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Congo’s President visits Plateaux region before election

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The Republic of Congo’s President is on a weekend visit to the Plateaux regions as the country faces a presidential election on March 21.

Denis Sassou Nguesso was there to launch the Djambala-Lekana power line, which will be crucial in rural areas where electricity access can be at 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 comes as campaigning is set to begin.

Sassou has been in power for 36 years and at 77 is the oldest candidate.

He will fight to keep his place against seven other presidential hopefuls.

Sassou Nguesso’s main challengers are Mathias Dzon, 73, former Minister of Finance (1997-2002) and Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, 60, who came in second place in the 2016 vote.

A retired army general, Mr. Sassou Nguesso first ruled the country between 1979 and 1992 under the one-party regime. He has won all polls with contested results since 2002.

One of the longest-serving leaders

The country staged a referendum in 2015 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, which sparked bloodshed.

His rivals, former general Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and former minister Andre Okombi Salissa, disputed the results.

They were arrested, put on trial and each handed 20 years in jail on charges of undermining state security.

Concern has mounted as to if this year’s vote will be free and fair.

Congo is an oil-rich but impoverished country.

The country in the grip of a deep economic crisis, triggered by the slump in oil prices but worsened by long-standing debt and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.