The Congolese Constitution: A Critique

The Constitution: A Critique
George Bakaly Sembe,
Student of Law and Economics, London, England

On February 20, 2006, the Democratic Republic of Congo adopted a new constitution; the text was approved through a national referendum held last December. The formal implementation of the new constitution has delighted many pundits of Congolese politics as if the contents of that seventy-seven page long document would magically resolve what a Congolese professor has called the 'social genocide' of the Congo. While it is true that this might, indeed, be a step toward better governance, it would be naive to assume that the Third Republic, ushered in by the new constitution, will be any better than its predecessors.

There are two factors that should not be overlooked. First, without the means to enforce it, a constitution is not worth the paper it is written on. In 1991, President Mobutu's constitutional term ended, yet he remained in power until 1997 when Laurent Kabila's forces overthrew him. Moreover, in the last six years of Mobutu's regime blatant violation of the constitution was a de facto certainty. Using his praetorian guard, the Division Speciale Presidentiele (Special Presidential Division-DSP), Mobutu was able to subvert the will of the people as expressed in the Conference Nationale Souveraine (Sovereign National Conference-CNS) of 1991. Today, there exists at least three potent militias in the Congo, and in the current context it is simply impossible to predict how the warlords that were fighting for power from 1998-2003 will react if they were to lose that power in the forthcoming elections due to be held this summer. The second concern relates to the personal character of the crop of leaders the international community has decided to work with in the Congo, for while good institutions are certainly necessary in every decent state, good men are an even bigger necessity. Events throughout history have proved that, although Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat were faced with essentially the same problem, there is no doubt that the different outcomes were due to differences in their characters. Similarly, in Iraq today no one can say that America has not invested enough in terms of political, military and financial capital to make that country work, yet the personalities of the Iraqi leaders involved has made all those effort fruitless.

As for the Congo, the leadership is made up of former warlords, responsible for the death of more than five million people from 1996 to 2003, the greatest toll of casualties for any conflict since World War II. In 1996, humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that as many as 200,000 Rwandese refugees had 'disappeared' in eastern Congo. There were reports that Hutus had been relentlessly and aggressively sought out in forests and make-shift camps around the DRC, and killed. While most of the victims were reportedly shot dead, others were beaten to death by the AFDL and its allies. Joseph Kabila, the current president, was a commander in the AFDL army. The MLC, the movement of Jean Pierre Bemba, a vice president, has been accused by the UN of committing human rights abuses including cannibalism as starved troops fed on pygmies in Northern Congo. Finally the RCD, the main rebel movement of the 1998-2003 war, lead by Azarias Ruberwa, another vice president, has encouraged what can only amount to ethnic cleansing in North Kivu. Those three paramilitary groups and other lesser entities, some of which are even more ruthless, form the Congolese government. No high official has accepted at least partial responsibility for the enormous death toll of the conflict. The only time when some of these war criminals were brought to justice was when 9 Bangladeshi troops belonging to the UN peacekeeping force in DRC (MONUC) were killed. Prior to the killings, Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (Union of Congolese Patriots-UPC), and Floribert Ndjabu Ngabu, leader of the Front des Nationalistes et Integrationniste (Nationalist and Integrationist Front-FNI), had ties to the government, the former a guest of the Ministry of Defense and the latter an army general, despite the fact that their militias were responsible for what UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland has called 'the killing fields of our generation'.

Thus, neither this new constitution nor the forthcoming elections are likely to change much in the Congo. As long as those responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese remain unpunished, a climate of insecurity and impunity will prevail, making any real progress impossible. At a time when the 'international community' is rejoicing at the eminent arrest of Ratko Mladic, the 'Butcher of the Balkans', as well as the trial of Saddam Hussein, it seems hypocritical that it is supporting the 'Butchers of the Congo' in their bid for power.