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Congo-Brazzaville - Independence

Formal independence was granted in August 1960. In the shadow of the crisis in the DRC, the civil wars in the Republic of Congo have been virtually ignored. Yet, the situation in the Republic of Congo has been extremely tense for a very long time - political infighting had started already before the country gained independence in 1960. The years after independence were characterised by the fight for power between elite leaders who wanted to maintain or retake power within a one-party state. Contrary to a widespread perception, the conflict is not a tribal one; ethnic groups were and are manipulated into fighting for one or the other of the elite leaders.

There was a succession of coups in the sixties; the first president Fulbert Youlou, leader of the Union démocratique pour la Défense des Intérêts africains (UDDIA), was ousted in 1963. His successor was Alphonse Massamba-Débat, the founder of the Mouvement national de la révolution, a Marxist Party which was to be replaced as the state party by the Parti congolais du travail (PCT) of Major Marien Ngouabi in 1969. This change concurred with a shift in control of politics from the Southern region to the North of the country, where Ngouabi was from, creating opposition movements in and around the capital Brazzaville.

Congo's first President was Fulbert Youlou, a former Catholic priest from the Pool region in the southeast. He rose to political prominence after 1956, and was narrowly elected President by the National Assembly at independence. Youlou's 3 years in power were marked by ethnic tensions and political rivalry. In August 1963, Youlou was overthrown in a 3-day popular uprising (Les Trois Glorieuses) led by labor elements and joined by rival political parties. All members of the Youlou government were arrested or removed from office. The Congolese military took charge of the country briefly and installed a civilian provisional government headed by Alphonse Massamba-Debat.

Under the 1963 constitution, Massamba-Debat was elected President for a 5-year term and named Pascal Lissouba to serve as Prime Minister. President Massamba-Debat's term ended abruptly in August 1968, when Capt. Marien Ngouabi and other army officers toppled the government in a coup. After a period of consolidation under the newly formed National Revolutionary Council, Major Ngouabi assumed the presidency on December 31, 1968. One year later, President Ngouabi proclaimed Congo to be Africa's first "people's republic" and announced the decision of the National Revolutionary Movement to change its name to the Congolese Labor Party (PCT).

The People's Republic of the Congo, under the leadership of President Marien Ngouabi, continued to advocate a policy of centralized control of the economy formulated during the years 1963-68, when Alphonse Massamba-Debat was head of government. A new constitution placed control of the country in the Central Committee of the Congolese Labor Party (Parti Congolais du Travail—PCT) and the Council of State. Both structures were headed by President Ngouabi, who was also head of state. Since taking over from Massamba-Debat in late 1968, he had progressively strengthened his personal control of the government.

Even though extolling socialism, he and his predecessor had refrained from nationalization of industry. In its foreign relationships, however, the government had generally aligned itself with major Communist states and had expanded its relationships with the self-styled revolutionary states in Africa, although its spokesmen professed to prefer nonalignment.

On March 18, 1977, President Ngouabi was assassinated. Although the persons accused of shooting Ngouabi were tried and some of them executed, the motivation behind the assassination remains unclear. An 11-member Military Committee of the Party (CMP) was named to head an interim government with Colonel (later General) Joachim Yhomby-Opango to serve as President of the Republic.

Accused of corruption and deviation from party directives, Yhomby-Opango was removed from office on February 5, 1979, by the Central Committee of the PCT, which then simultaneously designated Vice President and Defense Minister Col. Denis Sassou-Nguesso as interim President. Massamba-Débat, together with several other political and army leaders, was sentenced to death. The Central Committee directed Sassou-Nguesso to take charge of preparations for the Third Extraordinary Congress of the PCT, which proceeded to elect him President of the Central Committee and President of the Republic. Under a congressional resolution, Yhomby-Opango was stripped of all powers, rank, and possessions and placed under arrest to await trial for high treason. He was released from house arrest in late 1984 and ordered back to his native village of Owando.

Sassou-Nguesso represented a more radical wing within the PCT - the M-22 - but was at the same time able to establish good relations with Western countries, particularly France. Like Ngouabi, he was from the North, albeit from a different ethnic group, the M’bochi, whereas Ngouabi as well as YhombiOpangi were members of the Kouyou ethnic group.

In a reaction to the events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the PCT convened in an extraordinary congress at the beginning of the nineties: a multi-party system was to be introduced and the role of the PCT in social organisation should be reduced. All political leaders were invited.

After two decades of turbulent politics bolstered by Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Congolese gradually moderated their economic and political views to the point that, in 1992, Congo completed a transition to multi-party democracy. Ending a long history of one-party Marxist rule, a specific agenda for this transition was laid out during Congo's national conference of 1991 and culminated in August 1992 with multi-party presidential elections. Sassou-Nguesso conceded defeat and Congo's new President, Prof. Pascal Lissouba, was inaugurated on August 31, 1992. After his electoral defeat, Sassou-Nguesso spent a lot of time with his private militia, as well as visiting France and making friends with politicians there.

Congolese democracy experienced severe trials in 1993 and early 1994. President Lissouba dissolved the National Assembly in November 1992, calling for new elections in May 1993. The results of those elections were disputed, touching off violent civil unrest in June and again in November. In February 1994, all parties accepted the decisions of an international board of arbiters, and the risk of large-scale insurrection subsided.

Congo's democratic progress was derailed in 1997. As presidential elections scheduled for July 1997 approached, tensions between the Lissouba and Sassou-Nguesso camps mounted. Sassou-Nguesso returned to run in the 1997 elections, but civil war resulted instead when Lissouba’s militia attacked Sassou-Nguesso’s headquarters. Unfortunately for Lissouba, he had made enemies with Angola due to his links to rebel groups in that country.

When President Lissouba's government forces surrounded Sassou-Nguesso's compound in Brazzaville with armored vehicles on June 5, Sassou-Nguesso ordered his militia to resist. Thus began a 4-month conflict that destroyed or damaged much of Brazzaville. In early October, Angolan troops invaded Congo on the side of Sassou-Nguesso and, in mid-October, the Lissouba government fell. Soon thereafter, Sassou-Nguesso declared himself President and named a 33-member government.

In January 1998, the Sassou-Nguesso regime held a National Forum for Reconciliation to determine the nature and duration of the transition period. The forum, tightly controlled by the government, decided elections should be held in about 3 years, elected a transition advisory legislature, and announced that a constitutional convention would finalize a draft constitution. However, the eruption in late 1998 of fighting between Sassou-Nguesso's government forces and a pro-Lissouba and pro-Kolelas armed opposition disrupted the transition to democracy. This new violence also closed the economically vital Brazzaville-Pointe Noire railroad, caused great destruction and loss of life in southern Brazzaville and in the Pool, Bouenza, and Niari regions, and displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. In November and December 1999, the government signed agreements with representatives of many, though not all, of the rebel groups.

The December accord, mediated by President Omar Bongo of Gabon, called for follow-on, inclusive political negotiations between the government and the opposition. During the years 2000-2001, Sassou-Nguesso's government conducted a national dialogue (Dialogue Sans Exclusif), in which the opposition parties and the government agreed to continue on the path to peace. Ex-President Lissouba and ex-Prime Minister Kolelas refused to agree and were exiled. They were tried in absentia and convicted in Brazzaville of charges ranging from treason to misappropriation of government funds. Ex-militiamen were granted amnesty, and many were provided micro-loans to aid their reintegration into civil society. Not all opposition members participated. One group, referred to as "Ninjas," actively opposed the government in a low-level guerrilla war in the Pool region of the country. Other members of opposition parties returned and opted to participate to some degree in political life.

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Page last modified: 15-06-2017 18:29:23 ZULU