Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Charles Zacherie Bowao: A seasoned and courageous intellectual (Profile)

Charles Zacherie Bowao: until he was shown the door out of the government, he was Congo’s minister delegate at the Presidency of the Republic in charge of defense.Before I could meet and converse with him for almost a full day, I knew that, besides being a politician, he was a seasoned intellectual, but partly spoiled by the virus of Congolese politics. He is a professor of philosophy and author of several books on his subject of predilection, which is, as you may, all now know, is philosophy.  He is also credited to have created or founded the department of Philosophy at the Marien Ngouabi University in Brazzaville. In life, no matter how brilliant that one is, he/she is sadly, always remembered for the wrongs or mistakes that he/she may have committed. And indeed, Charles Zacherie Bowao committed one mistake and, it was a monumental one. It was in the early hours of the 4th of March 2012.  On that day, series of or to be precise, three major explosions took place at an ammunition depot, located in Mpila. And Mpila is a neighborhood situated north east of Brazzaville. That March 4th 2012 catastrophe, took away the lives of several people and destroyed properties worth billions. According to government figures, about 250 people lost their lives. But the figure was much higher.

Infamous gaffe

March 4th 2012 was a sad day for the Congolese people, who sadly, live in a country that has known several catastrophes. Many having been caused because of corruption and neglect by government officials, who go unpunished. And it was on that sad day of March 4th 2012, that Charles Zacherie Bowao chose to make his infamous gaffe for which his is infamously remembered for by the victims. On that day of March 4th, he attempted to minimize the consequences of the explosions when he was being interviewed on Congo’s national television.  To his discharge, he could not have survived a single day, had he been he spoke the truth. No one working with Denis Sassou Nguesso or close to speaks the truth and goes unpunished.  A prove is that, while all government officials knew the truth they said nothing. Even the president did not react negatively, when he learnt that Charles Zacherie Bowao had tried to play down the catastrophe during his interview on national television. . Paradoxically, when there was a national outcry and there was need for a sacrificial lamb, President Denis Sassou Nguesso was unable to ask him to tender his resignation. Charles Zacherie Bowao himself was equally unable to read the writings on the wall as an intellectual, and then offer his resignation. The prestige of the post was too sweet for him to forego it. It is generally claimed in parts of Africa that, a normal person, seldom resigns a ministerial appointment.  I think that, the prestige of the post   was what blurred the brilliant professor from the Likouala region, to see the reality. 

As far as of the president was concern, he hesitated to throw Charles Zacherie Bowao out of the government, perhaps because the President knew that, he (Denis Sassou Nguesso) was in fact, the real minister of defense, thus the real person responsible for what  happened in Mpila on the 4th of March. Hence, in spite popular outcry, he never wanted to kick Zacherie Bowao out of the government. Furthermore, Zacherie Bowao was simply a minister delegate of defense. However, even if it were not the case, the question that most Congolese do ask themselves is this: does Denis Sassou Nguesso ever care to sanction any of his erring ministers or staff? With Denis Sassou Nguesso, it is laissez faire or laissez allez attitude, until he sees that, your attitude could be a threat to his rule.  If Charles Zacherie Bowao was not dismissed immediately, it was because, there were several other reasons. One of them being that, there was no money to move the depot from Mpila another more safe destination. And this was contrary to what the government had claimed in the early hours after the disaster had happened. The government through the mouth of the President claimed a budget was already set aside for the depot to be moved from Mpila to elsewhere. But one of the president`s close aide refutes the claims of his boss. 

On Mpila disaster, the president  lied

According to Jean Jacques Bouya, the only truth is that, the government wanted to move the depot. But the other sides not spoken by the president is that, there was no money earmarked for it.  The World Bank and the IMF were opposed because they did not see the urgency. He added:in order to circumvent the Breton Woods institutions, the government of Congo went to China to ask for FCFA 50 billion loan. This loan which would have been labelled for the constructions of low income houses, medical facilities and roads, in a bid to get the vetting from Breton Woods institutions was not yet signed, before the explosions could happen. He concluded:The President was planning to travel to China at the end of the month of March in order to sign  or finalize the loan agreement with China. But because of politics the president had to lie. He could not have spoken the truth, for had he, his regime would have fallen, given the scope of the disaster.  It is now clear why the President does not want March 4th to be celebrated because, he feels guilty.

How Charles Zacherie was dismissed

Nevertheless, this was how President Denis Sassou Nguesso proceeded to inform or ask Charles Zacherie Bowao to resign his post of minister delegate at the Presidency of the Republic in charge of defense. He used a certain Mrs. Benedict Bourgneuf, who was the proprietress of two newspapers, sponsored by the President. Mrs. Benedict Bourgneuf was the first person that President Denis Sassou Nguesso gave his decision/ news to.  Mrs. Bourgneuf is the ex-wife of Pierre Haim. And Mr Haim was a friend to the president and former owner of a stevedoring and maritime transport company until it was swallowed up by another French company called Bollore. Bollore is majority owned by Vincent Bollore who has created an African subsidiary called Bollore Africa Logistics. As for Pierre Haim who helped President Denis Sassou Nguesso during the civil war, especially in the purchase of  weapons, his former company was SDV. 

Denis Sassou Nguesso: professional dissimulator

This also shows the subtle way that Denis Sassou Nguesso operates. Hence, it is almost impossible to accuse the President of anything wrong. For he has the extraordinary art not only for shifting responsibilities for anything negative on others, but he  also has a professional way of pouring blame on others while at the same time dissimulating his responsibility. For example, on all the accusations for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity leveled against him, it is almost impossible to prove that, he is the author or may have commandeered it or any.  The only thing which betrays him is that, almost all those accused are seldom punished and are always working around him. But for a man who has all the vital information taking place in Congo, he always pretends not to know anything, which happens, especially the bad ones. However, he knows best how to capitalize or appropriate all what is positive. 

Mrs. Benedict Bourgneuf

In Brazzaville, Mrs. Benedict Bourgneuf became the publisher of a newsletter which focused on Congo’s economy. And it was called Congo-Brazzanews. Congo Brazzanews was the first to publish the resignation of Charles Zacherie Bowao in the first edition. Congo Brazzanews, that has now folded up because its principal sponsor has decided to stop financing it, was a newsletter, meant to promote Congo’s economic potentials abroad. The only other person present on that day when President Denis Sassou Nguesso was informing Mr Bourgneuf of his decision to dismiss Charles Zacherie Bowao was Jean Francois Jacquier, who was the editor in chief of both Congo Brazzanews newsletter and the bimonthly newspaper, Terrafrica. Both Congo Brazzanews newsletter and Terrafrica bimonthly newspaper have now folded up because its sponsor Denis Sassou Nguesso no longer saw the importance or was forced by his daughter Claudia Sassou Nguesso and  Jean Paul Pigasse,the  friend of the president, to stop supporting a competitor. When the story was published and Charles Zacherie Bowao failed to resigned, they (Benedict Bourgneuf and Jean Francois Jacquier) asked me to go and meet the minister and informed him that, the President wanted him to resign his post and if he accepted, he will be given another or different appointment later on.  
My first meeting with Charles Zacherie Bowao

I accepted the commission. And I went and met Charles Zacherie Bowao and on that the day, another professor was present at the home of Charles Zacherie Bowao.It was Professor Jean-Luc Aka- Evy, who is also a friend.  It was just a coincident, I suppose or perhaps, Charles called to him that I would be his guest and never wanted to receive me alone or on a one on basis. But while I was with Charles Zacherie Bowao and Jean-Luc Aka- Evy, I did not want to deliver the bad news, because I felt that, it was not my role and I also know that, people in ancient times who brought bad news, were usually killed. As regards the news of Bowao’s resignation published by CongoBrazzanews, Jean Paul Pigasse, upon reading it, called Mrs. Bourgneuf to tell her that, the president won’t honor his promises.  Pigasse went on:  worst things have occurred in this country and the President has done little or nothing. Why do you think the President would do anything now?  Mrs. Bourgneuf stood her grounds because what she had ordered to be written or published came straight from the mouth of the President. It now became a battle of jealousy between the French whites who are the communications advisers to the president. But contrary to what Jean Paul Pigasse, the Director of Adiac media group or Agence d’information de l’afrique Centrale in English: Central African News Agency, who are the publishers of Les Depeches de Brazzaville, had predicted to Mrs. Benedict, the news  published in her newsletter called Congo Brazzanews, became a reality.  

Sponsorship of foreign Press at the expense of national press

However, it took some time or it was slow to happen, but Charles Zacherie Bowao was eventually shown the door out of the government. Les Depeches De Brazzaville, the newsletter CongoBrazzanews and the bimonthly newspaper: Terrafrica are sponsored by President Denis Sassou Nguesso and this, at the expense or detriment of the local press and journalists. It is also reported that, the president through proxy has shares in major French media such as Le Monde and Nouvelle Observateur. Congo is also having shares in the African subsidiary of the pan European broadcaster, Euronews. Furthermore, these newspapers and media houses are all headed by French whites. It is as though, there are no competent Congolese or African deserving to be given such responsibilities. Well, the ruling Nguesso family, as you might have read from the attitude of Maurice Nguesso to President Denis Sassou Nguesso and Aime Emmanuel Yoka, are a people, who are only by the color of their skin black, but all their thoughts and actions are in favour of White people. In fact, some of the Nguessos consider themselves to be whites. 

Original profession

When Charles Zacherie Bowao lost his ministerial appointment, he went back to his original profession, which is teaching. And he resumed lecturing at the Marien Ngouabi University. During this period, he also wrote and published several books and two of them ruffled many feathers amongst the ruling elite, because they were against plans of the government to change the constitution. One of his publications which caught my attention was in titled in French: La Tragedie du Pouvoir: Une Pschanalyse du Slogan, published by Dianoia Publishers in 2015. In a bid to calm him, the President of Congo passed through the ambassador of Cameroon in Brazzaville, Dr Hamidou Komidor Njimulluh. The president used such a ruse because; he knew that, Ambassador Njimulluh and Bowao were friends. Dr Hamidou Komidor Njimulluh is also an author of a book in titled in French: Les Fonction politiques de l’ecole au Cameroun 1916-1976. The Cameroonian ambassador in Congo plays a role in his host country that is beyond diplomacy. He is neck deep involved in Congolese local politics. He is clearly helping President Denis Sassou Nguesso and his advisers on how best to change the constitution of Congo that would   allow Denis Sassou Nguesso to stay everlastingly in power in the same way as Paul Biya has done in Cameroon. 

Sad discovery

I discovered how influential, but sad,  negative role that, the ambassador of Cameroon was proudly playing in Congo. This sad discovery was made on the 10th of July 2014. It was a Thursday, and the time was 9:30 AM. The ambassador had asked my colleague and friend Alphonse Ndongo to call me and that; together, we should meet him in his office. When I came, on the above date, Alphonse was not there, but he (the ambassador of Cameroon) was waiting for me as if, I was a diplomat. He welcomed me with an extraordinary show or manifestation of respect, not usually known or expected from Cameroonian diplomat toward their compatriots abroad. He ushered me in to his office through the VIP wing and when we were in his office, he indicated to me and once again, with respect, where I had to sit in a brown leather sofa. He immediately, began telling me how important it is for us to help Congo and President Denis Sassou Nguesso. He proudly told me how he was among the ideologues of the new deal regime of Paul Biya in Cameroon and also how, he was or is still an imminent member of the French Socialist party. He rose up and called one of his assistant and asked him to bring a 1974 photograph, wherein he was filmed in the company of Francois Mitterrand and Robert Debre. Then he turn toward me and said: you were not even born then. I replied: I was born on the 1st of June 1973 in Penja and on that, day, my mother told me that, it was at around 1:30 am, in the morning.” He replied: what a precision and he added: you also seem to like to know all the details of things.

I said: yes, I do, your Excellency. Then he told me: you must practice your journalism as a black African and a Bantu and not like a White-man, as you are doing. I sensed that, it was a message that was sending to me. But I did not know from whom precisely that, it came from. I could only guess. But I told him this: Your Excellency, there is no such thing as African or black African journalism as against white or western journalism. Journalism, I added: is like democracy. It is universal. Thereafter, I guess, now, to show me how he was influential within the regime, he pulled out his blackberry phone from his white flowing robe otherwise known as “gandoura” in Cameroon and called Minister George Moyen, the minister of Higher education and then, he made  a second call, this time around to Charles Zacherie Bowao, the former minister delegate at the Presidency in charge of defense.  At that time, Mr Bowao was in still in France. In front of me or in my presence, he told Bowao on the phone the following: you have to come back to Congo, because the President wants to give you another appointment. I did not hear what the reply of Bowao was. But I sensed that,  Charles Bowao was not responding to the ambassador, the way he would have wanted.And when he hung up, he confided to me that, President Denis Sassou Nguesso had asked him to mediate or try to convince Bowao to return to Congo and be an active member of the party. And he also added that, the President had told him that, Bowao could not act the way he was without the influence of his wife. 

Where I cringed and saw clear wickedness, was when he told me that, the President even wanted Charles Zacherie Bowao to distant himself from his wife. It was a euphemistic way of asking the ambassador of Cameroon to influence or convince Mr Bowao to divorce his wife. Was it really Denis Sassou Nguesso asking the Cameroonian ambassador to ask Bowao to divorce his wife or it was the imagination or sadistic thoughts of the Cameroonian ambassasdor, in a bid to preserve his influence within the presidential circle. I was very annoyed with the Cameroonian ambassador not just because he was supporting a dictatorship and prided himself for having consolidated the relationship between Yaoundé and Brazzaville that was symbolized. That was symbolised by the twining of the towns of Owando in Congo and Sangmelima in Cameroon and also the creation of a regional University in Ouesso, northern Congo.  I was annoyed because, he wanted to cause marital separation in a couple for his own political capital.

Second meeting with Charles Zacherie Bowao

However, the former minister of delegate for defense, which I met on the 9th of June 2014 in his country home north of Brazzaville, was a relaxed man, but a bitter man. He calls his large compound Sierra maestra. He told me that, it was a group of Cuban military personnels on tour in Congo who visited him who decided to give it the name that it bears today. According the online dictionary Wikipedia,Sierra Maestra ,is a Mountain range that runs westward across the south of the old Oriente provincefrom what is now Guantanamo province to Niguero in southeast Cuba rising abruptly from the coast. Some view it as a series of connecting ranges (Vela, Santa Catalina, Quemado Grande, Daña Mariana), which joins with others extending to the west. The Sierra Maestra is the highest system of Cuba. It is rich in minerals, especially copper, manganese, chromium and Iron. At 1,974 m (6,476 ft), Pico Turquino is the range's highest point. On that day, I discovered a different man. I discovered that Charles Zacherie Bowao was an honest intellectual and not a politician as he once was. I was received in the company of his wife who had prepared us a delicious meal complete with a very good French wine, whose name I have forgotten. I was also impressed to see a Congolese woman who was an intellectual.The only other Congolese women that I have seen and who impressed me were Arlette Soudan-Nonault, Gilda Rosemonde Montsara Ngambo, and Solange Samba Touyou. But the wife of Charles Zacherie Bowao is above them all. She is a class of her own. 

Charles Zacherie Bowao first began by praising my courage in the way I was managing MNTV. He said: Elie, you are deep with them, but yet, you have the courage to do your job professionally. I replied: thank you very much sir. It is a team work. And I added that: I want things to change and look normal like elsewhere where, there is a burgeoning democracy. To that he replied: you are dreaming my dear Elie Smith. You can’t change those who are not only retrogrades and tribal, but who are a people who hate competent people. He went on: Do your job well and Congolese will forever be grateful. And he added: your people, I mean the ones you are working for, will not be happy with the way you are working. He added: “how do we or how do I  even expect a system to work well , when ideologues of the regime are people such as Michel Ngakala, who has no formal education and whose real profession was a fisherman,  who was fishing with a dugout canoe on the Alima River in Oyo?”He went on: “How can you expect a better and modern Congo, when the President of the Republic has as special adviser, Jean Dominique Okemba, whom with the aide of tribalism coupled with family patronage he has been bombarded to the post vice admiral with his only education being an electrician, that was trained on board ships along the shores of Pointe Noire?  He continued the training of Jean Dominque Okemba was an on the job training that he acquired when he was in the navy?” 

Was Marcel Nstourou really innocent?

And he added again: that is why; the only thing that Jean Dominique Okemba knows  how  to do very well is how to create short circuits, as he has done with Colonel Marcel Nstourou who is now in jail. I asked: So, cwas Marcel Nstourou really innocent?   And he replied: Yes, he was innocent. When the time comes, I will say what I know about the March 4th 2012 explosions. Remember, I was the minister delegate at the Presidency in charge of defense, so I know many things. He also told me that: Congo has to take a break from Denis Sassou Nguesso, because under Denis Sassou Nguesso, brutes such as Jean Francois Ndenguet and Jean Dominique Okemba are ruining the image of the country. Charles Zacherie Bowao masters the constitution of Congo and claims that, all what some of his former colleagues are doing or  are attempting to justify the change of the constitution are mere theatrics and also that: Denis Sassou Nguesso knows that, he has to leave power in 2016 or else, there will be problems in the country. What kind of problems? He refused to be precise or develop what will happen. Charles Zacherie Bowao is therefore a person who still has a role to play intellectually and even politically in Congo, should he decide to, after Denis Sassou Nguesso may have gone. By coming out and standing up plainly for the truth, he may have certainly aton the sins that he committed on the 4th of March 2012, when he attempted to downplay that  tragedy of monumental proportion, President Denis Sassou Nguesso wants Congolese to forget.

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