October 21, 2005

The Other Congo

Congo-Brazzaville is a bit of a myth for us living in Congo-Kinshasa. It's a little like the lost Garden of Eden. My colleague who have been there tell me that there are real taxis; life is calm, cool and relaxed; there are roads, landlines and great restaurants. It's a bit of aberration because the two capitals are so close to each other yet so different in term of development. The people are meant to be well behaved and a lot less intense then here. And of course, Brazzaville is a much smaller city than Kinshasa, so there are less people crowding the place.

We often speak of the day when we will organize a weekend trip to famed Brazzaville. One day...one day...

So, in the other Congo, things are happening. The ex-president of the Republic of Congo, Kolelas, is currently living in exile in Bamako, Mali.

"In 2000, a Brazzaville court sentenced Kolelas to death in absentia for a range of crimes committed by his militia including torture and the rape of prisoners during the nation's bloody 5-month-long civil war in 1997."--CNN.com, October 14th, 2005

Recently though , Kolelas' wife, Jacqueline, died from a brain hemorrhage. The current president Denis Sassou-Nguesso (who got elected in a fair process in 2002) allowed Kolelas to come back from an 8-year exile to bury Jacqueline in Congo-Brazzaville.

But of course, it's a lot more complicated than that because:

Kolelas' return comes amid a sharp escalation of tensions in Brazzaville, where so-called Ninja rebels once loyal to him battled security forces a day earlier in a brief clash that killed six people.
It was not known what sparked the clash or if it was related to Kolelas' impending return.

--CNN.com, Friday October 14th 2005

We were discussing this situation over dinner yesterday and a friend relays that her colleagues exclaimed "We're not surprised this happened, the Congolese over there, they're really crazy"!


Ammo said...

Sounds like now's not the best time to visit Brazzaville!

Beaver said...

So grass isn't always greener on the other side ????

Go figure !

Black River Eagle said...

When I did a quick check online today for Congo-Brazzaville I was surprised by the contrast of news and analysis about the country vs. what one reads regularly about the DRC. Is the Republic of Congo "the little country that could" if only the international community just paid a bit more attention to it?

In conversations here in Germany with my friend from Kinshasa I did detect an air of mistrust and dislike toward the Congolese from the other side of the river (Brazzaville). She was a refugee fleeing Kinshasa when Kabila's Boyz came rolling into town back in 1997 and managed to get to Brazzaville and out before the slaughter was in full swing. Some Brazza-villains were very unkind to the refugees from Kinshasa fleeing Kabila's troops to put it mildly.

There is a good backgrounder on the Republic of Congo over at the U.S. Department of State site updated October 2005:

Even Human Rights Watch doesn't have much bad to say about the Republic of Congo. Astounding!

That said, Brazzaville has been accused of being a major hub for the smuggling of illegal and conflict diamonds from the DRC, Angola, and the CAR. It is also accused of being a base of operations for some very unsavory characters running weapons and God only knows what else in and out of the region.

A September 2005 article from SouthScan (London) claims that Congo-Brazzaville's known diamond production is approximately 50,000 carats per year, but that its (reported) export figures are between 3-5 million carats per year. I think that they were the first member country of the Kimberley Process Agreement to get the boot for non-compliance in 2004. The French government is helping them presently to cleanup their act and get back into the Kimberley Club.

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