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February 18, 2016

Public Awareness Campaigns Prepare Central African Republic Citizens for Constitutional Referendum

In preparation for the Central African Republic’s (CAR’s) December 13, 2015 constitutional referendum, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) held a series of public awareness campaigns throughout the country from December 6–11. The educational events reached approximately 25,000 citizens.

ABA ROLI trained 172 community leaders to educate their fellow community members about citizen participation in the referendum. 

The campaigns, which were held in the capital Bangui and seven of the country’s 16 prefectures, educated the public on the provisions of the draft constitution so that voters could make an informed decision at the ballot. The constitution, which was approved by 93% of voters, is expected to usher in stability in the country, which has been wracked by sectarian conflict and political upheaval, including a 2013 coup d’etat.

In the lead up to the referendum, ABA ROLI trained 172 community leaders to educate their fellow community members about citizen participation in the referendum. “These liaisons were selected from the target communities themselves to ensure they would have the trust of local community members and be better able to respond to their particular concerns,” said Diane Albrecht, ABA ROLI’s senior program officer. With ABA ROLI’s support, the community leaders used participatory theater, radio programs, comedy sketches, leaflets and traditional music and songs to make the provisions of the draft constitution comprehensible to their local communities.

“We often invite intellectuals who speak big words that are incomprehensible to the people. But how can one contribute to an issue they don’t fully understand?” said Dorine Samory, a comedian who helped to educate her own community. “Before [ABA ROLI’s campaign], many people like me didn’t see the importance of voting [on a draft] law. For us citizens, a vote is simply a choice between two people,” she added. “With this campaign, we have come to a greater understanding of the need to vote on fundamental laws as well.”

The December awareness campaigns were part of ABA ROLI’s program to build the capacity of local civil society organizations to advocate on behalf of their communities, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Previous activities under the program, which included community consultations to identify communities’ needs and expectations from new laws, helped to facilitate the exchange of information between communities and decision-makers.

Samory said that she believed active community participation in national decision-making is central to building trust between the communities and those that govern them. “Some of us did not even vote [in the last election] simply because we were not involved in the debate,” she said. “I am not a constitutional lawyer. I’m nothing but a comedian who can use her talent to convey a message to others. This is what we ask our elites to do, to involve us in matters that concern our nation.”

To learn more about our work in the Central African Republic, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].