There is nothing new under the sun. However, few leaders heed this proverb and feel more comfortable acting as if “It only happens to others”. They believe that they were born to lead their countries and find it difficult to see politics from the perspective of a former president. Power revolves around them and mingles with them. They are so immersed in their “much sought after and indispensable person” theory that they cannot even figure out what is best for themselves, nor can they do the right thing by making the right choice.

These “Builders”, “Men of peace”, “Enlightened Leaders” have flouted the very foundations of leadership. Under their rule, the management of the affairs of state, which dates back to Ancient Greece and whereby thePolis – the city, a community of free and independent citizens – exists before man, has been emptied of its original meaning and reformulated to take whatever form is pleasing to the strong man of the country. They mistake their position for the country’s future and fail to understand that some day, one way or another, they will have to go, though the city will outlive them.

In many countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the very notion of leadership is all the more distorted because they live in the present, reject the lessons of the past and seem to be ignorant of what will or may happen. They have lost track of time, track of reality, track of those they are supposed to –with consent- lead and govern. The world is defined by their entourage who are the main beneficiaries and perpetrators of a system built on giving praise to the president, showing contempt for the people and having no respect for human dignity.

Those relatives, advisers, friends, cabinet members and the like who live in bunker mansions, drive air-conditioned SUVs on dilapidated roads and make weekly trips to the most famous capital cities in the world, where they spend large sums of money on shopping spree and lavish parties too often forget that the bigger they are the harder they fall, and everyone beneath will fall as well.

We may wonder why those leaders cannot picture themselves as former presidents, when having held the highest position in a country gives tremendous experience, satisfaction and a unique opportunity to commence a full and rewarding life outside of office. Why are they unable to release the gauntlet of power? The answer is quite simple: They have no vision, therefore no legacy.

Sassou Nguesso, the President of Congo Brazzaville is among those who fit in that category. How will he address the topic of democracy when Congo Brazzaville enjoys no freedom of expression and the press and other facets of the civil society are continuously harassed? How will he speak about fair and transparent elections when he came to power after a military coup, and remained president through rigged elections based on unreliable voting processes that relied on fabricated voters’ lists and other acts in defiance of international criteria? How will he speak of legitimacy and legality when he operates within a parody of democracy that “could be more dangerous than a blatant dictatorship, because that gives people an opportunity to avoid doing anything about it”[1], including the international community?

In the Congolese democratic electoral process, votes are counted just to clown around. What really matters are the lists of candidates appointed to the Parliament or any other institutions, which are supposed to be made of elected members under the electoral law. Needless to say that in such a system, the math does not add up.

It will not be easy for Mr. Sassou Nguesso to stand before young professionals and talk about good governance while corruption, negligence and arrogance, which are derived from impunity, persist in Congo, having long been established as a means of governance. There is a cancerous esprit de corps among the ranks, a sour work ethic that is far from promoting and rewarding hard work, diligence, the moral benefit of public service and accountability. Instead it encourages predatory behavior and mediocrity.

It will surely be difficult for Mr. Sassou Nguesso to find words to explain the benefit of a well-managed and well-funded national education system when classrooms are crowded, schools are dilapidated and teachers, due to a lack of adequate training and incentives, are obliged to do side jobs to make ends meet, including selling grades, at the expense of the quality of teaching. In such conditions, enrollment and literacy rates are an empty shell, especially since students go to primary school without the opportunity to learn anything.

Mr. Sassou-Nguesso may boast about a few public infrastructures, but he will not be able to explain how in a country with a population estimated at about 4.3 million, significant financial resources from oil and timber, and a growth rate of 5.8 % (2013), patients at the main medical center, Brazzaville University Hospital (CHU), have to be carried on people’s back to the first, second or third floors for a fee, because the elevators are not working. We may question the relevance of building world-class airports in a country where most people live under the poverty line, with less than $1.25 a day and cannot afford an air ticket, a country where farmers cannot move their crops and products to the markets for lack of transportation and feeder roads. Congo’s Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.564 (2013) ranks it 142 out of 187 countries and the poverty rate, at 75% in rural areas, gives cause for concern.[2]

Will Mr. Sassou Nguesso find followers elsewhere in the world who will be eager to replicate his flagship project, the “Road to the Future” as he calls it? This is far from being certain as lavish yearly celebrations of Independence Day, as part of the “Road to the Future”, do not improve the daily lives of the Congolese people. They have no reason to celebrate. No one would rejoice for horrendous living conditions. Development and progress are measured, inter alia, by a country’s capacity to ensure the well-being of its citizens by investing in the people and not only in buildings. The “Road to the Future” does not even translate into improving the poor road conditions in the country’s main cities. In this light, the “Road to the Future” will sound like a pure fraud.

Who said that “better 5 years too soon than 5 minutes too late”? Trying to impoverish the Congolese people to control them and instilling fear through intimidation have their expiration date. The huge number of frustrated, unemployed or underemployed youth, regardless of their ethnic affiliation and regional origin, will be the driving force in their generation.

Deborah Tandu

[1] Aung San Suu Kyi, Quotes

[2] Human Development Report 2013, UNDP