In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz
As one reads the book, one notices the period Sese Seko had ruled the country. He had ruled for thirty two years without any break. The current president in Congo Brazzaville has ruled for a total of thirty years. Denis Sassou-Nguesso first ruled from 1979 to 1992. He then came back to power in 1997, and he continues to rule. Wong attempts to indicate the leaders’ stubbornness or reluctance to leave power at all cost. Their desire for titles, unlimited power and wealth drives some of the wealthiest countries in not only Africa but in the whole world in terms of resources to be the poorest globally. This is evident in Congo under the leadership of Sese Seko. He had many titles. One of his titles was the nation’s father. He was also called the field marshal. Others called him the founding president. To others, he was the Leopard because of his leopard-like attire. However, the most popular title was Helmsman (Wong, 2001). Yet, he failed to live in accordance with such names as far as positively impacting the country is concerned. Being a country that is rich in numerous resources (minerals, oil), it could not only be one of the richest in Africa, but it in the world as well. On the contrary, the country scored 157 out of 187 in poverty index by the United Nations.
Corruption, nepotism, tribalism, misuse of power, and manipulation of resources for one’s benefits, amongst other practices, are the leadership problems evident in Congo. They have hindered the progress of Congo and other African countries since the country’s independence from the rulership of France. In the legislative elections that were conducted in 2012, Sassou-Nguesso won through the Congolese Labor Party. However, postelection violence, low voter turnout and fraud characterized these elections (Freedom House, 2013). Nevertheless, the president is still ruling. The occurrence of the past electoral period is not a unique case. It is evident in the previous periods of election. This is also indicated in the book as the author gives an account of the conflicts, civil wars, opposition parties, militia groups and other rebels. They have led to the occurrence of issues emerging during the electoral period.
Wong gives an account of the period when Congo has had to encounter rebelling parties leading to internal conflicts. The president’s entry was initially through rebelling against the colonial leadership at the period. Similarly, Sassou-Ngeusso initially obtained power through the support of the military. This was in 1979. However, he gave in to the international and domestic pressure to put in place a multi-party system in 1992, which pulled him out of power through the election of Pascal Lissouba. However, the multiparty system did not eliminate the problem of disputing election results. The clashes of 1993 appeared as a result of the same. The militia group fights ended in 1997 when Sassou-Nguesso defeated these groups through the support of French politicians and Angolan troops.
Majority of the conflicts and civil wars in Congo are driven by tribal divisions. Sese Seko, as indicated by Wong, stayed in power for the period indicated because he manipulated ethnic divisions. This also kept the ministers holding the highest positions in check. He would do these activities, like other dictatorial presidents, by shuffling the ministers and around the ministries. This activity was extended to other men in power. This practice hindered other new and experienced ministers and leaders from penetrating the government, hence challenging his power. Moreover, a significant share of the people in top positions had particular affiliations with Sese Seko, therefore implementing nepotism (Wong, 2001). The country’s leadership was no longer about qualifications and merit, but about one’s affiliation with the one with the influence. Unfortunately, this practice trickled down to the citizens, creating a nepotism and the tribal problem in the larger society. For example, one of the generals, whose name was Nzimbi Ngbale, was the president’s cousin who later arranged an unsuccessful assassination of the president.
In Congo, Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, the president’s son, attained membership of PCT’s Central committee that has 471 members. He became a member in July 2011. This has raised the people’s concern on whether Christel is being groomed to take over leadership after his father. Additionally, the majority of the best government positions are held by Mbochi ethnic group, which is the president’s ethnicity. The president, therefore, appears to enjoy double support. He gains support from PCT members, who are the majority, and ethnic group members in strong government positions. As evident in Sese Seko’s and Sassou-Nguesso’s time, the support of the ethnic leaders is “bought” by promising these leaders strong positions in government. This presents one form of corruption evident in Congo. The leaders, being influential in various communities, encourage the ethnic members to vote for the existing president. When the victory is attained, the leaders are given the promised positions.
Military power is another aspect that appears to be crucial in dictatorship. At the beginning of the book, it is clear that one of the things that Sese Seko lost during his demise was military control. This means that when he controlled the military, he was able to control the state effectively (Wong, 2013). Sassou-Nguesso first entered into power through the military support. When he entered power for the second time in 1997, as indicated earlier, the Angolan troops were of great assistance. Controlling the military has been a major concern for dictators as the ‘wrong’ person in the general’s position can change the government. Sese Seko’s own cousin, who was then a general, attempted to assassinate the president by ordering the launching of a missile (Wong, 2001).
Consequently, other “smaller” leaders and local citizens attempt to form unauthorized militaries when rebels. This is commonly identified as militia. In the1990s, militias in Congo were financed by such countries as Rwanda, who were interested in the presence of a rebel party. In order to put an end to the militia in the country, the majority of the entities cut-off their financial sources. In order to overcome the militias in the country, Rwanda, which served as a financier, stopped funding these militias abruptly. Sassou-Ngeusso was then able to end the five year long civil war (Freedom House, 2013).
Wong puts a question in the title as she refers to Sese Seko’s act of following the footsteps of the previous dictator named Leopold II. He was from Belgium. A significant share of the politicians who rose to power after independence appeared to act as their former dictators did. Colonial power was dictatorial. There were limited powers, even to government officials. Evidently, everything appeared to be controlled in order to suite and uphold the queen/king of the colonizing government. Sese Seko rose to power after the reign of colonialists. Similarly, Sassou-Ngeusso also attained the presidential position after the reign of the French. As their former rulers, these African dictators have used manipulation, misuse of power and other tools available to make sure than they are strengthening their rulership in time as well as geographically. For example, after gaining power for the first time, Sassou-Ngeusso changed the constitution though the legislature so that the presidential term extended from five years to seven years. This president also eliminated the prime minister’s position after the electoral victory in 2009. This allowed him to hold the positions of the head of the government and the state. These efforts of tightening the grip on power are yet to end. Prior to the 2012 elections, there were all allegations accusing PCT of amending the constitution so that the presidential term could have no limits (Freedom House, 2013). This means that a president would rule indefinitely, as long as he is elected, as is the case in Zimbabwe.
Wong tends to note that amid such leadership chaos, the leaders do not refrain from showing politically motivated actions in order to show that they are accountable, transparent and care for the citizens. They, therefore, demand the same from the country’s citizens. In this light, Congo’s president dismissed Charles Zacharie Bowao, the former Defence minister, who refused to resign due to the explosion incident. His awaiting court charges accused him of becoming negligent, hence a criminal offense. In the company of twenty-three other personnel in the military, the group started trial in January 2013. The blast that occurred on March 4 forced tens of thousands of people to reallocate, injured 2,300 people and killed another 240 people. It affected such a huge numbers of people because it took place in a residential area. The blast was caused by an explosion of an arms depot (Freedom House, 2013).
Dictators in African countries have been known to control, in one way or another, the most relevant bodies in as far as their leadership is concerned. One of such bodies is the electoral commission. As discussed previously, the military is another relevant force not only for dictators, but for rulers globally. Sassou-Ngeusso has never allowed the electoral commission to be an independent body (Freedom House, 2013). This paves a way for manipulation and influence, hence the irregularities, disqualifications and opposition boycotts evident during the electoral period. The lack of a strong law implementation system/body also plays a significant role in the current situation in Congo. This includes the presence of a judicial system that appears to be exposed to leadership influence, whether negative or positive. For example, the constitution presented in 2002 prohibits a president to rule for more than two terms, which is seven years long. Evidently, the current president has ruled for more than two terms – that is, seventeen years. As an outcome, there should have been someone or a party in the court challenging the legality of this presidency. Unfortunately, there is no such a strong power. Although there may have been attempts, the limited freedom of speech in the media is another issue. The evident repercussions of speaking against the president are another part of the problem, thus preventing realization of the idea discussed above.
The conflicts caused by leaders who are dividing the nation on ethnic and political grounds are affecting both the country’s economy and Africa as a whole. One thing that the author shows is that the problem of one country in Africa appears to be the problem faced by majority, if not all, African states. After the assassination of the Burundian and Rwandese presidents, conflicts emerged in these regions. This marked Congo’s initial experiences of diverse problems/challenges. For example, the migratory activities taking place across the borders not only affected the social situation in the country, but they also affected the political and economic environment.
It is indicated that Sese Seko spent his power gaining wealth for himself. After taking over the presidency after independence, he used his power to gather wealth for himself rather than develop the country as a whole. The off-shore bank accounts and investments became a trend to adapt after gaining power. In Congo Brazzaville, the president is being investigated for allegations of off shore bank accounts and real estate investments that have been made through illegally acquired money. Through the pace set by the leaders of the past and the present, the economies in African countries including Congo have been hindered by poor leadership practices. While a few people in power continue to enjoy tremendous amounts of wealth, the rest of the citizens continue to languish in poverty. A significant share of the people in the latter category can hardly afford one meal in a day. The migrating groups due to internal conflicts are only worsening the situation as they compete for the limited job opportunities.
It is also evident that the citizens also have a role to play in the outcomes. Even though the leaders influence them in making certain decisions, they should realize that a decision is made individually. The majority of the leaders, if not all, are accepted by the people at the initial stages. Furthermore, a leader can only tell a person what he/she feels is the right decision to make. After all, the final decision, which is usually at the ballot box, should be made by the voter/citizen. People allow themselves to be manipulated and wrongly influenced by some of these self-appointed leaders. They allow these leaders, who have no concern for common people in their heart, to incite them into violating the rights of others on political or ethnic basis. The citizens make the mistake of handling all their will and power in the hands of the politicians. Additionally, the citizens never appear to learn from their past mistakes, as indicated by the reoccurring events of postelection violence that has taken place over a number of electoral periods. Yet, the citizens appear to find themselves in the same position every time an election occurs. Unfortunately, they fail to learn from the lesson or check the cause of such occurrence and therefore move on in life expecting that something better will happen this time.
A number of factors can be considered for implementation in order to improve the situation in Congo. First, if the opposition came together as “one party”, it would make a significant change. However, such a change would only be realized if the opposition agreed on the same agenda, putting the country’s interests first. The party should engage in positive activities of influencing the citizens. Currently, the opposition is outnumbered by PCT, the ruling party. It would be hard to create legislation that would affect the government negatively in such an environment. The above-mentioned change strategy can, therefore, come through if it is planned for the long-term period, for the influence could start now in the preparation for the coming elections.
On the individual level, people should be encouraged to take part in making the decisions that concern their country. They should not wait for the politicians to give them the direction, as such politicians tend to take advantage of people’s ignorance. Although such awareness may not be impactful in the short run, encouraging local people to take part in the political affairs is important. This will slowly eliminate an individual’s dependency on the influence and words rather than facts.
The parties interested in change must understand that some of these strategies require time. The current situation has taken time to be established. It will, therefore, take time to change it. Additionally, the intervention of the international bodies is as important as the local intervention. For example, France’s investigation of the president’s misuse of power for gaining wealth has a positive impact, as the local structures are limited by dictatorial power. Another form of international intervention can take place by cutting off funds used to fund militias. These funds come mainly from the international community. It is relevant to note that such groups attribute to internal conflicts that inhibit the growth of the country’s economy. This is because conflicts lower the prices of minerals, oil and other commodities that bring wealth to the nation.
The African Union should be most participative and regularly engage in the development of the country. As stated above, a problem in one country in Africa has an impact on almost all the countries. Policies which maximize the continent’s potential should be implemented in order to improve the lives of the people living on the continent. This includes making policies that limit lengthy dictatorial ruling terms. Additionally, policies that prevent misuse of power and the country’s resources should also be put in place. This also relates to creating policies that prevent nepotism, tribalism and other common African practices that hinder growth and progress.
The change needed should start with the young generation. A new culture should be taught in schools even as other quicker methods of solving the evident problems are being formulated. A more permanent solution takes time to be instilled on people’s lives while implementation takes place. This action calls for students of all levels to be taught courses that relate to leadership and citizenship. They should cultivate an individual’s attitude towards a leader, the political environment, and the interdependency of actions and states.
Wong has shown that the country’s problem is leadership. She attempts to show the challenges Africa is facing as a whole from the leadership perspective. Although countries such as South Africa progressed significantly during Nelson Mandela’s leadership (a black leader), the majority of the leaders that took over the power after the colonialist stepped down brought deterioration or stagnation. Congo Brazzaville is not an exception. Like Zimbabwe and other countries that continue to be ruled by dictators, Congo is facing its share of challenges. Constant postelection violence, electoral irregularities, low turnout of voters are some of these challenges. Corruption, nepotism, tribalism and misuse of power for personal gains, amongst other, are all the problems present in Congo and Africa as a whole. However, there is hope for improvement. The opposition can decide to act united. Additionally, individual responsibility amongst the citizens is also relevant. The impact of the AU and the general international community cannot be ignored as well.