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President of Congo Brazzaville kicks off Paris visit to discuss reforms

Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of the Congo Brazzaville, with Sudanese President Omar el-Béchir and the head of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, at the 25th African Union Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, 14 June 2015. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

French President Francois Hollande is meeting Tuesday with Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of the Congo Brazzaville, at the Elysee Palace to kick off a four-day visit that is expected to touch on electoral governance, institutional reform, the crisis in central Africa and the upcoming climate summit in Paris.

Critics suspect that Sassou-Nguesso is preparing to change the constitution so that he can run for another presidential term. They are asking France to take a hard stance against the move.

The meeting is Hollande's latest in conversations about constitutional reform in Africa.

Hollande has condemned constitutional reforms to extend power with France’s African allies at November's Francophone summit in Dakar, as well as in his visit to Benin last week. That was part of a two-day tour in Africa beginning 2 July with Hollande also stopping in Cameroon and Angola.

During the trip, the issue of African presidents changing their laws to remain in power was discussed at length in each country.

Angolan President José Edouardo Dos Santos during the visit said that he would not support the Congolese president if violence were to break out in the country as a result of a constitutional reform. Previously, the Angolan army helped reinstate Sassou-Nguesso in 1997 during the Second Republic of the Congo Civil War.

In Benin, Hollande praised President Thomas Boni Yaya for his decision not to seek a third term. Yaya is seen as an example of how the presidential system can work in Africa, he said.

"You are a country of reference when it comes to democracy," Hollande told MPs in Benin.

"If I am here it is to underscore that examples can be set. Benin has succeeded – not merely its transition but succeeded in fully democratising its institutions. The stability of a country is the stability of its institutions. To respect a constitution is to respect citizens. Accepting the rule of the ballot box is proof of maturity for those in office."

The influence of France over its former colonies is something that is frowned upon in Africa.

Pierre Nglo, the secretary-general of the opposition party, the Congolese Labor Party (PCT), has said he believes Sassou-Nguesso is looking to gain electoral power through help from Paris and that this undermines Congolese sovereignty.