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Denis Sassou-Nguesso

Denis Sassou-Nguesso
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Time in office:March 18, 1977-April 3, 1977
(part of the Military Committee
of the Congolese Labour Party);
February 8, 1979-August 31, 1992 (first time);
October 25, 1997- (second time)
Predecessor:Marien Ngouabi
(as a part of the Military Committee of the CLP);
Jean-Pierre Thystère Tchicaya (first time);
Pascal Lissouba (second time)
Successor: Joachim Yhombi-Opango
(as a part of the Military Committee of the CLP);
Pascal Lissouba (first time)
Date of Birth:1943
Place of Birth:Edou, Oyo District

Denis Sassou-Nguesso (born 1943) is a soldier and the president of the Republic of the Congo from 1979 to 1992 and from 1997 to date.

He was a member of the Mbochi tribe, born in Edou in the Oyo district to the north of the country. He joined the army in 1960 just before the country was granted independence, he was marked for prominence and received military training in Algeria and at Sant Maixent, France before returning to join the elite paratroop regiment.

He had socialist leanings and support the opposition to Fulbert Youlou in Les Trois Glorieuses of August 1963. Despite this he was part of the military coup of 1968 that brought Marien Ngouabi to power and was an early member of the PCT (Parti Congolais du Travail) when it was founded in December 1969.

In 1970 Sassou-Nguesso was made Director of Security and a minister in the new presidential council. When Ngouabi was assassinated Nguesso played a key role in maintaining control, briefly heading the Military Committee of the Party (CMP, Comité Militaire du Parti) that controlled the state before the succession of Colonel Joachim Yhomby-Opango. Sassou-Nguesso was rewarded with a promotion to colonel and the post of vice-president of the CMP. He remained there until February 1979 when Yhomby-Opango was forced from power in a technical coup accused of corruption and political deviancy. On February 8 the CMP chose Nguesso as the new president and at the Third Extraordinary Congress of the PCT his position was rubber-stamped.

Sassou-Nguesso surprised many observers who saw only a military strongman by revealing a strong commitment to Marxism as well as a streak of practical politics. He negotiated IMF loans and allowed foreign investors from France and the Americas to operate in the vital oil and mineral extraction operations. He also travelled to Moscow in 1981 to sign a twenty-year friendship pact with Leonid Brezhnev.

He was re-elected as president at the 1984 Congress of the PCT for a further five years and he was not slow to moderate the Marxist policies of the government as the situation demanded. He was president of the OAU from 1986-1987. In late 1987 he faced down a serious military revolt in the north of the country with French aid.

Following the 1989 Congress, Sassou-Nguesso saw the collapse of the communist states of Eastern Europe and, under pressure from the French, began to prepare the process of bringing the country to democracy, in December 1989 he announced the end of government control of the economy and declared a partial amnesty for political prisoners. Into the following year he attempted to improve the failing economic situation and reduce the outrageous levels of corruption. From August 1990 political parties other than the PCT were allowed and Sassou-Nguesso undertook a symbolic state visit to the USA, laying the grounds for a new series of conditional IMF loans later that year. In February 1991 the process towards democracy was decided and in June Sassou-Nguesso stepped slightly aside and Andre Milongo was appointed interim president of the CSR until the scheduled elections of 1992. The country was returned to the name the Republic of Congo in March 1991.

In the elections of June-July 1992 the PCT won only 19 of 125 seats on the National Assembly, UPADS (Union panafricaine pour la démocratie sociale) was the largest party with the MCDDI (Mouvement Congolais pour la démocratie et le développement intégral) another strong force. In the presidential elections of August the contest was between Pascal Lissouba (UPADS) and Bernard Kolelas (MCDDI), Lissouba won in the second round with 61% of the vote, Sassou-Nguesso was elimated in the first round after polling only 17%.

Lissouba began his rule dogged with accusations of voting irregularities and he had to act with increasing repression to maintain his power. From November 1993 to the end of that year clashes between supporters of Kolelas and Lissouba left almost 1500 people dead. In 1994 Sassou-Nguesso prudently left the country for Paris, not returning until 1997 in order to contend the presidential elections scheduled for July.

On June 5, 1997 Lissouba ordered the army to surround Sassou-Nguesso's residence in Brazzaville, the militia of Sassou-Nguesso resisted the army and a more widespread conflict began. Sassou-Nguesso gained support from Angola and in October 11-14 his forces took Brazzaville and Lissouba fled. Sassou-Nguesso was declared president on October 25.

Sassou-Nguesso was prepared to allow a return to democracy and began a three-year transition process in 1998 but renewed fighting with opposition groups led to the collapse of the endeavour. With the government forces in ascendency and following peace agreements in 1999 elections were re-scheduled for 2002, although not all rebel groups signed the accords. On March 10 Sassou-Nguesso won with almost 90% of the vote, his two main rivals Lissouba and Kolelas were prevented from competing and the only remaining credible rival, Andre Milongo, advised his supporters to boycott the elections and then withdrew from the race. A new constitution was agreed in January 2002 which granted the president new powers and also extended his term to seven years as well as introducing a new bicameral assembly.