March 17, 2001 - IFES: Ms. Aud-Frances McKernan, USAID Democracy and Governance (D/G) Center's Democracy Expert, is a former Congo Peace Corps volunteer, and thus knows the country well.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Congo - Brazzaville: The Peace Corps in the Congo - Brazzaville : March 17, 2001 - IFES: Ms. Aud-Frances McKernan, USAID Democracy and Governance (D/G) Center's Democracy Expert, is a former Congo Peace Corps volunteer, and thus knows the country well.

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 07, 2003 - 10:13 am: Edit Post

Ms. Aud-Frances McKernan, USAID Democracy and Governance (D/G) Center's Democracy Expert, is a former Congo Peace Corps volunteer, and thus knows the country well.

Ms. Aud-Frances McKernan, USAID Democracy and Governance (D/G) Center's Democracy Expert, is a former Congo Peace Corps volunteer, and thus knows the country well.

IFES visits the Republic of Congo for a Pre-Election Technical Assessment mission and attends some debates of the decentralized Dialogue.

On March 17, 2001 an IFES four-member team left for Brazzaville to conduct a two-week pre-election technical assessment in the Republic of Congo.

Invited by the Congolese government after a visit in the United State by the current President of Congo Denis Sassou-Nguesso, IFES worked with the U.S. Embassy in Congo and USAID? Democracy and Governance Center to prepare the mission.

Congo is not a new country for IFES. The Africa and the Near East department established the Electoral Support Office in Congo-Brazzaville in November 1996 to provide on-site technical assistance to Congolese authorities, civil society stakeholders, and the international donor community on the full range of issues related to the presidential elections scheduled for July 27, 1997.

IFES project activity centered on the administrative census, the voter registration process, setting up a data processing lab, voter education and serving as a focal point for the election process. The IFES project was suspended unexpectedly following the eruption of violence on June 5, 1997. IFES? Project Manager was evacuated from Brazzaville and IFES? office was destroyed along with the better part of central Brazzaville.

IFES monitored from Washington and from Kinshasa, DRCongo, the situation in Congo and the catastrophic succession of civil wars and violence that damaged the country between 1997 and early 2000. In July 2000, IFES communicated to USAID its intent to reprogram remaining CEPPS funds in the Republic of Congo for a technical assessment and relevant follow-on activities. The funds were originally awarded to IFES for the support of the Congolese electoral process. The IFES Congo team met with the with U.S. Ambassador in the Republic of Congo David Kaeuper and the U.S. Embassy?s DCM James Swan in August 2000, September 2000 and January 2001 and IFES President Richard Soudriette and Africa & Near East Director Tom Bayer met in New York with Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso on September 9, 2000. President Sassou, in the United States for the United Nations Millennium Summit, made time in his busy schedule to discuss the organization of elections in Congo in 2001 or 2002 following the ?Dialogue National Sans Exclusive? (National Inclusive Dialogue) called by the December 1999 Brazzaville cease-fire Accords. The President and members of his delegation presented an optimistic picture of the situation on the ground, pointing out that the cease-fire had suffered few violations, and referencing tangible progress in disarmament and demobilization of Congo's various militias. In his discussion with IFES, President Sassou highlighted one of his government's preoccupations, the arrival of considerable numbers of refugees fleeing the ongoing hostilities in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Regarding elections, the President made special mention of citizen identification, voter identification, and constituency delimitation, noting that those were certainly the first of many significant areas of concern.

IFES identified two consultants and two internal staff to conduct the mission:

* Juan Rial, Consultant-Expert in Election Administration in post-conflict countries and civil-military relationships. Mr. Rial, native from Uruguay, has more than 10 years of experience in Latin America and Africa.
* John Clark, Florida International University Professor. Mr. Clark is one of the few American scholars devoting his research to political transition in Central Africa, Congo in particular.
* Thomas Bayer, Director of Programs, IFES Africa and the Near East Department. Mr. Bayer has worked and followed Congo?s transition since 1991, with trips to Brazzaville in 1996 and 1997.
* Caroline Vuillemin, Senior Program Assistant, IFES Africa and the Near East Department. Mrs. Vuillemin is working on IFES? programs in Central Africa since December 1997.

Ms. Aud-Frances McKernan, USAID Democracy and Governance (D/G) Center?s Democracy Expert decided to join the mission as a fifth member, but not part of the IFES team. Her participation was welcomed as it would enable the D/G Center to better understand how IFES works and does its assessment missions, as well as add a valuable person to the mission for Ms. McKernan is a former Congo Peace Corps volunteer, and thus knows the country well.

The terms of reference of the mission included several tasks:

Perform a rapid assessment of the socio-political situation, talking to NGOs, media, government bodies, and political parties (including the opposition both within and outside the country). This was to allow the team to evaluate the current political climate and get a sense of where Congo is in terms of a return to civilian democratic government and if the on-going process allows everybody to participate. An open, participatory transition to democracy would enhance prospects for future peace and stability in Congo particularly given the first failed attempt and the deep fractions within Congolese society as a result of intermittent internal conflict/civil war since 1993.

Review and evaluate key technical aspects of the democratization/political reform process in Congo including:

1. Key elements of the proposed draft constitution and the current status of the referendum process

2. Current status of peace accords and the ?national dialogue?

3. Expected timetable for referendum/election-related activities in 2001 ? 2002

4. Referendum/election general preparations.

Initiate a constructive dialogue with the Government of Congo and civil society on key challenges in the political reform process including some of the issues raised under 1 and 2 above.

Produce a final report in French and English providing technical and organizational suggestions to the Congolese government and civil society, as well as guidance regarding future technical assistance follow-on activities by IFES, USAID, and the donor community.

Mrs. Vuillemin left for Congo on March 15, along with Ms. McKernan. The 3 other members joined them March 17. The early departure enabled the two members to be in Brazzaville for the official opening of the ?Dialogue National Sans Exclusive? on March 17, 2001. The following day, the mission started with introductory discussions with the U.S Ambassador and DCM. The assessment included meetings while in Congo, with:

* The international community: NGOs, UN agencies, European Union and the diplomatic corps.
* The Congolese government: Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, particularly the Electoral Affairs (Direction des Affaires Electorales), Justice Ministry, Presidency, National Transition Council (CNT), and Armed Forces.
* The other Congolese actors: political parties/movements, NGOs, journalists, academics and ex-militiamen.

After one week in Brazzaville, the team split and Mrs. McKernan, Mr. Bayer and Mr. Clark went to Dolisie and Pointe Noire in the South of the country while Mrs. Vuillemin and Mr. Rial went to Gamboma, Oyo and Owando in the North. These provincial trips were meant to give the team another view of the situation of the country, outside of the capital. The South particularly has been heavily damaged (except Pointe Noire) by the wars. The trip to the North, by road, illustrated the logistical challenges that Congo faces to organize elections in areas where roads are either recovered by the forest or totally destroyed and where the swamps and the deep forest complicate access to citizens for the census and the elections. The timing of these trips was also fortunate as it matched the opening in the 10 provinces of the ?Débats décentralisés? which were regional forum to discuss the draft constitution and the text of the National Convention for Peace and Reconstruction.
Le Dialogue National sans exclusive

The National Dialogue that began on 17 March 2001 reflected the mixed socio-political environment prevailing in the country. Most of the important elements of the political opposition rejected the validity of the National Dialogue exercise. These elements include the exiled political opposition in Europe, representing both the Lissouba and Kolelas camps (respectively former President and former Brazzaville? Mayor), the internal political opposition, and the spokespersons for the military resistance to the Sassou regime who signed the cease fire Accords of 1999, the CNR. Some complexities on the part of the opposition should be noted, however, as there appeared to be a split between leaders of the CNR and former Kolelas and Lissouba loyalists.

These various opposition forces make a number of different criticisms of the National Dialogue process. They criticize the general environment in which the Dialogue took place, including the presence of foreign troops, some ex-Forces Armees Rwandaises (FAR), as well as the Angolans that remained in the country. The membership of the decentralized dialogues was largely controlled by the Sassou regime. The decentralized dialogues, in turn, chose the delegates to the national dialogue that was held later, in April. According to a government decree, the participants in the decentralized dialogues were to be selected according to a formula that did not necessarily bring together a representative sample of the country?s leading social figures, because of the arbitrary nature of how those from the various groups were selected. According to the opposition, that process was neither transparent, not carried out in a cooperative fashion. As a result, the large majority of the delegates to the decentralized Dialogues favored the Sassou regime. The opposition also charged the Dialogue was not genuinely convoked and organized by the international mediator, Gabonese President Omar Bongo, but rather, was organized by the Sassou regime, as well as the agenda. Indeed, only two documents were up for discussion at the national dialogue. The first was the draft constitution (?project de la constitution?), which had been prepared by a drafting committee of twenty-four members all selected by Sassou. The second document was the Convention. Members of Sassou?s cabinet presided over each of the actual decentralized dialog sessions. In general, most of the debates focused on social issues of interest to the public, but not directly bearing on the organization of the elections. Banners proclaiming in the good works of pro-Sassou parties and civil organizations were in evidence at the dialogue in Dolisie, for instance. In Owando, the meetings of the Dialogue actually took place in the PCT headquarters (PCT ? Parti Congolais du Travail, political party currently supporting Sassou).

Based on its review of the draft constitution, its interviews in the regions and its sessions with the Direction des Affaires Electorales, that was working on the census and the electoral organization, the mission prepared a series of technical analysis and related recommendations for the Congolese government in three major points:

* The draft constitution
* The administrative and electoral census, and
* The electoral administration.

A final document, in French, was presented to the government in early June. The content of the mission?s findings and recommendations focused on highlighting the need for coherence and reconciliation signs in the constitution, plus the efforts of transparency and openness the government will have to show to gain political opposition, civil society and public?s support for the upcoming reforms. These points were regularly discussed and shared with the U.S. Embassy, USAID and the European Union. IFES? mission coincided indeed with a mission sent by the European Commission to assess the political and human rights situation in Congo.

Depending on the government?s reaction to the proposed recommendations, IFES hopes to implement follow up activities in Congo as early as July 2001.

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Story Source: IFES

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Congo Brazzaville; Election Monitoring



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