Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Profile of Bridget Akoli Nguesso:the wife of the ruling family

On the 10th of April 2014, at about 9pm, I received a phone call from Bridget Nguesso, the wife of Maurice Nguesso. She asked me to come immediately to their house located at Marche Plateau Ville in Brazzaville. The street leading to their house ran some metres adrift to the building housing the Economic and Social Council and it was also not very far from the Palais du Peuple or the People’s Palace, which is the official resident and office of the president of the Republic. I left my home which was located at 302 Case Batignolles, not far from the Maya-Maya international Airport and drove straight to the home of Maurice Nguesso in order to meet with his wife. Bridget Akoli Nguesso, the young wife of Maurice Nguesso is a beautiful girl whose only two qualities were that, she does not use bleaching cream to whiten her body as is the tradition in Congo and sadly, in most of black Africa, these days. The second is that, she was the winner of a local beauty pageant, held in Oyo, located some 318 km from Brazzaville, the capital. And it was after her victory in the village or should I say the town of Oyo that, Maurice Nguesso who is widower and who is at least twice divorce, fell in love with her. The person who carried out the negotiations was late Simon Zibe. But since she got married to the Nguessos, this undereducated woman, who was given an employment at the National Hydrocarbon Corporation of Congo known in French as Societe Nationale du Petrole du Congo abbreviated SNPC, is a changed person. She has become arrogant and doesn’t even want to meet or speak with Simon Zibe. Until, Simon Zibe, considered by Maurice Nguesso as his son died of typhoid fever in 2015; he was no longer in speaking terms with the “bush girl”, as he often described Bridget Nguesso. According to people close to them, the cause of their dispute is based on Bridget Nguesso suspecting Zibe of giving or serving as bridge between Maurice Nguesso and many girls. It is an accusation rejected by late Simon Zibe, who claims instead that, Bridget instead has the reaction of an insecure girl.    However, the truth is that, anyway, from my observations Mrs. Bridget Akoli Nguesso has the reaction of most people who came out of poverty and by default, became wealthy.

These types of people, especially those without any educational background are insecure and also have inferiority complex. Bridget Akoli Nguesso is also extremely jealous and doesn’t want to see any girl near her husband. Perhaps, she thinks that, the ease with which she got married to Maurice Nguesso might also be the same way he could drop her. The first thing that, I noticed when I arrived in their house  was that, Maurice Nguesso her husband was not aware that, I was coming and was therefore, he was surprised. Showing that, she had domination on Maurice Nguesso and also that, the old man was resisting in an apparent marital cold war, Bridget Nguesso defied him once again. She took me upstairs into their second dining room. And again, Maurice Nguesso was not happy. But what could the old man do when his wife was younger and from rumour had an affair with the younger brother of Maurice? In their dining room upstairs, she told me the following: “the president is not happy with you”. And she also added: the president has asked to inform you stop granting interviews to personalities of the opposition and the civil society, in particular, to all those who are opposed to the change of the constitution”. She went forward: “the president has also asked me to inform you that, you must stop authorizing your journalists of MNTV/MN Radio to cover activities of the opposition”.

This message smacked the same one that I had been delivered to me in January 31st 2014, by Lydie Hortense Kourissa. The president could no longer send me messages through Lydie Hortense Kourissa, because she had resigned her post as the head of the media group called MNCOM and was replaced by Mr René Michel Mboukou Etoney. He could not also send me any such messages through his elder brother, because Maurice Nguesso had already told him that, he should allow me to do my job freely. Maurice Nguesso also told the president of the Republic, Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is his younger brother that, he should stop listening blindly to all what Jean Dominique Okemba was telling him and he concluded: “Jean Dominique Okemba is our son and if you continue listening to him, he will be the architect of your fall”.  Hence the only person who was available to the president to play the errant between I and him was Bridget Nguesso. I suspect, Bridget Nguesso did love her new role, for it permitted her to meet with the present regularly on a pseudo professional reason or to plot. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Congo-Brazzaville : Rich Press owners, poor reporters

Most Congolese journalists are the first to carry out self censorship and this not because of state brutality. It is done because; they are not financially free or independent. Even though we do accuse government’s brutality against journalists, as the main reason behind censorship, what we often ignored is that, poverty and financial uncertainties surrounding the profession is the greatest deterrent to the practice of good journalism in Congo and also within the sub region. However, the area where regional governments’ stands accuse is that, they have the capacity to compel all those who want to enter into the media sector to respect state labor laws as they do with other sectors, but they refrain from doing so. Furthermore, sub regional governments have the capacity to financially and professionally help local media industry to become independent. But sub regional governments deliberately refuses to support local press and instead prefers to invest in foreign media that will promote their interest as they have done in Congo with the financial support granted to Africanews, which is a subsidiary of Euronews or with Vision 4 TV.  Governments within the region especially those of Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon don’t see the necessity to have strong independent press. In their opinion, a strong professional and independent press will stand or constitute an adversary to them. Hence they want to see or they do encourage financially weak and unprofessional press.

The sub regional governments may be accused, for reasons aforementioned, but another unknown or the little heralded enemy of media freedom, independence and professionalism not only in Congo but within the central African sub region are proprietors of media houses. Most of them are not only greedy; they are most often corrupt and also lack management skills or experience. The last and perhaps also crucial impediment to media freedom and independence is the very small advertising market and also the absence of a strong service or industrial sector. Potential advertisers within the sub region are the few telephony companies and multinationals who dictate the rule within the advertising market. Most often, the advertising strategies of these companies are decided in the headquarters with little room for their subsidiaries to patronize local media houses. In such as condition, how does one expect the media industry in central Africa to be viable to a point of paying their staff regularly? How can a journalist who is not paid regularly resist corruption from politicians and businessmen or women? How does one expect an unpaid journalist to be independent?  Independent journalism has died in Congo because the press is not financially independent. The Congolese and central African journalists are caught up between the hammer of unscrupulous proprietors and the tong of a violent and repressive regime.

And as far as I was concern, I sustained  myself  and kept my independence  because I did  freelancing for media houses in France and in the United States. I also worked as a consultant for a business intelligence consultancy called Songhai Advisory. It is based in London, United Kingdom. To work as a journalist in Congo is not an easy task. It is in fact, very difficult, especially if you want to work as a professional independent journalist, respecting the basic tenets of the profession. Most professional journalists have either been forced to go into exile, intimidated through various means or bought over by the regime. And some have been killed. The best known Congolese journalists assassinated by the regime are Bruno Ossebi and Joseph Ngouala. And as such, only a group of journalists specialized in propaganda for the regime and the ruling Nguesso family are left in Congo to exercise their profession, which is in reality, to sing the praise of a system that is intolerant and worse, which has failed Congolese in all aspects.

Congo-Brazzaville:self censorship rampant among Journalists

What has always marveled me is how a family that is managing or controlling the wealth of an entire nation and that also spends massively in the creating and the financing of foreign media outlets such as Africanews, Jeune Afrique or Vision 4 TV, can be unable to pay people who are working within their media houses? The irony is that, these neglected national media houses: public and the pseudo private do spend their entire broadcasting hours, singing the praise of the president and the regime.  My conclusion on this manifest indifference of the ruling Nguesso family toward the Congolese media is that, they consider themselves to be very powerful and thus can do as they want with Congolese journalists and media.  As far as I am concern, the ruling Nguesso family, are simply inhumane, for they have little or no consideration for ordinary Congolese. In short, they are simply wicked. The ruling Nguessos don’t only fail to pay those who work for them within the media sector. They reserve the same inhumane treatment also to those working for them in different sectors. For example, those working for their bottling company, based in Edou and that produce a mineral water called Okiessi; they (workers) also go for months or even years without being paid. Hence, I wrote above that, nonpayment of workers was in the DNA of the Nguessos.

However, the irregular payment of journalists or workers in the media sector is a regional problem, affecting established media houses in both print and electronic media sectors.  In neighbouring Cameroon, Charles Nforgang, the spokesman of Cameroon Journalists Trade Union, says: media houses such as Aurore Plus, Le Messager, and Le Jour have not paid their workers for between two years and at least, six months. In such a situation, how do unpaid journalists or workers within the media sectors in Congo and Cameroon do sustain themselves? In the case of Congo and to be precise at MNCOM, that I know the condition because I have worked there, it depends on the department where the worker is attached or working in. Those who were worst off were the management staff and fixed or in house technicians. As far as journalists and cameramen/women were concern, they had monies or daily stipends because they went out to cover events and in the process, they were given brown envelopes or to put things clearly, they were paid by event organizers. It explains the reason why, most journalists do refuse or were not willing to carry out investigative journalism, when I was there. For how can you carryout investigative reporting on a politician or businessman/woman who is the sponsor of your newspaper or TV/Radio station?  That is where the dilemma lies. While some media and political analysts won’t agree.

But in my humble opinion, I do think that, the absence of independent minded journalists or truly independent media houses within the central African sub region is one of the reasons why prodemocracy movements and political change is slow to take roots. By contrast in the west and southern African sub regions, the same phenomenon of poor treatment of journalists and financially handicapped media organisations do exist. However, the difference with central Africa is that, there exist nonetheless some strong and well organized media houses coupled with well established civil society organisations and political parties. Furthermore, within the west and southern African sub regions, they also have a rising and politically conscious middle class who aspires and supports liberal democracy.  Whereas in central Africa, especially in Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, DRC , Burundi and Chad, they is a rise of an  egocentric minuscule middle class that are inward looking or what I refer to as, crony middle class. The inability of most proprietors or owners of media houses in Congo and in most countries in the sub region to pay their workers regularly is also one of the reasons why journalism has its limitations or is one of the reasons why, self censorship is rampant. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

I was at war ( part 4)

I was at war, but I think, they (the Nguessos and the government) never knew nor understood the level of my love and determination for what I was doing. I love my job and I think that, the only person in the ruling Nguesso family who knew that best, is/was Lydie Hortense Kourissa.  And in the ideological battle that was I wedging against the forces of evil that the Congolese government and a section of the ruling Nguesso family are, I am of the opinion that, even though I was expelled, we have won or should I say, I won. It was a collective battle fought by many but led by me. It was also invisible, hence, many could not fathom.  For my expulsion from Congo on the 26th day of September 2014, did expose to the world, the true face of one of the most brutal regimes on the continent. In the end, even though they gang raped my younger sister and opted to humiliate me, the way they did, the most important thing, in my opinion is that, my experimentation proved successful. I am now convinced that, a battle for a successful regime change or democratic improvement in countries such as Cameroon, Congo, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda and Burundi, can be fought and won, only by people who are within the system.  

In order for change or democratic improvement to happen in central African states, it requires courage and the acceptance by those who have opted to champion such a path, to accept to pay the ultimate price.  However, I am equally aware that, it is easier said than done, for the challenges to prodemocracy activists and their families are enormous, because, governments of those aforementioned countries know no bounds, when it comes to human rights violations. And they do target all those who are against their strangled corrupt hold on power.  For a majority of central African regimes are not will willing to surrender power without a bloody fight.  I was aware of all those risk, but I was ready to pay that ultimate price. And as far as MNCOM is concern, the truth is that, not all was negative about the structure. Yes the management style were ambiguous, salaries were either paid at piecemeal or not paid at all.  However, one good thing and which also made MNCOM unique is that, it was a multinational place. If there was a bit of seriousness on the part of Maurice Nguesso and his children or his trusted advisers, MNCOM had what it needed to make her a national and even sub regional champion. And the multinational nature of MNCOM is not only a testimony to the original plan of  Maurice Nguesso, but also one more prove that, he had a vision. Maurice Nguesso might be labeled as poor manager, but one of the reasons behind his failures in management had already been explained. Nonetheless, he is creative, generous and above all, he is not tribal, regional or driven by any nationalistic spirit.

Maurice Nguesso is an internationalist who understands best the social engineering of Congo, perhaps better than his younger brother and his administration. Furthermore, most foreigners who opted to stay or work, at MNCOM, it was not because of money.  I think what made most of the foreigners to stay was because of two things: they had developed an attachment to the unique ambience within the media group and finally, they were attached to Maurice Nguesso. Yes, like his younger brother, Maurice Nguesso is attaching and charming. Jacques Roos was from France Florent Koumba from Gabon and Sam Nick Owosso from Ghana. These are examples of foreigners who opted to stay because they are loyal to Maurice Nguesso and not because of money. For as already stated above, the absence of regular payment was part of the DNA of MNCOM and also of the Nguessos.  At MNCOM, sometimes, workers stayed for between three and six months without being paid.  And how did they sustain themselves? It now depends of the department where you are attached. Those who were worst off were the management staff and fix or in house technicians. As far as journalists were concern, they got monies because they went out to cover events and they were given brown envelopes.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Why I choose to stay and work in Congo ( part 3)

The security service hired people who opened different or several Facebook, blog, twitter and Whatsapp accounts, which are/were meant to insult or attack all those whose views are/were contrary to those of the government. These groups of people are known in French as les combatant du web or online warriors.  Then, I did not know that, social media were to play a major role in Congo’s presidential elections as it has done, by exposing the fantastic electoral fraud of President Denis Sassou Nguesso in March 20th 2016 presidential elections. Congo is a gigantic torture house. And at the head of this formidable machine of physical and psychological torture is General Jean Francois Ndenguet. Their plan is to force their victims to quit or commit suicide. It is another face of Africa. Africa is a strange place. It is a place where things that are not accepted elsewhere are either accepted or tolerated.  This is a continent where some or a majority of its leaders would want to hang on to power, even if it meant killing an entire region or even a country, as it is being observed in Burundi and currently  in  the Pool region of Congo. Africa is a continent where some women will support rape, simply because they want to defend and protect their own interest. Fortunately, once in a while, there are some linings of hope, like the elections that took place in Nigeria and Senegal, which saw the peaceful alternation of power from one civilian regime to another. Congo, represents that small but equally  enduring bad Africa, whose negative images and actions, erodes all the democratic advancements, however small, that is taking place on the continent. 

In term of the respect of human rights and democracy in general, the situation is deteriorating rapidly in Congo. People are being arrested in wanton manner, the press is not free, extrajudicial assassinations are rampant, democracy is destroyed and corruption and immorality has been elevated as a way of life by a government that wants to stay in power everlastingly. Hence, all means are used to perpetuate its plans. All those opposed to the government are arrested, killed or forced into exile.  As regards my job and stay at MNCOM, a media group owned by Maurice Nguesso, the elder brother of Denis Sassou Nguesso, I have read a lot things online, regarding the reasons why I stayed or worked in Congo. Most of it came up, when I took a public stand against the change of the constitution after I was expelled from the country. But some do not know that, it was because of my independent views that I was expelled and nothing else. I also want to make another point clear and it is not in any way aimed at absolving General Jean Francois Ndenguet. He is a criminal, but a disciplined one, who acts only when his masters instructs him to.  I want to make it abundantly clear that, what happened to me, won’t have happened, if Jean Francois Ndenguet did not have the support and backing of the President. Some of my online detractors, especially on Facebook, have even gone the extra mile in claiming that, I had a lump sum salary while working for Maurice Nguesso, hence I chose to stay and work in Congo. But, the truth is that, I didn’t stay or work at MNCOM because of money. May I put the fact straight here on. And throughout this book, I will explain why I stayed in Congo and also worked for the Nguessos. And more, I have no regrets and I do not consider them (the ruling Nguesso family) as my enemies. They are instead the ones who are considering me as an enemy, because they can’t stand anyone who is independent minded. They showed that, they considered me as an enemy when they decided to send thugs to attack me and also gang rape my younger sister.

They wanted to humiliate me and  force me into submission. But I bear no grudge. I do consider myself to be their true friend, especially a true friend of the President Sassou Nguesso. This is so because, I had told him the truth. And a true friend is the one who has the courage to tell the truth. I never wanted President Denis Sassou Nguesso that I held in great esteem to have the fate of Paul Biya, Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni or Pierre Nkurunziza. I never wanted him to be humiliated. Sadly, he did not listen and today, he is being ridiculed. He has been humiliated and called names. Had Denis Sassou Nguesso left power, he would have been respected at par with other African great statesmen such as Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique, Dr Goodluck E. Jonathan of Nigeria, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde or Abdou Diouf of Senegal.  As far as Maurice Nguesso is concern, he is not different with the majority of the ruling Nguesso family, that is term of the treatment that he/they gives to people working for them. These are two examples: management workers of the media group MNCOM have not been paid for 17 months while the rank and files have not been paid for 8 months. As concern TOP TV, a media house owned by Claudia Sassou Nguesso, the niece of Maurice Nguesso and daughter of President Sassou Nguesso, her workers   have not been paid for 14 months. Hence I can authoritatively write here on that, the ruling Nguessos, have one thing in common: they seldom pay those who are hired to work for them. At MNCOM, almost all managers who have worked for them have left either without being paid or with salary arrears.

The last two managers namely Laurent Delasus and Michel Rene Mboukou Etoney are two great examples. They have left because the terms of their contracts were not respected. Michel Mboukou is even owed the sum of FCFA 20 million, being his salary arrears or unpaid salaries. I was therefore not working because of any financial advantages because they also owe me a lot of unpaid salary arrears and also, they did not even bother to respect the terms of our contact. The last General Manager of an already death structure is called Florent Koumba, from Gabon. He is the one who gave a clear cut accounting procedure for the group and he also wanted it to operate like a real company. Currently he not paid and more, he is subject of regular humiliations. However, in spite the difficulties and the challenges, I did not bother myself because I knew I was in Congo for a mission and for that reason, I even had to sacrifice my own family. Congo for me was a kind of laboratory to learn how to topple or forced any entrenched dictatorial regime to leave or negotiate with prodemocracy activists and using the forceful combination of old and new media with the help of classic forces: opposition and civil society organisations. For  if  it were  for money, that I came to work for MNCOM, I would have left. This is so because, as already stated above, Maurice Nguesso doesn’t pay his workers and this not a fable or figment from my imagination. It is known by all those who have worked for him. Maurice Nguesso is no doubt very creative, imaginative for his age, but he is surrounded by a profiteering ring and worse, he has fathered children who are busy fighting among themselves to inherit his wealth while he is still alive. In other word, they want to fast lane him to the grave, but the strong, generous and cunning old man, is refusing and resisting death. He has survived several heart attacks. If his children had an ounce of positive and prospective brains, they would have focused their energy and intelligence not at fleecing their old father, but on how to grow and consolidate their fathers investments.  Besides MNTV/ MN Radio, both subsidiaries of MNCOM that, I can without any pretense crow here on that, it had succeeded under my management and this because of the help of people such as Alexander Pierre Bougha and Nick Owosso and certainly with others, all other investments of Maurice Nguesso are monumental failures.

But it is not the fault of Maurice Nguesso, he has tried his best but his children are incapable to recue any of his companies from collapse.  Sadly, poor management  seems to be in the family gene. The way his younger brother runs the industry called the Republic of Congo is also a flop. Furthermore, even if his many children wanted to improve things, they are mostly empty headed and because of pride, they don’t have the humility to surround themselves with professionals. In case they have professionals hired to work for them, they grow jealous whenever the hired professional becomes popular. I have worked for  Maurice Nguesso and as already mentioned, I sacrificed my family and was worst, I was even prepared physiologically to die, for I knew that, one day I will be killed. Hence, every Friday night, whenever I finished my live TV interviewing programme: La Grande Interview, I ended or signed off in French with this phrase: “A Vendredi prochaine,s’il plait a Dieu” or in English: until next Friday, God’s willing. It was my signature. Most viewers never understood the pressure that I was undergoing from a people who never wanted me to do my job as any other journalist would normally do. And I was also determine not to allow them to win in what I knew, was an ideological battle, for I knew that, Congolese deserve to be informed and this, objectively. I was personally tired of the propaganda within state media and also in pseudo privately owned media. I thought, I was on a mission, that must be fought and won, by all peaceful strategic means possible. 

Joseph Bitala-Bitemo: profile of a professional role Model in Congo

I have met with several Congolese journalists during my stay in Congo, but none has had a lasting positive, albeit unfathomable impression on me, the way Joseph Bitala-Bitemo has. Besides being a jovial person, he is an excellent professional. And he is also bilingual in both English and French, which is a feat in a country with a people who have an excessive love for France, the French language and culture. Because of Joseph Bitala-Bitemo’s professionalism, demonstrated through his unique reporting and presentation style, he is not only a star of the Congolese media landscape, he is a role model to an entire generation. With Jean Claude Kakou and Joachim Mbanza, they are the rare Congolese journalists, whom I know, have studied their journalism trade in France or in the free world. It might  explain the reason why, in spite  their proximity within the government, they have always shown or marked themselves out professionally, unlike the legion of their Congolese colleagues, who  studied press and propaganda in the Soviet Union, former eastern Europe under the communist bloc, Cuba or North Korea. Joseph Bitala-Bitemo is eloquent and masters international and regional political and economic matters. He has a knack to help younger generation of journalists to adhere to professional ethnics, which has been ruined by the heavy hand of the system, coupled with endemic corruption and passivity, which has wormed itself into the profession in Congo. He was the former director of what is called in Congo: the Presidential press corp, which is in reality, a special reporting team or unit, attached the presidency in charge of presidential propaganda.

This was under the regime of Professor Pascal Lissouba, the only post independent democratically elected president of Congo. Bitala-Bitemo left or went on self exile after Pascal Lissouba was toppled by Denis Sassou Nguesso in 1997. When he returned  and this, at a time when Denis Sassou Nguesso had decided to stage his public relations reconciliation gimmick, by carrying out or accepting the selective return of individuals, who were presumed to be close to the former regime. Upon return, Joseph Bitala-Bitemo was offered the post of adviser to the President of the republic and he was even re-integrated into the department of Communications of the presidency, headed this time around by Claudia Sassou Nguesso, the daughter of the President. To impress his new bosses and show them that, he was loyal, he even authored a book in which he attempts to glorify President Denis Sassou Nguesso.  In my opinion, Bitala-Bitemo’s book on Denis Sassou Nguesso had a second un-proclaimed objective. It was aimed at showing Congolese, especially supporters of Pascal Lissouba, who have not yet come to term, with the violence way, that they were driven away from power that his change is complete. Therefore the book even though not focused on reconciliation, Bitala-Bitemo also wanted to demonstrate those who had any doubt that, Sassou Nguesso and his reconciliation scheme was not a façade or a public relations stunt.

In other words, he wanted to show that, Sassou Nguesso meant business or was serious on reconciling the nation. However, what Bitala-Bitemo seems to have forgotten was that, in the realm of Denis Sassou Nguesso, everything was/is done with malicious calculations. Denis Sassou Nguesso’s national reconciliation, just like his presidential term limit inscribed in the January 20th 2002 constitution, now abrogated, was for international consumption and for the consolidation of his power. Then another thing that, Bitala-Bitemo forgot was that, Denis Sassou Nguesso abhors professionals, especially professional journalists, who refuse to sing his praise or dance to his tune. Hence Bitala-Bitemo gradually took his distance from a system that doesn’t tolerate dissent. Then, theatrically, he metamorphosed from being a critical journalist to a quiet journalist, and then into a breed that I lack the proper terminology to describe or attach to him. Perhaps to his discharge, he wants to survive or be alive and see his children grow, than suffer the fate of others such as Bruno J. Ossebi, Ghislain Simplice Ongouya, Joseph Ngouala and Prosper Mokabi Ndawa.  Even though he is still an adviser to the president, he has fallen out of favour with the regime simply because he had the courage unlike Jean Claude Kakou to denounce the presidential elongation plans of Denis Sassou Nguesso. In 2014, he was a member of the jury of the Congolese Press Award or Les Oscar de la Presse Congolaise. He was amongst those who prevailed that, I should be awarded the “best TV reporter award” for my coverage of the March 4th 2012 explosions at an ammunition depot in Mpila, a neighbourhood, located north east of Brazzaville and also for my coverage of the attack on the home of Colonel Marcel Nstourou by a combine group of soldiers and Police.

That operation took place on the 16th of December 2013. The rapport of Joseph Bitala-Bitemo with the current regime could be characterized or viewed in two ways: cat and mouse and also as that of survival instinct. For in spite having taken his distance from the regime, he has been appointed as the official spokesman for the “Municipalisation accelerer” de Bouanza region.  It is perhaps a prestigious and honorary post. But Sassou Nguesso doesn’t do anything by chance. He knows that Bitala-Bitemo is a native of the Bouanza region and second, he is a respected journalist. Denis Sassou Nguesso is a real communist, who survive only by propaganda or deceit. The “Municipalisation accelerer” or fast lane development scheme is a project launched by Denis Sassou Nguesso aimed at developing the interior of the country. In theory, it is a brilliant idea, but fraught with corruption because of chronic lack of accountability, duplication of projects that are mostly prestige projects or white elephant projects. Joseph Bitala-Bitemo is easily one of the best journalists in Congo, but whose talent is being wasted and also ignored by a regime that prospers only on propaganda and dishonesty.  The current regime in Brazzaville is one that prefers and glorifies incompetence. Hence they could not stand Bitala-Bitemo for too long.  Joseph Bitala-Bitemo studied political science and journalism in France and he now lives between London and Brazzaville. If the Congolese government were a government that admires and supports free press and talented journalists, Joseph Bitala-Bitemo would have been an extraordinary asset to shore up the profession in Congo. Sadly in Congo, what is encouraged is incompetence and mediocrity in lieu of competence and meritocracy. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Congo: land of extrajudicial assassinations and wanton arrests

In the view or opinion of the government of Congo, all those who are genuinely defending press freedom and democracy, were/are considered as traitors, who deserve to die. Hence, Bruno J. Ossebi, Ghislain Simplice Ongouya, Joseph Ngouala and Prosper Mokabi Ndawa were killed individually and in very atrocious manners. In mentioning them and also in writing this book, I am also trying to pay them in my own small way, a homage that, the people and the Congolese government, never gave them. On the 25th of May 2015 at 1 am, I received a message via Facebook messenger. It was written by a lady named: “Anastasie Chloe Ndongo-Obama and it read thus: Good evening Mr Smith. It is just to tell you that, you are an excellent journalist”. She went on: “Do not allow insults and other petty provocations to affect your morale. Were you on different continent, you would have been decorated for the way you are doing and have done your job, especially here in Congo. But Africa, being what she is, your work is being trampled upon by a people who lack any basic moral values. But know that, your work has made many things to improve positively here. I am sincere in what I am writing and I hope to see you again when next I am in Cameroon. Good night”. In fact, it was good morning, because it was already 1am on the 25th    day of May 2015.  And it was cheering to read such as good and encouraging message, from someone from the social media, in particular, Facebook.

In this period, no one could understand the impact of social media, in particular, Facebook, better than I. I know firsthand it impact and it influence. I have used it and it has also created me problems. For the threats that I mostly received came through social media and one of the reasons behind my expulsion, it is claimed by some, originated from there. However, I  am still convinced that, social media and in chief, Facebook remains  a formidable tool that can change or improve things positively in Africa, especially within countries and regions that  are not only led by dictatorial regimes, but that also have draconian press laws. But prior to the message that, I had received from Anastasie Chloe Ndongo-Obama, still from Facebook, I received a violent message from another lady who goes by the name: Carole Lou. And it went thus: “it would have been best for you to have been raped instead of your poor younger sister. Ungrateful Cameroonian, should you ever attempt to return to Congo, you will be beaten and killed”. She continued: “Long live General Jean Francois Ndenguet, for peace and long live operation “Mbata ya ba kolo”.  Mbata ya ba kolo or the knock from an elder, was the code of a violent Police operation launched in 2012, which resulted in the violent expulsion of  thousands of citizens from the Democratic Republic of  Congo, from Congo Brazzaville. That operation was a prelude to my expulsion and also that of my colleague, Sadio Kante-Morel. It was also a sign of more atrocious things to come.

It was on the 24th of May 2015, that I received the violent message from Carole Lou. The reaction of some people on Facebook toward me was violent. Most of them were hire social activists, paid by the government through General Jean Francois Ndenguet to denigrate anything that I or Sadio Kante-Morel wrote. It was a battle, this time around fought on social media, that, I think we and other social activists have won. We have won because, in spite all government tactics, we have been able today, to expose the government of Congo to the face of the world. Although the government of Congo spends billion on lobbying firms and also on media houses for adverts that launders their image, the world now knows that, Denis Sassou Nguesso is no better than, Robert Mugabe, Paul Biya, Issias Afwerki and other dictators around the world. However in this chapter I just wanted to bring up two views or messages from two ladies, representing the divided opinions on Facebook. 

However, no matter how violent some opinions or messages were, it showed that, social media was and remains, the only place in Congo and also in greater central African sub region, wherein real democracy can be practiced. For, people were able to express divergent views without fear of being arrested or killed. In Congo, I was persecuted not only physically, but also mentally and psychologically. I was a resigned person. I knew that, come what may, I will receive the same fate of Bruno J. Ossebi, Ghislain Simplice Ongouya, Joseph Ngouala and Prosper Mokabi Ndawa. I was a man sentenced to death and my entire environment was considered as my death squad. The only unknown, was when and where will I be gun down.  I was receiving regularly, dead threats and abusive or insultive messages on my phone as well as via Facebook messenger. Still on Facebook, I was misrepresented and most often caricatured as a monkey and worst; I was presented as an agent of the west, bent at changing the regime not only of Congo, but of the entire sub region. But I was not the only one who was receiving such threats via the aforementioned medium. Many of my colleagues, lawyers, and members of the opposition were also receiving death threats verbally, via their mobile phones or via Facebook. To attack independent journalists, independent lawyers and all other prodemocracy activists on social media, the Congolese government invested massively.

Private mobile phones companies such as the South African, MTN or the Indian, Airtel, were called into contribution by the government. Their role was eavesdropping on independent journalists, prodemocracy activists and also on western diplomats. The security service hired people who opened different or several Facebook, blogs, twitter and Whatsapp accounts, that are/were meant to insult or attack all those whose views are/were contrary to those of the government. The groups of people are known in French as les combatant du web or online warriors.  Then, I did not know that, social media were to play a major role in Congo’s presidential elections as it has done today. Exposing the fantastic electoral fraud of President Denis Sassou Nguesso in March 20th 2016 presidential elections. Congo is a gigantic torture house. And at the head of this formidable machine of physical and psychological torture is General Jean Francois Ndenguet. Their plan is to force their victim to quit or commit suicide. Africa is a strange place, where things that are not accepted elsewhere are either accepted or tolerated.  This is a continent where some or a majority of its leaders would want to hang on to power, even if it means killing an entire region or even country as it being observed in Burundi and currently I in  the Pool region of Congo.

Africa is a continent where some women will support rape, simply because they want to defend and protect their own interest. Fortunately, once in a while, there are some lining of hope, like the elections that took place in Nigeria and where there was peaceful alternation of power. But Congo, represent that small but equally bad Africa, whose negative images and actions erodes all the democratic advancements, however small that is taking place on the continent.   In term of the respect of human rights and democracy in general, the situation is deteriorating rapidly in Congo. People are being arrested in  wanton manner, the press is not free, extrajudicial assassinations are rampant, democracy is destroyed and corruption and immorality has been elevated as a way of life by government that wants to stay in power everlastingly, hence, all means are used to perpetuate its plans. All those opposed to the government are either arrested or forced into exile.  As regards my job and stay at MNCOM, which is owned by Maurice Nguesso, the elder brother of Denis Sassou Nguesso, I have also read lot things online about the reason why I stayed or worked in Congo. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Ready to die: How I was threatened in Congo by the government (part 1)

Threat to my life and profession in Congo

In this chapter, I am not going to enumerate all the major threats that I have been victim of while living and working in the Republic of Congo as a journalist. But, I must point out clearly that, it was a tough working environment. It was and it is still an environment that also requires a person who is ready for the ultimate sacrifice or a person who is equally as determined as the forces that were/are against democracy and above all, freedom of speech. In Congo, while I was determined to press forward my professional goal and also help push forward democracy through free speech, I knew the consequence would be an eventual, death. Death is the reward for anyone who is a prodemocracy advocate or a professional journalist, who doesn’t support the Congolese government. It is a brutal regime that hides its violence through the courteous manners of those manning it. I had made up my mind. I was prepared to die in defense of my professional independence, even though I must confess that, I was sometimes afraid. Nevertheless, I knew that, the inevitable was certainly going to happen, should I continue on the path that, I had opted. I also knew that, being an independent professional journalist with a knack for investigative journalism, I was going to suffer the same fate of four my late colleagues whose names I have mentioned below. If all those who have died because of what they believed in could be resurrected, I would want to hear their accounts on the months and days, before their brutal end in this world.

My experience has shown that, when you are hated for what you are doing, you are afraid, but you put on a brave face, while knowing full well that, you may be killed. The most difficult part is that, you know your fate, but you don’t when or how it will be carried out. As already mentioned above, I am only going to focus on the most recent threats that I underwent. In Congo, all journalists, even those who are singing the praise of the system have or are subject to one form of threat to the other. The paradox with the regime of Denis Sassou Nguesso that spends billions to launder his image and also that of his country is that, on paper, the republic of Congo doesn’t have journalists in jail. That sounds good. And this is exactly an aspect that deceives some human right defense groups such as Reporters without borders (rsf), which in their recent or 2015 press freedom rankings, placed Brazzaville in a better position than countries such as Nigeria.  The reality is that, Congo’s violation of press freedom might be at par with that of Eritrea. For this is a country where almost all newspapers that are supposedly against the government, have either been suspended or banned indefinitely. It is also a country where the owners of electronic media: Radio and Television are either member of the presidential family or close to them. And while the Congolese government, stifle internal presses freedom, the same government sponsors prestige media projects such as Africanews or Afrique media or Africa 24.

Congo might appear to some organisations as a country where the press is not under threat, but they (Congolese government), have shown to the world, their true colour. For they have carried out a number of violent expulsions of journalists and also carried out the assassination of four others: Bruno J. Ossebi, Ghislain Simplice Ongouya, Joseph Ngouala and Prosper Mokabi Ndawa. All these journalists have been assassinated by either the Congolese government or pro-government thugs simply because, they were independent minded professionals, who have not pander to what the government, wanted them to do. In Congo, when a journalist is about to informed or killed, he is forewarned. The Congolese government is as you will read in the chapter on Congolese culture, is a system that seldom likes criticism. They prefer praises. Hence they spend billions to launder their rotten images. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rodolphe Adada: profile of a mathematician turn Congolese politician

He is a mathematician by profession and also one of the rare well mannered politicians of northern Congolese extraction that I have seen or discovered. We have met twice. The reason of our first meeting was because of Rodrigue Nombo. Mr Nombo is the archetype of a Congolese and African elite: corrupt, inhumane and arrogant. He was the director of the Congolese national airline: Nouvelle Air Congo. Rodrigue Nombo did not only refuse to pay his staff for months, he also never insured the aircrafts, staff or passengers of his company. Rodrigue Nombo was also the embodiment of all what is wrong in Congo. He had abandoned his office. To find him and also talk or negotiate anything regarding Nouvelle Air Congo, there were two places locate him: La Mandarine of Mammy Water, both famous restaurants in Brazzaville.  When I broke the news about the chronic mismanagement and outright theft at Nouvelle Air Congo, carried out by Rodrigue Nombo, in Ca Discute Le Matin, a breakfast show on MNTV, which was anchored by Gustelle Klaire Nkoudissa, Mr Nombo went mad. He reported me to Rodolphe Adada, who was at that time, the minister of transport. And Adada, fearful of his post, because Mr Rodrigue Nombo was the protégé of Mrs. Antoinette Sassou Nguesso, wife of President Sassou Nguesso, he intend, reported me to Maurice Nguesso. Mr Maurice Nguesso as you know is the owner of the media group, MNCOM. And MNCOM is the parent company of MNTV, that I was the director.

When Maurice Nguesso summoned me to come to his house and he also added that, when coming, I should bring proves to back up any controversial declarations I may have made on TV, I suspected that, it was about Nouvelle Air Congo. For I have been used to senior government officers and ministers going to complain or report me to my boss. When we met in the home of Maurice Nguesso, I brought proves of my allegations, which included the fictitious insurance policy contracted from a marginal insurance broking company. When Mr Adada, discovered that, I was not wrong, he did not argue for too long. He asked me to come and see him in his office two days later. When I went there, he gave me his business card and also confided to me that, he could not do anything against Rodrigue Nombo, the rogue manager of Nouvelle Air Congo.

Why? It was simply because Antoinette Sassou Nguesso never wanted that, Rodrigue Nombo should be sanctioned. He told me that, Mrs. Sassou Nguesso had told him this: why do you want to take away bread from the mouth of Nombo? Rodolphe Adada was not the only Congolese minister who was grumbling about the intrusion of the ruling Nguesso family into the management of their ministries. The other one who complained to me was Basile Ikouebe. Mr Ikouebe was so fed up to the point that, he tendered in his resignation, which was dissimulated as a sacking. For Sassou Nguesso decided to reshuffle his cabinet, when it became clear that, Basile Ikouebe would make a public declaration.  Basile Ikouebe left the ministry of foreign affairs without stealing a cent, a feat for a Congolese government minister. He was replaced by Jean Claude Gakosso, nationally known to be corrupt, with little or no knowledge on international affairs. There are two things that I retained when we met in the house of Maurice Nguesso about Rodolphe Adada. First, Maurice Nguesso told me in the presence of Adada that, he (Adada) enjoys drinking champagne, which was in my understanding, a metaphor to the cliché of an elitist, which is too often attached to the man, who always dons a bow tie. The second, Maurice said, Rodolphe Adada was the most competent Mbouchi man capable to replace Sassou Nguesso in 2016. As far as Maurice Nguesso was concern, his younger brother, Sassou Nguesso had to respect the January 20th 2002 constitution of Congo, which set two presidential term limits. 

However good and noble were Maurice Nguesso’s allegations, he wanted political power to remain not only in the north of Congo, but within the hands of ethnic Mbouchi. Before the declarations of Maurice Nguesso aforementioned, I knew that, this ethnic Mbouchi from Bondji, was born on the 28th of April 1946. Bondji is located some 47 km from Edou-Elanga, the village of President Sassou Nguesso. Another twist noted with Mr Adada is that, it is not certain whether he was born in Bondji or in Gamboma. However what is generally said about him is that, he is a sleek politician. He leaves little or no foot prints. I also knew that, he had held several ministerial functions, first under General Yhombi and then under Sassou Nguesso. He was only shown the door out of ministerial appointment recently. Besides working in Congo, he has worked as the Joint UN-AU representative in Sudan with focus on Darfur. In my humble opinion, Rodolphe Adada is perhaps the most prepared ethnic Mbouchi, with the necessary international connections, intellectual capacity and cultural finesse to rule Congo, if there were any internal power alternation within the ruling PCT party a la chinoise or a la Chama cha mapinduzi.

Unfortunately within the ruling PCT party, there are no alternatives other than Sassou Nguesso. Anyway, that is how Sassou Nguesso has made things to appear. It partly explains the reason why, even though he was among the potential successors of Ambroise Noumazalaye at the post secretary general of the PCT, during its 2011 Extraordinary Congress, Denis Sassou Nguesso dumped Adada just like many others, for Pierre Ngolo, who is a man without personality. Some people claim that, just as he leads a clean and orderly life, so also is his managerial decency at the head of all the ministries that, he has headed. It is claimed by some Congolese that, if he is not corrupt, it is because he is married to a White French woman, who owns one of the most prestigious private schools in the capital, Brazzaville: Ecole Privee Madame Adada. However, not everyone things that Adada is unblemished as far as corruption is concern. The soft spoken consumer of champagne, according to Maurice Nguesso, is not a paragon of financial honesty.

According to his successor at the ministry of foreign affairs, Basile Ikouebe, when Adada was leaving the ministry of foreign affairs, he left with the budget of FCFA 800 million, earmarked by the state to equip the brand new foreign ministry furniture. The ministry of foreign affairs building in Brazzaville is a gift from the Chinese government.  Rodolphe Adada might not fall into the cliché of northern Mbouchi politicians of the ruling party, who are unashamedly corrupt and above all, who entertain several mistresses or are regularly involved in salacious affairs, but he is not as clean as he wants the people to think, Basile Ikouebe confided to me. As far as ordinary Congolese are concern, he might be less corrupt and less interested in extramarital affairs, which are a hallmark of influential Congolese political and business elite, but he is not generous. That is the general complain from the masses about a man who could have been the candidate of the ruling party in 2016, had Sassou Nguesso not decided to stay in power everlastingly.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Henri Djombo: Profile of Congo's new minister of Agriculture

I have met and interviewed Henri Djombo three times. Besides those three occasions, I have met and spoken with him on a number of other occasions. Most often, I was in the company of Carine Oyoma, a female journalist, specialized on environmental matters and working with the state owned national broadcaster, Tele Congo. Today, Carine Oyoma is married to Leon Juste Ibombo, the current minister of Post and Telecommunications. My relationship with Henri Djombo could be classified as an acquaintance or one notch under the grade of full friendship. Professionally, I have met with him twice in Paris, France.  At that time, I was still working with the French-speaking pan-afro-Caribbean and pan African TV, 3 A Telesud. My third interview with him was when I was working in Congo with MNTV/ MN Radio. This interview was done on lawn of a wing of his large high walled compound in the heart of Brazzaville. I was introduced to Mr Djombo by Nicole Sarr, a Senegalese lady who was managing his communications and also that of his ministry, in France. What I noticed with Henri Djombo was that, he spoke very little and was constantly wearing or putting on a wired smile on his face.

The type of smile put on by people who are either constantly scheming against someone or is ready to defend himself. Perhaps that reflex comes from the fact that, he practices martial arts or working for system that constantly threatens the lives of those working for it. He also seems to master his subject which was environmental protection. For he was at the time that I met him, Congo’s minister of Forestry economy. Currently, he is minister of state for Agriculture. At first, I was intrigued because he was an author of several books with enigmatic titles. It is not as though he was/is the only person close to Denis Sassou Nguesso who likes writing or who was an accomplished author. The other Sassou Nguesso ally who is an accomplished writer is General Benoit Mondele Ngolo. While Mondele Ngolo is outspoken and Sharpe tongue, Henri Djombo is not. Among the many books that he has written, the one that retained my attention was in titled in French: Le Mort Vivant or in English, The living dead. To me, it was a fascinating and also an enigmatic title for a book. I asked him why such as strange title? He only smiled and told me that, he was preparing to write another book. Detractors of Henri Djombo claim that, his writing ability that has been developed into a kind of semi-cottage industry was not the fruit of hard work or any literary ingenuity, but more of intellectual or literary outsourcing. In other words, his detractors meant that, he is not the author of his books and plays, but that his books and plays were written by Nzuzi Kadima, a man from the DRC that he had employed.

Personally, I don’t doubt his intellectual or literary power or capacity. In Congo, there is always a conflict in Congolese between those who studied in the west and those who studied in the former Soviet Union, former Eastern Europe and Cuba. Congolese who have studied in the west always put in doubt not only the credentials of those who studied in the former communist bloc, but also doubt their intellectual capacity.  The cold war or the Berlin wall may have fallen, but it is still well alive in Congo. However, I was told by one of his former girl friends that, his books were a reflection of the struggles that he was undergoing within the government. She also added that, Henri Djombo; contrary to his inoffensive ever smiling looks, hides an ambitious man who not only loves women, but nurses the secret hope to rule Congo, one day. Congolese political scene or any accomplished Congolese political elite, belonging to the ruling Congolese Workers Party or the PCT, won’t be complete without a salacious affair. While he is not known to be an assertive womanizer as his colleagues are, his love for aphrodisiacs shows that, he might be dissimulating a voracious appetite for the opposite sex. He so love aphrodisiacs to a point that, he has brewed his own brand called “Campec”. It is, as he told me and others who visits him and that he proudly offers them, that, “Campec” is a mixture of French Camp-Paris liquor with roots of unnamed plants infused with traditional Palm wine. He assures his male visitors that, “Campec” is better than Viagra. Another contradiction that I have noticed with Henri Djombo is found in his deep freezer.

His claims to fight against poaching and also against the hunting of endangered animals, but his freezer is full of endangered animals such as monkeys. I personally found that, disgusting and I understood the reason why the protection of wildlife in Congo and most of equatorial Africa was an illusion. This made me doubt whether all the conventions signed by Congo through Henri Djombo, for the protection of the forest of Congo basin could be respected by someone like him at the head of such as strategic ministry, not only for Congo and Africa, but for the world. For the preservation of the biodiversity of the Congo forest basin was of strategic importance. Henri Djombo, who is a lover and player of Table Tennis, also heads the Congolese Table Tennis Federation. He is behind the naturalization of Chinese table tennis stars that helped Congo defeat Nigeria and Egypt, two African Table Tennis powerhouses in continental competition. Henri Djombo might dissimulate and pour it in books that, he writes, but he remains a Sassou Nguesso loyalist. However, Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is a professional conspirator and well known coup plotter, doesn’t have 100% confidence in him. It explained why, when Djombo among others who wanted the post of secretary general of the ruling party, were all dumped by the president. Sassou Nguesso preferred to offer the post to the little known Pierre Ngolo.  

The educational profile and matrimonial background of Henri Djombo could portrait him as a real communist. For he did not only study in the former Soviet Union, precisely in Leningrad now called Saint Petersburg and also in Bulgaria, he is married to a Russian. But like all former communist who have converted to market economy, he loves material processions. His yard looks like that of a luxurious SUV car vendour. As to whether this man born in 1952 has a political future in Congo after Denis Sassou Nguesso is gone, it is difficult to predict.  His long stay at the head of the ministry of forestry where he is alleged to have grown rich because of corruption and couple with the fact that, he is the author of several books denouncing the very system he has been working for, gives him ambivalent categorization. However, given how Denis Sassou Nguesso is hated, I think, it would be difficult for him to have any future.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

ALEXIS VINCENT GOMEZ: Profile of a poor boy turn International lawyer and real estate Mongul

ALEXIS VINCENT GOMEZ:  from Jeans seller to billionaire in FCFA

He was also born in the populous neighborhood of Poto-poto, located north of Brazzaville, the capital of Congo. Alexis Vincent Gomez is also known as a Sassou Nguesso created millionaire by his detractors.  For it is believed that, he is also playing the same role like Paul Obambi, another alleged Sassou Nguesso created millionaire. While Paul Obambi is an economist by profession, Alexis Vincent Gomes is a lawyer by profession. The only thing that, both new generation Congolese businessmen have in common is their proximity with the President of the Republic and his wife. He is a very simple man, who has not forgotten where he comes from. When I met him in 2013, he was 58 year old and that night, he was spending time with some of his childhood friends in a popular bar in Poto-poto called Espace Feignond. He does that regularly whenever he is in Brazzaville. To him, Poto-poto is his Israel or promise land. However, if you want to talk serious business with Alexis Vincent Gomez who is also the Governor of Lions Club, it is in Diosso, a locality situated some 23km from Pointe Noire, the economic capital of Congo. The city of Pointe Noire is the most populated and the richest in Congo and it is located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Congo’s second city financially and economically is not Brazzaville, but Ouesso.  Mr Gomez is not only a simple man as already mentioned, he is also a bright international lawyer and also a formidable businessman. He has invested in real estates in Congo, France and in the United States. His investments or properties are estimated according to him to stand at FCFA 1 billion in Congo, France and in the United States.

While Vincent Gomez could be loquacious, he becomes taciturn when he is asked to explain how he became a billionaire. For like Paul Obambi, he is also suspected to be a straw man or fronting for the Presidential family and precisely the wife of the President of Congo, Mrs. Antoinette Sassou Nguesso. It is an allegation that he roundly rejects and instead says that, he is what he is today because of hard work and also because of the help that, he got from one Raymond Obadiah.  In the words of Vincent Gomez, his story is a classic case of a poor boy becoming rich or from rag to riches. Mr Obadiah, the mentor of Alexis Vincent Gomez, he claims, was a Jewish merchant whom he met at the Strasbourg Saint Denis market in Paris. Mr Gomez adds that, he knew Mr Raymond Obadiah because, he frequented the Strasbourg Saint Denis market in Paris where he bought jean pants that he sold back in Brazzaville, when he was on vacation. He also told me that, Raymond Obadiah, who was a wholesale merchant, gave him packages of jeans pants on loan and he only paid him back after selling them. Another lining of the admiration that Alexis Vincent Gomez has for Raymond Obadiah was the Jewish merchant’s capacity to forecast. Alexis Vincent Gomez also told me among the predication his friend or business partner told him was that, he (Alexis Vincent Gomez) had a bright star. Some might think it only want embellish is his past or mystify it. 

However, one thing that is true about Alexis Vincent Gomez, he was born into a very large and poor family and he only knew his father when he was 11 years old. He grew up with his mother, grandmother, half brothers and sisters. And life was very hard for him.  He was conscious that, things where very hard and he knew that, his only salvation was education. Hence he studied hard and passed his Advance levels exam or Baccalaureate at the age 20. He later on got admitted at the lone University of the country known then as the University of Brazzaville, which is today known as the Marien Ngouabi University.  Upon graduation, he obtained a scholarship to further his studies in France, where he studied law and specialized in international business law. It was while in Paris and in order to make ends meet that he met with Raymond Obadiah, whom he claim is the source of his wealth and business mentor. He also told me that, while practicing law, he came into contact with George Walker Bush who was at that time the Governor of Texas. In what conditions or circumstances did he meet with former Governor and former President Bush? He doesn’t explain.

But he told me that, the friendship that he made with George Bush helped him a lot, when he decided to return to Congo in 1983. His friendship with George Bush enabled or facilitated him to work or win contracts with US oil firms working in Congo and also within countries of the Gulf of Guinea. While he is explicit in his relationship with Raymond Obadiah and George Walker Bush, he says nothing concrete regarding his relation with the ruling Nguesso family. As for his relationship with the President of the Republic, he claims that, they knew each other when he was still in France and President Denis Sassou Nguesso, appreciated his job and told him he was real lawyer. But he doesn’t also explain why what made him to meet the president and also why the president said he was a real lawyer? Are other lawyers not genuine? Those are questions that he seldom answers. While he is evasive, about is relationship with the President or his wife, he is rather clear as to how he views the opposition in his country. According to Alexis Vincent Gomez, the opposition political parties in Congo are led by amateurs who are threats to the economic prosperity and stability of the country. Why? He doesn’t answer. Perhaps, he will one day give an answer as to the reason why, he thinks the opposition in Congo is not business friendly.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Obambi Paul: Profile of Congo's Aliko Dangote

Congo, for all the noises made by its happy corrupt few, it is a strange country. It is a country that has been destroyed by more than 3 decades of Sassou Nguesso misrule.  The more than 3 decades of Sassou Nguesso rule has not only seen the destruction of the education and health systems, it has also made the country  to produce the laziest and less ambitious  women in the word, especially those born between 1978 and 2000. Sassou Nguesso has also destroyed the entrepreneurial character in both men and women of Congo. Hence, it is hard to see a successful business man in Congo Brazzaville today. Most businessmen and women are briefcase businessmen and woman or are people who survive on contracts from the civil service. However in that entrepreneurial desert, there are nonetheless some oases of entrepreneurs such as Pierre Otto Mbongo, late Charles Ebina and to a certain level Maurice Nguesso. These old generation businessmen are the few who can boast of having established businesses in the private sector, even though they are not always very successful. But one thing is clear; the private sector in Congo is a desert for indigenes. Those controlling what could be described as the private sector are foreigners, in particular Lebanese, West Africans from Mauritania, Mali, Senegal and Guinea, some Cameroonians and Nigerians and also the French. They are mostly operating in the retail business sector and very little in the service and industrial sectors.

Paul Obambi is therefore one of the few young or new generation indigenous businessmen of the country. However, for all his talents and business ingenuity, he can’t justify how he got his wealth. Pierre Otto Mbongo, who is also related to Paul Obambi, once told me that, Mr Obambi was an investment or business straw man for Sassou Nguesso. In other words, what Pierre Otto Mbongo fondly known as “Pierrot” meant was that, the business investments of Paul Obambi, was in fact that of Denis Sassou Nguesso. However, when I asked Paul Obambi about the claim of Pierre Otto Mbongo, he rejected the allegation as pure jealousy from an old man. Whatever the allegations made against Paul Obambi, there are nonetheless two things which are true. He is an organized soft spoken man, who makes many promises and seldom keeps them.  On the other hand, he is also an astute businessman. Hence he has been able to join the league of top African businessmen.  And because of his business successes, he is regularly received by some African leaders with whom they discuss business ventures. Paul Obambi enjoys meeting with top political figures and also his business peers. However, his other pleasure is his love to be in the company top African musical stars such as Koffi Olumide or Papa Wemba.  His business bases are: Brazzaville, Kinshasa, Abidjan and Paris. However, the headquarters of his business empire is located in Brazzaville on the Edith Lucie Bongo Ondimba Avenue.

This avenue is located within the industrial district of Mpila, a neighbourhood situated north east of Brazzaville. Although Paul Obambi presents himself as a self-made man and attempts to distance himself from the President of the Republic and the Congolese government, the walls of in his vast office are strewn with souvenirs which are also evidence of who has made him to be what he is today financially. He also has a large photo that he took in the company of President Denis Sassou Nguesso and his wife Antoinette Sassou Nguesso. Paul Obambi is the CEO of an agro-industrial group called SAPRO and he also doubles as chairman of the Chambers of Commerce, industry, agriculture and trade and mines of Brazzaville. He has been the chair of the Brazzaville chamber of Commerce since 1996. Paul Obambi is always clean shaven, strapped in his trademark sumptuous navy blue suit, probably crafted in France as any typical Congolese elite will do. Paul Obambi also likes to be informal. Hence, he prefers to be simply called as “Yaya Paul or Ya Paul" (big brother Paul, a sign of respect). He is a flamboyant geek. Paul Obambi is not yet Congo’s Aliko Dangote, but he is aspiring to become one of the continent’s richest men and hence he is focusing the expansion of his business mostly out of Congo, because he claims, his country is not business friendly coupled with the fact that, it has a small population. Hence he focuses on Cameroon and neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Paul Obambi was on the 13th of December 1959 and founded his Sapro group immediately he returned from France, where he studied economics. As far as the source of his wealth is concern, Paul Obambi claims  that, it was savings that he made during his brief spell in the public service, which he used to start his own business. But the reality is that, without the help of President Denis Sassou Nguesso, he won’t have been successful as he is today. Even though he vehemently refuses, he truly seems to be fronting for the President of the Republic of Congo. For given the business reality in the country, it is almost impossible to succeed without support from someone influential within the system. It is claimed from reliable sources that, it is the President who facilitates his meetings with African head of states. And the question this: why will Sassou Nguesso, who prefers his children and immediate family members help Obami if he has no interest in what he is doing? Paul Obambi doesn’t give any convincing answer but focuses at giving candid responses when addressing the reason why Congolese don’t succeed in private entrepreneurship.

He claims that, Congo is a country destroyed by communism and also where the culture of mediocrity and economic and educational stagnations constitutes a real handicap to development". He also adds that: Congolese are very lazy. Paul Obambi is not only an Intellectual, but also a shrewd businessman, known for his objective analysis of developmental issues in Africa. His mastery of developmental challenges in Africa has been demonstrated by a presentation that he delivered at the Forbes Africa Summit, which was held on the 29th of July 2013 in Brazzaville. After a slow start in 1990, Sapro group that he leads has extended its tentacles in the industrial, Oil and Gas and Food sectors. The Sapro Group is also present in the services and construction sectors.  Today, for all its shortcomings, Sapro group is one of the successful models of private initiative in Congo. It has more than 1,000 employees across its ten subsidiaries spread in Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Chad, Niger, Ivory Coast, and Central African Republic and soon in Cameroon. In the DRC, its oil subsidiary, Sapro Oil, recently bought Congo Oil. Congo Oil was a state owned lost making company, which the DRC authorities had decided to privatize. Solupac is another subsidiary of Sapro. This company was set up in partnership with a German company called German Mirror & Co. It is a company that specializes in the production of a wide range of lubricants for vehicle engines. While international media, the first independent billboard display company in Congo, controls 80% market share of outdoor advertisement in the country. According to Paul Obambi, he wants to become the market leader in the African market of bill boarding or outdoor marketing.

International Media, the adverting arm of Sapro has 1,000 bill boards of different types across the country. In Ivory Coast, International Media is the second company in the sector, says, Paul Obambi, while smiling from ear to ear. Paul Obambi is also in the mobile phone business, which is currently experiencing a great boom, albeit with changing consumption attitudes on the continent. He is the majority shareholder of Azur Telecom, which is the fourth mobile telephony operator in the Congo. The parent company of Azur Telecom is Equator Telecom, which is a subsidiary of SAPRO group. Through Equator Telecom, he has taken   control of Azur Gabon and Azur CAR. Paul Obambi once told me that: Our ambition now is to create an investment bank, before listing at the Abidjan regional stock Exchange.” He however added: Before we get there, we are already going into mining and we will soon be producing iron ore from Mayoko-Moussondji in the Niari department”. The SAPRO group, he continued: owns three operating licenses in partnership with Congo Mining, which is a subsidiary of Australia's Equatorial Resources”. While it is true that Sapro group is worth over FCFA 500 billion in terms of capitalization, Paul Obambi doesn’t like to talk about his wealth or that of his group. "Money hates noise, and in Congo, a country of jealous and lazy people, it better not to speak too much about your success" he once told me. Paul Obambi, who was born in the populous Poto-poto neighborhood of Brazzaville, used to play football, barefoot and he was also a militant or activist of the former Union of Congolese Socialist Youth abbreviated UJCS. This was during the one-party communist rule state (1969-1991). "Now I'm away from political passions and I prefer my hat of a businessman", he told me. 

When I told him that, it seems his success is simply because of his links with the President of the Republic and his connections with friends within the ruling Congolese Workers Party abbreviated PCT, he replied:  those are words from lazy and envious people, who are jealous of my success. And he concluded: I am what I am today because of hard work and not because of imaginary connections with the President. Paul Obambi is a member of an African or an indigenous Congolese Christian church known as Kibanguist. This church was created by Simon Kibangu. Kibangu was born according to the on line dictionary Wikipedia, in the village of Nkamba on 12th or the 24th of September 1887 and died in prison on the 12th of October 1951. He was the son of a religious leader and became a Baptist in 1915 and worked as a catechist for several years before beginning his own ministry. He is the founder of Kimbaguism and his followers consider him to be the special envoy of Jesus Christ as quoted in the fourteenth chapter of the biblical gospel of John.