Twenty years ago, Congo-Brazzaville’s new president urged conflict refugees to come home across the River Congo from Kinshasa. Then 353 returnees disappeared who were widely believed to have been murdered.
“It’s like it happened yesterday,” said 75-year-old Marcel Touanga, grief-stricken for his son, one of those listed as missing in a troubling episode in the long career of President Denis Sassou Nguesso.
In May 1999, the oil-rich central African nation was trying to turn the page on three successive civil wars since 1993.
Sassou Nguesso, a military man, took power back in 1997 from Pascal Lissouba, with the stated aim of achieving “national reconciliation” in the former French colony.
He encouraged people who had fled over the broad river to the capital of the newly named Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire) to return via the “Beach” -Brazzaville’s port area.
The two Congos on opposite shores jointly signed a repatriation agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and people who were prepared to return did so during the week of May 5-14, 1999.
‘Shot on the spot’ –
“Once on the Beach, a kind of sorting process took place, with women on one side and men on the other. The men were subjected to a full body search” for firearms, said Touanga, who heads the main support group for families of the missing.
The authorities were, at the time, hunting members of the rebel Ninja militia loyal to former prime minister, Bernard Kolelas, who was active in Brazzaville’s Bacongo district and a forested region adjoining the capital known as The Pool.
Kolelas said that the Ninja insurgency had only been crushed when Angolan soldiers moved in to support Sassou-Nguesso and secure the city.
Sentenced to death in his absence in May 2000 on charges of kidnapping, rape and illegal arrests by Ninjas, Kolelas was granted amnesty in 2005. He died after receiving medical treatment in Paris in 2009.
“We have inventoried 353 missing youths, but there were many more because some bodies were burned,” said Touanga, who now lives in France.
“There was brutality, there were executions. Some people were shot on the spot and their bodies were thrown into the water,” he added.
“They didn’t even give me his body,” Touanga said of his 28-year-old son, a paramilitary policeman.
Some of the missing were executed on the premises of the security forces, including the General Directorate of Presidential Security, according to a 2012 UN report based on testimony by people claiming to be survivors.
‘Truth and reconciliation’ –
Under pressure from families, Congo’s parliament launched a probe in 2002, broadening the scope to cover all forced disappearances recorded in the country since 1992.
A trial finally opened in Brazzaville three years later with 15 defendants in the dock, mostly serving officers in the security forces. They were all acquitted in August 2005.
However, the court ordered the state to pay compensation to close kin of 86 of the 353 missing men, to the tune of 15,000 euros ($16,850) for each victim.
Separately in France, several human rights NGOs joined forces and went to court with a suit alleging “crimes against humanity, disappearances and torture.”
The case, lodged in early 2002, targeted President Sassou-Nguesso and three senior officials in his regime.
Congo asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to freeze the French legal proceedings.
In April 2004, Sassou-Nguesso’s police chief, Colonel Jean-Francois Ndenguet, was jailed in France on a charge of crimes against humanity.
But he was freed on the grounds that he held a diplomatic passport, which led rights activists to cry scandal.
“French justice for the moment remains the only hope for justice and truth,” Tresor Nzila, executive director of the Congolese Organisation of Human Rights (OCDH), said in Brazzaville.
However investigations in France have ground to a standstill.
“Twenty years on, the case remains unfortunately bogged down,” said prominent French lawyer, William Bourdon.
“The pain is still there,” said Vincent Niamankessi, the 70-year-old father of one of the missing. “We are finding that our missing children are simply victims with no perpetrators.”
Kenyan ‘Softie’ to premiere in Sundance Film Festival
The subject of the film, Boniface Mwangi won the CNN Africa Journalist of the year award in 2008 .
Boniface Mwangi’s feature documentary, Softie is set to screen at the Sundance Film Festival in New York on Saturday, January 25.
Titled after the sociopolitical activist’s childhood nickname, the 96-minute film highlights his lesser-known struggles and accomplishments.
The 2020 Sundance Film Festival will take place from January 23 to February 2, 2020.
Based in Nairobi, Sam Soko has engaged in civic literacy projects spanning across film, music and books. He is also the co-founder of LBx Africa, a Kenyan production company that service produced the 2018 Oscar-nominated short fiction film, Watu Wote.
The film ‘Softie’ is Sam Soko’s first feature documentary project. In 2018, it won the audience award for best pitch at Hot Docs Forum.
The subject of the film, Boniface Mwangi won the CNN Africa Journalist of the year award in 2008 for his coverage of the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya.
Nigerian music industry to generate $86 million in 2021
This would be a huge leap from the $53 million revenue in 2018.
The Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has projected that the Nigerian music industry is set to generate $86 million (about N3.096 billion) in revenue in 2021.
This was revealed at the Tourism Investment and Business Forum For Africa (Investor) organised by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and CASA Africa in Spain, yesterday, January 24.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the forum is on the sidelines of the ongoing 2020 International Tourism Trade Fair which is held annually in Madrid.
At one of the forum panels, Mohammed revealed that the industry’s revenue grew from $36 million in 2014 to $53 million in 2018. This however still falls significantly short of the fashion and design industry which recorded N4 trillion in earnings in the same year.
He further revealed that digital music consumption contributed the largest portion of the revenue. This aspect of the growing market has significantly boosted the industry and provided unprecedented access for local artists.
“Although the art and craft sector largely consists of an unskilled workforce and individuals from remote and poor rural areas, it contributes to addressing some of the challenges that local communities face.
“It is also viewed as a cultural activity which represents the essence of the people’s way of life and serves as an integral part of the travel and tourism industry,” he said.
He concluded that given the impressive numbers the creative industry is being identified as a sector that could aid the diversification goal of the Federal Government
The African youth population that won’t be denied
Why Africa’s youth population should not be taken for granted
Population figures of the African continent sit at approximately 1.3 billion today, a significantly huge leap from approximately 150 million in 1930, and by 2050 there could be over 2.5 billion people occupying the land mass that is Africa. More interestingly, the continent is having to come to terms with a clearly younger population, as reports show that 41% of the African population is under the age of 15. This is probably due to certain factors, such as the lack of family planning in many African countries, the growth in population which occurs on excess of 2% every year, and the life expectancy which averages the age of 52 across the continent.
The voting age in most African countries is set at 18. However, it needs to be said that many youths feel like they don’t have much of a say when it comes to who takes power and who assumes political offices: Togo recently shut down its nationwide internet services over criticism of President Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema’s plan to rule for two more terms, even though he has been in power since 2005.
There is also the not-so-small matter of old politicians holding on to power for as long as they can, manipulating legislations to enable them stay in office for virtually a lifetime: Paul Biya has led Cameroon since 1982, and Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika had four terms at the helm of affairs.
With many youths across the continent haunted by unemployment, sub-standard education, poor health facilities and human rights violations, the solace for many is to start up conversations on social media, while those who have the means take steps to migrate to other developed nations. There are also more than a few cases of young people defying the odds, by way of establishing businesses, selflessly setting up initiatives to encourage political participation, and using the internet as a vehicle for advocacy.
Either way, something has to give and whether the old guard admits it or not, one generation will soon have to give way for another. African youths may have started on the back foot, owing to the failure of previous generations to cater to them, but they are coming, and they are taking no prisoners.
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