National Press Club

President of Republic of Congo calls for deeper U.S.-Africa ties

August 1, 2014 | By Ken Dalecki | kdalecki@hotmail.com

President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo  speaks at NPC Luncheon

President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo speaks at NPC Luncheon

Photo/Image: Patricia Geli

President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo called for a renewal of relations between the U.S. and Africa in an address Friday, Aug. 1, at the National Press Club.

Foreshadowing a message he will deliver to President Barack Obama at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington Aug. 4-6, Sassou told a sold-out NPC luncheon that Africa and the U.S. "have ignored each other" for too long.

He called on the U.S. to increase training of African forces facing threats from terrorists and pirates; a broadening of U.S. initiatives in such areas as electrification to all of Africa; greater U.S.-Africa cooperation in higher education and increased U.S. investment in the continent.

Speaking in French through a translator, Sassou would not rule out staying in office when his second 7-year term as president runs out in 2016. "The people will have to decide" by referendum whether to change his country's constitution to allow for more than two terms, he said. "I'll let the debate go on and see where it takes us."

A French-trained officer, Sassou was installed by the military in 1979 but lost the office in elections in 1992. He regained the presidency after a brief civil war in 1997 and retained it after a disputed 2009 election.

He said the U.S. and other advanced nations need to be "more realistic" and "humble" in judging African countries, many of which have been independent from European rule for only 50 years. Noting that his country has some 150 political parties, he said it will take more time for political and government institutions to mature. He cited "glimmers of hope" in alleviating poverty, injustice and instability in the region, including his country's efforts to settle internal and regional disputes.

Asked about the latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Africa, Sassou said affected countries will take "draconian efforts" to contain the disease but that "the international community must lend a hand."

He also defended his government against critics of its human rights record, insisting that "there is an abundance of freedom as far as I can tell."