Letter: Africa's agony

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your report by Alex Duval Smith on the wars tearing Africa apart was timely ("Misery engulfs millions as Africa seethes with more wars than ever", 30 January). You called the fighting in Congo-Brazzaville a "civil war". Not so. Rather, it is democrats versus anti-democrats. The issues at stake are freedom versus repression.

The story is this. The former ruler, General Denis Sassou-N'Guesso, a Marxist dictator, was roundly beaten in the elections of 1992 - the first free and fair elections since independence 30 years earlier. Professor Pascal Lissouba became the first elected president, introducing "novel" concepts like freedom of speech, a market economy, an independent judiciary and, above all, autonomy at all levels of the country and the economy.

Sassou appeared undeterred by his election defeat, however. He resolved to return to power by force on the eve of 1997 elections, which he knew he would never win at the ballot box. Congo had achieved the highest per- capita debt of any country in the world after 20 years of his guidance. So why he imagined that the Congolese people would want him back - especially after a coup d'etat and bloody power struggle - beggars belief.

Worse still, it is openly claimed by democrats of every political persuasion in Congo-Brazzaville that France was behind the well-prepared and massively armed coup unleashed in 1997.

What is shameful is that so little criticism is voiced. Do we value democracy and civil liberties so little that we dare not speak out about the return of a cruel (and inefficient) dictator who seizes power on the eve of elections and demolishes every pillar of civil society and every civil liberty in the country? Where is the freedom of the British press when it matters?


Communications advisor to Professor Pascal Lissouba

London W1