Stay informed Subscribe here
Coronavirus

Note on the situation in Central Africa

By former Minister, President of the Citizens’ Convergence, President of the Social Democratic Alliance of Congo, Bonaventure Mbaya

In the current global context marked by the Covid 19 pandemic, which has caused a very serious socio-economic crisis and forced all the countries of the world to confine their populations, the consequences for Africa in general will be very serious; they will certainly be catastrophic for Central Africa because of the political crises affecting all the countries of this sub-region. Indeed, in addition to this fight against the covid pandemic19 , the fight for democracy and democratic alternation remains a priority in the countries of this African sub-region.

Comrades, it is therefore in the name of all progressive political leaders, of the socialist or social-democratic sensibility of Central Africa that I address to you, warmly and very fraternally, this militant message from the peoples fighting for democracy, fundamental freedoms and social progress in all the countries of our sub-region.

The Central African subregion under discussion here is certainly one of the last subregions of our continent where fundamental freedoms and democracy are still a dream and a chimera. The eleven countries of this sub-region are suffering the same fate in terms of democracy and the rule of law. Whether we take Chad, Central Africa, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda or Burundi, the picture is the same, with the same denial of democracy that perpetuates the dictatorships in place.

The situation of democrats, and particularly that of socialist, social-democratic and progressive parties in this subregion, is deeply marked by an environment hostile to any democratic progress. In short, the environment in which we are evolving is not democratic. The powers that be are doing their utmost to impede the proper functioning of democracy and the free expression of political parties.

The leaders of our parties and their activists are constantly subjected to various threats and intimidation. We live in an almost permanent state of affairs: assassinations, attacks, kidnappings, multifaceted repression and bans on public demonstrations, arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and attempted poisoning, violations of political party seats, rigging of elections, confiscation of the electoral calendar and lack of political funding.

We can add to this an arsenal of rogue legal provisions that do not allow for the formation of the coalitions and alliances that, under other skies, have led to the indispensable revolutions that are generating major changes that are transforming societies.

However, in this geostrategic sub-region, so rich in much coveted natural resources, there are many political parties claiming to be socialist or social-democratic; about ten of them are members of the Socialist International and the Progressive Alliance or are in the process of becoming members. With the exception of the UDPS in the DRC and the MPLA in Angola, which are currently in power, all these parties have unfortunately been in opposition for too long in their respective countries.

Until 2018, in almost sixty years of African independence, in our Central African sub-region, only two of these parties from the ranks of the left have democratically exercised state power in this sub-region: UPADS in Congo Brazzaville and the MLPC in Central Africa. These two parties have never been able to serve two full terms. They were overthrown, from the first term of office, by coups d’état inspired by the forces of the liberal right, supported by the multinationals which, in order to guarantee the supposed stability essential to their interests, have, since the colonial period, established a system of political management of the Central African States that does not favour the advent of progressive forces in power.

Central Africa is, therefore, far from being a model, or even a reference on the continent today, in terms of democracy, democratic and political alternation, freedoms and social justice. It is the only sub-region of our continent whose leaders, most of whom have been in power for more than 25 years, refuse any democratic alternation, behave like dictators of the tropics and are tolerated by the international community, for these reasons of interest that undermine all the efforts of the democrats who fight there at the risk of their lives.

Comrades, as democrats, Central Africa needs you; it must be the subject of all our concerns.

It is, therefore, in the face of this reality that the political parties of Central Africa, members of the Socialist International and the Progressive Alliance, have decided to structure themselves into a sub-regional coordination, with a view to getting to know each other better, to support each other better and to be more effective in their struggle for democracy and political alternation.

They thus intend to break the system that condemns them to impotence and resignation, in their dramatic isolation, each in his own country.

Indeed, they are fully aware that a party cannot be strong if it is alone and that the absence of a global political strategy in the sub-region is a serious handicap in the face of the dictatorships in place, which have colossal means at their disposal to destroy the efforts and struggles of democrats.

Comrades, we have thus created, in November 2012, in Yaoundé, Cameroon, the Progressive Alliance of Central Africa.

Indeed, even in countries where opposition parties have come to power (the case of the Central African Republic with the MLPC), they have not been able to create solid political alliances outside and inside, that is to say with the people. Worse, they have often misread the security situation by behaving as if they were in real democracies. Two fatal mistakes that have led to the overthrow of democratically elected regimes.

It is obvious, dear comrades, that in Central Africa, political systems are locked and violent, more violent than in other parts of Africa, especially: in West Africa, Southern Africa and the Maghreb, where the peoples have been able to take control of the course of their history.

It is important to take this parameter into account in the elaboration of strategies and in the formulation of solutions to the problems and difficulties encountered. Moreover, our relatively young social democratic parties are still unable to create cross-border frameworks to defend the values they share, such as freedom, solidarity, justice, the spirit of self-denial and the sacredness of the human person: intrinsic values which, moreover, constitute the fundamental pillars of African culture.

These values, to which all Africans are rigorously attached, are among the fundamentals of social democratic doctrine and are a strong inspiration for social democracy. This, comrades, is an observation, I would even go so far as to say more, of an African cultural reality which largely explains the natural inclination of Africans for social democracy. It is this political choice that we have made for our sub-region by structuring ourselves into the Progressive Alliance of Central Africa, or APAC.

We all see, dear comrades, that social democracy is therefore possible in Africa in general and in Central Africa in particular. It is essential in the face of other political doctrines because it is the one that best adapts to our reality and that espouses, as intimately as possible, the values that balance the personality of the African man.

Indeed, comrades, at a time when, in very many countries of our continent, alternation of power is still the exception and almost everywhere on this continent, power is so coveted and, very often, so poorly shared, letting dictators perpetuate themselves in their catastrophic management of our States and our societies, will make the question of the devolution of power, more than ever, the first cause of the bloody conflicts that are lastingly mourning Africa.

Dear comrades, the situation thus described in Central Africa challenges us all and calls for awareness. It is here that we intend to address the relations of this sub-region with Europe and the whole of the international community, the generators and guardians of democratic systems. Addressing this issue also means taking up the responsibility of the international community and the European Union, which are showing a certain leniency towards these local dictators who terrorise and brutalise their peoples. It must be stated loud and clear that Europe has a responsibility in the dramas unfolding in Central Africa, because this Europe, which has dominated the world since the Middle Ages, which has conquered lands and continents beyond its natural borders, had given itself a civilising mission for the peoples of Africa, which it had, moreover, undertaken to colonise. The political systems that have prevailed in Central Africa until now have survived only with the tacit and often explicit complicity of Europe, which is dragging the rest of the international community in its wake.

No dictator can survive on the African continent if Europe does not want one.

For us African democrats, it is clearly understood that Democracy, the only mechanism by which the people can exercise their power and sovereignty, is also a process, a culture, a set of behaviours codified by the law and which allows the people, the first holder of sovereignty and power, to entrust the exercise of it, for a fixed period of time, to their representatives, through voting. Democracy is therefore the only means by which the elected representative can claim popular legitimacy during the limited time of his or her term of office. In accordance with this principle, the exercise of democracy has introduced the notion of alternation, which is the succession of leaders and parties, or political coalitions, at the head of state, through voting. It is an alternation of ideas, opinions, skills, methods of government or management of the state, which is essential in any democratic system.

Political alternation is therefore the basis of pluralist democracy in that it is the expression and translation of the proper democratic functioning of a state. With a view to consolidating the democratic dynamic, Africa has not remained on the sidelines of world developments. Thus, the African Union has strengthened its policy in this regard, with a body to support good governance that includes democracy and political governance, economic governance, corporate governance and socio-economic development.

A panoply of additional legal instruments has reinforced this mechanism, such as, on the one hand, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), one of the essential pillars of NEPAD instituted on 9 March 2003 in Sharm El Cheick, Egypt, during the 6th Committee of Heads of State and Government of the African Union and, on the other hand, international charters and conventions on elections; in particular, the Bamako Declaration in 2000, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (January 2007) and the Charter of Freedoms of the African Union.

With the European Union, the African continent’s relations with this strategic partner are governed by the Cotonou Agreements (ACP-EU Partnership Agreement) signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000, revised in Luxembourg on 25 June 2005. These agreements are based on 30 years of experience in the field of cooperation. The successive Lomé Conventions had previously provided a unique model in North-South relations, combining a negotiated mechanism, preferably commercial, with considerable financial support. However, the results had been mixed. Evaluations of European Union aid to the ACP States had often found that the political and institutional context of the partner country had not been sufficiently taken into account, too often jeopardizing the viability and effectiveness of cooperation.

A new partnership integrating the political dimension had therefore been set up. The inclusion of the political dimension made it possible to address all issues of mutual interest. Important themes such as peace-building policies and conflict prevention or migration were explicitly introduced into the agreement in 2000. Since then, respect for human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance have become the subject of a regular dialogue in which regional and sub-regional organisations, as well as representatives of civil society, can be involved.

The political dimension of these agreements was extended to security issues in 2005. The revised Agreement provides for a more systematic and formal political dialogue under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement, especially when it concerns the following three essential elements: human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law. Moreover, the holding of such a dialogue is now a prerequisite for any consultation procedure under Article 96, except in cases of special urgency.

For us African democrats, it is clearly understood that Democracy, the only mechanism by which the people can exercise their power and sovereignty, is also a process, a culture, a set of behaviours codified by the law and which allows the people, the first holder of sovereignty and power, to entrust the exercise of it, for a fixed period of time, to their representatives, through voting. Democracy is therefore the only means by which the elected representative can claim popular legitimacy during the limited time of his or her term of office. In accordance with this principle, the exercise of democracy has introduced the notion of alternation, which is the succession of leaders and parties, or political coalitions, at the head of state, through voting. It is an alternation of ideas, opinions, skills, methods of government or management of the state, which is essential in any democratic system.

Political alternation is therefore the basis of pluralist democracy in that it is the expression and translation of the proper democratic functioning of a state. With a view to consolidating the democratic dynamic, Africa has not remained on the sidelines of world developments. Thus, the African Union has strengthened its policy in this regard, with a body to support good governance that includes democracy and political governance, economic governance, corporate governance and socio-economic development.

A panoply of additional legal instruments has reinforced this mechanism, such as, on the one hand, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), one of the essential pillars of NEPAD instituted on 9 March 2003 in Sharm El Cheick, Egypt, during the 6th Committee of Heads of State and Government, and, on the other hand, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), one of the essential pillars of NEPAD, established on 9 March 2003 in Sharm El Cheick, Egypt, during the 6th Committee of Heads of State and Government.

With such an arsenal of texts and instruments that so wisely frame the relations of West and Central Africa with the European Union and that sufficiently prove how democracy is our common goal, a series of questions arise: Essentially, that of trying to understand why the European Union adopts this policy of double standards when it comes to attacks on democracy and human rights affecting Central Africa or West Africa? As far as Central Africa is concerned, dictators are taking it easy and can afford all sorts of excesses. We saw this in 2015 and 2016 in Congo Brazzaville with the bombing of civilian populations in the Pool department; in Burundi, Gabon, the DRC, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, etc. We have seen this in 2015 and 2016 in Congo Brazzaville, with the bombing of civilian populations in the Pool department; in Burundi, Gabon, the DRC, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, etc.

For us, it is obvious that there are two Europes, two European Unions and two International Communities: respectively, on the one hand, those of the conservatives embodied by the business community, the liberals and the multinationals who, for their own interests, have chosen, against all odds, to support the dictators they maintain and keep in power; and on the other hand, the second Europe, that of the forces of the left embodied by all the progressives: humanists, socialists and social democrats, who identify with the universal values of democracy, freedom, equality, fraternity, solidarity and social justice. This second Europe tries to oppose the first one by fighting for happiness for all. Between the two, our cause is heard, we should commit ourselves here to help build a fairer, more fraternal and more united Europe for a universal, democratic and more harmonious human society.

Comrades, it is with these words that we end our speech on the situation in Central Africa. We wanted to express to you the political will of the peoples of Central Africa to drive and promote the changes that will adapt their sub-region to the new context of openness to Africa and the rest of the world, in order to protect our countries from any marginalization by firmly integrating them into the great planetary movement of people and ideas of our time.

Done at Brazzaville, 21 April 2020

For the Progressive Alliance of Central Africa (APAC)

Bonaventure MBAYA

Former Minister
President of the Citizens’ Convergence
President of the Social Democratic Alliance of Congo