The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s history is very complex. Its history is mostly characterized by colonialism, oppression, human rights violations, dictatorship regimes, corruption, wars, and endless conflicts. The DRC’s inability to project authority over its territory, to protect its national boundaries, and to accomplish the administrative and organizational tasks required to control people and resources have allowed certain international organizations and scholars to claim that the DRC is a failed state. In his investigation titled “Conceptualizing the Causes and Consequences of Failed States: A Critical Review of the Literature” Jonathan Di John argues that Gerald Helman and Steven Ratner were among the first analysts to use the term ‘failed state in their article titled “Saving Failed States.”
Helman and Ratner were concerned about an alarming new phenomenon whereby some states were becoming utterly incapable of sustaining themselves as a member of the international community. They argued that a failed state would jeopardize their own citizens and threaten their neighbors through refugee flow, political instability and random warfare. They insist that state failure can occur in many dimensions such as security, economic development, political representation, income distribution…
In his “The Fallacy of the Failed State” Charles Call maintains that before the concept of failed state widespread, it was already getting much attention in the Unites States (US)’ public bureaucracy and secret services. He provides evidences which confirm that early 1994 at the University of Maryland, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded a multi-year, multidisciplinary research project called “The State Failure Task Force.” This multimillion research project aimed was to define a moderately new tag that incorporates a range of severe political conflicts and regime crises exemplified by events of the 1990s in Somalia, Bosnia, Liberia, Afghanistan, and the DRC.
It is significant to acknowledge that the failed state concept has helped to redirect research, resources and policy attention to states that are incapable to respond to the basic needs of the people at grass-root level. However some policy analysts, bureaucrats in the global south and members of the non-government community have recently beginning to reject the concept of failed state, because of its contested definitions and what certain policy analysts call “narrow and univalent policy prescriptions that obscure other important conceptual issues and practical challenges.” To avoid the debate behind the concept of failed state and its inability to conceptualize itself to different situations, this piece chooses not to use the concept failed state. It uses the concept of fragile state, this choice is explained by the conviction that currently the DRC may not necessarily fulfil all the characteristic of a failed state, this paper concurs with those who argues that the DRC is a more fragile state, not a failed state.
While maintaining the position that the DRC is a more fragile state, the piece does not reject the idea that there were irregularities and contested results during the December 30, 2018 elections that declared the then opposition leader and current DRC president Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo (FATSHI) the winner. It does not also ignore that the controversial outcome of the December 30 election could still open an opportunity for strengthening DRC’s democracy, improving the living conditions of the poor people at the grass-root level, alleviate poverty and conflicts, and accelerate infrastructure development. Furthermore, it does not reject president FATSHI’s observation about the current malaise within the ruling coalition, the Cape for Change (CACH), the Tshisekedi coalition, and Common Front for Congo (FCC), the coalition formed around Joseph Kabila. It attempts to provoke an uncomfortable conversation that is expected to ignite a debate that would put the poor Congolese at the center and give birth to multiple questions that aimed at providing suggestion on what President FATSHI should have do. At the same time, it seeks to find-out whether the DRC to move out of fragility status, and caters for its long suffering poor masses, does it need a strongman, FATSHI Béton (concrete in French) or perhaps a group of Patriotic-strongmen around FATSHI.
It does not provide direct answer to its title. However, it attempts to answer the questions by the contradictory views behind the importance of a “Strongman”, for example a FATSHI Béton,and “Patriotic-Strongmen,” a group of a patriotic political, intellectual, and military elites who are for the people and the country, and pose a question: Does the DRC needs a FATSHI Béton for it to move out of poverty?
In their policy paper titled “Prospects for Africa’s 26 fragile countries” which provides a long-term forecast of 26 fragile African countries, Jakkie Cilliers of the Institute for Security Studies (ISSA Africa) and Tim Sisk of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies have developed what they call the four-drivers of fragility namely, namely (a) poor or weak governance, (b) high levels of conflict and violence, (c) high levels of inequality and economic exclusion, and (d) poverty. They call the countries that are on a much slower trajectory to long-term peace and development ‘more fragile’ states. For them fragile states are on a much slower trajectory to long-term peace and development. Their final list of more fragile states in Africa consists of 26 countries, the DRC is one of them. Their findings suggest that if the DRC government does not adequately and sustainably deal with the above four-drivers of fragility, there is the highest risk for the DRC to remain in fragility beyond 2050. The question can be: Does the DRC needs a FATSHI Béton in order to deal with the four-drivers of fragility?
It is more than important to examine the four-drivers of fragility one by one, and look at their expression and manifestation in the DRC context, and how they can be address for the DRC to progress and respond to the need of its people.
- Poor or weak governance
During his speech to the Ghanaian parliament in 2009 the former President of the United of America Barack Obama argued that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions.” He suggested to his audience that good governance is what has been missing “for far too many places, for far too long, in Africa than elsewhere.” For Obama, good governance depends on strong institutions no needs to have strongmen. In DRC’s political discourses Obama’s concept of ‘strongmen’ may be understood as a “Béton Man.” In the DRC’s context Obama’s suggestion could mean the DRC does not need a strongman, FATCHI Baton, it needs a FATSHI who is capable to build strong institutions.
From Obama’s point of view: Is there a need for president FATSHI to be a Béton? A strongman FATSHI Béton!
In the article titled “Does Solving Africa Problem Need Strong men, Strong Institutions or Both?” Doctor Balozi Morwa argues that literally; it is difficult to disagree with President Obama’s statement. But on careful reflection, Obama’s assumptions raise a few critical questions: “(1) how does one build strong institutions? (2) Are all strong institutions good? (3) Can strong institutions be built without strong men? (4) Africa has produced quite a few strong men, but what were their records?
Morwa rejects Obama’s assumption by arguing that:
“Human beings create systems and not the other way round-so if human beings, or men, are not strong, they can’t build strong institutions. The truth too is that, without strong men, as in men who are intelligent, honest, productive, dedicated, creative, and have a high sense of morale, there can never be anything like a strong institution(s).”
In the DRC context, few very important questions can be asked, “Does Solving DRC Problem Need Strong men, Strong Institutions or Both?” Another question can be: Does the DRC have strongmen who are intelligent, honest, productive, dedicated, creative and have a high sense of morale as suggested by Morwa, for them to be tasked the legitimate and patriotic assignment of building strong institutions? Former president of DRC Joseph Kabila Kabange, another military strongman with soft voice and unpredicted tactics did answer this question during one of his rare interviews for him he did not have these types of people around him.
Another question would be since president FATSHI is already identified as a strongman, FATSHI Béton, is he surrounded by other strongmen who have the characteristics that have been provided by Morwa? If not, is the current consultations aimed at searching for strongmen, whom this piece calls “Patriotic-strongmen,” men and women who are capable to build strong institution or it is just to consolidate his political power?
Using President Obama and Doctor Morwa, it can be said that for good governance to be a reality in DRC, there is a need for strong institutions; and to build them Morwa’s description of what can be called “Patriotic-strongmen” who are intelligent, honest, productive, dedicated, creative, and have a high sense of morale are also needed.
Another question can be: Does FATCHI Béton himself meet Morwa’s description?
- High levels of conflict and violence
Conflict and violence have become part of the daily lives of ordinary Congolese, especially in eastern DRC. The realization of sustainable peace in the eastern DRC in general and Kivus is becoming more impossible because of the continuity of conflict. There is a need for a very critical question to be asked: Why efforts to pacify the DRC are failing? In article titled “Challenge to Peace: Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region of Africa” Patricia Delay a regional answer to this question. She argues that:
“Mechanism for finding durable peace in the great lakes region have been designed by modern conflict resolution models that have a uniform formula of peace negotiations, with a route of ceasefire agreements, transitional governments, demilitarization, constitutional reform and ending with democratic elections. This universal models for peace-making cannot lay down a solid foundation for peace because they exclude people affected by conflict and civil societies operating in the conflict zones. To establish a solid foundation for the conditions necessary for sustainable peace, local dynamics and the multifaceted historical nature of the conflicts need to be addressed.”
In support of Delay’s views, in book chapter titled “African Renaissance and Lubunga: Conflict Resolution in South Kivu” Feruzi Ngwamba argues that governmental institutions, mediators, and regional organizations involved in the pacification of the DRC need to understand the interaction of local communities, the historical aspect of conflict, and the cultural values of the people living in the areas affected by conflict. Both Dalay and Ngwamba provide starting point that can be used in trying to find solution to conflicts and violence in DRC.
However, an observation can be made, looking at the DRC’s arms forces as institution that are mandated the citizens and state, and maintain order in the country, are they strong enough to fulfill its constitutional mandate?
Other questions can be: Can FATSHI Béton be a strongman if the government’s security institutions are weak, and populated by non-patriotic securocrats?
Taking the Minembwe issue as an example is FATSHI Béton willing to investigate the cultural, and historical origins of conflict in the Eastern DRC?
Or does he have “Patriotic Strongmen” who are willing to scarify their lives for the betterment of the Congolese at grass-root level?
- High Levels of Inequality and Economic Exclusion
Even though there is no standardized Gini coefficient for the DRC, it is widely considered among the most unequal countries in the world. Part of that inequality stems from the nation’s lucrative mining sector, which accounts for almost 30% the DRC’s. With a size equivalent to that of Western Europe, DRC is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa with a mining industry which is a significant factor in the world’s production of cobalt, copper, diamond, tantalum, tin, and gold. According to a February 2009’s edition of African Business magazine, the total mineral wealth of the DRC is estimated to be $24 trillion, equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the United States combined. The Magazine concluded that with its world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold and copper, the DRC is potentially the richest country in the world.
However, the wealth of the DRC is only enjoyed by a small group of political, intellectual, and military elites who can be described as the economic security guards. They protect foreign interest, and they are the proxies of geopolitical aspirations of superpowers in the DRC, and the great lakes region in general, they can also be described as multinational corporations’ looting tools. These elites are located within ruling coalition, opposition parties, and civil societies, they have indirect and nocturn link to the DRC’s mining sector. In their article titled “Can Katanga’s mining Sector Drive Growth and Development in the DRC?” Nicholas Garretta and Marie Lintzer confirm that there is also other evidence that the mining sector generates significant rents, both domestically and internationally, for private interests and other stakeholders who may not have an interest in public welfare enhancement. In demonstrating the importance of the mining sector and how the sector is captured non-patriotic interest, they argue that:
“Mining can contribute to growth and development in the medium to long term, but for the moment the fiscal contribution and the establishment of local supply chains and processing industries remain underdeveloped. The status quo can be linked to the logic of the perpetuation of the weakness of the Congolese state as a rents generator for vested interests. This negatively affects the good governance of fiscal revenues and also translates into political risk exposure for mining companies.”
All the above show how a sector that could change the living conditions of long-suffering poor Congolese has been captured, and the capture has been facilitated by ‘Non-Patriotic Strongmen.’ The question can be: Is the appetite for mineral resources ‘wealth absents in FATSHI Béton’s mind? For him to be a real Béton, strongman, he must not smell the beautiful aroma of wealth from mining sector directly or indirectly. If he does then another question can be: How is he going to change the living condition of the people?
While its poverty rate has fallen to some extent over the past 20 years, particularly in rural areas, the DRC nonetheless remains one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2016, the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index (HDI) ranked the DRC as the 176th least-developed country out of 188 countries with an HDI of 0.435. More than 80% of Congolese people live on less than $1.25 a day, defined as the threshold for extreme poverty. Following up to the 2016’s UN Human Development Index, in 2018 the World Bank reported that 72% of the population, especially in the North West and Kasaï regions, was living in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day. The 2020 mid-year report of the World Bank in DRC shows that 43% of households have access to potable water, water that is safe to drink or use for food preparation, 69% in urban areas, 23% in rural areas; and only 20% have access to sanitation, conditions relating to public health. Concerning human capital which the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population, viewed in terms of their value or cost to an organization or country, the DRC ranks 135 out of 157 countries in terms of human capital, with a Human Capital Index score of 0.37%, which is below the average in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.40).
Looking at the above painful statistics and the existing natural resources of the DRC, a very critical question would be:
What is it that must be done to minimize the high level of inequality by making sure that ordinary Congolese are benefitting from the wealth of their nation?
Is there a need for FATSHI to be a FATSHI Béton in the quest for a better life for all Congolese?
Feruzi Ngwamba Foze
University of KwaZulu-Natal