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Marien Ngouabi

Since his government took control of the country in late 1968, political power had been progressively centralized in the president and a number of his most trusted colleagues. With the issuing of a new Constitution, presidential power was further consolidated.

President Ngouabi's rise to power created the first opportunity for members of large ethnic groups in the northern portion of the country to be in full control of the government. Tribal antagonisms had played a significant role in the many difficulties the country had experienced throughout the postindependence period and continued to be a fact of political life during 1969. Ideological differences were also sources of conflict.

Government and political party leaders had incorporated the major interest groups into the power structure through the creation of a single labor organization and a youth movement that operated within the party framework. During 1969 the government of President Ngouabi sought to consolidate political control and advocated more rapid progress toward socialism. The internal difficulties that confronted the previous governments continued to pose problems for the new leaders.

Although stressing the need for national unity and the placing of national loyalties above allegiance to a particular tribe, one of the first acts of the new government was the dismissal from the cabinet of several members of the Kongo ethnic group. Observers attributed this move to suspicions that the numerically important Kongo, with the aid of the powerful Kongo population across the river in Congo (Kinshasa), were plotting to regain control of the Brazzaville government.

Northern peoples, belonging primarily to the large Mboshi ethnic group, had long been resentful of Kongo domination of the government and had believed that their region had been neglected by government programs. The new leaders considered their suspicions confirmed in February 1969 when Major Felix Mouzabakani, a Kongo and former deputy chief of staff who had been dropped from his post as minister of the interior by the CNR, was arrested and charged with attempting a counterrevolution.

Early in the year the president issued a decree reorganizing the army and designating the nation's armed forces as the National People's Army (APN). The standing army, non-regular units, and the people's militias (civil defense corps) were incorporated into the APN. Goals and tasks of the APN were described as the defense of the country and its institutions, the carrying out of the political programs of the revolution, and participation in economic construction and production. It was announced that the APN, under the direction of the party and the Council of State, would also have responsibilities for the training of the people, protection of civilians in the event of internal conflict, and general mobilization in the event of war.

A political section was created within the APN for the purpose of politically educating members of the armed forces. It was also to serve as the liaison between the party and the army as well as to oversee the military budget. In December 1968 APN officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers declared themselves in favor of complete "politicisation" of the armed forces and called for punishment of any soldier or civilian who claimed to be nonpolitical.

With a change of leadership and some reorganization, the JMNR continued to be a potent force in national politics. During 1968 total JMNR membership was estimated at some 35,000. The militant civil defense corps numbered about 2,000, whereas the armed group that battled the army in September 1968 is said to have numbered only about 300. During 1969 the influence of the JMNR increased and demonstrated that it had strong roots throughout the country. When, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the JMNR on February 8, 1969, the director of the Congolese information Agency (Agence Congolaise d' Information—ACI) published an article entitled "Year Five of JMNR," leaders of the youth organization found it unsatisfactory and brought about his removal from office.

There were a large number of changes in top-level government personnel during 1969 as the president and the prime minister sought to establish an equilibrium among the various factions in the country and continue the drive toward the development of socialism. In June a major government reorganization was decreed by President Ngouabi in order to put an end to what he termed the irresponsibility, negligence, and struggles for influence constantly pursued by some members of the administration. Six of the ministers were dropped from the government, and important changes were made in the structural organization. The Ministry of Information and Propaganda and the Ministry of Youth and Sports were eliminated as cabinet posts and were attached directly to the CNR. In place of the ten ministries and a high commissioner in the previous government, the new arrangement consisted of four secretariats of state and six ministries.

Important changes were also made in the makeup of the CNR, the supreme authority of the nation. Its membership was reduced from eight to five, including the president and the prime minister. Observers stated that the changes in the government and in the CNR indicated a consolidation of power by President Ngouabi and a small group of his most trusted colleagues and a definite move to the left.

As was the case with the Massamba-Debat government before it, the Ngouabi administration moved very cautiously in the matter of nationalization. Despite the avowed aim toward establishing scientific socialism, the government sought and encouraged private foreign and domestic investment. President Ngouabi declared the desire of the nation to build an independent economy and asserted that the country's resources and the means of production must be progressively placed under government control. He announced, however, that his government had no intention to nationalize simply for the sake of nationalization.

Unrest became evident among certain elements of the country during August and September 1969. When civil servants in the Ministry of Finance went on strike in September, the president acted with severity, arresting some, dismissing others, and discharging the minister of finance (secretary of the state in charge of finance). In ad-dition, the executive committee of the CSC was dissolved. In a speech on the government radio network President Ngouabi was sharply critical of civil servants in general and members of the Congolese judiciary. He described them as members of the exploiting class who absorbed 75 percent of the national budget. The president cautioned those who were pressing for immediate nationalization in stating that even if all the key sectors of the economy were to be nationalized, benefit would accrue only to the entrenched civil servants and not to the people.

On November 8 President Ngouabi announced that the army had uncovered a plot to assassinate him and overthrow the government. A large quantity of weapons was seized, and some thirty persons were arrested. Reuters news service reported that the leading figure in the attempted coup was a former private secretary to President Youlou and a member of an organization in exile known as the National Front for the Liberation of Congo (Brazzaville). The captured men and arms were placed on display before members of the diplomatic corps.

The president branded all those involved in the plot as "tribalists" and stated that they all "belonged to the same family," the Lali (Lari) subtribe of the Kongo ethnic group. Declaring that the captured arms had come from neighboring Congo (Kinshasa), he instructed the secretary for foreign affairs to bring the affair to the attention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

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