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Who Was Fulbert Youlou? (1917-1972)

The Republic of Congo’s first Head of state was Fulbert Youlou. This abbot gradually proved himself in politics. In 1956, he founded Congo’s conservative political Party, the Democratic Union for the Defense of African Interests. He was elected mayor of Brazzaville in November 1956. In March 1957, his party has a majority of 23 seats in the Assembly. The following year, Youlou was appointed Prime Minister.

Throughout his life in Congo, he was attributed to a number of mystical powers. It is reported that he enjoyed bathing and praying at the Loufoulakari Falls, the highly symbolic spot where colonists executed Boueta M’bongo, a resistance fighter from the Kongo Kingdom. It is said that he bathed there in his cassock and came out of the water dry.

November 21, 1959: the First President of the Republic of Congo Takes Office

Fulbert Youlou was promoted from Prime Minister to President.

August 15, 1960

This politician led his country to independence on August 15, 1960. A controversial figure, he led the country from 1959 to 1963.

Fulbert Youlou, President of the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville), visited the United Nations Headquarters in 1961. Here is a picture.

December 15-19, 1960

At the major intercontinental conference in Brazzaville, he encouraged economic liberalism and blamed communism.

1960

A French constitutional law was passed. It allowed member states of the French community to become independent while negotiating their continued place in the community. Therefore, African independence was gradually proclaimed in the 1960s. The community will be abolished 35 years later, on August 4, 1995.

August 15, 1963: Resignation of President Fulbert Youlou

He tried to impose a one-party system, monopartism, and imprisoned union leaders who opposed him. Under pressure from the army and trade unionists, Fulbert Youlou left power with a reputation of an authoritarian and corrupt President who had failed to secure economic prosperity for his country.

The government that emerged from this revolt describes the three days that led to the former priest’s downfall as the “three glorious days”.

On the evening of his resignation, he was sent to a military camp. Youlu was then detained until his trial, scheduled for June 8, 1965, almost two years later.

He was accused of embezzling public funds and using for personal purposes a small British military airplane propeller he had allegedly received from the French government. He was also held responsible for the deaths of three trade unionists when a prison was taken by storm on August 13, 1963.

The Democratic Union for the Defense of African Interests political Party is dissolved this year.

1963-1968: Alphonse Massamba-Debat Becomes the New President

Alphonse Massamba-Debat led the country and introduced scientific socialism. He drew closer to Communist China and set up a one-party system. He dissolved the Congolese National Assembly on August 1, 1968, but his assumption of power was a failure. Indeed, the army seized power the very next day. Consequently, Massamba-Debat tendered his resignation to the Congolese army. The constitution was abrogated, a revolutionary council was formed and a provisional government was created. At the end of 1968, Marien Ngouabi was appointed President.

The Night of Friday March 25 to Saturday March 26, 1965: Youlou's Escape

Youlou was placed under police custody in a villa, awaiting trial. However, he managed to escape during the night. He took advantage of President Massamba-Debat’s absence to escape with his children and wife. He was allegedly helped by a group of paratroopers from the Congo-Brazzaville army. They are said to have “abducted” him from his place of residence.

Realizing that the abbot’s life was over, Alphonse Massamba-Debat, Youlou’s successor as Head of state, helped him flee to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). He immediately received political asylum from Moïse Tshombe, Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At his trial on June 8, 1965, he was sentenced to death in absentia and his assets were nationalized.

In November 1965, he expressed his wish to move to Nice for treatment. Nevertheless, Yvonne de Gaule, a fervent Catholic, refused to welcome the priest. Her reasons were that he was a polygamist and wore a cassock despite the Church’s prohibition.

1966: Youlou's Exile in Spain and Refusal of Admission to French Territory

On January 19, 1966, he arrived in France accompanied by his children and wives, against the advice of General de Gaulle. Finally, he left for Spain, where Franco accepted his arrival.

In the years that followed, Youlou’s supporters tried to return to power in various ways, but without success. Successive regimes anathematized Youlou.

1972: the Death of Fulbert Youlou

In 1972, Fulbert Youlou died in exile in Madrid. He was 54 years old at the time. The Congolese government of the time agreed to the repatriation of his body, but no official ceremony was organized. He was buried in his native village of Madibou. His memory was not rehabilitated in the country until 20 years after his death, during the 1991 National Conference.

1969-1992: People's Republic of the Congo

The Republic of the Congo is renamed the People’s Republic of the Congo. There was then only one political party: the Congolese Labor Party inspired by Marxist-Leninist ideas.

The regime was undergoing a period of instability. The country depended on food imports and manufactured goods. Its economy was then based on the exports of raw materials such as wood and oil. The President in power since December 31, 1968, Marien Ngoubi was assassinated at home on March 18, 1977. Shortly after, the former President Alphonse Massamba-Debate suffered the same fate…

The Eastern Bloc countries supported the People’s Republic of the Congo. For example, the Soviet Union and the Congo signed a trade treaty in 1978.

The current Head of state is called Denis Sassou-Nguesso. He led the country from 1979 and 1992 before returning to power in 1997.

The USSR and the Congo (from the 60s to the 90s)

The Soviet Union and the Brazzaville government established strong diplomatic relations. Once independent, the Congo got closer to the USSR. Their cooperation was centered on education, army, and mines. Nowadays, the capital still testifies to this friendly relationship since the Soviets built social and administrative buildings there. In addition, hundreds of Congolese students studied in the USSR and ended up marrying Soviet women. Nowadays, this academic cooperation continues between the Congo and Russia.

From February 25 to June 10, 1991: the Sovereign National Conference

This gathering brought together nearly 1,200 delegates from political parties and civil society. At the end of this event, they voted for the end of monopartism and the establishment of a democracy. They also demanded a new constitution.

1992

Pascal Lissouba is elected President of the Congo. The country is again named the Republic of the Congo.

1993-2003: Conflicts and Political Tensions in the Congo

This ethnic and political conflict brought into opposition President Pascal Lissouba and his militia named the Zulus against the one of Denis Sassou Nguesso known as the Cobras. To this were added the tensions with the supporters of Bernard Kolelas. He was mayor of Brazzaville and leader of the main opposition movement. The most important cities of the country ended up under the control of the forces of Sassou-Nguesso. The latter won thanks to the support received by the Angolan army, Chadian soldiers, and Rwandan mercenaries.

The civil war lasted 5 days and took place from June 5, 1997, to October 15, 1997. It is estimated that between 4,000 and 10,000 people have been killed in five months. In December 1998, after a year of peace, clashes took place in Brazzaville and then spread to several regions.

In total, there were about 400,000 deaths.

October 24, 1997

Denis Sassou Nguesso has declared himself President of the Congo. To learn more about his life, click here. 

January 2002

A new constitution was voted on by 80% referendum and a semi-parliamentary regime was set up. The constitution changed in 2002 where the position of Prime Minister has been deleted and the duration of a mandate has been increased to seven years.

October 15, 2015

A new constitution is established during a referendum allowing the president to stand for re-election. The death penalty is abolished, and the job of Prime Minister is reinstated in the system. The Republic of Congo now has 12 departments and is planning a strong decentralization.

If you are curious about the content of this constitution of 2015, you can learn more about it in this 24-page PDF in French here.

March 21, 2021

Denis Sassou Nguesso is nominated candidate of the Congolese Labor Party for the 2021 presidential election. He won the elections.

Conclusion

The Republic of the Congo has had six presidents since its independence. The number of inhabitants of this country increased sharply between 1960 and 2022 since it went from 1.02 million to 5.97 million.

Today, Congo-Brazzaville is chaired by Denis Sassou-Nguesso since October 1997. This country is governed by Anatole Collinet Makosso who became Prime Minister in May 2021.

Summary of the 6 Presidents of Congo-Brazzaville:

 

Fulbert Youlou (1960 – 1963)

Alphonse Massamba-Debat (1963 – 1969)

Marien Ngouabi (1969 – 1977)

Joachim Yhombi-Opango (1977 – 1979)

Denis Sassou-Nguesso (1979 – 1992 and from 1997 to the present)

Pascal Lissouba (1992 – 1997)

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A journey to the heart of equatorial Africa, in the last wild forests of the Sangha.
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