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Alphonse Massamba-Débat

The eight-member provisional government, headed by Massamba-Debat, directed the preparation of a new constitution and established the MNR as the official political party; in July 1964 the MNR was proclaimed the only legal political party. The Constitution represented a compromise between the strong presidential system of the Youlou era and a parliamentary system. A national referendum on the proposed Constitution and elections for a new National Assembly were held on December 8, 1963.

Voters approved the Constitution and elected a fifty-five-member National Assembly from a list containing the names of only MNR candidates. After the voting, an electoral college, composed of members of the National Assembly, elected Massamba-Debat to a five-year term as president and Pascal Lissouba as prime minister. Massamba-Debat and Lissouba then appointed a government consisting of the young men who had served in the provisional government, plus some of the labor leaders who had led the uprising against Youlou.

Information was initially lacking on the internal political developments in the Massamba-Debat government. During much of the 1964-68 period foreign correspondents were discouraged by the government, and official news reporting was restricted to government-approved releases. Observers have indicated that the primary problems that confronted the government included tribalism and regionalism, ideological differences, and rivalry between the army and the militant youth wing of the MNR, the Youth of the National Revolutionary Movement (Jeunesse du Mouvement Nationale de la Revolution JMNR), commonly known as the Jeunesse. There also developed a conflict between the government and Roman Catholic trade union leaders and educators.

President Massamba-Debat, aware of the ideological conflicts between those of Marxist inspiration and the Christian Democrats on the one hand and, on the other hand, of the regional and tribal antagonisms between the Lali (Balali or Lari) in the southern por-tion of the country and the Mboshi in the north, attempted to maintain a balance among these groups. As time passed, the influence of the proponents of Marxist ideology grew stronger and more vocal and forced Massamba-Debat to opt for a policy advocating "scientific socialism."

With the decision to choose the socialist option, the leaders of the Christian (Roman Catholic) trade union were forced out of the government, and a purge of sympathizers of former President Youlou was carried out. Youlou, a former priest, had escaped from house arrest and fled across the Congo River to the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa). A number of the more militant leaders in the MNR and the government criticized the Church as a hindrance in the development of socialism. These actions reportedly resulted in the alienation of a large number of the country's Roman Catholics, who made up about a third of the total population.

The tension between the government and Congolese Roman Catholic leaders was increased further when the government ordered the dis-solution of all the Christian youth organizations and the formation of the JMNR as the official youth movement. Later moves to nationalize education were vigorously opposed by the Catholic clergy, since a large part of the schools had been founded and controlled by the Church. As a result of the dispute, a number of missionary priests were expelled from the country.

In late 1964 the National Assembly voted the dissolution of all existing trade unions and established a single trade organization called the Congolese Trade Union Confederation (Confederation Syndicale Congolaise—CSC). A women's organization, the Revolutionary Union of Congolese Women (Union Revolutionnaire des Femmes Congolaises—URFC), was also formed, and its leaders immediately called for the replacement of the "capitalist economy" and for an ending of the relationship to the European Economic Community (EEC).

The JMNR rapidly became a potent force in national politics and, in a move aimed at strengthening government control over all elements in the country and mobilizing additional forces for national security, government and party leaders approved a plan for the creation of a civil defense corps called a people's militia and consisting primarily of the JMNR's most militant elements. A corps of Cuban advisers was assigned to the training of members of this militia. Supplied with arms, the Jeunesse-dominated civil defense corps vigorously pursued its assigned task of "routing out counterrevolutionaries."

An observer for the French-language periodical Jeune Afrique reported in 1965 that the Jeunesse had eyes and ears everywhere and had arbitrarily arrested and mistreated a number of persons, including several French citizens. The journalist described the JMNR as a mixture of revolutionary idealism and juvenile delinquency.

At its beginning the civil defense corps was intended to supple-ment the regular army and police forces, and members served on a voluntary basis. As the organization grew in strength and asserted its militancy, its members were provided salaries and lodging. The civil defense forces considered themselves born of the revolution and claimed to be its true protectors. The army also claimed the role as the authentic upholder of the revolution, but the Jeunesse looked upon the army and police forces as vestiges of the previous government and the former colonial administration. The competition and antagonism between these forces were later to erupt in open conflict.

During 1965 and 1966 the Politburo of the MNR, the governing body of the party, emerged as the locus of political power. A new MNR charter was announced by the Politburo in January 1966, which defined the party as the supreme political instrument of the nation. In April the Politburo asserted its power by forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Lissouba and replacing him with Ambroise Noumazalay, a member of the party's more militant wing and an advocate of more radical progress toward socialism.

The drive toward full state control of the economy, combined with militant rhetoric and the maltreatment of priests and other French civilians by elements of the Jeunesse, seriously weakened relations with France. During 1967 the president, apparently concerned about strong criticism in the French press and waning French economic assistance, attempted to improve relations with Paris. His efforts involved a reshuffling of the Brazzaville government in January 1968.

Observers suggested that the government changes were indicative of both the desire to eliminate the double function of president-prime minister and a possible change of political emphasis. Noumazalay, the pro-Chinese prime minister, was removed, and the post of prime minister was abolished, Massamba-Debat becoming head of government as well as head of state. A number of the other more militantly socialist members of the government were also removed from their posts or demoted, including Andre Hombessa, who had been minister of the interior and head of the powerful Jeunesse. The vacated posi-tions were filled by men who were closely identified with the president and who advocated maintaining strong ties with France.

Some observers also regarded these moves as an attempt to circumscribe the power of some of the MNR leaders and civil servants in influential positions. On New Year's Day 1968 the president attacked the country's educated elite, calling them "a tribe of literates who deserve to be condemned, but who cannot be condemned because they are justice, the police, and the army, leaving poor peasants and workers with no one to defend them."

Despite the consolidation of power by the president, there were indications of continuing internal unrest; and the ethnic, ideological, and regional differences persisted. In May, while the president was in Kenya at the conference of a meeting of East and Central African Heads of State, government ministers announced the discovery of a planned coup and arrested a European as its instigator. This action resulted in a wave of anti-French sentiment and the arrest of several leading French figures. Criticism of the president reportedly increased during the following months, as did evidence of a mounting internal struggle.

In July and August 1968 a series of political developments, occurring in rapid succession, resulted in the resignation of the president and the installation of a de facto military government headed by army Captain Marien Ngouabi. A northerner of the Mboshi ethnic group, Ngouabi had come into a position of power in 1966 when ele-ments of the army mutinied over the government's attempt to demote him. The compromise that followed resulted in Captain Ngouabi being placed as commander of the army's important paratroop battalion.

On July 29 Ngouabi, for unknown reasons, was arrested and imprisoned by police gendarmes. Two days later, in an incident apparently not related to this arrest, elements of the Jeunesse barricaded Brazzaville streets in demonstrations against President Massamba-Debat. Supporters of the president pressed for the dissolution of both the National Assembly and the party Politburo and the creation of a special revolutionary council. On August 1 MassambaDebat dissolved the assembly and suspended the Politburo. That same night elements of the army forced the police to release Captain Ngouabi.

During early August Ngouabi emerged as the most powerful figure in the country. He was named commander in chief of the army, and Massamba-Debat decreed that all security forces, including the civil defense corps, would be under his command. On August 5 the presi-dent announced the formation of a National Council of the Revolution (Conseil National de la Revolution—CNR) to "conceive, control, and direct the action of the state." Ngouabi was designated as head of the CNR. Within the forty-one-member CNR, a key twelve-man directing committee was set up to perform the functions of government. Four of its most important posts were filled by military officers.

Observers noted that the CNR was dominated by military and political figures identified with the militant socialist wing of the MNR. The CNR acted in mid-August to curtail the powers of President Massamba-Debat when its chairman, Commander Ngouabi, proclaimed the abrogation of the 1963 Constitution and decreed a Basic Law (Acte Fondamentale) to serve as the basis of CNR authority. Captain Alfred Raoul was named prime minister and made directly responsible to the CNR rather than to the president.

On August 29, 1968, when members of the Jeunesse civil defense corps refused to lay down their arms and submit to army authority, the situation resulted in an armed conflict. The JMNR dissidents gained control of the army meteorological camp near Brazzaville, in a region almost entirely populated by the Kongo ethnic group. Ngouabi called the move tribal rather than political and ordered the army, in which northern elements predominated, to attack the camp. Army troops captured the Jeunesse camp on September 1, and three days later the CNR announced the resignation of President MassambaDebat. At the same time, the CNR decreed the dissolution of both the JMNR and the labor syndicate, the CSC, and arrested a number of the leaders of these organizations. Raoul was named as acting president by the CNR.

The CNR leadership announced that military rule was to be only a temporary necessity and promised a new constitution and elections at a future date. In September the CNR held new elections for the leadership of the CSC and appointed new national officers for the youth and women's organizations, the JMNR and the URFC. New local party units called committees for the defense of the revolution (comites de defense de la revolution) were created in both rural and urban areas. The organization of these committees paralleled that of the existing party structure.

By order of the CNR, both Raoul and Ngouabi were promoted to the rank of major. On January 1, 1969, the CNR named Ngouabi chief of state; Raoul retained the post of prime minister.

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