Sassou-Nguesso: "France's relationship with Africa must evolve

Sassou-Nguesso: "France's relationship with Africa must evolve


Sassou-Nguesso: "France's relationship with Africa must evolve

According to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, "we could have hoped that France, which knows Africa well, but also Europe, which is the closest continent, would be able to establish a partnership with reciprocal benefits and mutual respect. I believe that the sanctimonious paternalism that still too often tinges this relationship is no longer accepted" © HANDOUT / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP


Re-elected to lead his country in March 2021, for a fourth term, the President of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou-Nguesso, 79 years old, 39 of them in power, is one of the oldest African leaders. On the eve of the African Union summit to be held in Addis Ababa on February 18 and 19, he spoke to Le Point Afrique about important issues that are capturing the attention of observers at a time when Africa, more determined than ever to take its destiny into its own hands, is once again at the center of important international rivalries.

Le Point Afrique: Since independence, African armies have played a determining role in the destiny of the continent's countries. How do you explain that today, more than 60 years after independence, armies can continue to make and break institutions, in the Sahel or elsewhere?

Denis Sassou-Nguesso: The military must remain in the barracks. I am fundamentally opposed to military coups. Neither Marien Ngouabi (his predecessor at the head of the Congo, assassinated in 1977) nor I carried out a military coup. We were part of the political and revolutionary struggles of the Congo. Our generation was dedicated to the liberation of our countries. Although we were military, we were involved in the political struggles in the Congo, but we never entertained the idea of a coup d'état. In 1968, Marien Ngouabi came to power within the framework of political struggles within the party. It was the same when I was appointed in 1979.

The Central African Republic, Mali and Burkina Faso became the scene of a war of influence between France and Russia. Doesn't this new paradigm of conflict between powers risk further destabilizing the most fragile African countries?

Unfortunately, this is often the case; think of the fate of Africa during the Cold War period. In our country, popular wisdom says that when elephants fight, it is the small bushes that die. If your description is correct, if Russia and France have made these countries the scene of their rivalry, it is to be feared that the weakest will pay the price...

Is the presence of an organization like Wagner in certain African countries a matter of concern or is it a matter of sovereign choice for each of these countries?

Wagner is present in the CAR. I imagine that this is the choice of the Central African authorities. I don't know if this is also the case in Mali and Burkina Faso. Having been a mediator in the Central African crisis until the elections and the arrival of President Touadéra, I followed the situation on the ground very closely. Until 2016, Wagner was not in CAR. Wagner arrived after the departure of French troops from Operation Sangaris. France had decided, for sovereign reasons, to withdraw its 2,000 troops from Sangaris, and only after that did Wagner arrive. I'm not trying to justify it, I'm just noting it.

In the early 2000s, the tandem of Alpha Oumar Konaré and Olusegun Obasanjo brought a strong political momentum to the African Union. The pan-African organization had adopted a firm doctrine on the violation of the constitutional order and the conditions for political transitions, and the frequency of coups d'état had decreased. Twenty years later, this doctrine is being tested in Mali, Chad, Guinea-Conakry and Burkina Faso. Everywhere, the leaders of military transitions are cultivating ambiguity and considering running for office. Isn't this a failure or a disavowal for the African Union?

I don't think so. The doctrine remains valid. The African peace and security architecture is based on regional economic communities such as the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) or the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It makes them play an important role in peace and stability. coups, when they occur, are always followed by drastic measures prohibiting juntas from sitting in the African Union until constitutional order is restored. The doctrine has not changed. The regional economic communities bring the perpetrators of coups to heel, when they can the regional economic communities bring the perpetrators of coups d'état to heel, when they can do so. Their decisions are sometimes accompanied by fairly heavy sanctions. We saw this in the case of Mali with ECOWAS. The AU doctrine is a necessary and applied doctrine. It sometimes encounters pitfalls, but it would be illusory to believe that it could completely prevent coups d'état.

A serious crisis is shaking your neighbors, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, who accuse each other. From January 12 to 16, you organized a meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa. In your opinion, what are the parameters for peace in the eastern DRC and is there a chance to achieve it?

Yes, I think there is a chance for peace, since the two sub-regional bodies, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, currently chaired by Angolan President João Lourenço, and the Community of East African States, chaired by Kenya and Burundi, have taken charge of managing this crisis. Initiatives are underway, plans are being developed. They can produce results. Moreover, Kenya and Burundi have already sent troops to the eastern DRC. We are following and supporting these initiatives. We hope that the situation does not degenerate, and that, through dialogue and negotiation, an end to hostilities and, above all, the dismantling of all militias is achieved. Not only the M23, but other militias as well.

So also the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), composed in part of ex-genocidaires who have taken refuge in eastern DR Congo?

Yes, the FDLR, but also the ADF, with its jihadist tendencies, which are on the Ugandan border, and also the Mai-Mai militias. We need a global solution.

With the African Union, you attempted a very risky mediation in Tripoli and Benghazi in March 2011, then you multiplied your efforts at the head of the High Level Committee on the Libyan crisis. Can the pan-African organization still play a role in Libya?

We are not losing hope. When we saw the increase in external interference, we might have felt that there was an attempt to sideline the AU, but at the last summit in Berlin, the final resolution clearly mentioned its role and gave it the mission to organize the inclusive inter-Libyan reconciliation conference. The AU High Level Committee is working on the organization of this conference. The first meeting of the preparatory committee bringing together all Libyan tendencies, including the Qaddafists, has just been held in Tripoli, in the presence of my Foreign Minister. This is a step forward. This conference could create the conditions for credible, transparent elections, the results of which would be accepted by all parties.

Concerning relations between Africa and France, we have witnessed a rather paradoxical double movement over the last decade. On the one hand, in the Sahel in particular, there has been a strategic and military re-engagement by France, which has generated, in reaction, a strong contestation in certain segments of African public opinion. On the other hand, there has been an equally spectacular economic disengagement of disengagement of French companies. What could and should be France's role in Africa?

In the case of Mali, in 2013, for the first time, the intervention of the French army was requested and welcomed by the African states. It was carried out at the request of the Malian president at the time, Dioncounda Traoré, and it made it possible to stop the advance of the jihadists towards Bamako, to make them retreat and even to defeat them. What followed was a little more complicated, because at the same time, there was the situation in Kidal, the demands of Tuareg groups, and a series of problems related to the non-execution of the Algiers peace accords. French and Malian troops fought together against the jihadists with varying degrees of success. Contradictors began to emerge afterwards, but initially everyone welcomed the intervention of French troops. France's relationship with Africa must evolve. Everyone wants this, the young, but also the older ones, like the heads of state of my generation. One would have hoped that France, which knows Africa well, but also Europe, which is the closest continent, would be able to establish a partnership with mutual benefits and respect. I believe that the sanctimonious paternalism that still too often taints this relationship is no longer accepted. I think it is possible and even desirable that we arrive at a more balanced relationship from this point of view...

Your country, the Congo, as well as the countries of Central Africa, have been reliable allies of France. Have you felt a certain form of French ingratitude?

I wouldn't put it that way. But some reactions and attitudes may have surprised us. In 2016, President Hollande was to come to Kinshasa for the Francophonie summit. Before his arrival, I had sent him an invitation, telling him that he would be at the gates of Brazzaville, on the other side of the river, and that we would be happy to welcome him to our home, in the former capital of Free France. He did not deign to respond, even when we saw each other briefly on the occasion of this summit. In 1982, I sent a similar invitation to President Mitterrand, who was already on his way to Kinshasa for a Franco-African summit. He responded without being asked, saying, "I cannot be in Kinshasa and look out the window at Brazzaville.

Regarding visits by French leaders to Central Africa, it is true that in recent years not much has happened, even though President Macron came to N'Djamena, to the funeral of Idriss Déby, and recently made the trip to Yaoundé. Now, we are not naive, we know that states do not have permanent friends but permanent interests. Perhaps there were interests that were opposed to a more intense political relationship.

I am not sure about that. The problem comes more, it seems to me, from those who set themselves up as givers of lessons, and who, it must be admitted, often come from certain circles on the French left. President Omar Bongo, for example, also had an intimate, almost family relationship with President Chirac, but he also had close relations with a number of left-wing personalities. As for me, my relationship with Jacques Chirac goes back to long before his election as president. I had feelings of sympathy, of brotherhood, which went beyond politics. He was a friend, a brother. I have in my living room several photos with him, including the one of our last meeting, rue de Lille, in 2018, a few months before his death.

Your relationship with Emmanuel Macron, initially quite distant, seems to have evolved since the French president is visiting Brazzaville in early March?

With President Macron, our relationship has not had any particular incidents. I have been to France twice to talk to him about the Libyan crisis, and a third time we had lunch together. I also stopped in Paris recently on my return from Washington (in December 2022) to discuss ecology and climate. I also came to the November 11, 2018 celebrations and the One Planet Summit in Paris. And indeed, I am delighted that President Macron is coming to Brazzaville soon.

President Sassou-Nguesso "did not agree with the name of the 'summit' in Montpellier." "That a meeting with some young people of the diaspora is called, pompously, "Africa-France Summit", appellation traditionally reserved for summits of heads of state, (him) seemed strange."© OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL / AFP

It is true that I did not agree with the name of the Montpellier "summit". That a meeting with a few young people from the diaspora should be pompously called the "Africa-France Summit", a name traditionally reserved for summits of heads of state, seemed strange to me, I said. We may not always agree on everything. But when we disagree, it does not mean that we are in crisis.

An investigation recently published in the daily newspaper Libération pinpointed a company, Orion Oil, based in Kinshasa, but owned by a Congolese citizen, Lucien Ebata, and accused him of being at the heart of a system of embezzlement of oil revenues in your country. What can you say about this?

I regret that Africa still gives rise to so many fantasies about financial misappropriations. The collective unconscious is so pronounced that French citizens think that Africa is a corrupt continent. I believe in French justice and I am at its disposal, as well as the press interested in this subject.

The One Forest Summit is to be held on March 1 and 2 in Libreville around the issue of preserving the Congo River Basin forest, which is both a sanctuary for biodiversity and the second green lung of the planet, with the Amazon. You will participate in this event. What do you expect from it?

To say that I expect something from it would be an exaggeration. I went to Copenhagen, then to the Rio+20 summit in Paris in 2015, I have attended practically all the COPs, and again recently in Sharm el-Sheikh. There has been a lot of talk and not enough action. We may continue to make promises that will not be kept. In Copenhagen, tens of billions of dollars were promised to African countries to help them mitigate the effects of climate change and finance the development of renewable energy. We have not seen any of this. Will it be another big meeting where ideas are discussed? That would not be very useful. I'm waiting to see. As for the attitude of the industrialized countries, one can also wonder about its coherence. Africa is being asked to make efforts, to decarbonize, and at the same time, Europe has decided once again to use coal to produce electricity.

Your political and diplomatic career has been marked by meetings with major international figures. What was the most powerful moment you remember?

Without doubt, my first meeting with Nelson Mandela, in Windhoek, in 1990, because it was doubly symbolic. I was meeting Mandela for the first time, and it was the day of the proclamation of Namibia's independence, which sealed the emancipation of the last colony in Africa. With Mandela, we attended the raising of the Namibian flag, we were in a stadium, the sun was glowing on the horizon, it was moving, it was a form of accomplishment.

Source : Le Point

Date : 16-02-2023