President Jacob Zuma will travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week, on a state visit. Hearing this news on Friday, I remembered an opinion I read in Foreign Policy a few months ago. In this fascinating article, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst argue that it is time to admit that Congo DR does not exist. They point out many challenges faced by this former Belgian colony. Be it the civil war, rape, poverty, corruption etc. What contributes to the deterioration of the situation is that the government led by Joseph Kabila fails to govern. Given this reality, “the international community’s response has been to continue to support the existing government, despite an astonishing record of failure, while avoiding any consideration of an alternative.”, echo the two men.
This weekend, I spent a big chunk of my time reading about a country that was, for a very long time, called Zaire. From its independence in 1960 until today, I couldn’t find anything to smile about. Its history is very discomforting. Days after taking office, as the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba endured the worst. His country descended into chaos, and power squabbles within his administration soared. The Congo crises culminated in his death in January 1961. Mobutu Sese Seko came to power in 1965 in a coup following a power struggle between the then President Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. He ruled with an iron fist until 1997 and amassed vast personal wealth at the expense of the poor.
All the difficulties in Congo originate back from the days of Lumumba. What Congo has become today is a result of mismanagement by power-hungry hawks just after the independence from Belgium. Today, even though this country is rich with natural resources, it remains one of the poorest nations in the world. It ranks way at the bottom of the human development index and the civil war rages on. This year, on Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index, it is number 2 behind Somalia.
President Zuma needs to address all the difficulties faced by the Congolese people when he meets Joseph Kabila. As complex as the Congo is, it’s always worth an effort to present ideas that could help that impoverished country escape its misery. I wish South Africa could project power and influence when it comes to finding resolutions on issues similar to those of the DRC across the entire Africa. But given the complexities across the continent, be it political and socio-economic, I have little faith in Zuma. He can’t even handle Zimbabwe, just beyond our borders. Whatever the agenda entails in Kinshasa, it ought not to exclude discussions on political hassles faced by that country. It is my hope, along with many others, that Congo will one day be one of the most prosperous nations in Africa.
To God be the Glory.