China is building a new, $58m parliament for the Republic of Congo as a gift, drawing criticism from a human rights group and the African country’s political opposition.
Long-standing President Denis Sassou Nguesso launched construction of the building in the capital Brazzaville last week on 22 May.
Also present was China’s Deputy Minister of Commerce, Qian Keming, reports Africa News, with AFP.
The project was given to Chinese firm Jiangsu Provincial Construction, with completion scheduled in 40 months.
"This project is helping to open the capital city to modernity", and "remains one of the biggest cooperation projects carried out by China in sub-Saharan Africa in the form of a gift", Jean-Jacques Bouya, Minister in charge of planning of the territory of the Congo said.
But human rights activists and the opposition believe that a new parliament is not a priority for a country fraught with rights issues and political violence in the Pool region.
"A new seat for a Parliament is not a priority," said Trésor Nzila, executive director of the Congolese Human Rights Observatory in Congo.
His position is shared by Clement Miérassa, president of the Congolese Social Democratic Party: "I hope that this Chinese investment will not in the future have an impact on Congo’s debt that has already exploded."
Africa News comments that Chinese investments on the continent are believed to be in exchange for resources: oil and timber in the case of Republic of the Congo (not to be confused with its vast neighbour to the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
"The priority for us is the resolution of the crisis that has shaken the Pool for a year and the improvement of the human rights situation as a whole," Nzila added.
The Pool Region in the south of the country has seen violence since April 2016, following the re-election of President Sassou Nguesso.
The United Nations has said around 13,000 people have been displaced by fresh fighting between rebels and government forces there.
Sassou Nguesso has been president of the country for over three decades.
The Republic of the Congo has just 4 million inhabitants but many are extremely poor. Its economy has been adversely affected by the fall in global oil prices.
Image: Street scene in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, in 2012 (Jomako/CC 3.0)