Africa, Headlines

CONGO-POLITICS: Nun Plans to Become President

Nana Rosine Ngangoue

BRAZZAVILLE, Feb 25 1997 (IPS) - The lone woman among the eight confirmed candidates for this year’s presidential election in Congo is Sister Angele Bandou, a nun who says she entered politics at God’s bidding.

“It’s not my will nor is it that of the people that has made me run for election,” says Sister Angele, who in 1992 became the first woman to run for president in Congo. “In 1991, I received a message from God while praying in church. God asked me to form a party and told me it would be a second revolution in our country.”

‘Revolution’ here refers to the pre-1990 period, when Congo was ruled by Marxist governments.

“I obeyed God by creating my party. Two months later, he asked me to run for president and save Congo which has a huge sore that it has been hiding under a big boubou (traditional African robe)” That sore, she says, are the ethnic upheavals that broke out after legislative elections in 1993 and which left about 2,000 people dead.

Sister Angele is undaunted by the 0.001-percent vote she received in the last presidential election, held in 1992. “I do not consider it a failure,” she told IPS here. “In the eyes of humans, I had failed. But spiritually, I had brought a message.

She received another message from God in connection with this year’s elections, she says. He told her her political work had not ended, which is why she is running again for her African Party of the Poor, whose aims include teaching the poor and giving them spiritual training so that they can take care of themselves.

It is likely to take a good measure of divine intervention for Sister Angele to get past the first round of the presidentials, which will be held in July, and make it to the runoff in August.

Among her rivals are four first-time contenders, including Jean Marie Michel Mokoko, armed forces chief of staff under the military regime of ex-president Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Raymond Damas Ngollo, who was defence minister under Sassou Nguesso.

Another new face is Roger Senga Bidie, head of the Party for Unity, Labour and Progress (PTUP), who broke away from the opposition Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development (MCDDI).

The fourth newcomer is independent Bonaventure Mizidi, one of the few to have announced what he intends to do should he become president. He has promised to fight against poverty, create jobs for young people, and ensure that students and pensioners get their stipends on time — which they don’t.

Sister Angele’s programme is somewhat different. “If I am elected,” she says, “I shall gather together all the children of my country and Africa. We shall work tigether with all the children of this country. It’s true that we do not have material means for achieving our objectives. Our means are education and teaching.”

The drawbacks she faces, says Sister Angele Bandou, are insufficient support from other women and the attitude some men have towards her.

“Men find me ambitious and proud, which I am not, while women look down on me, saying that I am conceited,” she explains. “Fortunately, it’s only a minority who feel that way because at least some of them encourage me, both men and women.”

One of her wishes is for more women to run for president. “I find it a pity that women do not engage in politics,” she says, but she adds: “I understand that because we have been brought up to believe some things are reserved for men and others for women.

“Then again, the way politics is conducted in Africa also scares women off … youths are given weapons, people kill one another … I must admit that if God had not given me this mission, I would not have dared to run.”

Women are under-represented in Congolese politics. For example, there are only three female ministers in the 40-member cabinet.

One female lawyer who requested anonymity said that the dearth of women on the political scene in Congo has to do with their situation in the home.

“Women still allow their husbands to influence them,” she charges. “They are afraid of the latter’s reactions. There are not many men who allow their wives to go on podiums and hold meetings, but one also has to admit that Congolese women are only now starting to become aware. Actions such as Sister Angele Bandou’s should be encouraged.”

Brazzaville resident Massamba Ambroise holds a different view on the nun’s candidature. “I admire her courage as a woman,” he says,”but I think she’s a political lightweight because her actions do not come from her. She does things mechanically because it’s God who is speaking and acting in her. The political fight cannot be surrealistic. Your feet have to be firmly planted on the ground.”

The political heavyweights in July’s tussle are incumbent president Pascal Lissouba, sole candidate of the pro-government parties grouped in the Mouvance Presidentielle (Presidential Bloc), Brazzaville mayor Bernard Kolelas of the MCDDI and Andre Milongo, speaker of parliament and head of the Union for Democracy and the Republic (UDR-Mwinda).

Ex-president Sassou Nguesso, who was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd when he returned here on Jan. 26 after spending 18 months in France, is also expected to run, but he has declined to confirm this.

“We have come to listen to the people,” he said at a press conference here last month. “When the time comes, we shall make our decision.”

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