Rethinking the Congo: A Dedication to Daniel Boteti
By George Bakaly Sembe
After a 15 year « exile », I have been back in the DRC for exactly 16 months, given my age (29) it is not surprising that in that span of time I have learned more about my country than when I was watching it from afar. From the corruption to the lack of leadership and capacity to lead what I have seen is far more complex, I still can’t comprehend it fully, than anything you can be told in the West. We spend so much of our time discussing the symptoms of Congo’s malady that we tend to overlook its root causes. In my view it is not colonialism, or neo-colonialism the former is an historical fact that can no longer be used as an excuse almost 50 years after independence, the latter along with interventionism from different external interests is a symptom rather than a cause, the true source of our woes is the rot within our society, it is deeply rooted in our tendency to never do the right thing, our tendency to never look for the greater good, our tendency to believe that, a messiah will come down from the heaven and fix our mess for us. One of my favourite quotes from Lumumba says: “...to make you forget that you were a man they taught you their hosannas and made you believe that one day good white god will come down from the heavens and free you...” my personal experience in the DRC in the last year and a half has lead me to believe that Congolese have forgotten that they were men.
We do not believe in our own agency, a couple of years back we let the “international community” or the West, lead us to peace and through a fraught electoral process and today we believe that it will be the Chinese who will save us by building us roads and bring us “development” in all this we have accepted that the destiny of the Congolese people does not lay in the hands of Congolese. This national trait of ours translate into two things, because we hope that someone with “superpowers” will come and save us from ourselves we, collectively as a people, suffer from what can best be described as a “messiah syndrome” at one time Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Gwendu Wa Za Banga was that messiah, then it was Etienne Tshisekedi the self proclaimed “leader maximo” after that came the turn of Mzee Laurent Desire Kabila, who was succession was bitterly contested by his son Joseph “Momemi Maki” Kabila and Jean Pierre “Mwana Mboka” Bemba with the former winning that battle by TKO. Back in Mobutu’s time his proponent claimed that everything that was good and right about Zaire as the country was known then was a credit to Mobutu, his opponent of course opined that everything was wrong about the country and the blame lay at the “Leopard’s” hands, current Minister of Infrastructure Pierre Lumbi who was minister of foreign affairs in the brief Tshisekedi I government in 1991 said “the problem of Zaire is Mobutu” well today 10 years after Mobutu died, the DRC still has problem and H.E. Pierre Lumbi hopes that the Chinese will solve it.
Today, it is the same thing the country is divided in two, Pro-Kabila who argue that the fragile peace in DRC is due, ONLY, to Kabila and anti-Kabila who blame all the ills of the country on the “Rais” and believe that Bemba and, or Ngbanda, like Tshisekedi yesterday, are the answers to all our problems, in all of this there is never an hint of inward inspection and no one takes a step toward making things better, yesterday we said “once Mobutu goes, everything will be better” today we say the same thing about Kabila, everything will just magically fix itself, no one has a plan how we just hope that we can wish that into happening.
Two events in the past week illustrate that peculiar Congolese attitude, on 30th June we celebrated our independence, I organised a football game in the town of Lemba, there was easily 700 people in attendance and though I did not utter a single word about my values or belief I automatically became known as “leader” even though I did not show any ability to do that, but these people are so desperate that they are in the search for leaders, they have lost all hope so it is easy for them to convey all their aspiration into any one who cares to accept that. Be it Mobutu, Laurent Kabila, Bemba or Joseph Kabila, we do not look at their ideas we accept them simply because they allow us to put all our burden, the burden of an entire society onto their shoulders though they could never deal with it alone.
In that Faustian bargain, the “leader” is merely asked to help his “followers” get by, he is asked to permit them to hope, he is never asked to lead, ideology is not required in exchange he is treated like a King, he becomes the archetypal African “Big Man”. Jean Pierre Bemba called his troops “my children”, Mobutu called himself “the father of the nation”, Mzee Laurent Kabila was the “liberator” and his son has brought us “peace, stability and prosperity” can you imagine any Western leader adorning such superlatives?
In my case, I realized that to my new “fans” I was the one who could bring in a job or whichever solution was needed for their problems, those people never took the time to introspect and think about what they could do for themselves, and this creates a corrupted relationship between leadership and the people whereby it is the latter that fears the former rather than the contrary, as a result the country and its meagre resources are managed in a manner characterized by a tendency to think in the short term and to exclude the masses.
The second event occurred this week end as my friend Daniel “Danou” Boteti , the Vice-President of the Kinshasa Provincial Government, was shot down by soldiers in the Ngaliema municipality. Danou four months shy of his 30th birthday leaves behind two children and a pregnant wife. What is revolting about his death is that his murderers; troops belonging to the Republican Guard, that is the President’s Praetorian guard, have been known to wreak havoc in the same neighbourhood for at least as long as I have been here, beside Danou at least 4 people I know have been attacked by these thugs in the past 6 months, the security services believe that they kill at least two people per day. Yet nothing has been done to stop them, we all try to arrange our lives in such a way that we won’t be caught outside our own neighbourhood between the hours of 10 PM and 5 AM. So the people do not demand that this situation be resolved and the authorities do not act on it, rather the presidency asks members of his cabinet to move out of the neighbourhood. Thus in an extraordinary show of incompetence the Government acknowledges its inability to secure a suburb in the capital city, we acknowledge the inadequacy and incapacity of our own agency and therefore we do nothing.
This is why we must rethink the Congo, we must engrain in our society a belief in self-help and self reliance, we must awaken from our collective slumber and ask ourselves what we can do, individually, to make our country better, Kabila’s departure like Mobutu’s will not be the answer, it is up to us all to create the conditions that can allow a just, peaceful and prosperous society to flourish and this we the people, and only we the people, can do for our country.