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The Durability of the Patrimonial State

Under Mobutu formal institutions have always been of little consequence in explaining how power is distributed; the informal networks of influence built around the president are the key to an understanding of the patrimonial (see Glossary) underpinnings of the regime (see Establishment of a Personalistic Regime , ch. 4). In accordance with his chiefly role, Mobutu's rule was from the outset based on bonds of personal loyalty between himself and his entourage. His hegemony has been absolute, extending to every level of government. In an effort to forestall the emergence of independent power centers, administrative and government personnel have been constantly moved around; opposition members, alternatively rusticated and rehabilitated; and security forces dissolved and restructured as the circumstances dictated.

Prior to 1990, what has been termed the "presidential brotherhood" constituted the inner circle of Mobutu's clients, numbering anywhere from fifteen to twenty people. Included in this group were the members of the Political Bureau of the MPR and certain key personalities of the security forces. A somewhat larger and shadowy entourage of courtiers and technocrats could be identified as the next most important group of clients, overlapping with yet a third group represented by the provincial bosses. The boundaries separating one group from the other were highly fluid, however, reflecting Mobutu's well-known disposition to constantly rearrange the structure and personnel of his government. What held these clients together was their presumed loyalty to the patrimonial ruler, a loyalty nurtured by the anticipation of rewards commensurate with their willingness and ability to comply with presidential orders.

Penalties to the disloyal have always been just as important as rewards to the faithful in sustaining the Mobutist state. The coercive side of the patrimonial state is equally pertinent to an understanding of how Mobutu has managed to stay on top. His real power base lies in a wide array of paramilitary and intelligencegathering agencies (see The Intelligence Apparatus and Security Forces , ch. 5). The most important are the Special Presidential Division (Division Spéciale Présidentielle--DSP), an elite force in charge of ensuring Mobutu's personal security; the Military Action and Intelligence Service (Service d'Action et de Renseignements Militaire--SARM), in charge of military intelligence; and SARM's civilian counterpart, the National Documentation Agency (Agence Nationale de Documentation--AND). Each agency has separate access to the president, and each has a history of rampant corruption and abuse of the civilian population. Agents are grossly underpaid, so bribery and extortion are common currency. Arresting innocent citizens and holding them captive until they pay the required amount is by no means unusual (see Popular Attitudes Toward the Civil Security Apparatus; Civil and Human Rights , ch. 5). Along with the sanctions facing all forms of organized opposition, the diffuse fear instilled among the masses by the security forces must be seen as the most obvious explanation for Mobutu's extraordinary record of political longevity.

Servicing the networks of the patrimonial state is Mobutu's own responsibility. In practice, substantial amounts of the government's money have been regularly diverted into the presidential slush fund to be allocated to the faithful in accordance with the presidential whim. Just as the patrimonial state can best be visualized as an extension of the ruler's household, the coffers of the state have long been almost indistinguishable from Mobutu's private wealth (said to amount to approximately US$5 billion). The syphoning off of state funds into private networks is one of the norms of political clientage institutionalized under Mobutu (see Patrimonial Politics and Corruption , ch. 3).

The opportunity costs arising from the exigencies of the system are readily apparent in such deficiencies as the populace's low standard of living, the utter neglect of the rural sectors, the absence of an investment budget for the development and maintenance of infrastructure, and the very modest amounts spent on education and health services (see Education; Health and Medical Services , ch. 2). Although Mobutu's personal style bears much of the blame for this dismal state of affairs, part of the explanation must also be found in the emergence in Zaire of a polity that combined some of the worst features of the absolutist, bula matari state with the inefficiency and corruption of a patrimonial regime.

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There is an excellent body of literature available in English on Zaire from the precolonial era to the present. Jan Vansina's Kingdoms of the Savanna, Paths in the Rainforests, and "The Peoples of the Forest" offer authoritative accounts of the development of Zaire's diverse peoples and kingdoms. For the colonial and early independence era, the best sources are the numerous works by Crawford Young and René Lemarchand as well as Ruth Slade's King Léopold's Congo, Neil Ascherson's The King Incorporated, Jules Gérard-Libais's Katanga Secession, and Ernest Lefever's Crisis in the Congo: A United Nations Force in Action. Dominer pour servir, a celebrated work by former colonial governor Pierre Ryckmans, is also of interest in understanding Belgian motivations and policies.

The Mobutist era is amply covered in a number of authoritative works. Most notable are Thomas Callaghy's The State-Society Struggle: Zaire in Comparative Perspective, Michael G. Schatzberg's Politics and Class in Zaire and The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire, Crawford Young and Thomas Turner's The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, and David Gould's Bureaucratic Corruption and Underdevelopment in the Third World: The Case of Zaire. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1993

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