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.