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Popular Brazzaville neighbourhood

(Brazzaville, Popular Republic of the Congo, 1972)

by Adriaan Bronkhorst

Brazza-la-verte (Green-Brazza) was the capital of Free France during World War II after Félix Éboué, governor of Chad, was appointed governor general of French Equatorial Africa because he was the first to side with General de Gaulle, in response to his London appeal of June 18, 1940. From the heart of Africa, Éboué organized an indigenous force to help the armies of the Free French, while preparing a reform of colonial policy, from assimilation to return to identity (“Négritude”), with the involvement of traditional leaders in local government and respect for the habits and customs of the indigenous population. The use of cannabis was not excluded.

During the sixties rumors had reached Brazza of a world war on drugs, but the desire to participate in it had hardly taken off. On the contrary, the consumption of cannabis in particular was still widespread among the population, even if officials and politicians called themselves Cartesians to present themselves as Marxist intellectuals and drink whiskey in public to promote the adult status of their young country and of their own power.

A century of ministry of the Catholic Church had already well established among the population the notion of original sin, but the cause and effect relationship between the latter and the use of ecstatic means, these substances of mind expansion, had not yet penetrated Bantu consciousness. Indeed, a teaching affirming that the good god had condemned the ancestors Adam and Eve for having eaten the apple of the tree, or smoked the pipe of good and evil, constituted in fact a serious obstacle to assimilation for peoples making the cannabis pipe the key to their communion with their ancestors.

Due to a diplomatic split with the United States, there were also no representatives of the Anti-Drug Administration and other decency fundamentalists: the social climate exuded tolerance for diversity. The young country, independent for 10 years, was in full search of its own African model of collective economy, cut out for the multitude of ethnic groups within national borders. As an assistant expert at the UN, associated with a project of the National School of Administration (ENA), a training institute for senior officials, I was able to work for four years on this reorganization of the government. In this capacity, I traveled the country from top to bottom to conduct a national survey on the training and retraining needs of civil servants and workers in the largely nationalized industry. A journey dotted with cannabis encounters


Eboué and de Gaulle in Brazzaville, April 1941.In the Case de Gaulle, 1944.Téké cannabis pipe, 1977

The Case de Gaulle, a house built on the north bank of the Congo River, to accommodate the general during his visits to the capital of Free France during the Second World War, had been the residence of the ambassador of France since the country's independence in 1960. Shortly after my arrival in 1971, ambassador Marc Bonnefous organized there in November, when all the "expats" had returned from their holidays in Europe, the "Fête de la Rentrée", thus starting the cultural agenda for the year to come. The ambassador invited his friends and relations who wanted to party to the rhythm of French-speaking Africa. In addition to the staff of the embassies of other European countries, there were employees of specialized United Nations units such as the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program and the International Labor Organization, local representatives of leading European companies such as Air France, KLM and Shell, employees of tropical scientific research institutes, teachers from universities and professional higher education establishments, lawyers and doctors. The cream of the expats in Brazzaville, ready to start nine long, humid  months in a beautiful provincial capital.


The Case de Gaulle in Brazzaville, on the Congo river, opposite Kinshasa.

Before its closure with the Ambassador's Ball, the first part of the party gave pride of place to the amateur talents of the guests. Poems, sketches, small plays, songs, everyone had the right to show their skills. The quality was checked by the head of personnel of the embassy, ​​an amateur stage director who organized rehearsals in the gardens of the residence in the evenings during the weeks leading up to the party. After each rehearsal there was an informal rehearsal party with music, drinks and, to my surprise, cannabis. On the lawns of this majestic historic building, ’joints’ circulated like the words of the General during his emblematic address. They were small festivals of freedom, followed by the spectacular big festival of the Return to the "Free State" of Case de Gaulle. Here in Africa, Europeans found freedom, as with de Gaulle a generation earlier. Of course, his definition of freedom did not take into account the freedom of ecstasy, nor did he consider the freedom of African men in these years of war. But his views had changed and by 1960 he had given French Africa freedom and independence. This is how the Gaullist Ambassador Bonnefous was able to evolve, who, inspired by the example of his illustrious predecessor, wanted to respect the traditional use of cannabis in Congo-Brazza, even if he had to go against the dictates of an increasingly intolerant world elite. I went to thank Mr. Bonnefous for it.

World history is not only written in Paris, Vienna or Washington, but also in Brazzaville, Congo. As de Gaulle remarked in his first official speech as General to the new recruits of 1912: “If I take a hemp thread all by myself and pull it a little hard, it breaks. If then I take another, then a third, ten or twenty, it is the same. But if I tie all these threads together and make a strong rope out of them, then there is no way it will break, and we can use it."° Cannabis is a global plant, used in many different cultures for many different applications. Only when we respect these differences can we work together to make hemp a product that will benefit the global community, as the General envisioned.

Thus, it was in the garden of the residence of the French ambassador in Brazzaville, the Case de Gaulle, where the General himself had opened his arms a few decades earlier to declaim “la France Libre”, that I was offered the marijuana that opened the doors to heaven for me to experience cosmic Liberty.

° (Charles de Gaulle, Lettres, notes et notebooks, tome 1: 1905-1918, 2014. With my thanks to Alexis Chanebau for this information.)