Drcongo: A Ray of Hope; at Long Last, after Five Years of a Bitter War and Two Years of Transitional Government, the People of DRCongo Will Have the Chance to Choose Their Own Leaders on 18 June, in the First Multi-Party Elections since the Assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1960. Antoine Lokongo Reports

Article excerpt

The stage is now set, and hopefully, barring a catastrophe, the long-suffering people of Congo will have the chance to elect their own leaders in elections slated for 18 June. This followed the promulgation of a new constitution on 18 February.

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The constitution was signed by President Joseph Kabila in front of the chairman of the African Union, Denis Sassou Nguesso (of Congo Brazzaville) and the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who, in 2003, hosted the inter-Congolese dialogue that culminated in the peace deal that sealed the formal end of the 1996-2003 war, and ushered in a power-sharing transitional government.

In his promulgation speech, Kabila said the way was now wide open for the elections. "The long transition is over," he told the cheering crowd. "The time for an equitable and balanced share of power on the basis of political bargaining and arrangement is now a thing of the past. The way is totally prepared for elections. Nothing can stop us now. I invite all political actors, for the sake of our people, to bow to the rule of the ballots."

The new constitution was tested in a national referendum and got approval from 84.3% of the electorate. It gives Congo a new legal framework, limits the president (whose minimum age is reduced from 35 to 33) to two five-year terms, and he names the prime minister from the largest party in parliament. The provinces in the country have been increased from 11 to 26, and power is decentralised. The provinces can keep 40% of the revenues accruing from their areas.

The new constitution has also restored the Luluabourg flag which was designed when the traitors of Patrice Lumumba, led by Mobutu Sese Seko, signed a peace/reconciliation deal with pro-Lumumbists in Luluabourg (now Kananga).

The "new" national flag comprises a dominant blue background symbolising peace, crossed by a red line and hedged by two yellow lines. The red recalls the blood of the martyrs of independence and the five million Congolese who were killed or died indirectly from the 1996-2003 conflict, and the yellow for the vast mining deposits of Congo. The country has also re-adopted Mobutu's coat of arms, a leopard head sitting on a crossed spear and a javelin surrounded by two palm leaves, all sitting on an embroidered motto: justice, paix, travail (justice, peace, work). …