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President Sassou Nguesso goes for landslide victory.

The President of Congo (Brazzaville), Denis Sassou Nguesso, officially launched his re-election campaign in early June at a mammoth rally in the capital, Brazzaville, attended by over 400,000 roaring supporters.

It was a happy day for the president as he got the biggest political boost ever when four historic and heavyweight opposition figures--Jacques-Joachim Yhombi Opango, Bernard Kolelas, David Charles Ganao, and the intellectual Theophile Obenga--defected to his side and openly endorsed his candidature to the delight of the crowd, in the process depleting the opposition front.

President Nguesso declared his candidature in three languages: "A/a ko Ndima zala candidate" he told the cheering crowd in Lingala, "Mu me Ndima ku vanda candidate" (in Kikongo) and finally in French. The crowd roared in support. Nearly one in three Brazzavillois (over 400,000 people) attended the rally, according to the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Thierry Mougalla, who spoke on behalf of the organising committee of the event.

The huge crowd of supporters who thronged the old Boulevard des Armees chanted slogans in praise of the president. "Mfumu na Biso" (our leader, in Kikongo), "Papa ya kimia" (father of peace, in Lingala) and "Papa Dengues" (a contraction of the family name of the president). They wore T-shirts with slogans, nicknames, banners, the image of the president strewn all over them, and enjoyed the music of the best Congolese artists.

The historic figures

The defection of Opango, Kolelas, Ganao and Obenga to the president's side has really weakened the foundations of the opposition. Opango was the president of the country from 1977 to 1979 and prime minister under President Pascal Lissouba from June 1993 to August 1996. Ganao was prime minister under Lissouba from 1996 to 1997. Kolelas took over from Ganao and served as prime minister under Lissouba in 1997, until the fall of the government later that year. They unanimously declared their support for the president in plain view of the happy crowd.

In fact, Bernard Kolelas was not at the meeting himself, but he sent word through his son, Brice Parfait Kolelas, the current minister of fisheries, who read his father's declaration to the crowd:

"Before you the president who is younger [than me], before the militants and the people here, I, Bernard Kolelas, say this: Follow the path, let the souls and the spirits of our ancestors, mpissas of Congo (a lariterm meaning "scholars" or "famous") be with you. But along the way, do not forget your people, do not abandon our ideals. Advance and be the voice of our comrades who are no longer with us, be the torchbearer of forgiveness and truth, the flame of peace and freedom, the architect of reconciliation and national unity. Go now, carry with you the Congo and the people's wishes. They await you, expecting a better tomorrow."

Sassou, the ideal candidate

When it came to his turn, David Charles Ganao used an allegory to illustrate his decision to support Sassou Nguesso. He repeated an argument used in the 1970s by Andrei Andreievich Gromyko, the then foreign minister of the Soviet Union. Gromyko justified the renewal of the mandate of the then secretary general of the United Nations, the Austrian Kurt Waldheim, who was being challenged by a Tanzanian candidate, by saying:


"You have a pair of shoes that are already on your feet, in which you are comfortable, and with which you walk without difficulty. You also have a pair of new shoes that comes directly from the shoemaker. They are beautiful and shiny. Which one are you going to choose?

"We, the Soviets, recommend that you choose the pair of shoes that is already on your feet. Because if you are lured by the new pair of shoes, you may have problems wearing it and walking with it. And even worse, you may risk separating yourself from it after a few minutes and finding yourself barefoot."


Ganao then thundered: "We in Congo do not need to find ourselves barefoot," and added "even the most desirable changes have their negative sides."

Obenga, the coup de grace

Taking the microphone, the famous intellectual and man of letters, Theophile Obenga, normally highly critical of the government, provided the icing on the cake by declaring his support for President Nguesso, much to the delight of the 400,000 supporters gathered at the rally. As one of the highest moral authorities in the country, Obenga's support truly delivered the coup de grace.

The rally was extensively covered by the media. Miffed, and with a depleted front, the opposition denounced the scale of the event and the use of state funds for a private function whose only beneficiary was Candidate Sassou. They vowed to lodge an official complaint with the Constitutional Court against the non-declaration of assets by public officials serving under Sassou's government.

For all his shortcomings and whatever anybody says, President Nguesso remains a candidate who stands head and shoulders above all his rivals. He has acquired enormous experience in office, and his political stature far outshines any of his opponents.

He has already had two bites at the presidency--Sassou I (1979-1992) and Sassou II (since 1997). Still only 66 years old, he is sure to sweep the elections fixed for 12 July 2009. Nobody is in doubt that he will win a landslide on the first ballot.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL FOCUS
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6CONG
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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