The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Republic of the Congo:
1. Economic Instability
According to the 2019 Index of Economic Freedom, the Republic of the Congo’s economic freedom score is 39.7 – much below regional and world averages – making it the 176th freest economy in the world, and 46th out of 47 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Authoritarian and corrupt governance continues to strip citizens of their economic freedom, even though the country ranks among the top ten oil producers in Africa. The economy lacks diversity: the oil sector accounts for 65% of the GDP, 85% of government revenue, and 92% of exports. According to the World Bank, the non-oil sectors are further declining; weakening of activity in public works and construction, transportation, and telecommunications have led to a 5.5% decrease. Additionally, public debt remains unsustainably high. Despite signing a debt-restructuring agreement with China in 2019, the debt ratio is 88% of the GDP, including 62% for external debt. In 2017, the IMF identified the Republic of the Congo’s heavy dependence on oil, unsustainable debt, and weak governance as major obstacles to the country’s economic stability.
2. Indigenous Rights
The indigenous forest dwellers of the Republic of Congo, known by the formerly derogatory term ‘Pygmies‘, make up 10% of the country’s population. These people live in small communities and call themselves ‘forest people’, signifying the importance of the forest to their culture, history, and livelihoods. A large number of these communities have been displaced by conservation projects, logging, farming, and commercial activities in the forests, without receiving any compensation for the loss of their homes and livelihoods. According to UNICEF, 65% of Pygmy children do not go to school, and are often thrown out of class. Not only do these people struggle with poverty, poor health, illiteracy, and the destruction of their cultural identities, but they are also the victims of gross systematic discrimination. Human rights groups report Pygmies living as slaves to Bantu masters, performing forced labour on farmland. The Pygmies are subjected to physical and sexual abuse, with several reports on mass killings, cannibalism, and rape by militant groups. Pygmies have historically faced extensive inhuman discrimination and human rights violations, and protecting them needs to be the number priority for the Republic of Congo.
3. Access to Quality Education
The Republic of Congo faces significant challenges in the education sector: under-development of pre-primary opportunities, high repetition rates, low retention, and poor quality of education are some major concerns. According to UNICEF, over 117,000 children across the country are forced to be out of school due to various social and economic factors. Only 60% of children go on to attend secondary school, with very few higher and vocational education opportunities available. Furthermore, considerable social inequalities plague education, including disparities based on gender, geographic location, and ethnicity.
Access to healthcare services constitutes a critical challenge for the majority of the population of the Republic of Congo. Public hospitals and medical facilities are extremely understaffed and unable to provide effective, quality treatment. The country has only about 0.28 physicians and 1.91 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people. Moreover, the geographical distribution of medical staff and facilities is extremely uneven, with 66% of physicians, 42% of allied health professionals, and 28% of hospital beds located in the capital city of Brazzaville, where 37% of the population is concentrated. On the other hand, the northern rural areas of the country have the fewest facilities, and only about 1.2-2.6% of physicians.
In addition to inadequate access to healthcare, the Republic of the Congo faces difficulty challenging the prevalence of HIV/AIDs. Around 69,000 to 120,000 people live with HIV/AIDs, and the worst affected are children and women. 7.9% of children between the ages of 0 and 14 live with HIV/AIDs, and prevalence is highest among 15 to 49 year-olds, accounting for between 2,800 and 5,400 deaths in 2008. Additionally, the nation is on the WHO’s list of ‘high burden’ countries for tuberculosis (TB) and HIV; tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among HIV-infected patients in the country.
According to World Bank’s 2019 ratings for the ease of doing business, the Republic of the Congo stood at 183 out of 190 – mainly due to an extremely corrupt government. Corruption is widespread and rampant in the country, with GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal reporting a ‘high-risk’ of corruption in every sector of the country’s economy. The country’s governmental institutions are all vulnerable to political interference and patronage, and government officials engage in corruption openly despite anti-corruption regulations in place. Transparency International placed the nation at 165 out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index 2019, with a score of 19 out of 100. President Sassou-Nguesso’s family has made headlines for its corruption and embezzlement of treasury funds for decades. In August 2019, Global Witness revealed that the President’s son, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, stole over $50 million from the country’s treasury to finance his luxurious lifestyle. Several members of the family have been similarly accused in the past. According to Maixent Animba, chairman of the NGO Forum for Governance and Human Rights (FGDH), “it is an understatement to say that corruption in Congo is a general phenomenon”, and that all areas of public life are plagued by it.