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June 29, 2010

Comments

The Cold War really did a number on Africa, between US support for imperial regimes and dictators, and Russia's "One AK-47 Per Child" program.

To some extent I think what is going on resembles the nation-forming stage of European history, which was extremely bloody, but there has to be a better way.

These photos depict the horrors of Belgian colonialism. This native Congoloese puts it into words: "When the Belgians and the Portuguese were here, there were farms and plantations — cashews, peanuts, rubber, palm oil. There was industry and factories employing 3,000 people, 5,000 people. But since independence, no Congolese has succeeded. The plantations are abandoned." Using a French expression literally translated as "on the ground," he adds: "Everything is par terre."

i can scarce think of a more ahistorical comment than the one above.

christ.

Yeah those n-words loved their Belgian and Portuguese masters so much that they hailed the effin' Imperial German Schutztruppe as liberators despite the latter's history of occasional genocide and often blatant racism.

Wow Carter. Just wow.

If you wanted a better photo of the horrors of Belgian colonialism, you could find a thumbnail here (scroll down to the phrase "From 1885 until 1908"). It's a picture that appears in the book King Leopold's Ghost, showing two children whose hands were amputated by the security forces as a combined punitive measure and justification for expenditure of ammo (the local security forces were supposed to bring back a hand for each bullet expended, to show that they hadn't wasted their ammo). Much of the resource extraction in Leopold's day was accomplished via forced labor, and the methods used to secure that forced labor were harsh, to say the least.

There's one in every thread. It's deeply willed ignorance, and arguing is going to be a waste of time.

Lumumba was doomed from the moment he took office. This is a value-neutral statement of fact, not meant to exonerate either the CIA or the Belgians.

The Congo in 1960 was literally ungovernable. A "nation" of nearly 20 million people, it had less than 20,000 native high school graduates and less than 100 college graduates. Feature, not bug -- the Belgians had built hospitals, factories, mines and roads, but had been very careful not to train native doctors, lawyers, accountants or engineers.

There had been no nationwide elections in the Congo until the eve of independence. In fact, no blacks had ever voted for anything at all until 1957, when a handful were allowed to vote in carefully controlled municipal elections. Neither Lumumba nor anyone in his cabinet had ever been allowed to run anything bigger than a local post office. And the new government was riven by ethnic and ideological divisions that pretty much ensured it would be unworkable even if everyone involved had been Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton and Adams.

Lumumba himself was brave, charismatic, passionate and (AFAWCT) sincere in his patriotism and idealism. All of those have fed his legend. But he was also a guy in his early thirties with a limited education and no executive experience whatsoever. And he was quick-tempered, high-handed, arrogant and stubborn. George Washington, Lee Kuan Yew and Nelson Mandela combined could not have governed the Congo of 1960-61, but Lumumba's particular personality traits helped contribute to his swift downfall and horrible fate. Again, this is not meant to exculpate, just to clarify. A different man would still have failed, and probably been destroyed as well -- just perhaps in a different manner.

In the cold hindsight of history, what happened in Congo -- the rapid collapse of civilian government, a military coup, and then 30+ years of brutal and utterly corrupt dictatorship under Mobutu -- looks not only likely, but almost inevitable. Also, given what utter selfish, stupid fucktards the Belgians were, it looks like around the 50th percentile of possible allohistorical Congos. It's possible to imagine alternative Congos that might have gone better -- say as well as Gabon or, if you really want to be optimistic, Tanzania. On the other hand, it's also possible to imagine Congos even worse than what we got; Mobutu was evil and corrupt, but he wasn't insane or genocidal in the style of, say, Idi Amin or Mengistu.

Anyway. Eric, if you're really interested in this, check out the Congo Siasa blog, which has been covering the murder and its aftermath. Lots of informed speculation, along with good background on who may have done what and why.

cheers,


Doug M.

Thanks Doug M.

Incidentally, I agree with everything you wrote about "Patrice" - whose name was given to a friend's sister.

Steven C: I'm confident Mr. Malu-Ebonga Charles knows more about the history of the Congo than you do, and that those photographs in LIFE aren't fakes.

Dave W: We are talking about the DRC, not the Congo Free State.

Doug M: If the Belgians truly were "evil fucktards", it's curious they were bothering to educate the locals at all. Education in the Congo under Belgian rule was better than most of Africa. Complaints about the not producing "doctors, lawyers, accountants or engineers" are wildly unrealistic.

"Neither Lumumba nor anyone in his cabinet had ever been allowed to run anything bigger than a local post office"

Because they weren't capable of running anything bigger than a local post office.

"It's possible to imagine alternative Congos that might have gone better"

You don't have to imagine it.

If the Belgians truly were "evil fucktards", it's curious they were bothering to educate the locals at all.

Not sure your point. Is it that because the Belgians bothered to educate some of the locals to some extent, therefore they were good for the locals? That they weren't oppressive? Did not exploit the people and the natural resources? Were not brutal?

Does the crumb of some education really erase everything else and turn an ugly chapter of colonialist brutality into a beautiful one?

I'm confident Mr. Malu-Ebonga Charles knows more about the history of the Congo than you do, and that those photographs in LIFE aren't fakes.

I'm confident that many people that know more about the history of the Congo than any of us, including Mr. Malu-Ebonga Charles, disagree with Mr. Malu-Ebonga Charles about his views.

QED

Shorter Carter: Exterminate the brutes.

Seriously, the argument here is that Belgian colonization of the Congo wasn't all that bad, and the evidence is a Life magazine photo essay?

If I can find a Weekly Reader that argues the opposite, do I win? Or will I have to resort to Better Homes and Gardens?

Please go do ten minutes of good-faith homework on the history of the Belgians in the Congo and try again.

Sheesh.

I would also add that the problems plaguing the Congo post-independence are due, in no small measure, to the influence of outside forces like multinational corporations, the US goverment and...the Belgians!

I mean, sheesh, what's the message here to the colonies of Western powers: apres moi le deluge? And part of le deluge est moi?

Eric Martin: "Is it that because the Belgians bothered to educate some of the locals to some extent, therefore they were good for the locals"

They were good for locals. They built schools, roads, and hospitals. They prevented everything that happened after Congo's independence.

"I'm confident that many people that know more about the history of the Congo than any of us, including Mr. Malu-Ebonga Charles, disagree with Mr. Malu-Ebonga Charles about his views"

Poor Malu-Ebonga Charles. All he does is live there. Feel free to name some of these people who think the Congo of today is a better place than the Congo of 1953.

They were good for locals.

"With my own eyes I have witnessed many of the most horrible examples of cruelty practiced upon the poor natives in that country. I have seen natives with one hand cut off and I have seen them with both cut off, and in many cases the poor victims were children..."

Dr. Leslie gave many other instances of the tortures that have been suffered by the natives, and said that much of the cruelty had been practiced in order to impress on the blacks the necessity of their bringing to market the rubber wanted by their persecutors and to emphasize the dire results that would follow their failure to do so.

They were good for locals. They built schools, roads, and hospitals. They prevented everything that happened after Congo's independence.

Actually, they created an apartheid state, where the "luxuries" were enjoyed primarily by the whites, with a few tokens. Not really so good for the locals.

Also, the colonial rule was excessively brutal, even if the Belgian govt.'s stewardship was less so, it still was the product of a brutal colonial period - near genocidal - in which Leo killed millions of locals (less good for them I guess).

And, it should be noted, that not only did the Belgians not prevent what happened after independence, they played an active role in bringing it about! They have been messing with the Congo ever since.

Poor Malu-Ebonga Charles. All he does is live there. Feel free to name some of these people who think the Congo of today is a better place than the Congo of 1953.

Huh? Do you really want me to find Congolese that would disagree with the suggestion that they would be better off under Belgian rule? Really?

And, again, the Belgians are amongst the foreign interetsts that have been contributing to the conflict and unrest in Congo ever since independence. So, yeah, they may have been better off if the Belgians and others weren't treating their country like one big strip mine, and its people as dispensable "external" costs.

Or not. Hard to tell.

But that's a bit rich.

Again, what's the message here to the colonies of Western powers: apres moi le deluge? And part of le deluge est moi?

Belgium finally apologized for its part in Lumumba's death 41 years after the fact.

Lumumba's killing ended democracy in Congo for nearly a half century. Both Belgium and the United States supported a 32-year dictatorship set up by Mobutu Sese Seko, a pro-Western leader seen as a bulwark against communism.

Mobutu managed to control the country he renamed Zaire, but amassed a personal fortune estimated at $5 billion while entrenching corruption that continues to damn the country.

In 1997, an alliance of rebels invaded and overthrew Mobutu. Laurent Kabila, the father of Congo's current president, took power.

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/06/29/2051909/50-years-on-congo-still-battered.html#ixzz0sNT8L7RE

Elm: We are talking about the DRC.

Eric Martin: "Actually, they created an apartheid state, where the "luxuries" were enjoyed primarily by the whites, with a few tokens. Not really so good for the locals"

Peace, order, schools, hospitals, and a sucessful economy were good for the locals. Ask the Funidi family:

[Mr. Funidi] moved to Kisangani about 1943 from the small village where he had been chief, Mr. Funidi got a Government job as a street cleaner. Before he died in 1959, he sent all his children to school and he was one of a large number of Congolese on the verge of joining an emerging middle class.

Mr. Funidi's children and grandchildren celebrated, of course, when Congo became independent in 1960. Throughout Africa, there was elation at the prospect that diamonds and minerals plundered by Europeans would finally enrich local people. The Funidi family already was moderately well off, with educated children and such conveniences as a bicycle, a hand-crank phonograph, a battery-powered radio and a sewing machine.

''Everybody was very happy with independence, because God seemed to have decreed it and everybody expected life to get better,'' recalled Emmanuel, one of Mr. Funidi's sons. ''But it didn't take long to realize that things were getting worse.''

...it is clear that the Funidi family is much less prepared to prosper now than it was in the 1950's.

Then all the children went through elementary school at least; now all the children get little or no education and are illiterate. Then a college education, however rare, seemed a ticket to run the country; now it is seen as just a detour on the way to becoming a charcoal hawker.

''Dad would be very unhappy with the way things have turned out,'' Londeke said wistfully as he gazed at the embers of his fire at the mining camp. ''When he was alive, conditions were better. We had food, we had clothingand we could afford breakfast. Now we have nothing.''

"Do you really want me to find Congolese that would disagree with the suggestion that they would be better off under Belgian rule"

By all objective measures Congolese were better off under Belgian rule.


All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation
And for de old folks at home.

As a sort of related aside - when the reports about the trillion dollars worth of minerals and other resources hiding under the Afghan moonscape came out a week or so ago, my first reaction was "If the Afghans thought they've been screwed so far, they haven't seen anything yet".

A trillion bucks' worth of mineral resources? Everybody is gonna want to be their BFF now.

It's nice that the Funidi family were able to achieve some kind of middle class existence in the 50's. They were the first generation of Congolese since European whites divvied up central Africa to do so.

It's a shame the former colonial African nations have had such difficulty establishing stable, responsive governments since they have, one by one, achieved independence. Among other things, it would help if developed nations didn't sponsor criminal governments in return for continued access to natural resources.

It takes a special kind of blinders to look at the history of the Belgians in the Congo and say "things were better back in the day". Lather, rinse, and repeat for pretty much any of the European colonial rulers.

By all objective measures Congolese were better off under Belgian rule.

Under the rule of the Belgian King, millions of Congolese were brutally slaughtered, and many more were maimed and otherwise terrorized.

There is no objective standard that exists under which those Congolese were better off.

Further, and to repeat myself, what does it mean to say that when Belgium itself contributed greatly to the hardships of Congo post-independence? The Belgians punished and exploited, ruthlessly, the Congolese after they were kicked out.

So, um, what is your point?

"Because they weren't capable of running anything bigger than a local post office."

-- See, I had a bet with myself. As I said, there's one in every thread, and about 50% of the time they veer quickly towards some variant of "Africans couldn't govern themselves / Africans cannot govern themselves / Africans are less intelligent see I have this book right here that says so / Africans deserve whatever happens to them because they are savage and stupid".

So, no surprise.

Again, it's deeply willed ignorance. These guys are heavily invested in a particular type of constructed Other, and they're never going to let it go.

"Is it that because the Belgians bothered to educate some of the locals to some extent, therefore they were good for the locals?"

Eric, the Belgians were pretty clear and upfront about their goals in the Congo. Thwanted a healthy, docile, politically impotent workforce with just enough education to wait a table, read the instructions on a piece of mining equipment, or run the counter at a general store. Education beyond basic literacy and numeracy, they actively did not want.

Comparandum: French Senegal became independent at almost exactly the same time as Congo (April vs. June 1960). The first native Senegalese lawyer graduated from a French university in 1909. By independence, Senegal -- with a population of less than four million -- had over 20,000 university grduates, about half from French schools and half from the local system of higher ed. (The first college in Senegal opened its doors in 1918.) The colony had thousands of native doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants.

It also had lots of experienced businessmen and politicans. Senegal had had trade unions (since the 1930s), large native-owned businesses (since the late 1800s) and contested internal elections (since the 1890s); Senegal had been sending elected native representatives to the French National Assembly since the days of Napoleon III.

Senegal is a mostly semidesert country with few natural resources, and the French didn't leave behind nearly as much infrastructure as the Belgians did in Congo. However, Senegal's post-colonial history has been peaceful -- it's never had a coup or a civil war, and has seen two peaceful transitions of power after democratic elections. At independence, Senegal was poorer by most measurements; today it has a per capita income *more than five times* greater than Congo's. (Note that being five times richer than Congo is still poor-ish. But nobody's starving in Senegal.)

So, yeah, the Belgians were indeed a bunch of stupid, selfish fucktards. They viewed the locals in purely commercial terms. They did a decent job providing basic health and education for the same reason a wise farmer provides clean hay and vet checkups for the animals in the barn, and in much the same spirit.

Doug M.


I was sure Carter's first post was a performance-art piece, but I guess I was wrong.

"By all objective measures Congolese were better off under Belgian rule."

Well, firstly, what Eric said about whether the Congolese were "better off" when they were colonial subjects.

Secondly, do "all objective measures" comprise an anecdote about one family and a photo essay? Because if so, you're misusing the word "objective."

Ta Nehisi Coates had a recent post about slaves who liked slavery:
http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/06/slaves-who-liked-slavery/58678/

Does Clara Davis's nostalgia constitute an objective measure showing that black people were better off under slavery?

Julian,

Is anyone really objective? As they say in El Salvador, "Every Head a Different World".

Thanks for pointing out some of the illogical conclusions that one can draw by focusing too much on a small set of data. Sadly, anyway that you look at it, what's done is done. For better or worse. We can only hope that a brighter future is in store. Or as Pumba would say "put your behind in the past."

...But don't mind me, I am just the pest control guy. =)

Eric Martin: "Under the rule of the Belgian King"

The Belgians took over running the Congo from Leopold in 1908.

Doug M: "they veer quickly towards some variant of "Africans couldn't govern themselves / Africans cannot govern themselves"

Except it's a fact the Congolose can't govern themselves.

"it's deeply willed ignorance"

Project much?

Julian: "Secondly, do "all objective measures" comprise an anecdote about one family and a photo essay?"

Objective measures of food, shelter, health, wealth, domestic tranquility. You know, the little things.

The Belgians took over running the Congo from Leopold in 1908.

And King Leopold was King of...King of...it's on the tip of my tongue...wait it's coming to me...

(and yes, I know that he held it personally, but pardon the Congolese if they fail to focus on such legal niceties - a Belgian oppressor to them looked a lot like a Belgian oppressor - silly people!)

Except it's a fact the Congolose can't govern themselves.

No, that is not a fact, and to suggest such betrays, yes, a whopping amount of ignorance and flawed logic.

What is a fact is that under the circumstances of the past 50 years, Congo has not produced a stable, responsive, liberal government.

But those "circumstances" involve the US and BELGIUM (spelled, "B-E-L-G-I-U-M") sacking and assassinating democratically elected leaders, while propping up brutal and wildly corrupt dictators for decades, and playing a part in brutal oppression and sowing conflict and destabilization of Congo in exchange for mineral wealth extraction rights.

What we don't know is how the Congo would be succeeding had we and the Belgians and others not sabotaged them so.

So their capability is not known.

Further, as pointed out above, part of the problem also lies with the Belgians' unwillingness to provide advanced education to their Congolese subjects. An objectively malign practice.

Objective measures of food, shelter, health, wealth, domestic tranquility. You know, the little things.

Really?

Domestic tranquility?

What have the Belgians offered in terms of the above since independence?

Why do you keep dodging this argument?

You have studiously refused to countenance the fact that Belgium has played a direct role in roiling Congo society since independence, and that therefore to blame the Congolese for their inability to govern given this foreign interference, and to hold the Belgians up as some benign colonialists, is beyond perverse. Or the educational deprivations mentioned above.

Such a refusal to acknowledge a half century of history is, yes, willfully ignorant. Or at least willfully myopic, but it leads to the same destination in the end.

In the memoir by the man who was CIA station chief in Leopoldville during the '60s, he talks about a Time reporter who wrote an article about Lumumba that was supposed to be featured on the cover. The US ambassador called Henry Luce directly and told him it would be contrary to US interests to give Lumumba that kind of attention and exposure. Even though the issue was already at the printer, Luce agreed to change the cover and deemphasize the story.

The lesson here is that if you want objective and unbiased accounts of conditions in the Congo back then, Luce publications like Life Magazine are the place to go.

(Story here.)

Eric Martin: "pardon the Congolese if they fail to focus on such legal niceties - a Belgian oppressor to them looked a lot like a Belgian oppressor - silly people!"

It's not a "legal nicety", it was two completely different governments. It's phony to equate them. The major figures in Congolese independence were all born after 1909. Compared to Congolese rule Belgian rule wasn't opressive.

"Domestic tranquility?"

Not a trivial thing, or easy to accomplish. The Congolese haven't been able to accomplish it, and the UN hasn't been able to provide

Not a trivial thing, or easy to accomplish. The Congolese haven't been able to accomplish it, and the UN hasn't been able to provide

What do you mean not a trivial thing? I didn't say it was. Who are you responding to?

What I did say, however, and which you have NOT responded to, repeatedly, is that Belgium not only set the stage for the lack of tranquility by refusing to educate the population past a rudimentary level, but that they have actively and relentlessly destabilized and sowed conflict in the Congo after independence.

What say you to that?

It's not a "legal nicety", it was two completely different governments.

Two Belgian governments.

It's phony to equate them. The major figures in Congolese independence were all born after 1909.

No, it is not, as they are still part of the same Belgian colonial enterprise, even if the managers had different styles. Even for those born after 1909, the scars do not disappear or the legacy evaporate, especially because the post-Leo government was far from benign. It was oppressive in its own right, and brutal and dismissive of the Congolese.

I mean, would you argue that a black man born in American in 1865 wasn't persecuted in the South because the Confederacy was toppled, and slavery abolished? Would it make him feel better if you explained how much worse it was under slavery, rather than just institutionalized racism and the Klan. And that now he got to go to school!

Compared to Congolese rule Belgian rule wasn't opressive.

And compared to Hitler's rule, the Pogrom's were benign. So?

"Why do you keep dodging this argument?"

Eric, I travel a lot in Africa, and I post stuff about Africa. And this bears repeating: there's one in every thread.

Usually American, male, and white. It's all about the Negroes, and how they can't rule themselves. They can't! They never can! Negro! Knee! Grow!

Typically it's mixed in with a broad streak of Dunning-Kruger -- the poster doesn't know very much about Africa, but everything he does know serves to prove the idee fixee. Attempts to bring the discussion back to the original topic -- what's going on in Congo right now, for instance -- are dragged back again and again to how it's all the Africans' own fault, because Knee! Grow!

It's feeding the energy beast, man. Just sayin'.

BTW, while the shift to Belgian rule in 1908 got rid of Leopold's worst atrocities, the Belgian Congo still wasn't exactly a haven of peace and freedom. In the 1920s the Belgian colonial government killed over 20,000 workers -- that's "killed" and "twenty thousand" -- constructing the railroad from Kinshasa to the sea. Well into the 1950s, the palm oil industry was running on, basically, slave labor -- workers were paid, after "deductions" for food and board, basically nothing, were kept at the job by whips and guns, and were shot if they protested or tried to escape. In the 1930s, attempts to organize a union in the palm oil industry ended with over 500 workers being herded into pens and machine-gunned. (For a very dry, but very methodical description of these events, check out the book 'Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts' by Jules Marchal -- he's a Belgian historian who's been doing Congolese colonial history since the 1980s.)

The Belgian Congo was a formal apartheid regime until 1955 -- blacks were legally forbidden to vote, ask for the vote, enter white neighborhoods, incorporate businesses, attempt to organize unions, gather in groups for political purposes, petition the colonial government for redress of grievances (or anything else), or -- bizarrely -- buy European wines or liquors. Protests were met with swift brutality and long prison sentences; as late as 1957, hundreds were jailed and dozens were shot for protesting Belgian rule and policies.

So, again, deep and willful ignorance.

Anyway. I mentioned the Congo Siasa blog; it gets rather detailed for the casual observer, but if you skim the last few weeks there's a lot of good discussion about the Bahizire case. The Texas in Africa blog also has a lot of Congo-y goodness, and is also worth reading for its own sake. FWIW, I blogged my own recent trip to Congo here -- http://hdtd.typepad.com/hdtd/2009/12/congo-day-1-whys-and-wherefores.html, along with the next dozen or so posts. (The more recent posts are all about Uganda, which I just got back from yesterday.)

cheers,


Doug M.

Just scanned back through the thread to see if Carter was offering anything like a tangible fact to support his argument.

Measure of public health like life expectancy, infant mortality. Economic measures like personal wealth or GDP.

The only sort-of-specific thing I found was this comment about education:

Complaints about the not producing "doctors, lawyers, accountants or engineers" are wildly unrealistic.

The first native Congolese college graduate finished school in 1956. At independence the total number of college graduates was 16.

At mid-century, about 10% of Congolese children attended primary schools.

As of 2007, 46% of the population had primary schooling. 30% had secondary schooling, and 3% went to university.

The number of native Congolese doctors at independence was zero.

You are quite right to note that the DRC is more or less a trainwreck of a country. Average life expectancy is low 50's, per capita income is about $150 a year. The country has had 50 years of independence, and pretty much 50 years of war, both civil and external.

What you resolutely refuse to acknowledge is the role of not just the Belgians, but also the USA, the French, and other foreign developed nations in interfering with the native Congolese in running their country.

It took me about 15 minutes of Googling around to find the stuff I link to here. Some of the sources are pretty strong (US State Dept), some you might want to argue with (Wiki). I'm happy to put any of them up against articles from Life or Time magazines.

Eric Martin: "Belgium not only set the stage for the lack of tranquility by refusing to educate the population past a rudimentary level"

There is no reason to assume such a thing was possible.

"Even for those born after 1909, the scars do not disappear"

That's comical.

Doug W: "In the 1920s the Belgian colonial government killed over 20,000 workers -- that's "killed" and "twenty thousand"

Compare that to modern Congolose "government": Since the outbreak of fighting in August 1998,
•Some 5.4 million people have died
•It has been the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II
•The vast majority have actually died from non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition—all typically preventable in normal circumstances, but have come about because of the conflict
•Although 19% of the population, children account for 47% of the deaths
•Although many have returned home as violence has slightly decreased, there are still some 1.5 million internally displaced or refugees
•Some 45,000 continue to die each month

I've been fairly quiet on this, but it seems that this argument of Carter's bears some resemblance to the US Slavery = net improvement for the descendents of slaves conversation.

If the objective of the Belgians was some sort of social uplift, and the Congolese (hopefully Congolose was just a typo) were compliant, I can see arguing along these lines. But it wasn't, and they weren't, and so positive results, if any, of the Belgian governments would have been purely unintentional.

I have a hard time working up enthusiasm for unintended results. Less, even, than for results planned and not achieved.

There is no reason to assume such a thing was possible.

Maybe not intentionally so, at the time, with high confindence and predictability of the very specific outcomes we're now seeing. But, as it happens, that's what happened, so there is at least one very good reason to assume such a thing was possible, that reason being - that it happened. (Jeez...)

Guys, does the term "energy beast" carry any meaning here?

You can't have a reasoned argument with someone whose starting point is "they're a bunch of ooga-boogas who deserve whatever they get".

Also, while the topic of Belgian colonial history is interesting in its way, you're enabling threadjack. Eric's OP was about the state of human rights in the DR Congo today; that's an interesting and worthy topic in its own right.

FWIW, here's my own take on the state of the Congo, posted after my last visit there.

* * * * *

I do think Kabila Junior is an improvement over Kabila Senior, who was in turn a (modest) improvement over Mobutu. But that's not setting the bar very high.

But here's the thing: it's not really about Kabila. Kabila could be a rigidly honest, supercompetent workaholic... and Congo's government would still suck.

You have the godawful legacy of Mobutu, which involves stealing at every level and not paying government employees their salaries for months on end. You have the aftermath of war, which includes not only devastation but also a rickety coalition government staffed by Ministers who hate each others' guts and a bunch of rebel militias incorporated into a sullen, restive army that's more looming threat than protector. You have the trashed educational system, which is not producing anywhere near enough competent people to keep the lights on and the government running properly. You have the brain drain. And you have the fact that Congo is just a stupidly huge country, which would make it a challenge for any government. (It took me a while to grasp that yes, Katanga province really is the size of California.) It has sixty-five million people, four major languages and a hundred little ones, and virtually no functioning roads or railroads...

So there are multiple things at work here: geography, history, deep structural factors. Some are probably fixable, given time. But at this point in Congo's history, a dozen years after the fall of Mobutu and just six years after the end of Africa's worst war ever, Congo is... well, stepping back and taking the long view, it's about where you'd expect it to be. Things could be better but, believe it or not, they could actually be worse. Somewhat.

Meanwhile, a few statistics. The World Bank ranks Congo 182nd out of 183 countries in ease of doing business. Transparency International ranks it 162 out of 180 in the Corruption Perceptions Index, while Reporters Without Borders ranks them 146th out of 175 on press freedom. The Economist's Democracy Index ranks them 154th out of 167.

Congo's government budget for 2010 is about $5.6 billion, of which about half is coming from donors. That works out to about $90 per Congolese. By way of comparison, the FY 2010 budget for the American state of Rhode Island (population just over 1 million) is about $7.8 billion -- and Rhode Island doesn't have to support embassies or an army.

The budget issue is relevant because part of Congo's problem is its continuing inability to perform two of the basic functions of government: collecting taxes and paying government salaries. Not only is tax dodging an art form here, but a depressingly high proportion of the money collected as taxes never reaches the coffers of the central government. Meanwhile, going the other way, money paid out as salaries tends to get diverted before reaching the intended recipients.

The most glaring example is the military. Huge masses of cash are flown in to pay soldiers' salaries, but the soldiers see little of it, and that very late; first the generals take their cut off the top, then the lower officers get theirs, and so forth. (This goes a long way to explain the spectacular collapse of Congo's military in the First Congo War, when Kabila Senior's ragtag band of rebels was able to march 1500 miles across Africa while repeatedly routing Mobutu's troops. You'd think that lesson would have been learned, but apparently not.) Various donors have pushed schemes to fix this, from electronic payments to sealed pay packets, but they've been fiercely resisted; the people in power are, by and large, the ones who are profiting.

The "Doing Business" ranking is also illustrative. Congo has been at or next to the bottom for three years now. The government professes to be Very Upset about this, and we met with a committee that's supposed to make a bunch of changes that will improve Congo's score.

Well... maybe. Next year's scores will be published in September, so we'll have to wait a while. But if Congo is still at the bottom, it will give an idea of just how seriously we should take this government's statements. I note in passing that Mobutu was astonishingly good at telling bald-faced lies to international institutions and getting away with it. Whether the current government shares that trait remains to be seen.

To bring it back to the beginning: having said that the government would still suck even if Kabila Junior were brilliant and diligent and honest, I have to say that it doesnt' look like Kabila Junior is particularly brilliant, diligent or honest. "Quite a bit better than Mobutu" is still a very low bar.

* * * * *

I'd add that while Kabila Junior doesn't seem to be as brutal and vicious as Mobutu, he's understandably quite paranoid -- his father was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards while sitting at his desk -- and there are people around him who are quite vicious and brutal indeed. So, as Eric said in the OP, being a human rights activist in Congo required deep and broad reserves of courage. The late M. Bahizire was a brave, brave man in a dangerous place.


Doug M.

"Belgium not only set the stage for the lack of tranquility by refusing to educate the population past a rudimentary level"

There is no reason to assume such a thing was possible.

If I read you correctly, your argument here is that there is no reason to assume that Congolese can be educated beyond a rudimentary level.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

If I'm not wrong, I make you out to be a racist. Or at least, an anti-native-Congolese-ist, if a distinction between that and "racist" exists in any meaningful way.

Please let me know if I'm reading you wrong. If I'm not, there's probably not a lot of point in continuing the discussion.

I thought he meant that it wasn't possible for the Belgians to set the stage for the following lack of tranquility. If your reading is correct, russell, there really is no point in futher discussion with Carter, as Doug M. has pointed out. Wow.

Doug M: "You can't have a reasoned argument with someone whose starting point is 'they're a bunch of ooga-boogas who deserve whatever they get'."

What's the "reasoned argument" that independence has been great for everybody? I'm not one the one dismissing the dismissing the real lives and opinions of actual Congolese. It's nice of you to point out the Congo isn't an easy place to govern, it helps put the Belgian success in perspective.

Russell: Complaining the Congo of the 1950's didn't have educational outcomes exceeding the Detroit of today is bizarre. There is no reason to think the people there are highly educable.

Thank you, Carter, for nearly applying the clincher to what russell suspected.

And, oh: a follower of Steve Sailer. That's just about conclusive.

What's the "reasoned argument" that independence has been great for everybody?

Nobody's making that claim.

Complaining the Congo of the 1950's didn't have educational outcomes exceeding the Detroit of today is bizarre.

Nobody's complaining. Just putting some facts on the table. You don't appear to be interested in engaging them.

There is no reason to think the people there are highly educable.

Aha! We come to the heart of the matter.

I doubt we have a basis for continuing the discussion any further. Have a nice day.

Thank you for preening, Slartibarfast.

There's an interesting conversation to be had about what aspects of colonialism had positive effects (while acknowledging the overall deeply negative effect of the whole exercise), about which colonial regimes had which type of positive effects, and what we might learn from those aspects today about how countries can develop (and be helped) so as to become less miserably poor, violent, and unfair.

This isn't it.

There's also an interesting conversation to be had about what the moral difference is between colonial powers that put people under the thumb of other (white) people from far away and nationalist regimes that put people under the thumb of other (black) people from far away. The Congo is a pretty big place; being oppressed and exploited and raped and murdered by a bunch of black guys from 1,000 miles away presumably has a lot in common with being oppressed by a bunch of white guys from 5,000 miles away. In much of that region of Africa, the attempt to build nationalistic governments from disparate communities that had little in common with each other and longstanding enmities seems to have been as much of a failure as colonialism, even as it has worked out okay in other countries.

This isn't that conversation, either. And I suspect I'd be more likely to have that conversation with my cat than with Carter.


Discussions of Africa generally, and Congo in particular, tend to bring out the racists. If I spotted it 30 comments back, that's just because I post a lot about Africa.

As noted, almost always white, male, and American. There's a European variant, but that tends to be more about imperial apologetics -- see, things were so much better when Brittania ruled the waves! peace, the Mother Church, _mission civilatrice_, Cape to Cairo! -- and less about the racism per se. Your American Afri-troll tends to be more obsessed with the notion that Africans are inherently violent, stupid, ineducable, and barbaric. Beware the Knee Grow!

At a guess, it's rooted in a particularly American set of racial and social anxieties. Someone should do a monograph, if nobody has already.


Doug M.


Doug M.: "At a guess, it's rooted in a particularly American set of racial and social anxieties"

My views on the Congo are based on what actually happened.

"Your American Afri-troll tends to be more obsessed with the notion that Africans are inherently violent, stupid, ineducable, and barbaric"

Where do you think such notions come from?

Where do you think such notions come from?

Some people are hateful morons.

what russell said.

Where do you think such notions come from?

From countries with a vested interest in dominating their colonies in Africa. They created and perpetuated a lie (Africans are subhuman) to justify the forced labor/brutal violence/violation of rights to self-determination. Some of them may even have believed it, as humans are rarely bad at self-deception, and it's much more palatable to believe you're "civilizing the savages" than than you're squeezing blood and profit from them. For another example of demonizing an opponent, see Osama bin Laden v. United States. Surely you agree that this tactic exists? I guess what you're saying is that it exists, but that the colonial powers weren't exaggerating, the Africans ARE savage.


Ugh (the onomotopoeic expression, not the frequent commenter).

I just realized that I described the racist propaganda of the colonial powers as "exaggerating." Definitely the wrong word. Fabricating, I think, is the right word.

To the extent that the propaganda was accurate, it was accurate because the colonial powers refused to educate the Africans beyond a rudimentary level which would allow them to be a servant class.

"the attempt to build nationalistic governments from disparate communities"

Worked a treat in Senegal, Tanzania, Mali, and Ghana. Put another way: there are enough African countries that /don't/ have painful ethnic divisions to show that the thing is possible.

Africa is diverse, and you need to look hard at the particular examples. For instance, in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria, the ethnic problems of the post-colonial period are directly and immediately derived from the ethnic policies of the colonizing power. In Uganda, for instance, the British quite deliberately set up the Baganda as their junior partners, and the Uganda Protectorate was built around small-scale Baganda imperialism against neighboring petty kingdoms and tribes. In Rwanda, the Belgians favored the (tall, noble, cattle-herding) Tutsis over the (short, dirt-grubbing, farmer) Hutus in every way possible. And so forth.

OTOH, in many cases the post - colonial regimes picked up that ball and ran hard with it. Yes, the British treated different Kenyan tribes as different castes, but that didn't force Kenyatta to favor the Kikuyus over all others -- Nyerere, right next door in Tanzania, showed that there was another path.

There are also a few cases -- not many, but a few -- where the ethnic divisions were relatively unimportant before independence, but were inflamed by post-colonial local governments. Zimbabwe comes to mind here, as does Benin.

Africa is complicated.


Doug M.

To the extent that the propaganda was accurate, it was accurate because the colonial powers refused to educate the Africans beyond a rudimentary level which would allow them to be a servant class.

As Bernard Shaw said, the white man forces the Negro to black his boots, then scorns him for being a bootblack.

LOL...That is a sharp observation.

I have taught courses on the “US Frontier,” which has a strong comparative Imperial component, and that describes the extraordinarily diverse crowd of Imperial apologetics that have graced my class.

see, things were so much better when Brittania ruled the waves! peace, the Mother Church, _mission civilatrice_, Cape to Cairo!


LOL...That is a sharp observation.

I have taught courses on the “US Frontier,” which has a strong comparative Imperial component, and that describes the extraordinarily diverse crowd of Imperial apologetics that have graced my class.

The thing is, it's true that governance in Africa since the colonial period has been pretty crappy.

If you were inclined to do so, you might conclude from that scrap of evidence that, since most folks who live in Africa are black, that there's something magic about black skin that makes people incompetent.

There could be other reasons, of course, but if you're inclined to think about things in terms of the natural predispositions of different ethnic groups, that might be a conclusion you would draw.

If you were inclined to think that way, reflecting on the history of the colonial and post-colonial period might also lead you to conclude that European whites are congenitally prone to incorrigible, insatiable greed, and to an apparently unlimited capacity for profound, pathological, sociopathic violence.

Two sides (if not more) to every coin.

Update on the murder that was the subject of the OP: the results of an independent autopsy have just been released.

http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/2010/07/chebeyas-autopsy-result.html

Unrelated, but there's always something interesting on this blog:

http://www.afrigadget.com

-- I'm particularly fond of the homemade arc welder, but the bipedal robot made out of old TV parts is good too.


Doug M.

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