correspondent Cedric Sehossolo.

At the popular market, Grand Marche near Rond-Point Lumumba, women call out for customers to come to their stalls.

One of them when asked about her expectations as presidential election approaches, she shouts out that she does not care and chooses instead to lament about her frustrations. "We women suffer. There is no more work for our husbands. Women have become heads of the family. The president needs to do something".

In mid February, President Denis Sassou Nguesso launched the Djambala-Lekana power line, which will be crucial in rural areas where electricity access is less than 10 percent.

"We know the problems. I just have to tell you, before the campaign debates, that with firmness and commitment we have made the decision to face them." the president said.

The visit came as campaigning began for the March 21 elections.

Electricity is one of the top problems in this small country of Five million inhabitants.

"It's true that the national electricity company is right next door, but when they come it's just for expensive bills, but the current is not stable", a Pointe noire resident told Africanews.

Dennis Sassou has ruled Congo for 36 years. At 77 years old, he will not have to fight really to keep his place against seven other presidential hopefuls. But by being the oldest candidate who has refused to retire annoys many.

In 2015, Congo staged a referendum to remove a 70 year age limit and a ban on presidents serving more than two terms. The move paved the way for Sassou Nguesso to secure a third term in elections in March 2016. Nguesso was declared winner of that election, sparking protests and bloodshed.Many still suffer today for those deadly events of 2016.

Retirees in the country watch the political situation with near resignation, but they too suffer. It is a different kind of anger against the 77 year old President Nguesso.

A retired former teaching executive has been eligible for retirement for years, but like the hundreds of thousands like him, pension payments have been rare.

"Retired people are people without much money at hand and it's never been understood how someone who has saved in a bank will be unable to get their savings back. Today we're talking about 28 months of unpaid pension, whereas we have to live and survive on a daily basis". the retiree explains.

Most Congolese people are under no illusions as to who will win the presidential election on 21 March. But many are hopeful for change, given the government's "renewed vigour" to improve basic infrastructure, even if some opposition parties are calling for a boycott.

It is the belief of opposition parties that these elections will be no different from those of 2016, which were marked by strong protests and lack of transparency.

President Nguesso's rivals in 2016, former general Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and former minister Andre Okombi Salissa remain in jail today.

They had disputed the election results, were then arrested, put on trial and each handed 20 years in jail on charges of undermining state security.

It remains to be seen what will happen this time but concern is growing not to mention how and when the country wants come out of its deep economic crisis triggered by the slump in oil prices and worsened by long-standing debt.

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