A Short Explanation of the Overthrow of Pascal Lissouba

After Pascal Lissouba’s election in I992, Congo unilaterally increased the royalty paid by Elf-Aquitaine (to Congo) from l7% to 34%. When controversy ensued the International Monetary Fund attempted to settle the dispute and eventually the royalty was changed to 30% This action, and Lissouba’s dealings with Occidental Petroleum, motivated the French to look for a presidential candidate who would restore the previous royalty; and restore Elf-Aquitaine’s most favored status. The person they found was Denis Sassou Nguesso. On May 10, I997, Sassou Nguesso’s pre-election visit to the city Owando was marred when a military man close to former President Yombi Opango was killed by Sassou’s guard. The situation escalated and twelve people were killed as Sassou and his team fled the city. As the conflict spread, Congolese leaders and members of major political parties, supported by UNESCO President Federico Mayor, reached a settlement.  However, that settlement was not honored by Sassou. Thereafter violence spread to Sassou’s hometown of Oyo where his militia, the Cobras, killed four of Yombi Opango’s military personnel. Concerned by the political situation, Congolese President, Pascal Lissouba, who was then taking part in the 33rd OAU summit in Harare, Zimbabwe returned to Brazzaville. Lissouba was determined to bring the perpetrators (of violence) to justice. On June 5. I997. Lissouba ordered an early morning raid to Sassou Nguesso‘s residence in Brazzaville. By authorizing the raid. Lissouba rejected recommendations from political leaders such as Bernard Kolelas and Andre Milongo who believed that Sassou was setting a trap to draw the country into a civil war. Kolelas believed that a war leading to a military coup was the only way Sassou could regain power. Prepared and well equipped. Sassou‘s militia counterattacked and seized control of the northern part of the capital. A few days later. the battle permeated to different parts of the city. particularly the northern and central parts of Brazzaville. A large number of civilian casualties were reported. The French along with other European nations proceeded to evacuate their citizens. While the war continued. high ranking members of the Congolese military either defected to Sassou, or tried to remain neutral in the conflict. As the fighting intensified, Bernard Kolelas became the leading negotiator for a peaceful resolution between the two sides. On June 17, a cease fire was reached and negotiations took place in Gabon between Lissouba and Sassou’s representatives, under the leadership of President Omar Bongo. Sassou’s representatives requested Lissouba’s resignation on August 3l, the last day of his presidential term, Lissouba rejected this proposition. Instead he put into place "le Conseil Constitutionnel" (5 years late) which is the equivalent of the US Supreme Court. Le Conseil Constitutionnel was the institution with the legal right to extend his presidential term if elections could not be organized. On July 19. “le Conseil Constitutionnel“ opted to change the date of the election. At the same time ERDDUN (Espace Républicain pour la Defense de la De'mocratie et de l‘Unité Nationale) was created. This committee was created to form an interim, composite govemment and, on September 13, following the recommendations of ERDDUN. Lissouba appointed Kolelas as Prime Minister. and reshuffled the government.

In order to find a peaceful solution to the crises. the French government, pretending to be neutral, initiated high level negotiations in Libreville, Gabon under the leadership of President Bongo. Several African Presidents attended the negotiations, among them Abdou Djouf of Senegal, Gnassingbé Eyadema of Togo, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, ldris Deby of Chad, Mathieu Kerékou of Benin, Ange-Felix Patasse of Central Africa Republic, and Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali. Their objective was to bring Lissouba and Sassou to a negotiating table. While Sassou traveled to Libreville, Lissouba refused to attend negotiations. and instead sent Prime Minister Kolelas to represent him.

When it was clear that negotiations had failed, a full blown war was the only remaining alternative to end the impasse, Sassou, assisted by the French government, was able to bring Angola’s army into the conflict. He convinced President Dos Santos of Angola that his harsh rival Jonas Savimbi, a friend of Lissouba, was actively involved in the conflict. Given that Congo is a neighbor country to Angola, it became risky to allow Lissouba to remain in power. He feared that Brazzaville could serve as a military base for Savimbi. Assisted by Angola’s army and mercenaries. Sassou‘s forces quickly seized control of Brazzaville, Point Noire, and other cities. Subsequently. Lissouba. Kolelas and members of the govemment had no choice but to flee into neighboring countries. On October 24, I997, Denis Sassou Nguesso proclaimed himself President of the Republic of Congo. Thereafter he changed the royalty to l4%.

- Professor Teylama Miabey. Howard University