President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Picture: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg/ African News Agency
If it wasn’t for two sons in France sending money, pensioner George Kimbembe says he’d have joined the ranks of the dead in the Republic of Congo’s capital, Brazzaville.

That foreign cash is a lifeline for the 76-year-old former public servant who hasn’t received his pension for 13 months.

It’s a shortfall emblematic of a fiscal crisis engulfing the oil-producing central African country that was battered by lower crude prices, owes creditors more than $9billion (R113.4bn) and is seeking an International Monetary Fund bailout.

“How does the government expect us to survive?” Kimbembe asked. “Some of my fellow pensioners have died because they couldn’t pay for their medication or feed themselves.”

Such complaints are echoed throughout Brazzaville and the broader country of 4.2million people, where companies can’t meet their bills, employees - if they’ve been kept on - wait months for wages and foreign business owners talk of calling it quits.

The IMF says Congo’s economy contracted 4.6% last year, the largest drop since 1994. It may grow an anaemic 0.7% this year.

Ruled for two decades by President Denis Sassou Nguesso and home to sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, Congo is ranked among the world’s 20 most corrupt nations by anti-graft campaigners Transparency International. Authorities are repeatedly accused by groups such as Human Rights Watch of cracking down on political opponents.

The country’s debt has more than tripled since 2010 to more than 110% of gross domestic product. London-based advocacy group Global Witness alleges a series of pre-financing deals by the state oil company were used by people close to or part of Sassou Nguesso’s family as vehicles for corruption. The government has rejected the claims.

The IMF, which had asked for clarity on what Congo owed bilateral and commercial lenders, said last month that it had reached “broad understandings” of policies it could support as part of a bailout deal. It backed government plans for an independent anti-graft body and a system for high-level officials to declare assets, as well as for authorities to have increased oversight of state-owned enterprises, including oil company Societe Nationale des Petroles du Congo.

A new IMF loan programme would run through to 2021 and help Congo rebuild its foreign-exchange reserves, Prime Minister Clement Mouamba said last month. - Bloomberg/African News Agency