Congolese ex-army chief to run for president

Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, 71, a former chief of staff of the Republic of Congo's army, denies the accusations of "undermining internal state security" after a 2016 presidential poll in which he placed third (AFP Photo/ISSOUF SANOGO)

Brazzaville (AFP) - A former Congolese army chief and presidential advisor announced Monday he plans to run in the March 20 election and challenge President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has been in power in Congo-Brazzaville for more than 30 years.

"I will be a candidate... I felt called to by the people and I decided to cross the Rubicon," General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko told AFP by phone from Bangui.

"I know the country well, its challenges and its history," the ex-officer in his sixties, who wants "to propose projects and a lot of reforms", said without elaborating.

Congo's military chief from 1987 to 1993, Mokoko is currently special representative of the African Union Commission in the neighbouring Central African Republic.

Mokoko is a longtime ally of Sassou Nguesso, but on February 3 he announced his resignation as the president's advisor on peace and security, a post he had held since 2005.

Later on Monday Gilda Rosemonde Moutsara Gambou, 41, became the first woman to announce her candidacy in next month's presidential vote, running for her small "Free Conscience" party.

"The time has come for a new generation to show the Congolese nation and the whole world that it is ready to pick up the baton," the writer told dozens of supporters.

Moutsara Gambou is the second woman to run for the Congolese presidency. Angele Bandou, a nun, ran in the presidential elections in 1992 and 2002.

She was assassinated in 2004.

Mokoko and Moutsara Gambou become the eighth and ninth candidates vying to replace Sassou Nguesso, who is seeking re-election after winning a referendum that eliminated the constitution's two-term limit.

He led Congo under one party rule from 1979 to 1992, then returned to power after a civil war in 1997 and won multi-party polls in 2002 and 2009.