Lessons from the Congo

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

« We need prairies
trees birds
to reinvent the country to come.
let’s leave it to the rivers
to carve out its face
as they please »
Alain Mabanckou
« Les arbres aussi versent des larmes ».
L’Harmattan 1997, p. 109.

To recapitulate, Abbey Fulbert Youlou became President of the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville on 15 August 1960. Forced to stand down in the revolutionary upheaval of August 1963, by 1966 a single party had institutionalised its primacy over the government. The National Revolution Movement (MNR) became the Congolese Workers’ Party (PCT) in 1969. At the same time, the new Constitution of the « Popular Republic of the Congo » did away with the parliament. The PCT appointed Denis Sassou Nguesso Head of State in 1979. But the winds of multiparty politics swept the Congo in 1990. Two months later, the PCT dropped all claims to Marxist-Leninism. It won just 19 of the 125 seats in the 1992 legislative elections. Pascal Lissouba was elected President of the Republic shortly after. In Brazzaville, one wave of unrest followed another, and the army, opposition and their rival militias came to blows in the first 1993-94 civil war. Despite the 1995 Peace Pact, Denis Sassou Nguesso’s « Cobra » militia started fighting with the army again in Brazzaville in 1997. The conflict spread to the north of the country and Bernard Kolélas was appointed Prime Minister. The two men’s forces fought it out. Sassou gained the upper hand thanks to the backing of Angola, thereby enabling him to declare himself President of the Republic. A Forum on Unity and National Reconciliation was held in January 1998, but the government issued arrest warrants for Lissouba and Kolélas in November. The Congolese army and Kolélas’ « Ninja » militiamen became tangled in violent skirmishes in Brazzaville in December. Amidst the massacres, exactions, and rapes, a climate of barbarity took hold. Thousands of people fled the capital, provoking an exodus as people went into exile or hid in the forests. The Congolese army backed President Sassou Nguesso, but a cease-fire was only reached in December 1999. In February 2000, the Ninja rebels surrendered.
As Alain Mabanckou again writes, « dawn wears a scar right across its face, the sun cannot heal the gash of a setting over a nest of needles » (p. 103).
The Congo is still licking its wounds. This is quite obvious in Brazzaville. Everybody has lost a friend, a brother. Everyone remains fearful of the terrible faltering of History. Yet, not only does life go on, but the arts are positively booming. Initiatives are flourishing left, right and centre, as if people were in a hurry to ward off the past. Despite the palpable solemnity, is the mad hope that tomorrow will be another day.
When I was in Brazzaville, I wondered where this small country of barely three million inhabitants drew the ability to give Africa so many of its greatest writers, playwrights, and musicians. People told me that it was thanks to the intense colour and sensuality of their language, Lingala. They also told me that it was thanks to the high school attendance levels. So, despite the drastic lack of resources, an artistic revival is taking place, as this dossier testifies.
The dossier has been compiled not from afar, but by the very people behind this revival on the ground. It thus belongs to the tradition of our dossiers that reflect the artistic vitality of a given country. After Benin, Gabon, and South Africa, we will soon be covering Mali, the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, the Comoros, Madagascar, and Haiti.
The French election campaign is turning into an intense navel-gazing affair. How are the hundreds of thousands of youths born to African immigrant parents meant to identify with the insular law-and-order debates when it is precisely the state of the world that determines what goes on here? When does anyone acknowledge their multiculturality? When does anyone speak to them about their roots?
They don’t live in Africa, but Africa lives in them, as Tchicaya U Tam’si put it so well speaking about the Congo. They are tormented by the tragedy of Africa’s civil wars, despite their distance, as the success of Passi’s Bisso na bisso showed. The Congolese renaissance is a sign of hope for them – as it is for us. Music and art are ways of saying this, of sharing and giving the renaissance substance.
This dossier proves that the hope is real. It is a lesson from the Congo, a lesson on which to ponder.

///Article N° : 5568


Laisser un commentaire