Patience Kabamba (PhD), Utah Valley University, Orem, UT
This article is motivated by the desire to respond to two questions: Is there a Congolese nation? What role should the Congolese play in the building of this nation? My thesis is that there is not yet a Congolese nation. Therefore, it is up to the Congolese to build it. To further demonstrate this thesis, I propose to show the limits of some works that are interested in this issue, both those who support the existence of a Congolese nation and those who deny it. Secondly, I shall deal with Leopold’s project –subtly continued today by other actors- whose purpose was not to build a Congolese nation, but to establish and maintain an extractive space, benefiting the metropole (now synonymous capitals of economic globalization). Third, I will show why the construction of a Congolese nation worthy of the name is an important task devoted to Congolese themselves.
This is even truer that a nation is built on the basis of ideological consensus shared by those who live in the same space. In the case of Congo, the consensus is imperative for the country to move from a rentier economy based on the export of raw materials to a market economy where growth would serve to create a middle class. In conclusion, I suggest that the current debate on whether to amend the country’s constitution is a debate that puts the cart before the ox, to the extent that it retracts and avoid the fundamental question of what actually constitutes the Congolese nation, namely the ideological consensus that determines the type of society in which our children grow and flourish and where those who died rest in peace.
Congo does not exist: “There Is No Congo”
In March 2009, two prominent political scientists, Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills, threw a cobblestone into the pond by publishing an article titled “There Is No Congo” and commenting on this brutal fact: The Democratic Republic of the Congo does not exist. For them, “Congo does not have what makes a nation state: interdependence, a government able to exercise state authority beyond the capital, culture, and language that favor national unity. Instead of being a nation, Congo is a collection of people, interest groups, and pillagers who coexist better.” In two articles later, “Time to End Congo Charade” and “The Invisible State” Herbst and Mills carried on with their argument by suggesting that Congo was only a shadow state that the international community vainly strove to maintain. For these two authors, Kinshasa government failed to stop a decade long violence. The current human development indexs ranks the DRC 186th out of 187 countries. Because of these reasons Herbst and Mills conclude that the Congo is not a failed country, but a non-existent state. The occupation of the city of Goma in North Kivu, by rebels of the M23, a group of Congolese Tutsi who felt that the Kabla government did not honor the March 23, 2006 agreement, in November 2012, and the intrusion of Bakata Katanga militias, local militia from northern Katanga, in Lubumbashi, Katanga, in March 2013, offer these political scientists irrefutable examples to the theory of a non-existent state.
According to Herbst and Mills, the international community must stop putting aid into a black hole. Rather than helping a non-existent state, it should be more pragmatic and direct assistance to territories and structures that are under the effective control of a de facto authority, be it that of the armed groups. By their radical position, Herbst and Mills have created controversy, with many critics accusing them of lacking nuance and scratching the Congo off the world map with a stroke of the pen. Some critics, like those of Dizolele, were even more emotional and finger pointing.
The Congo Is Too Big to Fail”
Mvemba Dizolele points out in his pamphlet in response to Herbst and Mills’ analysis that they are attempting to curve up the Congo again. The attempts to balkanize Congo date back to the 1960s. By allowing the International Community to support pieces of Congo Herbst and Mills are encouraging the Balkanization of the country. In “Congo Is too Big to Fail” Dizolele shows that some modern theories of Congo and the practical consequences of the political or economic point of views are part of the logic of balkanization of the Congo and are based on the model that describes Conradian Congo as an entity incapable of overcoming the original darkness. Dizolele notes that the Congo has grown stronger each time major crises of balkanization threaten it and, far from crumbling, the Congolese national consciousness is strengthened. However, against the actual plan of balkanization and description of a hopelessly unmanageable Congo, Dizolele response seems too emotional and can be seen as an admission of powerlessness and a cry of distress in the face of the international community. Indeed, for Dizolele, Congo is simply too great to not exist.
As I will show later I think that Herbst and Mills’ thesis confuses notions of nation, state and state authority…
I maintain that the Congo has a state, but a continuation of the colonial state which has to disappear.
This is one of the major challenges of the Congolese, to get rid of the colonial model of state Hearbst and Mills are nostalgic of. But can we say that the Congo became a nation? What does it take for it to really exist as a nation?
Far from Herbst and Mills, but not too close to Dizolele
At first glance, one might think that my thesis is closer to Herbst and Mill’s position (Congo does not exist) than that of Dizolele (Congo exists). In fact, while distancing myself from the two positions, I totally depart from Herbst and Mill’s conclusion but share their methodology and I rely on Dizolele’s intuition, insisting that the nation to which he refers is still a job that needs to be done because it does not exist yet. So I shall have to show how and why the construction of the Congolese nation is primarily a task for the Congolese, not a task of an amorphous structure, called “international community.”
Herbst and Mills’ positions are based on evidence and proven statistics to portray the Democratic Republic of Congo as a non-existing state. Indeed, Herbst and Mills insist that Congo has surprisingly been unable to ensure the minimum of the essential functions of a state, including providing security to its inhabitants or at least control its borders. Now this is an eminently Westphalian conception of the state, whose main function is to ensure the sovereignty within the national territory.
For Herbst and Mills, there are no other forms of State except the Westphalian State which is a bureaucratic rationality and has the monopoly of legitimate violence.
Yet this temporary objectification of the state obviously contradicts the very essence of human relationships that underlie the ideological consensus, remain elusive, unpredictable and flexible as they are made and remade according to historical vicissitudes. Indeed, the state is a photography of social relations at some point, but the dynamics of these social relations are also likely to go beyond fixed and reified forms they take at a particular period.
In their political pragmatism, Herbst and Mills reduce the state’s power to territorial control, characterized by repression and obsessed by the desire to maintain social order rather than by the desire to unleash creativity. But such type of state has one of its best incarnations in the colonial state. One wonders whether through their Conradian analyses Herbst and Mills do not betray their nostalgia of the colonial state with its order and its brutality, its effectiveness and its inhumanity, discipline and repression, productivity and operations.
In fact, the Congo is a non-existent state, because it is grappling with the ideological and structural remains of the colonial state, which are expected to disappear to give rise to the birth of a true nation.
The colonial legacy and power as “potentia”
Indeed, modern Africa has known only one representation of the state, namely, the colonial state whose exercise of power is now discredited. The idea that power is the monopoly of the state which exercises it top-down is increasingly challenged in our time where networks powered by interactive decision making processes typically include non-state actors. Theoretically, power understood as potentia, that is to say, the elemental power by which humans deploy their productive capacity and their creative possibilities, is probably prior to power understood as potestas, that is to say the obsession with order which often proves repressive. However, as so well demonstrated by Herbst and Mills, Congo, as a symbol of the antithesis of the social order, has all the signs of the decay of power as potestas. In fact, what Herbst and Mills decry about the Congo is not so much the absence of the state (which is undeniable) but the decline necessary in my opinion of the colonial state or of power as potestas, leaving the field open to opportunistic powers.
However, the demise of the colonial state and its remains is the precondition for the emergence of the Congolese state.
One of the debates in the literature on the history of the African continent navigates between two viewpoints represented on the one hand, by Ade Ajayi, a prominent Nigerian historian and on the other hands by the Congolese VY Mudimbe. For Ajayi, Africa has an ancient history and it is a mistake to reduce it to only few years of colonization. According to Ajayi, colonization is only an episode in the long history of Africa. While recognizing that African history spans millennia Mudimbe emphasizes the need to recognize that, even if it was short-lived, the colonial period was so intense that Africans themselves behave, even today, as colonized, without any reference to the years before the colonial subjugation.
For Mudimbe, colonial conquest was different from other conquests in the sense that it reversed, subverted and permanently transformed the traditional African society.
It is not my intention to take position between Ajayi and Mudimbe. However, I hold from the position of Mudimbe the intuition that the state in Africa is the direct product of colonial coercion.
The African state is actually the colonial state transferred into the hands of new managers since independence.
Thus, the major problem of the Congo is to move from an extractive space to a political one, that is to say, resolutely abandon the Leopoldian and colonial state model.
This is the challenge facing the Congolese since independence, but it has its roots in the original strategy of political and economic organization of the Congo Basin. Contrary to what some simplistic analyses suggest, this challenge is not an easy task, since it requires major structural changes or, as Mudimbe said, “killing the father’s smell.” The magnitude of this titanic challenge was clear from the accession of the Congo to independence. Indeed, writes Crawford Young, “Belgium had built a colonial state in Africa who distinguished by the rigor of its organization, the tremendous increase in power by a locked alliance between the state, the Church and capital, and the ambition of its economic and social objectives.”
Young continues “A colonizer who suddenly lost the deep conviction of the correctness of his policy was faced with a revolution by the colonized who lacked both the structure and ideology. Total colonialism was replaced with complete independence overnight, but the very completeness of the victory of the colonized was concomitant result impotence which emptied the success of its substance.” To date, the Congo is still negotiating with a flagged success, trying to make viable an extractive space without a coherent political consensus. The history of independent Congo is, in fact, marked by attempts to free the country from the colonial legacy. It is true that these attempts were never completely successful, resulting in what could be called a failed state.
As Herbst and Mills have suggested, the Congolese state does not exist, because it was in fact the remains of the colonial state, which was destined to disappear.
Indeed, it was not the intention of the colonial powers in Africa to build state worthy of the name, but rather organized structures to provide the raw materials necessary for the development of Western cities.
The deliquescence of the state in the Congo is only a necessary step in the evacuation of the colonial state. While Dizolele considers that Congo may be too large to be governed, but too small to be divided, I suggested in this article, that
We are dealing with a nation to come and that the task of construction rests with the Congolese. The construction of this nation requires creativity on the part of Congolese. Congolese people, will have to unite for a political consensus. And most importantly they should unleash their creative and imaginative abilities to be able to deploy the potentials of the country beyond the Leopold colonial project.
The nation should primarily benefit the people of Congo. It is designed to focus on the power as potentia instead of exercising power as potestas. The first releases the creativity and imagination, the second inhibits and the controles it; the first integrates and builds, the second alienates and marginalizes. The first develops and expands, the second exploits and impoverishes.
The most knowledgeable analysts note that the problems of Congo are many, deep and complex. However, little identify the real cause or source, namely the persistence, subtle or violent, of the Leopoldian project that was primarily based on the exploitation of natural resources of the Congo and is now continued by multiple “guardians of colonial structures.” The most urgent and challenging issue in the Congo now is to build a Congolese nation not just a vehicle for a new Leopold.
The Zambakari Advisory LLC
P.O. Box 18691, Phoenix, AZ 85005
Be our guest.
Interested in being featured on our blog?
We'd love to hear from you. Find out more.