News and Notes

Issue Date October 1997
Volume 8
Issue 4
Page Numbers 186-89
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Violence Erupts in Congo-Brazzaville

Serious setbacks to peace and democracy have occurred in Congo-Brazzaville since the July 1997 issue of the Journal of Democracy containing John Clark’s article, “Petro-Politics in Congo,” went to press. The following update is based on a report that Clark, who was evacuated from Brazzaville in June, submitted in late August:

The tenuous civil and ethnic peace that had prevailed in the Republic of Congo since 1994 was decisively shattered on June 5 this year, and Congo’s democratic experiment has been sidelined for now. On the day in question a detachment of the national army tried to arrest certain associates of former president Denis Sassou-Nguesso (1979–92), a candidate in the presidential election that had been scheduled for July 27. The national government of President Pascal Lissouba had accused these Sassou partisans of instigating violent incidents in two northern towns a month earlier. Lissouba had also apparently hoped to disarm Sassou’s militia (the “Cobras”), which the former president has maintained since his electoral defeat in 1992. In the event, Sassou’s militia not only prevented any arrests, but launched a bid to seize power on behalf of their leader. Over subsequent days, large numbers of Sassou supporters defected from the national army and joined his cause, leading to civil war.

It was known that the various militias assembled during the 1993–94 ethnic violence had remained intact, ready for another confrontation. Lissouba’s regime had also been delinquent in making preparations for the July elections, having failed to complete the census or issue identification cards by early June. Yet many had been heartened by the public accord signed by Lissouba, Sassou, and Brazzaville mayor Bernard Kolélas, another opposition leader, at the end of May. This agreement had committed all parties to participate peacefully and honestly in the electoral process.

The effects of the war have been [End Page 186] devastating. Within three weeks of the outbreak of fighting, the French military had evacuated some six thousand foreigners. Although the number of dead is uncertain, reports suggest that it is more than five thousand, and up to half of Brazzaville’s 800,000 residents have fled the city. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of internal refugees have crowded into the districts of Bakongo and Makélékélé, two fiefdoms of Kolélas, who has remained neutral in the conflict. Some refugees have been taken from trains and executed by Lissouba partisans, while various quarters of Brazzaville have been “ethnically cleansed.” Virtually every business in downtown Brazzaville has been looted and destroyed.

Mediation efforts have led to a series of five short-lived cease-fires, the last of which came into effect on July 14. Unfortunately, this cease-fire was broken in early August after Sassou rejected a plan for an interim government and a peacekeeping force.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has contemplated sending a peacekeeping force. The Council, however, has set three conditions: the implementation of a “viable” cease-fire; international control of Brazzaville’s main airport; and a clear indication from both sides of the desire for a political settlement. None of these conditions has yet been met.

Other outside forces may be intervening in Congo in a less therapeutic manner. Lissouba’s camp has accused the leaders of Angola, Congo-Kinshasa, and Rwanda of providing arms and even troops to Sassou; meanwhile, Sassou’s clandestine radio has accused Lissouba of employing French and Moroccan mercenaries, as well as UNITA troops from Angola.

Much of the Congolese middle class, including the exile community in Europe and America, is disgusted with these leaders’ belligerence. Indeed, only Kolélas has behaved responsibly, keeping his partisans out of the fight, and allowing his fiefdoms to become a sanctuary for refugees. This round of political violence is clearly attributable to political provocateurs and a few hundred desperate followers, not to “primordial” ethnic antagonisms in society. Accordingly, there is some hope for a return to civil peace, and eventually democracy —if the moral authority of civil society can be brought to bear on a ruthless political class.

François Furet (1927–1997)

On July 12, historian François Furet, whose writings transformed the prevailing understanding of the French Revolution, died from a head injury suffered while playing tennis. In the words of the Paris daily Libération, “Thanks to his talent, his strong opinions, and also his moral courage, he was the man who changed the Revolution in the thinking of intellectuals and ultimately of all the French.” Earlier this year he had been elected a member of the Académie Française.

Furet was director of the Institut Raymond Aron at the Ecole des [End Page 187] Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and also a professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. In addition to many books on the French Revolution, Furet was the author of The Past of an Illusion: An Essay on the Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century (published in French in 1995). He was not only a profound analyst of totalitarianism but also a key figure in the revival of liberal thinking in France.

Furet’s article “Europe After Utopianism” appeared in the fifth anniversary issue (January 1995) of the Journal of Democracy. He had been scheduled to present a lecture in Washington on November 3 in the series “The Democratic Invention” (see the report on NED’s International Forum below). This lecture, which he had earlier given in Lisbon, will be presented in memoriam on November 3 and subsequently published in the January 1998 issue of the Journal.

Democracy in Africa

On March 6–9, on the fortieth anniversary of Ghana’s independence, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted a conference on “African Renewal.” The keynote address was given by Dr. K. Afari-Gyan, Chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, who reflected on the recent renewal of democracy in Ghana and outlined some of the challenges ahead. Chaired by Richard Joseph, the conference covered a wide range of issues related to democratic transitions and consolidation in post-Cold War Africa, including governance and political structures, political economy, the role of elections, and state-society relations. The conference brought together more than 60 American and African scholars, European and former U.S. government officials, and NGO representatives, including Tessy Bakary, Joel Barkan, Michael Bratton, Michael Chege, Herman Cohen, E. Gyimah-Boadi, Jeffrey Herbst, Célestin Monga, Masipula Sithole, Richard Sklar, Nicolas van de Walle, and M. Crawford Young. Twenty-four revised conference papers will be published as State, Conflict and Democracy in Africa by Lynne Rienner in 1998.

Report on NED’s International Forum

“The Democratic Invention,” a lecture series sponsored by the International Forum, Lisbon’s Mário Soares Foundation, and the Luso-American Development Foundation, was launched on June 3 with an inaugural event on Capitol Hill. The event featured a keynote lecture by Samuel P. Huntington (published in this issue above at pp. 3–12). A panel discussion following the lecture included José Manuel Durão Barroso (Georgetown University); Larry Diamond (International Forum); João Carlos Espada (University of Lisbon); Rui Chancerelle de Machete (Luso-American Development Foundation); and Robert Pastor (Emory University). A reception honoring former Portuguese president [End Page 188] Mário Soares concluded the day’s events.

The lecture series, which will continue through the end of 1998, will resume this fall with a September 15 talk by Seymour Martin Lipset on “George Washington and the Founding of American Democracy”; an October 6 lecture by Gertrude Himmelfarb on “Democratic Remedies for Democratic Disorders”; a November 3 lecture by François Furet (to be delivered in memoriam) on “Democracy and Utopia”; and a December 8 lecture by Bronislaw Geremek on “Postcommunism and Democracy in Central Europe.”

On June 26–29, the Forum co-sponsored a conference in Vienna with the Institute for Advanced Studies (Vienna) on “Institutionalizing Horizontal Accountability: How Democracies Can Fight Corruption and the Abuse of Power.” The conference featured sessions on judicial systems, electoral administration, central banks, and corruption control agencies. Among the scholars presenting papers at the conference were Guillermo O’Donnell (Notre Dame); Pilar Domingo (CIDE, Mexico City); Jennifer Widner (University of Michigan); Robert Pastor (Emory University); Juliet Johnson (Loyola University, Chicago); Paul Collier (Oxford); Jon S.T. Quah (National University of Singapore); Alessandro Pizzorno (European University Institute, Florence); and Herman Schwartz (American University). Both a report summarizing the proceedings and a book based on the conference are in preparation.

On September 24, the Forum was scheduled to hold a one-day conference on “India’s Democracy at 50” featuring sessions on political institutions; the economy; federalism, pluralism, and civil society; and “India and the U.S.: Common Problems of Democratic Governance.” A Capitol Hill reception honoring the fiftieth anniversary of India’s democracy followed the conference. More information on the meeting will appear in the next issue of the Journal.

Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, Yun-han Chu, and Hung-mao Tien, has just been published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. The book, which is also available in two paperback volumes (subtitled Themes and Perspectives and Regional Challenges), is based on a major conference the Forum co-sponsored with the Institute for National Policy Research (Taiwan) in August 1995. For information, contact the Johns Hopkins University Press, Hampden Station, Baltimore, MD 21211; phone, 1-800-537-5487.

Finally, the Forum recently published two conference reports. “Political Parties and Democracy” is based on a major conference the Forum held in November 1996; “Democracy in South Asia” is based on a discussion meeting in February 1997. Conference reports are available on request; send an e-mail to or contact Debra Liang-Fenton at 202-293-0300. These reports are also available in full text on DemocracyNet (located at


Copyright © 1997 National Endowment for Democracy and the Johns Hopkins University Press