Congo: Change or stagnation? – A new book by Theodore Trefon
2010 was in important year for the DRC and the Congolese. It marked 50 years of independence from Belgium and the cancellation of the near totality of its foreign debt. Improved relations with its erstwhile Rwandan enemies and new investment perspectives with China were consolidated.
2011 is also an important year. Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for 28 November. Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is likely to win the elections. How he plans on managing the country – creating political dialogue, reforming the justice system, providing physical security to citizens, reducing poverty and combating corruption while enhancing transparency – remains a mystery. The electoral campaign is completely dominated by personality politics – substantive issues are systematically ignored by both the incumbent and opposition figures alike. Since being elected five years ago, Kabila’s main agenda has been regime consolidation. Despite major problems that are historically embedded, the macro-economic environment and the security context have improved slightly. The social situation of ordinary Congolese has however shown no signs of progress. They remain impoverished, undernourished, under informed and vulnerable.
Congo Masquerade: the political culture of aid inefficiency and reform failure was crafted to help the informed general public grasp the intricacies of politics in Congo today. Africa’s second largest territory and one of the most populous, Congo is a country that fascinates and disturbs. Fabulously rich, its people are amongst the world’s poorest. No single book can provide all of the keys to understanding the challenges of rebuilding this notoriously failed state. Congo Masquerade is however a readable contribution. It is about mismanagement, hypocrisy and powerlessness. Several recent books have examined war and plunder in the Great Lakes region. But no other book evaluates the imported “˜template format’ reform package haphazardly pieced together. No other book offers an analysis of Congolese political culture and the way it hampers reform.
International partners and Congolese authorities share responsibility in failing to bring about genuine political and institutional reform. The former have underestimated the challenges; the latter, through ruse and strategy, deliberately hamper reform. Congo’s international partners have no master plan for reform, do not share a common vision and often implement contradictory programmes. Congolese authorities obstruct reform efforts to maintain their positions of relative power. Reform policies superficially respond to symptoms without addressing the root causes of problems such as the violence that emerges from deeply entrenched historical factors, social imbalances, institutional weakness, corruption and diverging perceptions of the need for change.
Through an analysis of the strategies, agendas and weaknesses of Congolese and international actors, this book explains the reasons for reform failure. It emphasizes the paradox of reform actors who are ambitious in their objectives but cynical about unsatisfactory results. It offers a theoretical framework that inspires similar critiques in other state rebuilding contexts and sheds new light on the nitty-gritty of aid inefficiency. Based on a political anthropological approach, Congo Masquerade presents a critical examination of why aid is not helping the Congo.
Theodore Trefon (PhD Boston University) is a Congo expert specializing in the politics of state-society relations. He has devoted the past 25 years to Congo as a researcher, lecturer, author, project manager and consultant. He is contributing editor to the Review of African Political Economy. Founding director of the Belgian Reference Centre for Expertise on Central Africa, he now heads the Contemporary History Section of the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa.