A Non-Election In A Non-Country
Published on: December 1, 2011
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  • Anthony

    “But an expensively fraudulent election is hardly the most costly or the most disatrous intervention that well intentioned bureaucrats have imposed on Africa in sixty years of serially flawed development initiatives.” Accurate assesment of fifty plus years – Republic of the Congo became sovereign in 1960 and endured various name transformations, Zaire, for one example; yet Congo’s tragic history (Patrice Lumumba, Sese Mobutu, Laurent Kabila, et al) refects both colonial heritage and complexity of historical social arrangements to modernity’s challenges.

    WRM, counter-factual: might Congo’s challeges since 1961 been met differntly had Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba been allowed to govern?

  • Anthony

    Correction @1, reflects both…. not refects both…. Also, some have argued that Patrice Lumumba’s assassination one of most important of 20th century – something to catalogue as we cogitate on WRM’s Congo essay.

  • Anthony

    Excuse spelling errors @1 (assessment, reflects, and different – haste makes waste.

  • Anthony

    “The central government has never really run the whole country.” For 126 years, the U.S. and Belgium played key roles in shaping Congo’s destiny (U.S. became 1st country to recognize King Leopold’s claims to Congo Basin, 1884). Congo’s uranium fueled atomic bombs used on Japan; and Congo’s enormous natural resources were not going to be left strategically to Soviet interests during Cold War at western expense – there are no clean hands in Africa’s long deluge of problems:

    “Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister of newly independent Congo, was the second of five leaders of independence movements in African countries to be assassinated in the 1960s by their former colonial masters, or their agents. A sixth, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, was ousted in a western-backed coup in 1966, and a seventh, Amilcar Cabral, leader of the West African liberation movement against Portugal (of the African Party for the independence of Guinea and Cape Verde in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde) was assassinated in 1973; Lumumba’s death in 1961 followed that of opposition leader Felix Moumie (Cameroon); and preceded that of Sylvanus Olympio, leader of Togo, killed in 1963.”

    Congo may be devoid of hope and progress however getting there has been rife with power entanglements.

  • chris


    Might I suggest that you put down the laptop, get off your sofa, and join us here in the real world?

    As far as I can tell, your piece is based on three newspaper articles and a quick skim of “King Leopold’s Ghost”. While I do congratulate you on having done this preliminary research, the notion that this qualifies you to pronounce judgment on the elections process in the DRC is quite absurd.

    A qualified observer would have noted that these elections received minimal support from “development professionals”. Most of the support that was received was last minute and entirely logistical in nature. The international community, for better or worse, determined months ago that these elections represented the Congolese government’s opportunity to succeed or fail on its own. The chaos that has ensued is the result of the decision to remain aloof, rather than any naive attempts to meddle.

    An informed observer might also have noted that “free and fair” elections are the gold standard of governmental legitimacy because the western political infrastructure has decreed it to be so. This results in the farce of elections in places like Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Venezuela, wherein the ruling party miraculously walks away with 98% of the vote. Rather than placing blame on the Congo for making a shambles of the process, or misguided bureaucrats for facilitating the charade, it might be more productive to examine the underlying logic that claims “democratic elections” to be the penultimate accomplishment of a civilization. The cargo cult that you are mocking here is thus rather a bit larger, and considerably more well established, than you imply.

    Finally, I would note that you manage to avoid saying anything productive, helpful, or otherwise constructive in this tiresome diatribe. That is, of course, your choice. Andy Rooney had a very long and amusing career being a cranky old coot, and I would not begrudge you a similarly enduring and lucrative “profession”.

    But I certainly wouldn’t want any of your readers to consider your column as anything other than mindless entertainment.

    Thanks for your time.

  • Dana

    Good gracious this piece is a mess.

    You seem to be making the following argument:

    “Congo just had a messy election that will likely lead to a fraudulent vote to keep in power what amounts to a dictatorship. The West is mostly to blame for the Congo’s many ills with the current problem being the do gooder nature of aid that has done little good and contributed to the nation’s instability. Therefore, the key to finally bringing about a better life for the people who live in the “Congo”, is to allow them to break up into monoethnic/tribal states. “

    While others have assailed the folly of your argument let me offer further punch two holes in it and offer a suggestion.

    First, while it is certainly true the Congolese state has faced both internal and external challenges to its consolidation, it is NOT true that there is no such thing as a Congolese nation. The state doesn’t work. But there is a nation, bound by values, language, tradition, history, and a well regarded musical tradition. Indeed, the history you cite was actually lived by, you know, actual human beings and a sense of shared experiences stemming from it is seared in every Congolese’s soul. To deny this to the Congolese is, in my view, racist. I have friends in the truly horrible Congolese army who agreed to serve in it from every province in the country. They love there country if truly disgusted with its leadership.

    Second, how has balkanization worked out in the Balkans? India and Pakistan? North and South Korea? I’m pretty sure you know the answer and to wish this for the Congolese ignores the fundamental flaw of that theory- in addition to being irresponsible and dangerous. And, again, there is no need for it because the Congolese are clear that they are CONGOLESE.

    Finally, if you want to see progress in the Congo than perhaps the solution isn’t more aid or more “democracy” but more of an insistence from the West that the DRC government get serious about building institutions and tying aid to clear benchmarks on those efforts. Perhaps it also means supporting civil society to strengthen their own capacity to hold their government to account to those benchmarks. The regime in Kinshasa is more interested in consolidating power and theft. Strong institutions are a direct threat to it. Well, last time I checked we fund this government so if we want to see a strong STATE then perhaps its time for some strict conditions on aid that is tied to building up institutions. A perfect opportunity to do so is approaching as MONSUCO winds down in the country and the elites need to focus on rebuilding and professionalizing the security sector- which means improvements more broadly in governance.

    Long term, strong institutions- not greedy and ambitious men-will liberate the Congolese- not balkanization which has failed everywhere.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Dana: how many decades or generations for your “long term”? Mead prediction: there will be many more fatuous development fads that Congolese and others will pretend to go along with in order to get money from well intentioned but deeply culture-bound and purblind do gooding development types. Maybe building institutions will be the next failed panacea. Or maybe it will be something else. But many fads will come and go before Congo becomes a well governed place.

  • Toni

    I wonder if there’s a generality to be made about “the Resource Curse.” Countries like Nigeria and Venezuela don’t have to be well run because they have oil. Doesn’t the Congo have both diamonds and now oil?

    Of course, the lack of high-priced resources didn’t prevent Rwanda from slaughter or Zimbabwe from Mugabe’s depredations. But the temptation must be even greater where there are valuable resources — like Russia.

  • Nick

    When I saw the title of this blogpost, I thought it was describing the electoral process in the United States. After having imported foreigners into North America and in the process decimated the indigenous population by bullet and disease, we have created an increasingly indifferent, complacent and ignorant nation.

    This “Joe-Sixpackification” of our country has resulted in an alarming phenomenon where regardless of major advancements in transportation and communication technologies we have not been able to surpass the 60% voter turnout rate of the 1968 election. That is a pretty big glass house you are living in Dr. Mead.

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