Wednesday, 14 January 2009


I. The nature of the postcolonial State and its failure

The African postcolonial State theoretically followed the model of the Western State. Like its theoretical model, it was supposed to provide the political framework for development in general. However postcolonial State acquired the colonial model, which was not exactly like the modern Western State. Colonial powers put in place political structures meant to run colonies like huge private properties. In general terms this was true for all African colonies and particularly for the one called the Belgian Congo, which became later the Belgian Congo-Ruanda-Urundi. Since the governed people were not sovereign, the governing leadership was accountable only to metropolitan power. This practice consecrated paternalism and clientelism in the way of conducting public affairs, as well as an excessive centralization of power and the subsequent excessive bureaucracy. These are four features of the colonial political order inherited by the postcolonial State. They are at the root of the State failure because of the fact that they created blotted institutions mostly incapable of framing coherent policy. It is not only the form of the State that was meant to fail, but also the institutions created with it could not be compatible with the expected structural growth.

Indeed, in postcolonial Africa – and for this the DRC is a typical example- the leadership never considered itself as accountable to the people. If the governing leadership in colonial DRC considered itself accountable to the metropolitan powers, in postcolonial one, the leaders responded only to their direct supporters, considering that maintaining their power depended on how they kept them happy, providing them with resources, jobs, business opportunities etc. Actually this is how clientelism held: they represented their clients, who were first and foremost Western powers (being themselves in the throws of the cold war balance of power), their family, clan, or tribe. Even ethnic strife originates from here because of the Machiavellian divisionism needed by the leaders in order to keep themselves in power and the others at bay. This was a homegrown version of the divisions sawn during colonialism. Obviously, such practice erased the sense of politics as service to the people, to public good and common good. In this context, the postcolonial leadership changed completely the sense of public governance. It can be said that this sense was thoroughly perverted from the start and was lost progressively, until what we see today under the form of the complete absence of the rule of law, the extreme infrastructure deterioration, absurd bureaucracy and the State inability to offer a minimum of basic services. Today’s State, at least for the case of the DRC, appears as an empty shell approximately from the decade of the 80s, or even since the famous “zaïrianization” decided by Mobutu at the beginning of the 70s. When a country reaches this stage (the stage of an empty shell), it is run by informal mechanisms which take on the form of more acute clientelism and corruption, pandering of national resources, public funds in benefit of a very limited number of people. Some of those informal mechanisms are just strategies for simple survival, especially for minorities.

The State inability to fulfill its formal tasks erodes absolutely its authority together with its capacity to reform. In consequence it does not control any unruly mechanisms, which it instead fuels, thus generating higher levels of corruption and violence; it loses the ability to protect its people and its territorial integrity; and hence its governing leadership loses legitimacy. What happened in DRC, from the kléptocratique regime of Mobutu and his fall, passing through the entry of Rwandan génocidaire forces into the Eastern part of the country in 1994, the 1996 war until the Sun City dialogue, is perfect picture of what a failure of the postcolonial State means. No process of democratization could restore a State which has crossed a critical threshold of collapse without negotiating with the informal powers precisely created by lack of the State authority. This fact explains in part why Sun City being the only alternative agreed upon under donors’ pressure to solve the deliquescence of the State in the DRC cannot be considered as a success, though it has allowed some kind of legal framework where there was none left.

No comments: