Sunday, March 13, 2016

Basile Ikouebe: Profile of Congo’s minister of Foreign affairs and Cooperation

Basile Ikouebe: he was until his recent dismissal from the government or his resignation repackaged as dismissal, Congo’s minister of Foreign affairs and Cooperation. He held the prestigious post from 2007 to 2015. He was also the former representative of Congo at the United Nations. This sometimes tempestuous man is nonetheless methodic, when it comes to discharging diplomatic matters. He is also one of the rare persons with whom President Denis Sassou Nguesso still has good relationship. Denis Sassou Nguesso has very few people who have had longstanding cordial relationship with him. Most people who have been friends with Congo’s president, do almost all accuse him of disloyalty. Even though, Basile Ikouebe is a native of the Cuvette region, just like the president of the republic, he is not an ethnic Mbouchi, like his friend President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Basile Ikouebe he is an ethnic Kouyou. The Kouyou ethnic group is close to the Mbouchis, but their languages are spoken with some variations. Their chief town which is also that of the Cuvette region is called Owando. However, the Kouyou language was the language spoken by late former President, Commandant Marien Ngouabi. Mr Ngouabi is the man who staged the 1968 coup d’état that ended the leadership of Alphonse Massambat-Debat and in particular, ended the domination of the southern Congolese against northerners and also, most importantly, it brought the northerners to power. It was first the Kouyous of Marien Ngouabi and then, the Mbouchis of which the Nguesso ruling family are the most well-known, who are now at the head of the country.

The 1968 coup d’état was well staged managed. First it was Alfred Raoul who was appointed president and then, in 1969, the northerners still headed by Marien Ngouabi took the mantle of control full cycle. And There also locks, the genesis of the Congolese chronic misrule. Marien Ngouabi might be feted today as a national hero, but given the rot that his “brothers” from the Cuvette region have done to the Congolese social, political and economic fabric or foundation, I think, he(Marien Ngouabi) deserves a posthumous trial. Without him, the Nguesso ruling family won’t have been in power in Congo today. The procedure to bring the current ruling Nguesso family to power in Congo was not immediate. It was done tactfully. Nguesso family confirmation of their power grasp, took place in 1979. That is two years after the death of Marien Ngouabi, in yet to be elucidated causes or circumstances. Marien Ngouabi was also the founder of the current Congolese Workers Party abbreviate in French as PCT. Although Basile Ikouebe is occasionally tempestuous, but he is assiduous diplomatically or professionally, his only weakness, if could be considered as one, is that, he like faire complexioned ladies, but he is not a womanizer like most Congolese of his rank. His qualities are that, he is a very honest man and a seasoned diplomat. I have had the honor and the privilege to meet with Basile Ikouebe four times.

Meetings with Basile Ikouebe

Three times in Brazzaville and the fourth time was in lobby of Four Season Hotel in Washington DC.  It was on the 7th of August 2014, immediately after the first US-Africa Summit. However, the first time that I met with him, it was in the company of Guy Milex Mboundzi. Mr. Mboundzi is a journalist and publisher of a weekly newspaper called La Voix du Peuple. We came to see him, because we wanted him to give us his own version on the sales of Congolese Diplomatic passports to foreigners. In all fairness, he had nothing to do with the fraud, but the scandal came from his director of protocol whose only name I can retain or recall was Maduka. But on that day, Minister Ikouebe was furious. He told us that: “it was a cabal orchestrated by the children and relatives of the president of the republic to oust him from his responsibility”. But what he never knew was that, on that day, the children of the president or relatives of the president had no hands in what we came to enquire. Children or relatives of the President may have in other cases or instances, but the purpose of our visit was purely professional. The architect of his problem, was one if his, by name Maduka. Basile Ikouebe was a victim of excessive devolution of power and excessive confidence in Mr Maduka, his dubious director of protocol. 

On that day also, after his outburst, he calmed down and showed us on the wall, a photograph dating 1989. It was a souvenir picture taken in Brazzaville after the Brazzaville negotiations. It was negotiations, pitting on one hand the Cubans, the Angolan government or MPLA, SWAPO and the Soviet Union and on the other hand: South Africans, US and UNITA forces or delegation. In 1989, Congo was playing the mediation role in the Angolan crisis. And most of the mediations and negotiations took place in Brazzaville. While the Congolese played the role of mediation, it worth mentioning that, one of the greatest sponsors and support for the Liberation of southern African nations was Nigeria through the frontline states. The mentioned of this aspect by Basile Ikouebe is a testament of his honesty. For most Congolese government officials, especially card carrying members of the ruling party wants to make the world to believe that, the liberation of Angola, Namibia and Nelson Mandela was the lone effort of Denis Sassou Nguesso. They don't even want to mention that, before Denis Sassou Nguesso, it was Marien Ngouabi who took Congo into the African cold war battlefield of Angola and southern Africa in general. Guinea under Ahmed Sekou Toure also played a crucial role in the Angolan crisis. The Brazzaville agreement he told us, paved the way for the independence of Namibia and even the liberation of Nelson Mandela. And he made this memorable phrase: “I am a diplomat and not a Communist. I have refused to join the PCT and I am not a card holding member”.

Disputes with children of Denis Sassou Nguesso

From there on, I held him high in my heart. For anybody who hated or hates communism endeared my heart. We later on became friends and I even had to interview him on MNTV in my programme: La Grande Interview. It was in order for him to give his opinion on the Diplomatic passport palaver. But why was he furious when we came to contact him in order for him to give his own side of the story on the problem of Diplomatic passport? I can't really explain, but it was during that encounter that I discovered how much most ministers working under Denis Sassou Nguesso are suffering from constant humiliations meted on them by some the children of the President, especially his two daughters. Namely: Cendrine Otenello Sassou Nguesso and Claudia Sassou Nguesso. However, no matter how they were suffering or being humiliated, they never had the courage to resign their positions. One day, Basile Ikouebe called me. It was precisely on the 26th of July 2014. He asked me to come and meet him in his office at 11am. On the phone, he told me that, he wanted me to help him to promote or sell the just concluded “intra Central African Republic Talks” or meeting. The “Intra Central African Republic Talks or Dialogue” was the meeting of all the warring parties in Central African Republic. It took place in Brazzaville and it was initiated by President Denis Sassou Nguesso who was the mediator in the crisis.

The said intra Central African Republic Talks or Peace Forum, took place in Brazzaville from the 21st-23rd of July 2014. I went on time for our meeting. And I was in the company of his Director of Communications whose only name I can retain or recall was Daniel. Daniel was an army Colonel detached by the ministry of defense to the ministry of Foreign affairs and Cooperation to work in the Communications department. Daniel is a cool, peaceful and law abiding Christian, who was entirely devoted to serving his boss and their tribe. The minister asked his Director of communications to leave us alone and I sensed that, he wanted to speak to me privately.  And I felt honored by Mr Basile Ikouebe, because he wanted to confide  to me. On that day of the 26th of July 2014, I saw a disgruntled and abused man. He told me: “I have told your parents and relatives, in particular, the President of the Republic, that, I am tired and I want to leave or else I will resign. But the president doesn’t want to let me go or accept my resignation. I thought that, he will reshuffle his cabinet and in the process let me go. But, it has not happened yet”.

 Influence of the President and his family

Then he added: “anyway, I had been forewarned, while in New York and returning to take up this job here that, I was going to meet three obstacles. Namely: the president, who is the real foreign minister and takes the initiatives, his nephew, Jean Dominique Okemba  and his family, in particular his children and in chief, Claudia Sassou Nguesso”. He also told me that: “the just ended Central African Republic Peace Forum, almost failed because he could not agree on the dates with the children of the President”.  And he also added that: “it was the children of the president and in Chief, Claudia Sassou Nguesso who fixed the dates for the 21st-23rd July 2014 for the Forum and not him”. He went on: “regarding the central African peace forum, I had proposed a budget of FCFA 1.7 billion. Because when those delegates come here, we need to give them some stipends that are proportional to their ranks and also offer them proper accommodations during their stay here in Brazzaville. But my budgetary proposal was rejected by Gilbert Ondongo, the minister of finance, under the guise that, it was too elevated or too high. The budget was then whittled down to FCFA 500 million”. He added: “the presidency of the Republic was allocated the sum of FCFA 500 million to organize Forbes summit and when I say presidency of the Republic, I mean, the department of Communications which is headed by Claudia Sassou Nguesso, the daughter of the president”.

He concluded with this question: “What does Forbes Afrique Summit brings to Congo in terms of diplomatic dividends and prestige, if not wastage of state funds and the enrichment of the daughter of the president and his group?” Basile Ikouebe felt and thought that, the Central African Republic Peace Forum aimed at bringing a negotiated peace in Central African Republic, that the president was a mediator was far more important and had more immediate diplomatic dividend on Congo, than Forbes Afrique Forum, that was organize by the children and family of the president via a controversial businessman called Lucien Ebata, who is the CEO of an Oil company called Orion Oil based in Kinshasa.  But that was not the view of the president’s family. To them, it was best to make money for themselves than to consolidate the image of the country and even of their father. It also showed how far President Denis Sassou Nguesso has become hostage to his family and in particular to his daughter Claudia Sassou Nguesso. Basile Ikouebe added: “my friend, for the first time in more than 40 years, I can now assure you that, Denis Sassou Nguesso is now taken hostage by his family. Denis Sassou Nguesso would certainly not want to continue as President and the constitution even bars him from seeking a third mandate. But his children and family are mounting pressure on him”. He went further: “I have already told Denis Sassou Nguesso that, I am not in support for any kind of constitutional change and if he does not allow me to leave as I have already requested, I will resign whenever he pronounces or declares that, he wants to change the constitution, for I don’t know how the public will react ,because we have failed them to be honest”. He went on: “look, the president will be going to the United States on the 27th of July 2014 not because he wanted to reach the US in advance for the first and historic US-Africa Summit, but more because, he wanted to attend the birthday of one of his granddaughters”.

Corruption galore

He added: this building, housing the ministry of foreign affairs and Cooperation was inaugurated late and this, without being fully furnished because Rudolph Adada, my predecessor and belonging to the same tribe as the president of the Republic had embezzled the sum of FCFA 800 million earmarked to furnished the ultra modern building, that is a miniature replica of the ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing, China”. My meeting with Basile Ikouebe was like a moment of confession for him. As for me, it revealed to me the rot that is in the system of Denis Sassou Nguesso and also the corrosive role that, the children of the President were playing. He also told me that, he had resisted corruption attempts from one of the president’s daughters by name Cendrine Otenello Sassou Nguesso. He told me that, Cendrine Otenello Sassou Nguesso wanted him to place orders for vehicles for his ministry to the tune of FCFA 300 million. When he refused, the daughter of the president  sweetened the proposals and told him that, she will give him a SUV Toyota VX 4x4 drive, as compensation, to which, Basile Ikouebe rejected the offer from Cendrine. Annoyed, Cendrine went and saw former Prime Minister Isidore Mvouba in order for him to influence the foreign minister.

And when that stratagem failed, Cendrine began making abusive phone calls to the minister. The minister of foreign affairs also told me this:  “when I was fed up with the abusive phone calls of Cendrine, I went and met my friend Denis Sassou Nguesso and asked him to call his daughter to order or I will abandon your ministry, whether you like it or not”. And since the president knew how temperamental Basile Ikouebe was, he did call his daughter Cendrine to order. Basile Ikouebe also told that he was tired and also that, whatever decision the president took, he won’t continue again after 2016. And he continued: “I have told the president of the Republic to leave at the end of his mandate because we are tired and we have tried our best. And the truth is that, we seem to have failed the Congolese people.” Basile Ikouebe, I must point out that, when I broke the news on the sale of Diplomatic passports,  on breakfast show programme on MNTV called Ca Discute le Matin anchored by Gustelle Klaire, it was the first time that, it was broadcast on an electronic media. He was furious, for he never knew that, the news was already in print media such as the Talassa, which was published by Ghys Bemba and also published in La Voix du Peuple, published by Guy Milex Mboundzi. He never knew about it since they seldom read local newspapers and perhaps his assistants knew but were afraid to show or inform him about the diplomatic passport scandals.

Scandal of Diplomatic passport

He was too furious to a point that, he called the minister of Justice, Aime Emmanuel Yoka, the minister of Mines, General Pierre Oba and also Raymond Zephirin Mboulou, the minister of interior and decentralization for a meeting at the home of Maurice Nguesso, the owner of MNTV. The initial aim of Basile Ikouebe was that I should be sanctioned, at best or at worse, dismissed. I was called to come and explain how and where I got my information from. Evidently, I told them that, I could not disclose the source of my information. But since I had proves of my story, Maurice Nguesso defended me and the matter ended. The scandal of the sale of diplomatic passport broke out because of a triangular love affair pitting Mr Maduka, the Director of protocol of the minister of foreign affairs, a female staff working at the ministry and a certain Amadou Sow Noumazalaye.

Mr Maduka had sold a Congolese diplomatic passport to a DRC woman. The cost for the sale was FCFA 3 million and in some cases a Congolese diplomatic passport could be worth FCFA 5 million. The DRC woman had bought the passport was arrested at the Maya-maya International Airport in Brazzaville when she wanted to travel to Paris. Fearing of being exposed, Mr Maduka decided to convince his lover to accept to carry the responsibility. She was arrested and detained for a while at the Brazzaville central police station and then she was suspended from the ministry of foreign affairs and cooperation where she was working. Mr Maduka assured her that, she will be given the sum of FCFA 3 million and also that, her salary; since she was a civil servant will continue to be paid. He also told her that, after the dust must have settled, she would resume work. That is how things work out in the land of impunity. Six month later, not only did Maduka fail to honor most of his promises, he also stopped visiting her. 

Meanwhile, the girl had fallen in love with a certain Amadou Sow Noumazalaye. It was Noumazalaye who took the flash disk of the ministry of foreign affairs that, the lady still had in her procession and which was containing all diplomatic passports and gave it to the publisher of La Voix du Peuple to keep. The Publisher saw it like as a gold mine of information and decided to start serializing it. That was how a cover up, which was first revealed by Talassa newspaper that has since been banned, resurfaced because La Voix du Peuple had bigger file. Basile Ikouebe is a loyal friend of Denis Sassou Nguesso, but he has or had the courage to tell the truth to his friend. But that doesn’t in anyway mean that, he is going to have any political role in Congo during or after Denis Sassou Nguesso.
However, his only salvation if he ever wanted to play any political role in Congo will be for him, to tell the truth of his experience in a system that has destroyed a country that was once respected regionally and internationally, because of it diplomacy.

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