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Moyen-Congo - Administrative Reforms

In November 1945 the Congolese went to the polls for the first time and elected a delegate to the French Constitutional Assembly. A leader of the Vili ethnic group, Jean-Felix Tchikaya, was elected. Of the 600 delegates at the assembly there were 63 representatives, including both Europeans and Africans, from the territories in Africa. For the African delegates the assembly offered the first real opportunity to air publicly the grievances and aspirations of their fellow Africans. A reevaluation of colonial policy and a draft plan for the union of France and the former colonies resulted from the assembly.

The draft constitution prepared by the constitutional assembly failed in the French referendum of May 1946, and a second assembly was called for the following month. Tchikaya was again elected as the delegate from Moyen-Congo. At the assembly the compromise that was reached between the advocates of political independence and the proponents of a France-dominated federal system resulted in the plan for the French Union. This plan was written into a new draft constitution and, in October 1946, the draft was approved by a national referendum in France and became the Constitution of the Fourth Republic.

Under the French Union, which comprised France and its overseas possessions, AEF continued as a regional federation, the major struc-tural changes being the addition of elective bodies at the federal and territorial levels. The territorial councils, which were elected on the basis of two electoral colleges, one for Frenchmen and one for Africans, in turn selected five of its members to serve on the federation's grand council. The councils had advisory and regulatory functions but no legislative power. The exclusive right to legislate for the overseas territories remained with the French assembly and was carried out in practice by executive decree. In addition to the territorial and federal councils, the French Union provided for African representation in the two houses of the French Parliament as well as in the Assembly of the French Union and on the Union's Economic Council.

Although the French Union failed to give any real political power to Africans, it provided both impetus for the growth of political consciousness and experience in the political process. The elections stimulated the formation of alliances between the established political parties of France and new parties in the territories. Despite the increase in political activity, however, there was little, if any, agitation for complete self-government or independence in AEF.

The French esteem for uniformity and centralized administrative control from Paris resulted in a policy for AEF that was a copy of that applied in the larger and, in the eyes of France, more significant Federation of French West Africa. Nationalism was slower to develop in AEF, and the progressive changes of the postwar period were for the most part brought about by political developments elsewhere. Additional reforms were granted the colonies in the early 1950's. A series of measures set the stage for the admission of Africans to civil service positions on equal terms with Europeans and instituted a new labor code for African workers patterned on the code in force in France. In 1947 the French administration initiated a ten-year development plan, drawn up and financed mainly by the Investment Fund for Economic and Social Development (Fonds d'Investissement pour le Developpement Economique et Social—FIDES). During the tenure of the program, from 1947 to 1958, the Congo alone benefited from public works investments of FIDES amounting to some U.S.$30 million. Most of these funds, however, were invested during the early years of the program, and after 1952 there was a sharp decline in the development program with resulting adverse effects on the economy.

The most significant legislative act in the political development of the French colonies was the loi cadre (framework law) passed in June 1956. This law, directed toward a greater degree of self-government for the African territories, provided the legal frame-work for administrative organs assuring increased African participation in government. The loi cadre and its accompanying legislation granted universal suffrage and a single electoral roll, giving equal political rights to Africans and Europeans living in the colonies. In addition, these laws granted broad legislative powers to the several territorial assemblies and established a system of elected mayors and councils for the larger towns.

In June 1958 General Charles de Gaulle returned to power in France, and in September the Constitution of the Fifth Republic was submitted to the voters of France and the overseas territories in a general referendum. The Constitution provided for the reorganization of the French Union into a new type of relationship between France and its overseas possessions, which was formalized as the French Community, an association of autonomous republics in which France was the senior partner. On September 28, voters of Moyen-Congo overwhelmingly approved the referendum. Two months later the colony became the Republic of the Congo, an autonomous member of the French Community.

The Community had jurisdiction over foreign policy, defense, currency, common ethnic and financial matters, strategic raw materials, and, unless specifically excluded by agreement, higher education, internal and external communications, and supervision of tribunals. The Community's executive branch was presided over by an elected president, who was also the president of France. It consisted of an executive council, which was composed of the president, the prime ministers of the member states, the French ministers concerned with Community affairs, and a Senate whose delegates were elected indirectly by each member state in proportion to its population. The Community also had a joint High Court of Arbitration. Each member state was to have its own government established by separate constitutions.

In December 1958 leaders of the four AEF republics began a series of conferences in Paris to decide on the future of the federal relationship. The concept of a federal parliament and executive was rejected, but an agreement was signed that established a common customs union and a joint administration for transportation and communication.

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