Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents


The External Estate

Non-African expatriate numbers fell from 110,000 before independence to a figure fluctuating between 40,000 and 60,000 thereafter, but foreigners remained a significant elite social force in Zaire. Belgian colonial officials, missionaries, and businessmen predominated in the preindependence era. Belgian colonial officials and security personnel left during the crisis at the start of the Katangan secession in 1960, and their positions were quickly Africanized. But Belgian employees of private companies left more gradually. Although they still constitute the majority of resident aliens in Zaire, if refugees are excluded, Belgian traders and settlers have been supplanted or joined over time by Greek, Levantine, Portuguese, Italian, and Indo-Pakistani family-based mercantile networks. West Africans constitute another elite expatriate group.

These family-based transnational businesses generally began in trade and moved on to acquire farms, mills, and small factories. In addition, trade manipulation (including smuggling, rigged invoices, and illicit currency transactions) is an important source of windfall profits, indulged in by Zairians and foreigners alike. Despite the expulsion of West African traders in 1971 and the temporary expropriation of Mediterranean and Asian businesses in 1973 and 1974, many family-owned transnational businesses have remained. In 1980, for example, fully half of Kisangani's locally owned businesses were in the hands of resident Greeks and Asians.

Most significant as a reference group for Zairian elites are the several thousand foreign personnel of various nationalities who serve in the foreign-aid missions, public-sector agencies, and the education system. They are much more socially fragmented than their colonial-era predecessors, in that Belgians, French, Americans, and Japanese have created separate social milieus, each with their own schools, clubs, and religious institutions. Yet their common cosmopolitan life-style, frequent travel, automobiles, and expensive household consumer goods effectively define Zairian elites' standards and aspirations for the "good life."

Western missionaries are a case apart. Although diminished in number and influence, they continue to work toward the institutionalization of African churches. Their progressive Africanization of church hierarchies, modest consumption standards relative to other expatriates, willingness to work in rural areas, and, most important, their provision of high-quality health care and education have earned them a high status throughout much of the country.

Data as of December 1993