Mobutu’s Ghosts (Congo as a Failed State)

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, “Africa’s World War” claimed the lives of over four million in the Great Lakes region, even as the world scarcely noticed. With the Sun City peace accord and new leadership in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the security situation in the sub-region stabilized. The main focus of fighting, the eastern region of the DRC, even began to attract foreign investment in its rich mineral reserves. Since April 2012, however, fresh fighting – especially in the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu – has reawakened the ghosts of the bad old days.

This week the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo claimed that mutinous rebels in the Kivus are operating a “state within a state.” The rebels, who apparently receive covert support from the government of Rwanda, are known as M23. As with many relationships in Congo, the true motivations of M23 are murky. At some level, though, the mutineers are genuinely upset over failure of the Congolese government to pay and equip them. Now these former government soldiers are equipping themselves by extracting “taxes” at checkpoints and generating revenue from mining operations.

These markers of state failure – corruption, unpaid bureaucrats and soldiers, and official loss of control over territory – are nothing new for the DRC. Under the long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1997), Congo experienced gradual institutional decay driven by official thievery at all levels. The “big man” Mobutu is estimated to have stolen more than $4 billion. Ghost workers proliferated in the bureaucracy. Local officials survived by extracting bribes from the public. And huge chunks of territory – especially in the East – mostly persisted outside government control. Eventually, state failure in Congo served as a main catalyst for Africa’s World War. (The aftermath of the Rwandan genocide was also critical in precipitating this catastrophic war.)

So what is the UN doing? The peacekeeping mission has 18,000 soldiers and a fairly robust mandate for operations. Even so, Congo has a vast territory and there are too few blue helmets on the ground. More importantly, the UN can only do so much to address rot within the Congolese state.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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2 thoughts on “Mobutu’s Ghosts (Congo as a Failed State)

  1. The words used to characterize the Congo today range from the optimistic “bad governance and poorly governed”, the diplomatic “dysfunctional state” to the pessimistic “failed state” depending on which side of the story the analyst reads the events. Yet they both describe the very same sad
    reality. The impasse is visibly shocking and entrenched in there long enough to raise the issue of
    Congo sustainability and future. The current leadership fails to understand that by calling Monusco to play the role of its national army since 12 years is the blatant admission of the massive failure. They should resign if the notion of pride exists in Congo politics. This country cannot and will not function properly in keeping the status quo of the current structures embedded in the copy pasted constitution by Belgium scholars which by the way has never been respected, with the current leadership just poorly plagiarizing Leopold II and Mobutu ghosts with more looting and similar violence. Check both men motives and slogans : Civilizing mission (Leopold) = revolution comparaison (Mobutu) = revolution de la modernite (Kabila). Some one says : It takes few hours to create a local militia and attract world headlines when it takes ages to create a company or build a health center. Congo people spend time in the search of godfather, Angola, Belgium, China, France, South-Africa or UN as a whole for today- and the perfect scape goat at the same time (Anglo-Saxons, Rwanda, Uganda,) seeking for balkanisation actually prepared by the successive regimes who had survived on poverty and local ethnics divide tactics. The word used in the Kinshasa jargon is the obsession to find the “Papa” who will hit hard the stronger or wealthier boy next door. Accountability and service delivery is the last things to be considered. After all the Congo is rich is the absolute inner certainty!! But as it goes, It is just a matter of time before Congo erupts. The more the structural changes are delayed , the brutal will be the changes. Self fulfillment prophecy is in progress. and the deadly and dramatic political motivated riots en 1991 and 1993 will be seen as a mere rehearsal. Every body knows that the first thing the armed people (militia, official army, renegades, rebels or in transition) do in the Congo for any setback: the village looting and raping.. Lessons carried over from history of impunity since Leopold and Mobutu.

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