Abbé Fulbert Youlou (1917-1992), first president of the Republic of the Congo (1960-1963). Born near Brazzaville, in what was then the French territory of the Middle Congo, he was educated in Catholic seminaries in Brazzaville and in present-day Cameroon and Gabon. He was ordained as a priest in 1946. Youlou then became active in youth and charity causes, and this involvement led him into politics. In 1956 he was elected mayor of Brazzaville. The church suspended his status and privileges as a priest because of his political activity, but Youlou continued to use the priest’s title of abbé.
Also in 1956 Youlou formed his own political party, the Union Démocratique pour la Défense des Intérêts Africains (UDDIA, or Union for the Defense of African Interests), as an alternative to the dominant party, Mouvement Socialiste Africain (MSA, or African Socialist Movement). In 1957 the UDDIA became allied with the Rassemblement Démocratique Africaìn (RDA, or African Democratic Rally), a regional party led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Côte d’Ivoire. That same year the Middle Congo was granted limited self-rule by the French, and elections were held for a territorial assembly. Youlou was elected to the assembly and became a minister in the coalition government headed by Jacques Opangault, the leader of the MSA.
Autonomy was granted to the Middle Congo in 1958, and Youlou became prime minister. He was the leading advocate for a federation of the French-speaking states in Central Africa, but negotiations broke down in 1960 when Gabon refused to cooperate. The Middle Congo gained full independence in 1960 as the Republic of the Congo, and Youlou was elected its first president.
The loss of French subsidies and most French financial support led Youlou to impose strict economic measures. The worsened economic condition of the country and Youlou’s plans to establish a one-party state rallied the opposition against him. Youlou also attempted to restrict trade union activity. In 1963, after three days of demonstrations in Brazzaville and elsewhere by trade unionists and others who opposed Youlou’s policies, the military stepped in to restore order, forcing him to resign. He was then arrested, but he escaped and fled to the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Abbé Fulbert Youlou eventually went into exile in Spain until his death in 1992.