The Republic of Congo-Brazzaville is one of the poorest countries in the world and one of the countries with the most debt. This despite the fact that the country is rich in resources. In 2007, parliamentary elections will be held, but many are afraid that conflicts may erupt if the country does not receive international help to conduct the elections.
Congo-Brazzavile was a French colony from 1891 to 1960. From 1903 the region was part of French Equatorial Africa (AEF) with Brazzaville as its capital. Brazzaville was also the capital of ‘Independent France’ during the Second World War.
As a country located in Africa, Congo is today a republic led by a President with a mandate given by the Constitution (Acte fonamentale), signed on October 24, 1997, immediately after the Civil War. The Constitution is based on the principle of three independent and separate spheres of power: the executive power lies with the President of the Republic and his government (24 ministers),
the legislative power is exercised by the Assembly of the National Council, and the legal power is practiced by the Supreme Court and the courts.
According to the Constitution, unions and political parties have full freedom. Fundamental rights are recognized and special focus is placed on the freedom of the press and the freedom to form organizations and to hold meetings.
The constitution establishes the laws and rules of a democracy, but the great challenge for the country is to exercise the intentions and establish the institutions enshrined in the constitution. Legally, equal rights for the law have been established, but in reality the small circle of the president has full immunity. A banal example of this is that the mayor of Brazzaville cannot demand that landowners who have close relations with the president take care of their rubbish.
A smart president
The incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso has strengthened his power through the drafting of the new constitution (2000-2002). He was re-elected president after the new constitution came into force. The new constitution extends the presidential term to seven years, which means that at least President Sassou Nguesso will remain in office until 2009. Congo is formally a republic and thus also a democracy. Sassou Nguesso is an intelligent politician and he has secured his position through various measures. Among other things, he has made sure that the military is ethnically mixed, preventing possible riots.
Various UN agencies and other local organizations work together to support the establishment of various institutions. An example of this is the intention to create a council, similar to the Ombudsman, for the press. Furthermore, there has been a focus on the education of the police and efforts have been made to create channels to report illicit acts during service and human rights violations.
Congo-Brazzaville society is not homogeneous. Those who have no connections with the political upper class are exempt from most forms of welfare. Pensions are rarely paid. In some cases, payouts are suggested, but when people show up to receive money, they often have to wait for several days just to be told that there is no money. Knowing someone is important for getting the pension you are entitled to under the law.
A common problem for many residents is that they lost their personal documents during the Civil War. Without approved identification papers, no financial support will be available from the public. At the same time, getting new personal documents is both expensive and time-consuming and most people cannot afford it.
The health sector has collapsed. At the national university hospital in Brazzaville there are only a few doctors and medicines do not exist. It is the relatives of the patient who take care of the immediate care, and the relatives often sleep under the bed of the patient. There are also relatives who prepare the food, buy medicines and other products needed to take care of the patient.
Today Brazzaville has around 300,000 street children and this is a major social problem for the city. The children not only come from Brazzaville or Congo, but there are also children from Chad, Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC). Many of the street children abuse drugs and commit minor criminal acts. A large number of weapons are still in circulation and this is another issue that needs to be addressed in order to re-establish society after the civil wars of the late 1990s.
Education and Economy
Congo-Brazzaville has primary schools, secondary schools and secondary schools and one university. In recent years, the school system has reopened. During the Civil War many children lost several years of schooling. But even though school conditions have improved, there is a big difference between vision and reality. Most classrooms lack tables and chairs because schools are often looted by people looking for firewood, especially during the summer holidays. School supplies are almost non-existent and students have to buy school books themselves, something that few can afford. Congo-Brazzaville is the fifth largest producer of oil among sub-Saharan African states. Petroleum accounts for 50 percent of GDP, 70 percent of government revenues and 81 percent of export revenues. Revenue from the petroleum sector has increased in 2006 compared with 2005.
In an effort to make the economic situation more open, the Ministry of Finance and Planning has established a link from the official Congo website (www.congo-site.com) to a number of documents which are relevant to the petroleum activities. This transparency has also been proposed by the IMF, as a requirement for the country to receive financial support from the IMF. In addition to the oil sector, other important sectors are forestry, traditional agriculture, service industries, and public administration. In the economy excluding the petroleum sector, public administration accounts for about one-fifth, services about 60 percent, agriculture and forestry 18 percent, and industry and mining about 11 percent. Transport and communication, forestry and industry and mining have grown rapidly in recent years.
Congo-Brazzaville has not yet investigated the killings of hundreds of young refugees who returned to the country in 1999. This is a problem that seems unresolved and will remain in the background as a political issue for the current regime.
On October 3, 2006, a monument in honor of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza was unveiled. On behalf of France, De Brazza negotiated with King Makoko II on October 3, 1880, an agreement that opened up new areas of trade. The monument and mausoleum are located near the town hall and also include the remains of de Brazza and his family. It has cost 15 million euros to build the memorial, and it is completely incomprehensible to most people that so much money has been spent on honoring a man who opened up French colonization of the country.
In October 2006, the Ministry of Planning organized a conference with the aim of establishing a series of actions that will eventually lead to the country meeting the Millennium Development Goals, ie reducing poverty in the world by 2015. Congo-Brazzaville is one of the poorest and most debt-burdened the countries of the world, which is difficult to understand given the natural resources the country has.
In October 2006, the Congolese Labor Party (PCT) will hold its national meeting. During the socialist era in the country, PCT was the only allowed party. The National Assembly is followed with great interest, both because it is the president’s party and that it is possible the party’s policy can take a new direction. Today, the PCT has two wings, one that wants a renewal of the party, and one that is more conservative. President Sassou is awaiting the outcome of the National Assembly before choosing sides and expressing his own opinion. In 2007, parliamentary elections will be held. But unless the international community sends independent observers and helps to establish a register of voters, the parliamentary elections can be difficult to conduct. Many are afraid that new conflicts may break out.