Sassou Nguesso's Son May Vie to Succeed Him as Congo Leader

(Bloomberg) -- Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s son, Denis-Christel, signaled he may try and succeed his father, as he called for the diversification of its struggling, oil-dependent economy.

Sassou Nguesso, 74, is facing growing opposition to his almost four-decade rule after the economy contracted for the past two years following a drop in crude prices. The government owes creditors more than $9 billion and is seeking an International Monetary Fund bailout.

Elections aren’t due until 2021, though opposition leader Clement Mierassa said Sassou Nguesso may call snap polls to head off potential instability stemming from the economic crisis. Denis-Christel said there’s nothing stopping him running for president, as he called for better government performance in a country ranked among the world’s 20 most corrupt nations by Transparency International, an anti-graft campaigner.

“I never said that I was applying for the next presidential election, but that does not mean that in the future of Congo, I will never be a candidate for a presidential election,” Denis-Christel said in an interview from the capital, Brazzaville. “I am a citizen like any other, notwithstanding my name, but I do not see how it should exclude me and prevent me from serving my country.”

Family Matters

Denis-Christel, 43, is a member of the ruling Congolese Labor Party’s decision-making political bureau. He’s also on the board of the state-owned oil-refining company and chairs the Fondation Perspectives d’Avenir, through which he carries out humanitarian work.

Family successions have taken place in other countries on the continent in the past decade. Faure Gnassingbe succeeded his father as president of Togo in 2015, Gabonese President Ali Bongo replaced his father in 2008, and Joseph Kabila has ruled Democratic Republic of Congo since taking over when his father was assassinated in 2001.

Denis-Christel, who is a member of parliament in the family’s hometown of Oyo, last month published a 47-page book that sets out his vision for the future of the $7.8 billion economy. In it, he calls for better access to education and training, healthcare and improved standards of living through policies that foster stronger growth and job creation.

Congo’s economy is forecast to grow 0.7 percent this year, after shrinking 4.6 percent in 2017 and 2.8 percent the year before, according to IMF data.

Oil Reserves

The country has sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. It seeks to join OPEC and is targeting raising output to 350,000 barrels per day.

Debt in Congo has more than tripled since 2010 to more than 110 percent of gross domestic product because of a series of pre-financing deals by the state oil company that have been used by people close to or part of the president’s family as vehicles for corruption, according to Global Witness, a London-based advocacy group. The government has rejected the claims.

“Without strong growth, we will not be able to reduce social and economic divides,” Denis-Christel said. “I call for the mobilization of all actors, civil society as well as the authorities of the state, to do better and more.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.