Congo Masquerade

About the Author

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. Trefon’s expertise derives from a career of analysis, participatory observation and extensive fieldwork. 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.

The Political Culture of Aid Inefficiency and Reform Failure

Congo Masquerade is about mismanagement, hypocrisy and powerlessness in what has proved to be one of Africa’s most troublesome and volatile states. In this scathing study of catastrophic aid inefficiency, Trefon argues that whilst others have examined war and plunder in the Great Lakes region, none have yet evaluated the imported ‘template format’ reform package pieced together to introduce democracy and improve the well-being of ordinary Congolese. It has, the book demonstrates, been for years an almost unmitigated failure due to the ingrained political culture of corruption amongst the Congolese elite, abetted by the complicity and incompetence of international partners.

Startling and provocative, Congo Masquerade offers a critical examination of why aid is not helping the Congo.


The Trefon volume is indispensable reading for all those interested in post-conflict state-building. He provides a devastating critique of how the large international investment in this project in DR Congo has fallen far short, through the failings both of the external parties and the Congolese political elite.’ – Professor Crawford Young, University of Wisconsin

‘Trefon’s sweeping survey of reconstruction efforts in Congo, from bridge repairs to security sector reform, delivers a stinging indictment of both the Congolese government and its international partners, leaving no one unscathed. Sure to create controversy, this book makes for a compelling read and calls for an understanding of Congo and the Congolese on their own terms.’ – Professor Pierre Englebert, Pomona College

‘Understanding the Congo — formerly Zaí¯re — is not easy, which explains why we tend easily to think according to clichés, old and new. If we are to move away from Manichean interpretations, including whether the Congo is or is not ‘the heart of darkness’, we need to rely on scholarship that is at once empirical and sensitive to the historical and cultural context of the country’s present condition. Trefon’s Congo Masquerade is an important contribution to such scholarship since it asks the right questions about why aid has failed to lead to the required reforms in the country. Focusing on the contemporary period, Trefon explains how state failure can be ‘profitable’ for those who control it and why the prevalent political culture prevents reform from taking root. Written in simple prose and short chapters, this book will provide a more convincing explanation of what is happening in the Congo than most other books available today. It should be mandatory reading for all those who are concerned with the country or are involved in efforts to reform the state and spur development.’ – Professor Patrick Chabal, Kings College London

‘Trefon has written a compelling and well-informed account of the ever unfolding catastrophe that is the Congo; he ably chronicles the mixtures of incompetence, venality, and short-sighted selfish interests on the part of domestic and international actors that have been that country’s undoing. This is an excellent introduction to the Congo’s complex problems.’ – Dr Nicolas van de Walle, Department of Government, Cornell University

‘An impressive piece of work. In 150 pages of concisely analyzed and carefully referenced data, Trefon covers the most salient features of the Congo’s ‘unending crisis’. There is plenty of blame to be shared, and Trefon evenhandedly identifies the tacit collusion that links the transnational networks of ‘aid donors’, INGO’s, and local NGOs and Congolese actors. The combination of ‘development aid’ that ‘neither aids nor develops with a largely impotent yet arbitrary state apparatus -the legitimacy of which has been in doubt for over fifty years- accounts in large part for the appalling gap between the Congo’s potential and its enduring misery. In a nuanced yet compelling way, Trefon argues (as others have done for Liberia and Sierra Leone) for the need to ‘put the state back in’ and to reform it in such a way as to give it the capacity to deliver public goods. He also points out that, contrary to some Western stereotypes, the Congolese have maintained a genuine sense of national identity which (whether or not it represents a form of ‘imagined community’) suggests that the Congo is, in some ways, a nation in search of a state, and that ‘state-building’ may be a more urgent priority than ‘nation-building’.’ – Edouard Bustin, Boston University

‘A superb, richly-illustrated study of how culture thwarts the desire of foreigners and the Congolese alike to bring real, structural reform to the country’s development administration.’ – John F. Clark, in AFRICA