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Moyen-Congo - Political Developments, 1958-63

On November 28, 1958, the day of the referendum for the French Community, the assembly met in session at Pointe-Noire, which was at that time the seat of government. At the session, one of the MSA deputies defected to the UDDIA, giving Youlou's party a one-vote margin. Youlou immediately called for the formation of a new government headed by the UDDIA and announced his intention to make Brazzaville the capital. MSA militants attempted to attack the defecting deputy in revenge, and gendarmes were called into the assembly to restore order. The MSA refused to continue the session and walked out, leaving the twenty-three UDDIA deputies to elect Youlou as premier without opposition.

Rioting broke out in Pointe-Noire, and the UDDIA councilors quickly departed for Brazzaville. Early in December, Youlou named his cabinet and made Brazzaville the temporary seat of government. The ethnic tensions, solidified by the rival political parties, con-tinued to mount until they finally erupted in open fighting between the Lali and Mboshi groups in February 1959. The battle continued for four days, with scores of deaths and hundreds of homes burned before French officials and gendarmes were able to restore order. Opangault was arrested along with several other MSA leaders.

In the midst of the February disorders, the UDDIA-controlled assembly voted approval for a national constitution, which served to transform the provisional government to the government of the Republic and to aid Youlou to further consolidate control. New elections were called for June 1959, and the governing UDDIA, in a move to insure a sizable victory, increased the number of assembly seats and redrew the electoral districts in order to place a majority of Kongo in as many districts as possible. The elections resulted in fifty-one of the sixty-one seats going to the UDDIA.

Shortly after the elections, rioting occurred between the minority of Matsouanists who had refused to follow the leadership of Youlou and UDDIA militants. The resisting Matsouanists continued their refusal to pay taxes, carry the required identity card, or permit a census in their villages. Bands of young Lali commandos attacked the Matsouanists and continually harassed them on the streets and in the market places. When order had been restored, Youlou proclaimed a general amnesty to ease the situation, and Opangault and other MSA leaders were released from prison. In July, however, there were new and more serious clashes with the Matsouanists, in which nearly forty persons were killed. Youlou moved sternly to crush the movement and ordered the arrest and exile of its leaders to the area of Fort-Rousset.

In the fifteen member cabinet formed by Youlou after the June 1959 elections, two ministries were given to the MSA as a gesture of conciliation. The post of president of the assembly went to a UDDIA leader, Alphonse Massamba-Debat. When Opangault was released from prison on July 5, he was allowed to take his assembly seat as an MSA deputy. Later, in August 1960, he was named minister of public works and, in June 1961, vice president of the republic. Through a mixture of repression and appeasement, Youlou successfully reduced the power of the MSA and brought Opangault and other opposition leaders to a position of cooperation with the government.

On November 21, 1959, the National Assembly made Youlou the president of the republic, in addition to his position as prime minister. During the following months, Youlou and the other UDDIA leaders continued to consolidate political power and were in firm control when the country became fully independent on August 15, 1960. A referendum on March 2, 1961, approved a new constitution that provided for a strong presidential regime. Youlou was the only candidate in the presidential elections that followed the referendum, receiving 88.4 percent of the vote.

Under Youlou's leadership the Republic of the Congo maintained close ties with France and expressed a general pro-Western sentiment, fostering accusations by the more militant African leaders that the government was a tool of the forces of neocolonialism. During the attempt by Moise Tshombe to secede the Katanga region from Congo (Kinshasa), Youlou risked the wrath of other African nations and supported the secession movement.

The decision of the National Assembly in August 1962 to give Youlou the power to rule by decree was followed by an announcement of his intention to unite all political forces in the Congo into a single national party. Although this declaration was supported, at least publicly, by the leaders of the other parties, Opangault decided to resign his government posts and withdraw from public life.

Opposition to Youlou's one-party proposals arose during 1963, par-ticularly among the trade unions, through which members expressed their discontent with the lack of economic progress. The trade union movement had been stronger in the Congo than in any other territory of AEF, and the growing labor opposition posed an important threat to the Youlou government. When tension between the unions and the administration increased, Youlou arrested two prominent labor leaders and decreed a ban on public meetings.

On August 13, 1963, the trade unions called a general strike, and thousands of workers demonstrated in protest against the actions of the government. Youlou unsuccessfully attempted to bargain with the labor leaders. On August 15 he announced his resignation in order "to prevent the shedding of Congolese blood." On the same clay, the national radio station announced that, with the overthrow of Youlou, power was invested in the seven-hundred-man national army. The National Assembly was dissolved by military decree.

A conference of labor and military leaders named an eight-member provisional government on August 16. Neither labor nor military representatives were included in the provisional government, which was composed of technicians, all of whom were either university graduates or had previously held specialized public or private posts. Alphonse Massamba-Debat was named prime minister and minister of national defense. After the approval of a new constitution in December 1963, an electoral college named Massamba-Debat to a five-year term as president of the republic and designated Pascal Lissouba as prime minister. It was announced that a National Council of the Revolution would temporarily assist the president and the prime minister in governing the country.

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