Signs of Change in Congo

12.19.2005

This weekend citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo voted in a national referendum on a new constitution. According to the reports, the constitution will set up elections of the president in 2006 (first in decades), limit the number of terms the president can serve, and will decentralize power by increasing the number of semi-autonomous provinces in the country.

But, apparently, not everyone has seen the draft constitution before they headed to the polls. BBC News reports that:

…there was confusion about what was in the text. The electoral commission has said it had distributed some 500,000 copies of the constitution around the country in four major Congolese languages – Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba and Swahili.

“It is too bad we have to vote for a mystery document, but there is nothing else we can do,” Edouardin Mputu, a young lawyer, told the AFP news agency.

Constitutions play a key role in economic development of countries. Why? Because they set up the system of government which in trun has the authority to create economic policies. The most important aspect of constitutions may just be their ability to limit government power, ensuring that it plays a role of a referee, enforcing rules of the game, and that it does not become an active participant and micromanager of economic activities. Whether constitution will create truly democratic government in Democratic Republic of Congo remains to be seen, yet the referendum is widely seen as an important step forward in the country, which is struggling to rebuild after decades of dictatorial rule.