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Decentralisation in Democratic Republic of Congo
Challenges and issues
by Michel Liégeois

More than a decade of incessant conflict, millions of victims, a state that is falling apart, de facto territorial partition and more. In the face of such a sombre picture, few people would have wagered five years ago that it would prove possible to launch a regional peace process and reconstruct the state of Congo. Despite formidable problems, since the signing of the Final Act of Inter-Congolese Dialogue in Sun City on 2 April 2003, Congo has managed to keep moving in the right direction. Year after year, with the support of the United Nations and international donors, the Congolese have managed to find a way through the obstacle course that started with a long and perilous transition period and ended with the holding of general and presidential elections in 2006. A new constitution was adopted in the meantime that has profoundly altered the structures of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The choice of those writing Congo’s constitution for a highly decentralised state was decisive for the political and administrative organisation of the DRC. This institutional choice, which transformed the DRC into a de facto federal state, was the result of pragmatic considerations as much as a political balance of power between “centralisers” and “decentralisers”.

All the same, the reality of Congolese public institutions makes it impossible to reason in terms of reforming the state as such. The work of political actors in the DRC is rather to rebuild state functions from the bottom up, because most of them ceased to exist a long time ago. The scale of the task leaves the Congolese little choice but to succeed. Some indicators suggest that people are starting to become aware of this but that does not alter the fact that the risks are as vast as the challenges. This report summarises both the risks and the challenges, raising the question of how the DRC’s international partners – headed by Belgium – have adapted to the new institutional architecture of the Congo.


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 La décentralisation en RD Congo : enjeux et défis
 (Michel Liégeois), 2008, 20 p.
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Update: 26/03/2009

Michel Liégeois is professor at the CECRI (Centre d’étude des crises et des conflits internationaux) - Université catholique de Louvain.

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