Eastern DRC: curse and exorcism (Op-ed Jo M. Sekimonyo)
As everywhere in the third world, the theses which sculpt the resolutions to paralyze the human mess in the east of the DRC are supported by a rational deduction often motivated by emotions and personal feelings rather than a logical induction independent of any kind of instinct.
Although another descent into hell is rightly to be feared, the conflicts in the DRC have never pitted a being against a neighbor. The monstrosity has often been the work of tribal elites pitting one fraction of the poor against another fraction of the blamed poor, and their ambitions and hatred get out of control, or the desperate turned into small gangs or moderately organized militiamen, with the tacit praise of cynical politicians, greedy neighboring countries or bewildered warlords.
Poverty exacerbates a cultural identity when it is linked to a land which, in turn, constantly challenges national identity. Nothing is more toxic than the obsession with cultural homogeneity. Tribalism is another form of concept of racial purity. Who says racial purity always says racial hierarchy. The racial hierarchy advocates the existence of the worthy and the unworthy. It should be noted that the consensus around the racial hierarchy of the most brutal and ruthless group still prevails.
Then again, it is undeniable that the dynamic of betrayal by all types of Congolese inside and outside the country to oust Mobutu from power has caused hell, with some seeking to win and others seeking to retain their political influence or their economic power have sown the seeds of senseless violence.
Analysis of the situation in eastern DRC as a whole
We must discern the social and economic ideological errors that are blinding the DRC. It is easy to blame the economic outlook of DRC's eastern neighbors or capitalism as the root cause of its toxic social environment. In the past, Tanzania and Zambia together triggered the independence of several African countries. As for the DRC, other than when Tanzania got fed up and came in and kicked out the M23, both countries took a more non-invasive economic trade stance. We can call the relationship between these nations and the DRC pH balanced (check your chemistry books).
On the side of the pH imbalance, we can first group Uganda and Burundi for their economic myopia for which the preservation of the social order fertilized by a dark cult takes precedence over social evolution and economic growth. Then there is Rwanda, for which primitive social stability must imperatively be nourished by a constant growth of its importance in the world market, turned to the politics of the economic parasite. Finally, South Sudan is a country plagued by political conflicts aggravated by economic difficulties. Rwanda or Uganda, two cases to underline, they are only scapegoats who rejoice and take advantage of it to be an excuse for a Congolese elite finally to haggle over a perception of irresponsibility and the million poor people who continue to embrace easy answers like this.
Rwanda is economically a sandcastle that will crumble due to the insane pressure needed to sustain the facade of social evolution. Burundi is socially, politically and economically disoriented. South Sudan is a new playground for international institutions. As Uganda grapples with the implications of self-generated transgenerational trauma. All of this should be the least of the Congolese's worries.
Either way, any neighboring country adjusting its economy to abuse the DRC's potential or natural resources will turn from predator to prey or slave to the Congolese, once that nation gets its act together, which will happen sooner or later.
From the start, the United Nations peacekeeping mission tasked with protecting civilians and building peace in the DRC was doomed because of the people who had been sent and the real reason why the Congolese continued to slaughter. The story of a military contingent from a poor country dispatched to a gold mine to flatten the barbaric difference between delusional poor whose elites venture to escape poverty or preserve their illusion of opulence by climbing over piles of human skulls usually doesn't end well. Alas, the UN mission has become the ideal scapegoat for the desperate youth and the unfit social and political elite.
Despite the diligence required to find the most useful remedy, nations sometimes do not have the expected healing response. Sometimes it's the dosage, most of the time it's the prescribed remedy. It all comes back to the misdiagnosis. Bluffers have convinced the Congolese lumpenproletariat that corruption, bad governance and other abstract concepts are stagnating the DRC's economic growth to finally haggle over a perception of irresponsibility. The doctrine inherited from colonization according to which it is by whipping that one obtains the best of the Negroes is still in rigor. The overuse of politics continues to lead to more loss of life and money.
Socio-economic diagnosis of eastern DRC
On tour probing the social dynamism and its toxicity in one of the most dangerous regions of eastern DRC, the scene of the military operations commander's jeep having to be pushed by hand for ignition made me scratch my head. Likewise, in the most remote and reddened areas, without access to drinking water, reliable electricity, health infrastructure, or even classrooms, there is nothing more surprising to find a kiosk where you are sure to have "megas" to stay connected on WhatsApp.
Apart from the ridiculous state of the road and the many roadblocks led by soldiers begging or threatening taxi or truck drivers, you would really understand how people who live in inhuman circumstances have an urgent desire to taste and above all contribute in the 21st century. Alas, they have neither the skills nor the culture to do so.
The answer is plain and simple, or should be, the suffocating level of pandemic poverty. This absolutely reflects the insufficiency, or in most cases, the absence of the means of participation or engagement of the Congolese people in enterprises or dialogues of the 21st century. By companies I will say, any association or consultations of the abilities to take great advantage of the attributes of contemporary commerce. And by means of participation or engagement, that is to say skills but also access to capital.
A mediocre quality of our means is firmly linked to a mediocre standard of living. It must be said here that in the 21st century, a university degree does not automatically grant relevance or an intellectual pin.
It is alarming the microscopic attention is paid to socio-economic factors that trigger civil unrest, while political-ethnic grumbles are immediately blamed. And yet, in developing countries, where the costs of war are generally lower than in developed countries, the risks of war are greater. Belgium has the same degree of ethnic division and roughly the same population size and land area as Burundi. What differentiates between the two nations is the level of income and mobility (the feeling of having the chance to do better). Socio-economic factors are the main causes of violence in the East, although it is often referred to as ethnic conflict.
Do Congolese in the east feel they have much to lose by engaging in civil unrest or violence? The first factor is income. People who are already in the sun have relatively little to lose from conflict. The second aspect is mobility. Local wages being low everywhere else, people can't do better elsewhere. Looting by young people or the lure of the militia is because they have very little to lose and productive employment gives them little to no advantage.
The colonial economy was focused on meeting the needs of Europe in raw materials. The main feature was investment in infrastructure to support mining and related activities only. Furthermore, no investment in the development of human capital and adequate social services for the colonized has been made.
The frameworks of colonial administration denied the human rights of the majority of indigenous peoples to exploit their resources. The cruelty that accompanied all failures of colonial power indicated its fermentation in the imposition of the administrative hierarchy.
Even more than half a century after independence, every time a Congolese scholar articulates an economic approach to social progress and economic growth, it is demonstrated that the spirit of colonial economic policy reigns supreme at this era.
Mobutu dictatorship is marked by social terrors and economic errors. He reorganized to make the nation a colony of services and to support the development of the elite in the new metropolis, Kinshasa. The same building block is still in place. Provincettes is a reassertion of colonial land control and alienation that predictably engenders a fragmented political and social economy and more serious gender dependency.
Then again, even more than half a century after independence, every time a Congolese scholar articulates an economic approach to social progress and economic growth, it is demonstrated that the spirit of colonial economic policy reigns supreme at this era.
Geopolitics is simply institutional tribalism. And in this environment, when economic access and social rights are stifled by paranoia or the political ambitions of ideological tribal competitors, humans activate their primitive survival instincts, which deactivates our consciousness. In this kind of fog, political parties are organized along ethnic lines that encourage social division instead of integration. Subsequently, forms of socio-economic inequality become more explicit because of the unequal distribution of jobs, contracts and public services among different groups.
The proposal is a fiery experiment in social, political, and economic gene editing in eastern DRC, prioritizing long-term economic solutions over short-term political blindfolds. Socio-economic remedies would help create a better society and reduce ethnic rivalries. When designing and implementing economic policies, “ethnic entrepreneurs” should not be encouraged as they hinder the notion of national unity and economic growth. Kinshasa demonstrates how cultural heterogeneity is more than possible.
Let's test my proposal in the East for social and economic gene editing. I referred to the proposal as the Marshall Plan to demonstrate the ideological difference between the economic remedy after World War II and the punitive instrument after World War I. Inconveniently, budding economists are lost in the essence of the approach. Call it the Jo M. Sekimonyo Plan. Below are some key aspects.
Relocate the Economic and Social Council to the East in order to demilitarize our solutions – Huge infrastructure projects carried out by Congolese companies or enterprises – Review the mining code, the royalties paid to the central government and the tax revenues to the local administration - Increase the minimum wage $1 per hour - visa granted free of charge to any point of entry in the East - adopt English as an official language (not only because neighboring nations in the East speak English, but English is the world language).
Tax deduction for scholarships and fellowships by companies - Establish the minimum retirement pension at $800 per month - School meal programs with locally produced goods and services - Eliminate the customary structures of the nomenclature.
Direct election of senators and governors rather than their selection by the provincial legislators - Eliminate the election by list - Moving provincial capitals to hotspots or landlocked areas - Referendum for the consolidation of the provinces in the East - Decentralize the Electoral Commission - Organize local elections.
Great Lakes Region:
Grant Congolese citizenship to the FLDR will put them under the direct jurisdiction of the DRC with full rights and obligations as citizens of that nation. The complex national and transnational implications must be deferred to another long articulation.
Ultimately, the objective is to substantially modernize the social, cultural, political and economic ecosystem by the Congolese and for the Congolese, largely by injecting financial capital into local circuits. The East of the DRC suffers from a disease that is widespread throughout the country just like the whole of Africa. The symptoms or shall I say the signs of the disease are simply worse than they can be anywhere else. Therefore, if we cannot heal the East, we cannot heal the DRC, and especially not Africa, which has been expecting a lot from us since the 60s. Instead of socially lost and economically parasitic neighbors, we must look to Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia and Egypt, other African giants to find a solution to our problems. They have the key to our solution just as we have theirs.
Jo M. Sekimonyo