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Paris court investigates three African leaders

In Africa, you never look Presidents in the mouth.  They are, as it is said in popular language, groundnut roasters.  And you don't look a groundnut roaster in his mouth.  Because then he will definitely throw in some grains.” (Ivorian blogger Denis Zado)

Earlier this week, a Parisian judge ordered an inquiry into alleged corruption and embezzlement on the part of three African heads of state: Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville, Omar Bongo of Gabon, and Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

Teodoro Obiang

Teodoro Obiang has been president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea for thirty years. His luxury apartment and collection of cars are alleged to have been bought with misappropriated funds.

The investigation comes following a complaint filed by Transparency International in December accusing Sassou-Nguesso, Bongo and Obiang of “concealing misappropriated public funds.”  Each keep several luxury residences in Paris, thought to have been purchased with money that rightly belongs to their people.

Bloggers from each of these countries, and francophone Africa more generally, have long criticized Françafrique, France's neocolonial legacy of cozy relations with resource-rich, African dictators.  French president Nicholas Sarkozy has failed to end this legacy, despite early promises.

At last!

The French court's decision was greeted by many as a welcome surprise, one that may mark a shift in French attitudes toward Africa.

Congolese (DRC) blogger Musengeshi Kata, writes on Forum Realisance:

Enfin pourrait-on dire, l´occident, après des décennies de surdité, en vient lentement à combattre ce fléau criminel économique qui gangrène autant le développement de l´Afrique qu´il engraisse l´illégalité fiscale en Europe et de par le monde. Une contradiction flagrante à la justice, au bon sens, à l´Etat de Droit…et particulièrement à la maîtrise de la crise économique actuelle qui exige de se défaire rapidement de ces contradictions nocives et injustes pour tout le monde.

At last it can be said that the West, after decades of deafness, is slowly coming around to fight this scourge of economic crime that is the gangrene of development in Africa and that fattens black money in Europe and around the world.  A flagrant contradiction in the face of justice, good sense, the Rule of Law…and particularly [efforts to] overcome the current economic crisis, which requires that we quickly unmake these contradictions, noxious and unjust for everyone.
Denis Sassou-Nguesso

Denis Sassou-Nguesso has ruled the Republic of Congo for decades. According to The Guardian, he and close relatives have more than 100 French bank accounts and more than 20 properties.

The AFP article on the judge's decision, reprinted on the Congo-Brazzaville web portal congopage, had more than 140 comments at the time of this post's publication.

One reader congopage reader, Ngoma, posts a link to a Google Map which lists apartments in Paris belonging to Bongo, Sassou, and N'Guesso.

Boukaka:

Esperant que cette fois ci ,Sarkozy ne fera pas Obstacle a la justice…Sarkozy avait promis la rupture avec des Assassins alors nous attendons ce moment la avec impatience.

Hoping that this time, Sarkozy will not be an obstacle to justice…Sarkozy promised a rupture with the Assassins and we are waiting impatiently for that moment.

Dolisie:

Bravo au juge desset qui a su mettre l’intérêt des peuples avant les mic-macs économiques…la France doit se laver de son passé de chien de garde pour dictateur, d’argentier de conflits ethniques et de coups d’état ; la France que nous respecterons, est celle qui rendra aux peuples africains ses biens qui sont les leurs !

Bravo to Judge Desset who has put the interest of the people above economics…France must purify itself of its past as watchdog of dictators, clean itself of ethnic conflics and coups d'état.  The France that respects us is one that returns to the African people the wealth that is theirs!

Le Répresentant Du Peuple:

Je demande à Mr SARKOZY de laisser les mains libre à la justice de son pays pour que vérité soit faite. Le sang de nos freres noir a coulé pour avoir denoncé le vole à grande échelle par ces présidents impis dont le goût de la luxure est son gêne.La France,le monde(les pauvres du monde qui considere votre pays comme un pays des droits et des libertés vous regarde)les chefs d’états africains ont enrichis la plupart des états d’europe par leurs avoirs placé dans les banques européennes,les africains le savent.Aux juges,nous savons que vous subirez la pression de nos voleurs d’états par des cadeaux allant audéla de votre revenu mensuel habituel.Honnorez votre profession.

I ask Mr. SARKOZY to give a free hand to justice in his country so that the truth comes out.  Our black brothers have split blood to denounce the large-scale theft by these godless presidents for whom a taste for luxury is their poverty.  France, the world (the poor of this world, who consider your country as a country of laws and of liberty) are watching you.  African heads of state have enriched most countries in Europe by putting their money in European banks; Africans know this.  To the judges, we know that you will be under pressure from our state thieves in the form of gifts that far exceed your usual monthly salary.  Honor your profession.

Alors la je dois reconnaitre que cette juge a de sacrées couilles non je dirais plutot trompes,car vu d’un congolais comme moi plus habitué à assister impuissament aux pratiques criminelles de nos dirigeants on fini par croire et accepter par la force des choses que le droit à l’impunite est absolu et inviolable pour ces derniers.en meme temps que cette decision à reveillé un certains espoir…

So I must say, this judge has balls, or rather is delusional, since, from the point of view of Congolese like me, more used to powerlessly witnessing the criminal practices of our leaders, who ends up believing and accepting things by force, the right [of our leaders] to impunity is absolute and inviolable.  At the same time, this decision has awakened a certain hope…

Dolisie:

Denis,

Quand on fait des conneries, on les paye tôt ou tard ; même lorsque l’on se croit au dessus des lois. Mamère disait à ce propos : ” Le président premier des citoyens ne peut être un citoyen au dessus des lois”…

Dolisie

Denis,

When you screw up, you have to pay soon or later; even when you believe yourself above the law.  My mother used to say: “The president, first among citizens, cannot be a citizen above the law”…

Dolsie

By what right?

Not everyone is happy about Africans being investigated in France.  The ruling inspired nationalistic feelings.  Some pointed out the hypocrisy of the French government prosecuting African leaders, when leaders on both sides are guilty.

Also on congopage, UN CONGOLAIS DE SANG writes:

crois tu que un français peut etre jugé au congo,alor pourquoi laisserons nous un congolais president de son etat etre jugé par la france, le vold’argent s’est produit au congo pas en france…un français qui tue un congolais au congo ne seras jamais jugé au congo,un français fait des degats a congo la france va le protegé…

Do you believe that a French citizen could be judged in Congo?  So why do we let a Congolese, president of his state, be judged in France.  The stolen money was made in Congo, not in France…A French citizen who kills a Congolese in Congo will never be judged in Congo.  A French citizen who causes injury to Congo, France will protect him….

Altesse responds:

Si la justice Congolaise fonctionnait parfaitement OUI BIEN SUR un français qui commet des délits au Congo peut(doit)-être jugé au Congo, rien ne l’interdit à ce que je sache. Mais comme il n’ya pas de justice ou plutôt elle s’achète facilement, on peut se poser la question.

If Congolese justice functioned perfectly YES OF COURSE a French citizen who breaks the law in Congo can (must) be judged in Congo.  Nothing prevents it as far as I know.  But as there is no justice, or rather, justice is easily bought, we can ask ourselves the question.

Dada Maloba, also commenting on congopage, is skeptical the French government's motives have really changed:

Croyez-vous vraiment que c´est la France qui va faire sauter sassou ? …Ils veulent continuer leur colonisation. La France peut dire ceci cela, c´est leur politique. Pour moi c´est les résultats qui va compter. Nous tous Africains noire dans n´importe quel pays. Rentrez dans le mouvement BLACK PANTHERS, BLACK POWER. De lá nous allons voir les resultats nous cherchons. Faire sauter Denis Sassou Nguésso le traître.

Do you really believe that it's France that will overthrow Sassou? …They want to continue their colonization.  France can say this or that, that's their politics.  For me, it's results that count.  All of us black Africans, in no matter what country, join the BLACK PANTHERS, BLACK POWER movement.  That's how we will see the results we seek.  Down with Denis Sasou Nguesso, the traitor.

Ivorian blogger Denis Zodo asks “Why these Presidents?” (and not any of the others from the long list of African dictators cozy with Paris).  Zodo wants to know who is really behind the lawsuit.  Are they Africans from these three countries or is it Transparency International?:

Si ce sont des Africains, ils doivent revoir leurs copies. Nous ne sommes pas pour la gabegie au sommet de l’Etat. Mais, ce n’est pas cette solution qui va arranger les choses dans nos pays africains. Il faut nous-mêmes militer pour le changement au niveau de nos gouvernants, mais également au niveau des mentalités. C’est seulement le changement dont il est question là, qui bouleversera la donne.

Si c’est Transparency international qui s’est auto-saisie dans cette affaire, il lui faut laisser pour une fois, les Africains retirer la gangrène de leur corps. Pourquoi c’est à eux de toujours prendre ce genre d’initiative à notre place ? C’est pourtant l’Occident qui favorise une telle attitude de prédateurs chez nos gouvernants africains.

If it is Africans, they should reconsider.  We are not for messes at the pinnacle of the state.  But this is not a solution that will fix things in our African countries.  We have to campaign for change at the level of our governments, but also at the level of our mentalities.  That is the only change that will break the deal.

If it's Transparency International take this upon themselves, they should let Africans remove the gangrene from their body.  Why is it always up to them to take this kind of initiative in our place?  It's the West after all who encourage the predatory attitude of our African governments.

Omar Bongo

Omar Bongo has been president of Gabon for more than forty years. He and his family own several apartments in the richest neighborhoods in Paris.

On the blog of UPG-Gabon, a Gabonese opposition party, some readers also left comments critical of the court case:

Que gagne un patriote Gabonais de voir son Chef d'Etat sali dans la presse étrangère par le simple bon vouloir des étrangers?…C'est tout le Gabon qui est humilié au delà de toutes autres considérations.

What does a Gabonese patriot gain by seeing his Head of State sullied in the foreign press by the simple good will of foreigners?…All of Gabon is humiliated beyond any consideration.

Nze Mba, also on UPG-Gabon, responds:

je tombe des nues , en constatant que chez nous le vol est devenu une institution qu'on ne peut même plus le combatrre. Les puissants sont tellement assis sur des fortunes et, sur la justice que tout recours et toute poursuite au pays est quasiment impossible.

Peut on et doit on se rejouir que ce soit la justice d'un pays étranger qui s'en occupe? Assurément oui car ce n'est pas au GAbon ni au Congo que l'on verra la justcice porter atteinte à nos présidents, de peur de se retrouver mort, ou sans emploi le lendemain.

I am flabbergasted, witnessing how theft has become an institution in our country that we can't even fight anymore.  The powers that be are sitting on fortunes and on justice so that all recourse and all legal action in the country is virtually impossible.

Can we and should we rejoice that the legal system of another country is getting involved?  Most definitely, because it is not in Gabon or in Congo that justice will reach our presidents, for [our] fear of being found dead, or unemployed the next day.

Finally, and also on congopage, reader Hamburger offers satire:

Un juge d´instruction CONGOLAIS vient d´ouvrir à brazzaville une enquête contre un certain nombre d’hommes politiques français pour leur complicité avec un certain nombre de multinationales occidentales dans le pillage des ressources naturelles congolaises. Parmi les personnes visées par la plainte qui a été déposée au parquet de B/ville par l’association congo libre figurent Jacques-Chirac, Nicolas-Sarkozy, Charles-Pasqua et bien d’autres encore. Il s’agit d’une 1 ère dans l’histoire de la justice ; un chef de l’Etat français en fonction est poursuivi pour les biens mals acquis au congo à travers le “patrimoine pétrolier et minier”de la france au congo.

A CONGOLESE magistrate in Brazzaville as opened an investigation against a certain number of French politicians for their complicity with a certain number of Western multinationals in the pillage of Congolese natural resources.  Among the persons named in the complaint, which was filed by the association Free Congo in Brazzaville courts, are Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Charles Pasqua and several others.  It is a first in the history of justice; a presiding French head of state is being sued for embezzlement in Congo over the “oil and mining legacy” of France in Congo.

To which an anonymous reader replies, tongue in cheek, “Who's leading the investigation?”

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