As already mentioned, there are a number of Congolese journalists who have been killed by this regime and many others who have either been forced into exile or have abandoned the profession altogether.
The preceding are not an exhaustive means or methods used by the government to stifle press freedom.
Intimidation or beating of journalists are regularly used and the government also goes the extra mile of intimidating families of journalists, who will in turn prevail on their husbands, wives or children who are journalists to support the state and its propaganda.
Besides intimidation or executions, there are equally several journalists who have been expelled from the country because their method of work is too professional and independent minded for the regime to withstand.
Paradoxically, in spite the above mentioned grim picture, there are no journalists in the jails of Congo, hence some international media organisations such as Reporters without Borders, RSF tend to give the country better media rankings than relatively freer countries within the region.
But RSF or other media organisations are not to be blamed. They are victims of Congolese government’s sleek manipulations tactics. As of the 4th day of June 2017, there were no journalists in any Congolese jail and no journalists have been killed since I was expelled from in 2014.
In reality Congo remains one of the most treacherous countries for journalists on the African continent. The example to back my latter claim is the recent arrest of Ghys Fortune Bemba, the publisher of Talassa newspaper on fallacious claims that, he is supporting terrorism, simply because, he granted an interview to Frederic Bintsamou aka Pastor Ntumi and published it in his newspaper: Talassa.
Sleek method of stifling the press
The government of Congo has put in place a sleek method of stifling press freedom that may not be visible to the eyes of an uninitiated observer. The first tool of press repression in Congo is not the Police as would generally be thought or expected. Institutions such as the country’s Press and Communications Monitoring Board, officially known in French as the Conseil Superieur de la Liberte Communication, CSLC, is the first and foremost arm of press obstruction. This organisation is promoted by the government as an agency that regulates the press, ensures professional best practices and grants broadcast frequency in the country. What contradict the noble objectives of the government agency are the political affiliations and ideologies of those who are appointed to lead the organisation and other negative aspects below listed.
The first problem with the CSLC is its current chair, Philippe Mvouo. However, he is not very different from his predecessor, Jacques Banangazala, who is currently among the 131 political prisoners detained at the Brazzaville, central prisons.
Philippe Mvouo is not only a member of the ruling Congolese workers party, PCT; he is also reported to be a close to two chieftain of the regime: Firmin Ayessa, the chief of staff to President Sassou Nguesso and also Jean Dominique Okemba, the nephew of President Sassou Nguesso and also his special adviser.
The hyper proximity of Philippe Mvouo to the Firmin Ayessa and Jean Dominique Okemba might explain the reasons why, since he (Philippe Mvouo )was appointed as chair of CSLC, he has proscribed or suspended a record number of newspapers under the fallacious claims that, their contents were not professional or outright libelous. However after investigations, it was discovered that, almost all the newspapers suspended or banned were simply because they were either considered as too independent or that, they published news that exposed influential members of the government and also members of the Kleptocracy: Jean Dominique Okemba, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, Jean Jacques Bouya and many others.
Controlling foreign and local Press
After they have succeeded in controlling the media at home, Congolese government through the ruling Nguesso family have developed a sleek scheme to control how foreign media do report about the country or the way the country is being managed by the Nguessos. More about the government strategy to control the press at home and abroad will be developed in greater details below.
However, the scheme put in place by the Nguessos to control the press locally and internationally has succeeded. This is so because the Congolese government is succeeding in misinforming the world about the true reality of the country: politically, socially and economically.
It is sadly the same strategy they have used to destroy and weaken opposition parties and also civil society organisations within the country. The manipulative media strategy put in place by the ruling Nguesso family to misinform the world is known as operation: “Koteka Mboka Te” or “Koteka Ekolo Te” in Lingala, and in English: “Don’t betray the fatherland”.
This is how “Koteka Mboka Te” or “Koteka Ekolo Te”
Through this scheme, the Congolese government encourages most foreign media houses: Radio France International (RFI), Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Agence France Presse (AFP) to work in the country only with local stringers.
In case the aforementioned media houses may desire to send foreign correspondents to Brazzaville, the process to obtain accreditation or visa is way too long and intentionally made to be complicated. And the immediate consequence is that, the cumbersome bureaucracy ends up discouraging media houses and consequently, they end up opting or inadvertently supporting the government’s strategy. Most western media houses easily fall prey to Congolese government’s communications manipulative strategy because these days, the trend in most western media houses is to cut cost.
The Congolese government’s manipulative strategy is made more appealing, because it is accompanied with a formidable propaganda that goes thus: “local stringers know and understand best the country”. It is true that, local stringers may master the political, social and economic environment better, but as earlier mentioned, the underlying motive of the government is to direct the narrative of how the country and its government activities are reported.
To back up my claims, I have observed while in Congo that, immediately the government has the list of regular stringers working for foreign media houses, these stringers are enlisted onto the payroll of the Communications department of the presidency of the Republic and are paid a monthly stipend of FCFA 500 thousand or $ 700. This sum excludes extra payment or allowances paid to stringers in case they accompany the President or government ministers to cover certain events in the interior of the country. In the Republic of Congo Brazzaville, the department of Communications of the presidency of the Republic is headed by Claudia Sassou Nguesso, the daughter of President Denis Sassou Nguesso. By opting to offer monthly salaries to stringers working for western media houses above mentioned, it is Congolese government’s own sleek attempt at controlling news coming out of the country. This method is a success, given that, most often than not, what comes out from Congo from local stringers, are good news stories or the under reporting of atrocities such as the current situation in the Pool region.
Originally posted by Journalist Elie Smith in two separated blog post Sassou Nguesso’s Sleek method of stifling press freedom in Congo Brazzaville and How Denis Sassou Nguesso and family are controlling the Press In Congo Brazzaville