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Congo-Brazzaville - Government

The Republic of Congo is a sovereign, secular and democratic state in which the president is the head of state, head of the executive and the head of government. During the 1998 national reconciliation forum, the Government announced its intention to enact a new constitution and hold elections within 3 years. The draft Constitution was approved by the CNT in November 2001, and approved by a referendum on 20 January 2002.

The current constitution was approved by referendum 20 January 2002, and amended 2015. The constitutional referendum approved in October 2015 changed the head of government from the president to the prime minister, eliminated the presidential age maximum, reduced the presidential term from 7 to 5 years and limited total presidential terms to 3.

The 1992 constitution was suspended following the assumption of power by General Denis Sassou-Nguesso on 15 October 1997. In November 2000, the Government adopted a draft constitution, which included provisions for a presidential system of government, with a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. In March 2001, the draft constitution was put before the NTC, which contained opposition leaders returned from exile. In April 2001, a national convention reaffirmed elements of the draft constitution, which was to be submitted to a referendum.

The referendum on the draft constitution was held on 20 January 2002 and was approved by 84.5 percent of the votes cast with just 11.29 percent voting against it. Despite calls by opposition parties for people to boycott the vote, 78 percent of the 1.6 million eligible voters participated in the referendum.

The new constitution extended the president's term of office from five years to seven years and provides for a new bicameral assembly made up of a house of representatives and a senate. The new assembly does not have the power to remove the president from office.

The president is directly elected by an absolute majority of votes cast for a term of seven years, renewable once. The president has the power to appoint ministers, senior civil servants, military staff and ambassadors. The president is also the supreme head of the armed forces and the President of the Higher Council of Magistrates and possesses the right of pardon. The president chairs the Council of Ministers.

The Constitution gives the President extraordinary power. He presides over the Council of Ministers and proposes legislation. The President also directly appoints three members of the nine-person Constitutional court, appoints from a list four more members, and names its president from among its members. Although the Parliament votes the budget, most of the day-to-day responsibility for government operations was in the hands of the executive branch, and the President can decree a budget that has been rejected twice by the Parliament.

Under the terms of the new constitution, the term of a presidency was increased from 5 to 7 years, renewable once. The post of Prime Minister was abolished. Presidential candidates must be between the ages of 40 and 70 and have been a permanent resident in the country for at least 24 months. Additionally, 3 doctors appointed by the Constitutional Court must proclaim the candidates as healthy.

The legislature consists of a bicameral parliament of a National Assembly and a Senate. With regard to the legislature, a new bicameral assembly was established comprising of a lower house, a 137-seat House of Representatives, and an a upper house, the Senate, which consists of 66 seats. The House of Representatives members are directly elected for a 5 year period and the Senate members are indirectly elected for a 6 year term (one third of members, each 2 years). The assembly does not have the power to remove the president, and the president does not have the power to remove the legislature.

The legal basis of citizenship is the Congolese Nationality Code and the regulation which brought it into effect on 29 July 1961. Citizenship can be acquired by birth, descent, naturalisation and marriage. A foreign national can become a naturalised citizen after ten years of residence in the Congo. Citizenship can be acquired by a foreign national by marriage to a Congolese citizen after five years of communal living in the Congo.

Birth within the territory of Congo does not automatically confer citizenship. The exceptions are as follows: a child born of unknown or stateless parents; or a child born of foreign parents, at least one of whom was also born in the Congo. The Government of Congo reserves the right to repudiate citizenship claims that fall into the above two categories.

The judiciary is overburdened and subject to influence from political spheres. During the course of the civil war, much of the legal infrastructure was destroyed. Few case decisions and judicial records managed to survive the civil war. This is also the case for legal texts and other such documents. The judicial system as confusing and there are no sessions for the suspects to be accused. The court system is only partially in place and that sessions are irregular.

The judicial system consists of local courts, courts of appeal, the Supreme Court and traditional courts. In addition, two new judicial bodies were added under the 2002 constitution - the Constitutional Court and the High Court of Justice. The function of the Constitutional Court is to supervise elections and judge the constitutionality of laws and the function of the High Court of Justice is to try a president accused of treason. In rural areas, traditional courts continue to handle many local disputes, especially property and probate cases and domestic conflicts that cannot be resolved within the family.

In general, defendants are tried in a public court of law presided over by a state-appointed magistrate. The defense has access to prosecution evidence and testimony and the right to counter it. In formal courts, defendants are presumed innocent and have the right of appeal, however, the legal caseload far exceeds the capacity of the judiciary to ensure fair and timely trials.

Some cases never reach the court system. Amnesty laws were in place for any acts committed during the three civil wars of the 1990s. However, this amnesty does not cover the political “authors” behind the fighting.

OCDH, and other NGOs have urged the Government to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which the country signed on 17 July 1998. The NGOs comment that if the Government is serious about ending the reign of impunity and bringing those perpetrators of crimes committed during the recent wars to justice, then it must ratify the ICC.

Retraining of magistrates and administrative staff has begun as well as reconstruction of the judicial infrastructure.

In late 1967 a reorganization of the administrative structure of the country took place that abolished the existing fifteen prefectures and replaced them with nine regions and the capital district of Brazzaville. In addition, eight administrative control posts and four commune territories were created and placed under the direct control of various regions.

The nine regions were subdivided into districts, communes, and villages. Each region was placed under the authority of an appointed governmental commissioner, and its principal town was designated as the regional capital. The number of districts varied from region to region but totaled sixty for the entire country. A district chief was appointed senior administrator, and his residence was located in the principal town of the district. The number of communes also varied in each district; they were governed by an elected council, which discharged all municipal responsibilities.

The state remained highly centralized. Since the 1997 civil war, key regional and local leaders have been appointed by the central Government. Subnational government entities lacked an independent revenue base and did not represent a significant check on central authority.

By 2017 there were 12 departments (departments, singular - department); Bouenza, Brazzaville, Cuvette, Cuvette-Ouest, Kouilou, Lekoumou, Likouala, Niari, Plateaux, Pointe-Noire, Pool, and Sangha.

On September 22, 2015, Denis Sassou Nguesso, the President of the Republic of the Congo, announced that a referendum would be held on the adoption of a new Constitution. The current Constitution of the Republic of the Congo limits the presidential office to a maximum of two terms and also limits the age at which one can run for president to 70 years. It appears that the principal purpose of adopting a new Constitution may be to do away with these two restrictions, which would prohibit Sassou Nguesso from running for president again in 2016. (Congo: Sassou Nguesso annonce un référendum sur une nouvelle Constitution.

Sassou Nguesso, who was now 72 years old, has long been the ruler of the Republic of the Congo; he was President from 1979 to 1992, a period marked by single-party rule, and again took power in 1997 after a violent civil war. He was elected to the presidency in 2002, and re-elected in 2009. He is therefore now in his second term under the Congolese Constitution, which was adopted in 2002.

The Congolese government denied that the purpose of a new Constitution would be to allow Sassou Nguesso to run for President again in 2016, but the Congolese opposition and many NGOs denounce what is widely being described as a “Constitutional coup.” On September 27, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo’s capital, to demonstrate against the proposed constitutional change.

On 25 October 2016, the Congolese government held a deeply flawed referendum to alter the country’s constitution, despite massive protests on October 20th and 21st that turned bloody when security forces opened fire into crowds of protestors, media outlets reporting dozens killed or injured. The ruling party then announced that the referendum had passed with nearly 93 percent of the vote. Tensions rose as the opposition disputed the results of the referendum, but another protest planned by the opposition for October 30th, was cancelled since the ban on protests had not been lifted and opposition leaders feared more blood-letting among their supporters.

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