Interview with Patrick Wajsman
The President of the Republic of Congo is convinced that Africa is moving forward on the road to democracy. In this interview with Patrick Wajsman, conducted in his home village of Oyo,
Interview with Patrick Wajsman
The President of the Republic of Congo is convinced that Africa is moving forward on the road to democracy. In this interview with Patrick Wajsman, conducted in his home village of Oyo, he develops the idea that the continent must now assert itself on the international stage and take the place in the international institutions that is warranted by the size of its population. He also makes a plea for the strengthening of the regional communities and speaks of the concept of a “hard core” of countries that could help to promote integration within the African Union, as was done in the European Union.
Patrick Wajsman — MR PRESIDENT, AS YOU LOOK BACK ALONG THE ROAD YOU HAVE TRAVELLED IN YOUR LIFE, DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS?
Denis Sassou N’Guesso — My greatest regret relates to my education: the education I had was not what I would have chosen. When I was ten, I had to travel on foot from my village to the nearest school, which was 100 kilometres away. Even at that age, what I wanted was to be able to continue my studies. But after middle school, I was not allowed to go to high school, even though I was top of my class! I was quite interested in mathematics and science, and I wanted to continue my studies along that path. Alas, only young people with political backing or some sort of influential sponsorship were accepted, and I was not among that number. As a result, I was not able to take the high school diploma and go on to higher education, something that I long regretted.
P. W. — LIFE HAS OFFERED YOU SOME COMPENSATIONS…
D. S. N. — Life enabled me to pursue the path you know about. In the final analysis, I do not complain unduly about it, because, in following that path, I have been able to serve my country, an ambition I had also cherished.
P. W. — WHO ARE THE MEN WHO HAVE MOST IMPRESSED YOU IN THEIR MANAGEMENT OF POWER AND THEIR POLITICAL VISION, BOTH IN AND OUT OF AFRICA?
D. S. N. — The first is unquestionably Nelson Mandela. I met him for the first time when Namibian independence was declared in March 1990, barely a few weeks after his release. That was a very emotional moment. At the time I was the Head of the Congolese State and our first meeting made a genuine impact on me. In earlier days, I had also been struck by the charisma of Mao Tse Tung and later by that of François Mitterrand. I also had the opportunity to engage in lengthy discussions with Chou En Lai, in the context of the bilateral cooperation that Congo was developing with the People’s Republic of China. He was a powerful personality and a wise man. I remember that he advised me to maintain close links with my country’s traditional friends, those who know us the best. Quite clearly he was thinking of France, among others. Because, he said, even if China is a friend of your country, it is nevertheless very far away. And “distant waters cannot put out the fire”! That was very shrewd advice; we should certainly nurture our relationships with our closest friends.
I also remember my conversations with King Hassan II of Morocco when I was the incumbent Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity. Morocco had just left the OAU over the dispute about the Western Sahara. I requested a meeting with him to discuss the Western Sahara issue, to which he agreed. We were able to have a full and frank discussion on the question.
And lastly, I must mention that great and wise man, Félix Houphouët-Boigny.
P. W. — WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON WHAT MANY COMMENTATORS ARE CALLING THE “ARAB SPRING”? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THIS MOVEMENT MARKS THE SUDDEN EMERGENCE OF CIVIL SOCIETY INTO THE POLITICAL ARENA?
D. S. N. — At the global level, I would liken it to the sequence of events which followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. The desire of the people to move towards democracy and freedom had a ripple effect far beyond Europe, as far as sub-Saharan Africa. It was to be expected that what we term the “Arab world” would not remain indefinitely outside the general movement of peoples fighting for liberty and democracy.
I must say that I am not really surprised by these events. Although we certainly have not seen any leaders directing the crowds, nevertheless they are not totally spontaneous movements. There is no smoke without fire and this popular uprising was preceded by a long period of gestation. Forces that had long been stifled suddenly found the means to express themselves. It is still too early to say what the outcome of these revolutions will be; but I think that, in the long run, the people will gain the upper hand and will find their way towards democracy and freedom, with leaders they have chosen for themselves.
P. W. — DO YOU FEEL MORE SCEPTICAL ABOUT SOME REVOLUTIONS THAN OTHERS? DO YOU THINK THAT SOME OF THEM ARE LIKELY TO LOSE THEIR WAY?
D. S. N. — In Libya and in Syria, we are seeing very harsh, tense situations. In Syria especially, this tension is linked to the regional environment, as Syria has borders with Iran, Lebanon and Israel. With respect to Egypt and Tunisia, on the other hand, I think that the various forces present are in control of the situation. Nevertheless, you are right to highlight the risk of being forced off course: until they have run their course, the development of these situations needs to be carefully monitored. In all these countries, there are actors watching the popular movement with a degree of distance. For the present they remain merely watchful, but they will perhaps arise when the time is right. We need to call a spade a spade: I am referring to the Islamists. Let us not forget that the holding of elections in Algeria would have led to the victory of the extremists if the electoral process had not been interrupted. The danger of that remains present. Initially, Hitler won power through democratic means. More recently, Hamas also came to power by the democratic path …
P. W. — THE ISLAMISTS AND OTHER ExTREMISTS HAVE NEVERTHELESS SUFFERED A SEVERE BLOW WITH THE DEATH OF BIN LADEN. WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE NEWS OF HIS ELIMINATION?
D. S. N. — The terrorism promoted by Bin Laden is abominable. The entire world fearfully followed not only the events of 11 September
2001, but also other scenes of violence, including in Africa. For example, there were the attacks carried out in Kenya. I do not believe that the death of Bin Laden has caused much grief or regret in the world! That said, we should not yield to naive optimism and think that his death will be enough to put an end to Islamist terrorism, whether it is a question of reprisals or of the continuation of the activities that have been carried out to date.
P. W. — YOU HAVE MET MUAMMAR GADDAFI ON A NUMBER OF OCCASIONS IN THE CONTExT OF INTER-AFRICAN RELATIONS. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF THE MAN, INDEPENDENTLY OF THE CURRENT CRISIS?
D. S. N. — The regime he leads, or led, was rather unusual. He might say that he was not the President, that he was only the “Guide,” and that the true leader was the Libyan people, through the people’s committees. But that was not a true picture; in reality, he decided everything in Libya. His regime was neither democratic nor free. And yet it must be acknowledged that Gaddafi was always at the forefront of the African liberation struggle. He supported the various movements and that part of his career cannot be glossed over. He has played a major role in African liberation.
P. W. — IS THAT WHY HIS IMAGE IS PERCEIVED VERY DIFFERENTLY IN AFRICA AND IN THE WEST?
D. S. N. — Unquestionably. In Africa, some people see him as a major contributor to the liberation struggle. Once again, that does not compensate for the fact that the Libyans were living under an undemocratic rule which did not safeguard fundamental liberties. But Gaddafi possesses, or possessed, a conception of Africa peculiar to himself. His approach to a pan-African government was very different from my own as I described it in my book Parler vrai pour l’Afrique; nevertheless, we were pursuing the same goal: that of a united Africa, speaking with one voice in the international arena.
P. W. — THE AFRICAN UNION DID NOT GIVE ITS BACKING TO THE NATO AIR STRIKES IN LIBYA. WHY DID AN AFRICAN SOLUTION NOT CARRY THE DAY?
D. S. N. — Is it really sensible to attempt to deal with the case of an African State without taking Africa into account? It is the custom in the United Nations when a problem arises in a particular part of the world to solicit the opinions of the leaders of that part of the world. This is the approach we have tried to support, via the Africa Union. During the vote of the United Nations Security Council, the African countries currently holding a seat — South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon — supported the resolutions authorising the strikes. But these three countries did not vote on behalf of Africa as a whole, but rather as sovereign States.
We are fighting and must continue to fight for Africa to be truly represented as a continent in the Security Council, with a right of veto. Until the day comes when our voice is recognised, the African point of view is being expressed by the position taken by the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. We have drawn up a roadmap and established an ad hoc committee of five African Heads of State, whose mission is to promote our roadmap among the Libyan protagonists. This approach was over-ruled by the other powers. History will reveal whether the ignorance shown concerning the point of view of the African leaders proves to be a good choice …
P. W. — WHICH IS THE GRAVER ERROR? IS IT THE FACT OF NOT HAVING TAKEN COGNISANCE OF THE AFRICAN STANDPOINT, OR IS IT THE METHOD USED AGAINST THE GADDAFI REGIME?
D. S. N. — Both, because I am not certain that air strikes alone will be sufficient to provide a definitive solution to the Libyan crisis. As in every war, after the fights and battles it is absolutely vital to sit down around a table and hold discussions. The African Union approach is going in precisely that direction in its insistence on the need for a political solution.
P. W. — DOES SUCH A SOLUTION NOT INVOLVE THE DEPARTURE OF GADDAFI?
D. S. N. — The African Union approach does not specifically say so, but the political reforms provided for in the context of the “roadmap” make the departure of Gaddafi inevitable. And neither the Libyans nor the African leaders will want him to remain in power. I repeat: without spelling it out that the AU is pursuing the goal of ensuring Gaddafi’s departure, we implicitly formulated this requirement in the way we expressed ourselves.
P. W. — WHAT DID YOU SAY TO GADDAFI WHEN YOU MET HIM IN YOUR CAPACITY AS A MEDIATOR? DID HE FEEL THAT HIS DAYS WERE NUMBERED?
D. S. N. — We presented the roadmap to him which contains all the elements that I have just mentioned. The reforms desired by the Libyan people are described in the roadmap, together with the requirement for a ceasefire; the two are linked. I cannot say whether Gaddafi felt that his end was approaching, but after a lengthy discussion, we received the impression that he was yielding to our arguments.
P. W. — YOU ALSO MET WITH MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL TRANSITIONAL COUNCIL.
D. S. N. — The key requirement of the leaders of the National Transitional Council is the departure of Gaddafi. How can this goal be achieved? They do not say. But it is their pre-requisite: without the departure of Gaddafi, they will not adhere to the roadmap, or to the idea of a ceasefire. The situation may appear to be deadlocked, but there are still some voices, including that of the United Nations Secretary General, demanding the ceasefire. Solutions do exist to the Libyan problem, and Africa has a part to play in resolving the crisis.
P. W. — ARE YOU OPPOSED TO THE SUPPLYING OF ARMS TO THE REBELS BY THE FOREIGN POWERS? SURELY THESE ARMS COULD FIND THEIR WAY INTO THE HANDS OF AL QAEDA IN ISLAMIC MAGHREB (AQMI)?
D. S. N. — The foreign powers have already supplied weapons, and, indeed, more than weapons: after all, surely the bombardments constitute armed support? It is also being reported that inside Libya, numerous weapons of all calibres have emerged from barracks and warehouses. Moreover, not everything has necessarily gone to the rebels; as you yourself suggest, there are weapons that have already taken various dangerous routes. It is a very sensitive situation.
P. W. — HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THE FACT THAT THE WEST HAS NOT DEALT WITH THE SYRIAN REGIME AND GADDAFI’S REGIME IN THE SAME WAY? IS THERE SOME SORT OF VARIABLE GEOMETRY IN THE RIGHT TO INTERFERENCE?
D. S. N. — Syria occupies a special place in the Middle East, because of its relationship with Hezbollah and Iran, of course, but more generally because of the regional situation. For the same reasons as Egypt, Syria has been a factor in maintaining regional balance. That explains why great precautions have been taken in dealing with these two cases.
P. W. — LEAVING ASIDE THE CASE OF SYRIA, WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF THE RIGHT TO INTERFERENCE? IS IT POSSIBLE TO DEFINE CASES WHERE IT MUST BE USED? IS IT POSSIBLE TO DEFINE THE CONDITIONS FOR SUCH USE?
D. S. N. — It would certainly be interesting to have the same rules for every country in the world! The decisions of the United Nations Security Council would gain in credibility. With the current rules, could we expect a Security Council resolution that would attempt to rule, for example, on the case of the dictatorship in Belarus or in Burma?
P. W. — CôTE D’IVOIRE HAS ALSO BEEN THE SCENE OF FOREIGN INTERVENTION. WHAT LESSONS DO YOU DRAW FROM THAT CRISIS, BOTH FOR AFRICA AND FOR THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY? YOU SAID THAT THE OUTCOME OF THE IVORIAN CRISIS WAS “HUMILIATING FOR AFRICA”: WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?
D. S. N. — It is a case with which I was involved to a limited extent in 2006 in my role as the Chairperson of the African Union. It was one of the chief issues, together with the Darfur crisis. I believed that it was necessary to move towards elections in Côte d’Ivoire. A certain amount of time was needed for the process to begin, but all the parties finally reached agreement on holding a presidential election, notably thanks to the mediation of President Compaoré. Consequently, the electoral campaign was waged in 2010, even including a debate broadcast on radio and television between Ouattara and Gbagbo, just before the second round, when the results of the first round were accepted by all the parties.
It is regrettable that the process resulted in such chaos after the second round. It is absolutely tragic. And yet it was not difficult to accept the verdict of the ballot box and to acknowledge the winner: I did it myself in Congo, when I stepped down from power. Unfortunately, that is not what happened in Côte d’Ivoire, leading to this lamentable outcome. The African peoples and their leaders were not happy to see the images of the fallen President and his wife, jostled and insulted by the mob. We could have done without a mess of that kind. Whatever one’s view of the events themselves, the way the Gbagbos were ejected was very sad for Africa. It is not worthy of us.
P. W. — THE INTERVENTION OF THE MILITARY FORCES OF THE UNITED NATIONS AND FRANCE HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS “NEO-COLONIALIST” BY SOME COMMENTATORS. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW?
D. S. N. — The presence of the United Nations troops was agreed to by the Ivorian authorities under the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo. In the course of my various visits to Côte d’Ivoire as Chairperson of the African Union, I was able to speak with the generals, African generals among them, commanding these troops. The French forces of Operation Licorne were also incorporated within the United Nations mechanism and were there with the agreement of the Security Council. In principle, at least, therefore, all those troops were acting under the aegis of the UN, which implied that the legality of their interventions was guaranteed.
Let us take the example of the civil war in Congo in 1997. French troops arrived to evacuate foreign nationals. We agreed to a truce to facilitate the evacuation. We had stipulated that when the operation was concluded, the French forces should depart and leave us to settle the problem ourselves. And that is what happened: the French troops withdrew and we resolved the issue among ourselves, the Congolese people. There was no “neo-colonialism”! In Côte d’Ivoire, the Ivorians did not demand the withdrawal of the foreign troops. They have remained there under the legal mandate of the United Nations. Consequently, this is not a situation of “neo-colonialism” either! In short, there can be no question of “neo-colonialism” when the wish of the host country is being respected.
P. W. — WHAT SHOULD BE THE FATE OF LAURENT GBAGBO? SHOULD HE BE SENT INTO ExILE?
D. S. N. — At present, the Ivorian authorities and the government of Alassane Ouattara are pressing charges. Time will tell. In addition, I think that a process of national reconciliation needs to be initiated. Ouattara has expressly referred to the South African experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, which I think is a good idea. Here in Congo, after the civil war, we held meetings to promote reconciliation and dialogue. We found some leaders guilty of economic crimes — including President Lissouba, who was later pardoned. In addition, some of the officials of the old regime were incorporated into our government, which helped to restore peace and security to the country.
P. W. — IF YOU WERE ASKED TO SEND A MESSAGE TO ALASSANE OUATTARA AND THE PEOPLE OF CôTE D’IVOIRE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
D. S. N. — The path that has been taken of seeking peace and national reconciliation is indispensable. Even at the cost of a clemency that might seem excessive, this route is absolutely unavoidable.
P. W. — IT IS TEN YEARS SINCE THE FIRST ISSUE OF AFRICAN GEOPOLITICS. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF WHAT AFRICA HAS BECOME IN THE LAST TEN YEARS? WHAT ARE ITS STRENGTHS, BUT ALSO ITS CONTINUING WEAKNESSES?
D. S. N. — Despite everything said about Africa today, it must be acknowledged nevertheless that over the last ten years, Africa has set out on the road to democratisation. It is not sufficiently emphasised that democracy in gradually taking root in Africa. There are a number of examples that illustrate this process. In Congo, we have a free press and opposition parties; we have no political prisoners or jailed journalists. From time to time, there are criticisms of the way the elections are held; but the fact that elections are held in peaceful conditions, even if the results of the ballots are sometimes challenged, constitutes undeniable progress in itself! That is the case here, of course, but also in Mali, in Burkina Faso, and more recently in Guinea, Gabon, Chad, Cameroon, the DRC, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Niger. The normality of the electoral process is being established. Political parties are being formed. One cannot always expect spectacular results in a decade, but development is in progress.
We should also note — something highlighted by the experts — that economies are gradually being rebuilt. There is talk of an average growth rate of 4 to 5% on the continent. These forecasts are encouraging. It is too early to say that Africa is out of the woods, but there are indications that allow us to think that we are on the right road. Afro-pessimism is no longer acceptable!
P. W. — AT THE DIPLOMATIC LEVEL, THERE IS CURRENTLY A VIEW THAT AFRICA IS BECOMING A LEADING ACTOR IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO REINFORCE AND MAINTAIN THIS STATUS?
D. S. N. —We still need to give some shape to our organisational efforts within Africa itself, for the simple reason that, unless it is solid internally, there can be no hope that it can play a major role at the international level. The desire for unity exists in Africa. To express that unity, as I have already said, the African Union would need to have a seat on the UN Security Council, with a right of veto. This would mean that it would no longer be individual African States taking decisions on their own behalf, but a single State which would adopt a position on behalf of Africa as a whole. Let us take the example of the Security Council Resolution on Libya. If Nigeria, Gabon or South Africa had been sitting on behalf of Africa, the fact is that they would not have voted in favour of the air strikes, which were opposed by the African Union. In fact, our present demand goes beyond a single seat: we hope to have two seats; but all in good time …
P. W. — THE DESIRE OF THE AFRICANS TO UNITE TO HAVE SOME INFLUENCE ON THE INTERNATIONAL AGENDA IS PART OF A PAN-AFRICAN APPROACH. WHAT IS YOUR VISION OF THE PAN-AFRICAN PROJECT? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE AFRICAN UNION CAN REALLY PUT AN END TO ITS DIFFERENCES? MIGHT THE SOLUTION BE, AS YOU ONCE SAID, TO SPEED UP THE PROCESSES OF SUB- REGIONAL INTEGRATION?
D. S. N. — That is certainly my view, even though other African leaders do not subscribe to it. I believe that the regional economic communities are making no headway and that they need to be revived through recourse to political voluntarism. If we wait for them to reinforce themselves, we shall wait forever!
I have always thought that priority should go to strengthening these regional communities, and then we can move forward towards a pan- African government. Another approach could be to let a “nucleus” of 10 or 15 African countries — bound by a common desire to forge ahead — initiate this integration process. After all, that is how the community of Europe was established: from 6 countries at the outset, it now has 27 members. And the European building process continues to move ahead, around a nucleus that provides the thrust.
P. W. — DO YOU THINK THAT EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES ARE LOSING INTEREST IN AFRICA?
D. S. N. — No, I do not. Not long ago, I read a statement by President Sarkozy on African issues in which he demonstrated his interest in our continent. Furthermore, he took part in the African Union summit in Addis Ababa where he gave a speech in which he spoke unambiguously in favour of Africa. If Europe was losing interest in Africa, would it be right to do so? I do not believe that is a credible option.
With respect to the United States, some thought that as an African- American, Obama might show a greater interest than his predecessors in Africa. But Obama is first and foremost the President of the United States! And he applies the policy that is good for the United States. It is as simple as that.
P. W. — YOU RETURNED TO YOUR COUNTRY IN 1997. LEAVING ASIDE THE DAMAGE WREAKED BY THE CIVIL WAR, WHAT WAS THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL STATE OF CONGO AT THAT TIME?
D. S. N. — It is impossible to discount the effects of the civil war that brought the country to its knees. But even without the civil war, it must be acknowledged that when I returned from France in January 1997, the situation was catastrophic. President Lissouba himself was aware of that. He had done some surveys regarding the presidential election that all revealed a negative assessment. He knew that if he held elections, he would certainly lose. Civil servants were experiencing salary arrears of 12, 13, and even 14 months! The educational system was having blank years without examinations. All this even before the civil war!
Given that his situation was desperate, President Lissouba preferred to try to hold on by using force, and by attacking me, making use of a loophole in the Constitution. There was an article in the Constitution that provided that if one of the candidates in the presidential election were to die during the electoral campaign, the Head of State could take measures to defer the ballot and thus extend his term of office.
P. W. — HOW DO YOU REGARD YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC SPHERES SINCE YOU RETURNED TO THESE ISSUES?
D. S. N. — It is not easy to talk about oneself. It would be more interesting to ask other observers, both national and foreign, for I may well be likely to indulge in some self-satisfaction! However, I can base what I say on some verifiable facts.
Firstly, I am pleased to note that, despite all the damage and destruction experienced by the country, we have managed to rebuild a climate of peace, security and national reconciliation. As I have already mentioned, certain personalities of the Lissouba regime now hold posts within the various institutions of our country and even in government. One of Pascal Lissouba’s closest collaborators is presently the Minister of Trade. The son of my former opponent, Mr Kolelas, is also a member of the government. These significant facts are indicative of the now peaceful climate of which I spoke just now. The amnesty granted to Mr Lissouba was also passed by Parliament. Through consultations, lectures and conferences, we have succeeded in reviving all the political institutions.
P. W. — AT THE ECONOMIC LEVEL, WHAT ACHIEVEMENTS HAVE GIVEN YOU THE GREATEST SATISFACTION?
D. S. N. — Our priority was to stabilise public finances and in that we have succeeded. First of all, we negotiated with the IMF and the World Bank to obtain the cancellation of a very large portion of Congo’s debt. These successes allowed us to kick-start the revival of the Congolese economy. They also enabled us to initiate major infrastructure work in recent years, which has undeniably contributed to the economic dynamism of the country: last year, the international institutions estimated our growth rate at around 10%. A growth rate in double digits! And we must not forget that this recovery began when the oil price was far below the level that it has reached today. When I arrived in 1997, oil was at 9 dollars a barrel, whereas today it stands at 100 dollars. We did not wait for this rise to launch our reforms!
P. W. — IN 2002, THE SOCIAL PLAN THAT YOU WERE PROPOSING TO THE CONGOLESE PEOPLE WAS ENTITLED “NEW HOPE.” TODAY, YOUR PLAN IS CALLED “THE ROAD TO THE FUTURE.” CAN YOU OUTLINE THE NEW AMBITIONS THAT YOU HAVE INCLUDED IN THIS PLAN?
D. S. N. — We first spoke of “New hope” because at the end of the tragedy of the civil war, it was vital to give some prospect of hope to the people of Congo. The new plan, the “Road to the future,” seals and expresses the revival of our economy.
In this second term, we had to continue our attempts to establish the basic infrastructures of the first mandate; but we also needed to launch the country on the path to modernisation and industrialisation. That had to be done mainly on the basis of our agribusiness. We launched a programme of agricultural mechanisation to improve the productivity of the sector. Do you know that only 2 or 3% of Congolese soil is currently under cultivation, out of over 40 million hectares? We need to rectify this anomaly. We also intend to develop processing industries for some mining products such as potash, iron and even oil. The exploitation of our timber resources is also part of the programme; we need to develop local processing activities, in Congo itself.
Lastly, we intend to initiate industrialisation through manufacturing activities. This year, we are going to begin producing construction materials, which are currently imported and are very expensive. We need to produce cement locally at affordable prices, especially for our social housing projects. We can produce some materials like PVC or tiles by attracting foreign companies which can set up on their own or enter into joint ventures with the State. Another possibility is for the State to create industries which would then be sold to private operators.
P. W. — WHAT PROJECTS ARE PROVING SATISFACTORY BEYOND YOUR ExPECTATIONS? CAN YOU GIVE US A CONCRETE ExAMPLE?
D. S. N. — Among the sectors I have mentioned, we have become seriously engaged in timber exploitation with local processing of the timber. Previously, Congolese timber had always been exported as undressed logs. As a result, the added value was also exported, because the timber was processed abroad. In the preceding term it had been decided that 80% of Congolese timber must be processed in situ. This new approach made it possible to create many jobs in the forestry sector, including with foreign companies. The recent property crisis has had a negative impact on the sector, but there is an upturn now.
P. W. — YOU ARE VERY KEEN TO PROMOTE THE DEVELOPMENT OF FORESTRY RESOURCES AND WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH YOUR LOVE OF THE FOREST AND TREES. HOW DOES THIS ExPLOITATION OF THE FORESTS FIT IN WITH YOUR VISION OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT?
D. S. N. — We have mentioned the economic exploitation of our natural wealth, including the forests, but this wealth greatly exceeds its economic dimension. The Congo Basin is home to a biological diversity that is unique in the world. Our tropical rainforests must be preserved and used in a responsible way. In Congo itself, we are endeavouring to do so by establishing very concrete measures. For example, every Congolese citizen must plant a tree every year. This is a symbolic individual gesture which forms part of an overall policy of sustainable development and which includes awareness-raising among the population, beginning in primary school.
Beyond Congo, we are working closely with our central African neighbours, but also with other countries or regions of the world which have tropical rainforests. We launched the tropical rainforest initiative, given concrete form at the Brazzaville summit, which brought together the leaders of the countries containing the Congo, the Amazon and the Borneo-Mekong hydraulic and forest basins. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss biodiversity preservation policies and responsible management of these resources. The declaration adopted on 3 June by the thirty-two participating countries is not binding, but it is the first time that such a step in cooperation has been initiated. It will be followed by other meetings, in particular during global summits for sustainable development; the next is to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.
P. W. — IN YOUR ECONOMIC PROGRAMME, YOU SPEAK OF DEVELOPING NATURAL RESOURCES AND INDUSTRIALISATION, BUT ALSO OF MODERNISING THE CONGOLESE ECONOMY. IN THIS INSTANCE, TOO, COULD YOU GIVE US A PARTICULARLY SIGNIFICANT ExAMPLE?
D. S. N. — We are currently working to computerise the management of the civil service. It is a major project. We have just launched Results Based Management (RBM) which establishes more modern management mechanisms, inspired by the private sector. Every action, in every ministry, will be regularly evaluated in relation to the objectives assigned to the administration.
P. W. — AND WHEN THE GOALS ARE NOT ACHIEVED?
D. S. N. — There will be consequences!
P. W. — WHAT ARE THE OTHER AxES OF THE MODERNISATION OF THE ECONOMY?
D. S. N. — We want to reduce the digital divide. We are currently working on total telecommunications coverage, including Internet access, for the whole country. For example, why not move towards computer-assisted educational methods? Why not bring the Internet into the schools? But before we can do that, we need complete coverage of the country which itself depends on the extension of the electricity network. The electrification of the whole country is another programme that is under way. Even as we speak, with production of about 500 MW of electricity, we have the capacity to cover the country’s needs. But it still has to be distributed, lines have to be set up to transport the energy produced, because not everyone is yet able to receive electricity in their homes …
P. W. — WHICH COMPANIES HAVE HELPED YOU IN THIS ENDEAVOUR?
D. S. N. — When our Independence was declared, we had only one hydroelectric dam of 15 MW in Brazzaville. It has now ceased operations because it is obsolete. Since then, in the 1970s with the assistance of the People’s Republic of China, we built an initial dam of 74 MW and then our first 50 MW gas-fired power station in Pointe- Noire and another 30 MW thermal power station in Brazzaville. Subsequently, with the participation of the Italian group ENI, we established two 150 MW gas turbines in Pointe-Noire. More recently, I inaugurated a 120 MW hydroelectric dam constructed with Chinese cooperation. All these have been built since 1997.
P. W. — AMONG ALL THE MEASURES THAT YOU ARE MENTIONING, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU CONSIDER MOST IMPORTANT?
D. S. N. — They are all important! We have already launched the agricultural mechanisation programme, for how can we build our agribusiness without sizeable agricultural production? We have also launched a programme to develop solid mining resources. Until recently we focused on oil, but our country has other enormous potential resources. We are currently working on making an inventory and exploring these mining resources. We have revealed the presence of various limestone deposits but also of sizeable reserves of potash, iron, copper, zinc and lead.
P. W. — THIS PROGRAMME IS SCHEDULED TO LAST AT LEAST UNTIL 2016, THE DATE OF THE NExT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO SAY THAT YOU HAVE “DONE YOUR JOB WELL”?
D. S. N. — We have not talked about the social aspects, which provide an indicator of our efforts. We believe that current activities will have a positive impact at the social level, in the spheres of education, health and employment. If every sector that we are planning to develop does well, we shall be able to create many jobs and create the circumstances for improved vocational qualifications. Economic progress will have a positive knock-on effect on the life of our society as a whole. For example, we have already decided to increase the salaries of civil servants this year. If we can successfully establish these projects — agricultural mechanisation, agribusiness, forestry, timber processing, the mining sector — we shall have reasons to say that we have revived the economy and created the conditions for sustained growth. We shall have set our country on the road to real and sustainable emergence.
P. W. — YOU HAVE SPOKEN OF CONGO’S ASSETS. WHAT ARE THE RISKS OR DANGERS THAT WILL HAVE TO BE CONFRONTED TO BE ABLE TO PUT THE PROGRAMME INTO ACTION?
D. S. N. — Everyone will have to accept the effort and work involved. What I have set out here cannot happen without the necessary will, effort and sacrifice. It is important that all the Congolese people get down to work. Our programme cannot accommodate laxness, lack of rigour, wastage, theft or corruption. These failings must be consigned to the past. And the evaluation of progress, which I mentioned with regard to the administration, must contribute to the effort, to transparency and to rigorousness in the management of the affairs of State.
P. W. — THE VERY ACTIVE CHINESE PRESENCE IN AFRICA, AND ESPECIALLY IN CONGO, IS CAUSING CONSIDERABLE COMMENT. DO THE CHINESE HAVE A SPECIFIC WAY OF APPROACHING THEIR PARTICIPATION IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE COUNTRY?
D. S. N. — Our relations with China are primarily situated at the level of relations between States, government to government. These are long-standing relations as our official recognition of the People’s Republic of China dates back to 1964. At the time, only six or seven African countries recognised it. Cooperation has developed over the years and private Chinese companies have gradually become established in Congo. As a result, we have been able to benefit from Chinese government loans at preferential rates.
We must acknowledge the efficiency of the Chinese companies. I am also anxious to make it clear that the projects carried out with Chinese partners are managed with the utmost transparency: the largest are supervised by companies from other countries. For example, the construction project for the 120 MW hydroelectric dam that I mentioned earlier, built with Chinese partners, was supervised, at our expense, by a German company. The current work on the highway between Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville is being carried out by a Chinese company under the supervision of a French company, once again at our expense. The new Brazzaville airport is being built by a Chinese company, with Chinese financing, and supervised by a French company.
All of this is transparent. But the Chinese companies do have an advantage over Western companies: in the conquest of new markets, they are not put off by the alleged “African risk.” In the West, there is much talk of the “African risk” or of Afro-pessimism. These prejudices carry a lot of weight, even when most of those who spread them have no knowledge of the African reality. However, nature abhors a vacuum. Where the West fears to tread, others take their place... And the Earth continues to spin on its axis!
P. W. — DOES FRANCE STILL HOLD A SPECIAL PLACE IN THE HEART OF THE CONGOLESE PEOPLE?
D. S. N. — You have only to look at the influence of the language, the customs, the history and culture. Brazzaville was the capital of Free France and it was an important moment in the history of both our nations! Recently, through the participation of African troops in the 14 July 2010 military parade in Paris, we felt the very strong bond that unites us.
P. W. — DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS, CRITICISMS OR RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FRANCE?
D. S. N. — In addition to the relations between leaders, it is the relationship between our two peoples that matters to me. Apart from the big French companies which have established themselves in cities like Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville, the French presence in Congo is still too small. You can travel throughout the interior and you will not find any French families settled on a farm or engaged in small-scale activities. After over a century of a common existence, that is a pity. But this shortcoming has nothing to do with leaders, but probably more to do with the way people think.
P. W. — WITH WHICH FRENCH PRESIDENTS HAVE YOU HAD THE WARMEST RELATIONS?
D. S. N. — I met President Giscard d’Estaing in 1979, then Presidents Mitterrand and Chirac and, lastly, Sarkozy. I have had cordial relationships with all those Heads of State. We have always dealt with the issues between France and the Congo in a good spirit. I must say that with President Chirac, my relationship was friendlier and we even got to the point of using the familiar form of address! I also have an excellent relationship with President Sarkozy.
P. W. — IN AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY AFRICAN GEOPOLITICS IN MAY 2003
YOU SUGGESTED THAT THERE SHOULD BE A “PAN-AFRICAN PACT AGAINST AGGRESSION.” THIS PROPOSAL WAS CALLED THE “SASSOU N’GUESSO DOCTRINE OF PREVENTIVE DIPLOMACY AND COLLECTIVE SECURITY FOR AFRICA.” YOUR INITIATIVE RESULTED IN THE ADOPTION OF THE “AFRICAN UNION NON- AGGRESSION AND COMMON DEFENCE PACT” AT THE BEGINNING OF 2005 IN ABUJA. HOWEVER, IT SEEMS AS THOUGH THIS MECHANISM HAS NEVER REALLY BEEN IMPLEMENTED. IS THAT YOUR IMPRESSION? WHAT MUST BE DONE TO ENSURE THAT THE PACT BECOMES A GENUINE INSTRUMENT OF PEACE AND SECURITY FOR THE CONTINENT?
D. S. N. — This Pact has indeed been activated, even though apparently not always with dazzling results! The African Union has set up a Peace and Security Council to deal with these issues. Among the other concrete measures taken as a result of the adoption of this treaty, we have created joint security units: each African sub- region has set up what we call “standby brigades.” The Arab Maghreb Union is experiencing some difficulties as a result of regional differences, but the other sub-regions — ECOWAS, East Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa — have all established a brigade. For example, in Central Africa the military headquarters established in Libreville carries out the day-to-day management of issues related to regional peace and security and has authority over the standby brigade. We have even held successful joint military manoeuvres within each sub-region. The first took place in Gabon, followed by others in Chad, and more recently in Angola, with the participation of troops from the whole sub-region. There have also been situations where troops from one sub-region have been sent to intervene in another zone. That was the case in Somalia, to which troops from Burundi and Uganda were dispatched. It was also the case in Darfur, where troops from Senegal and Rwanda and even observers from Congo intervened. Consequently, there is a skeleton or an embryo of joint military units. This fact is not really very well-known, but it is a reality of this doctrine.
P. W. — MR PRESIDENT, WE BEGAN THIS INTERVIEW BY ASKING YOU WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE DONE IN ANOTHER LIFE. BUT IN THIS LIFE, YOUR OWN REAL LIFE, WHAT IS YOUR MOST MOVING MEMORY?
D. S. N. — I have two, both connected with my mother. The first is actually somewhat painful. It goes back to those hundred kilometres that I had to travel at the age of ten to get to school. My mother wanted to go with me, and I had to insist to get her to agree to stop. I was not alone, because there were other children travelling with me. She finally stopped, with tears in her eyes, and let me go. I can still picture the precise spot where she watched me disappear into the distance. It was as painful for her as it was for me.
The second memory is located under the big tree that stands in front of the house we are in now, on the banks of the Alima. I was already President, and I was making an official visit to this sub-prefecture. There were many displays and fine celebrations. My mother never took part in any celebrations. She had come to wait for me under this tree. Along with some other women, she had spread some mats on the ground and was waiting for me. It was in 1980 during my first Presidency. I had just given a speech. I got out of the car, she saw me and she stood up. She hugged me and then she sat down and sat me on her knee in front of all those officials, never mind the fact that I was the President! I shall always be sorry that no one took a picture to immortalise the moment.
P. W. — A FEW YEARS AGO, NELSON MANDELA WROTE: “DENIS SASSOU N’GUESSO IS ONE OF OUR GREAT AFRICAN LEADERS.” HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
D. S. N. — It is not my place to comment on such a judgement, as Iam sure you will understand.
P. W. — A FINAL WORD: DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PROVERB OR SAYING?
D. S. N. — Once again, I have two. The first is a Congolese saying: “a man builds where he loves.” It refers to the builders, those who love their land and their country. This saying to some extent defines my own action, in the place where I am today. The second is an expression of Disraeli: “action does not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”
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