Confrontation between President and Prime Minister Plunges Country into Chaos

President sacks Prime Minister and, in turn, Prime Minister dismisses President. The country, where an unclear power sharing agreement exists between the President and the Prime Minister, plunges into chaos. These events happened during the month of September 1960 in the newly independent Belgian Congo, and should be a lesson to all of us in Mauritius when two of our most powerful political leaders are contemplating a newly defined power sharing arrangement. Paul Berenger said at a public meeting held on 1 December 2014 in Plaine Magnien that the objective of the future power sharing between himself and Dr Navin Ramgoolam is to achieve national unity. The Congolese Prime Minister and President had the same aim in 1960, but their arrangement resulted in a nightmare from which their country never recovered.
The Belgian Congo, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was as the name implies colonized by Belgium. Within its borders, the country has over 180 tribes, each with its distinct culture and system of governance. Inspired by independence movements in other African countries in the late nineteen fifties, political leaders in the country started agitating for an end to colonial rule. Consequently, the Belgian authorities agreed to hold general elections in May 1960 and grant independence to the country on 30 June 1960. The general elections resulted in a fragmented political landscape that reflected the tribal divisions in the country. Patrice Lumumba, a leader who commanded the highest number of seats in Parliament, was designated Prime Minister. In a bid to promote national unity in the Congo, various parties hastily agreed to elect Joseph Kasavubu, a political rival of Lumumba, to the post of President.
Soon after independence, serious differences emerged between Lumumba and Kasavubu as a result of unrest within army ranks and jockeying by foreign powers eager to protect their selfish economic and geopolitical interests. On 5 September 1960, Kasavubu yielded to pressure from Belgium, and removed Lumumba from his position as Prime Minister. In response, Lumumba sought the backing of Parliament which gave him a vote of confidence. He then announced that he was sacking Kasavubu from his post of President. The country was effectively leaderless. To bring an end to the crisis, United States intelligence agents prompted Colonel Joseph Mobutu, the head of the Congolese army, to imprison Lumumba on 14 September 1960. While under arrest, Lumumba was murdered in January 1961.
Subsequent to the events of September 1960, Colonel Mobutu continued to be a key player in Congolese politics for the next four decades initially by pulling strings from behind the scene and then as President, a position to which he acceded by staging a military coup in November 1965. During those four decades, the country suffered from sporadic outbreaks of civil war and one of them resulted in the defeat of Mobutu and his eviction as President in 1997. Even up to now, the country is still unstable.
As a result of the persistent instability, the Congo has become one of the poorest countries in the World despite the massive natural resources that are present within its borders. The Congo has vast areas of fertile land that can produce enough food to feed its entire population, and is home to a big river system from which enough electricity can be harnessed to supply the whole of Africa and even parts of Europe. Oil, copper, diamond, nickel, gold, uranium and many other metals are found in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, except for a tiny elite, the population has not benefited from the country’s riches. Over 85% of the population are considered to be very poor since they have to live on less than 1.25 US dollars a day. The life expectancy of a Congolese at birth is 49.6 years, one of the lowest in the World. Only 46.2% of the population have access to a safe water supply.
Over here in Mauritius, Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Bérenger want to emulate the example of Congolese leaders in 1960 by sharing power so as, in their words, to bring together all sections of Mauritian society. However, the two of them have issued contradictory statements on the details of their project that they have termed the Second Republic. Paul Bérenger says that the present powers of the Prime Minister will remain intact while, according to Dr Navin Ramgoolam’s various statements, some prerogatives of the Prime Minister will be transferred to the future President to render him more powerful than Kailash Purryag. Paul Bérenger makes his supporters believe that there will be a perfect balance of power between the President and Prime Minister, a situation that led to the political disaster in the Congo. Dr Navin Ramgoolam has of late declared that as President he will have the last word. Clearly, Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger are each trying to market their different versions of the Second Republic within their respective electorates. At the implementation stage, the population will realise the contradictions in between the two versions of the Second Republic and, instead of enjoying the fruits of national unity, will suffer the catastrophic consequences of an ill-conceived project.
Indeed, the country needs national unity. However, this cannot be a two person agreement that is imposed on the population in a top down approach. Instead, political parties should circulate ideas on national unity for discussion among the population at the local level. The consensus that emerges on national unity will then be taken up to the national level for adoption. However, none of the parties in the two main blocks contesting the general elections can come up with such a project because they all derive their strength by catering to narrow sectarian interests.