By Ford, Neil
African Business , No. 335
In contrast with neighbouring Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville seems to have finally stemmed the fall in oil production and something of a recovery may be underway.
The economy has also been boosted by reforms that have led to debt cancellation and even praise from the IMF, just a couple of years after the multilateral condemned the lack of transparency in government accounting.
The recent elections may have helped to calm the troubled Pool Province, so could Congo-Brazzaville be about to embark on a period of economic growth and increased security?
Congo-Brazzaville's instability stems from conflict motivated by oil revenues and the three civil wars that devastated the country between 1997 and 2003.
Although President Denis Sassou-Nguesso has managed to retain power, rival factions have been able to operate their own armed forces in the country since the end of the most recent conflict.
Most notably, the Ninja group--led by Frederic Bitsangou, otherwise known as Pasteur Ntoumi--has held sway in much of Pool Province, thus preventing the government from establishing its control over the entire country. However, in preparation for the June legislative elections, Bitsangou set up his own political party, the Conseil National des Republicains or National Republicans Council, to contest the polls.
The government demanded that the Ninjas lay down their arms in order to stand for election and talks between the two sides resulted in an agreement. Around 250 Ninja troops are to be integrated into the national army and Bitsangou himself was allocated the post of deputy minister of humanitarian Affairs in May, giving him the task of "healing the wounds of war and promoting peace". It remains to be seen if he will retain his ministerial position and whether the Ninja peace deal will hold, as the National Republicans Council failed to win a single seat in the polls.
The elections were shrouded in controversy and independent observers condemned interference in the electoral process. Voting failed to take place in two seats but Sassou-Nguesso's Parti Congolais du Travail or Congolese Labour Party (PCT) took 124 out of the 135 seats declared. Nevertheless, the elections may come to be seen as something of a breakthrough in the sense that the conflict in the Pool could be at an end.
Highest ever oil revenues
The government's position has also been strengthened by high oil prices. Oil revenues in 2006 were the largest on record, mainly because of the high international price, but domestic output has also recovered slightly.
Production fell from its peak of 300,000 barrels a day (b/d) in 1999 and then to about 235,000b/d in 2004 but has recovered to about 255,000b/d this year.
Production on the country's most mature fields is continuing to fall but new discoveries have been made that have boosted proven reserves from 1.5bn barrels to 1.6bn barrels over the past year, as new finds have finally managed to outstrip the rate at which reserves are being eroded.
The country's main producer remains Total, which operates the biggest field, the shallow water Nkossa project on the Haute Mer permit, with production of about 70,000b/d and reserves of 500m barrels. …