Zaire Table of Contents
This class has ruled Zaire since independence. Two key features of this "national bourgeoisie," as Nzongola calls it, have been its dependence upon the state for its social status and its use of political power to amass economic power. By looking at the shifting popular terms of reference for the group over time, its salient features can be sketched.
The origins of this class lie in the colonial-era group called the évolués (sing., évolué--see Glossary). The évolués were drawn from the ranks of colonial clerks, teachers, and nurses. They sought recognition as a group set apart from the African masses, one which embraced and emulated European patterns of culture and behavior. Whereas évolués were intermediaries between the Belgians and the Congolese masses, not all intermediaries were évolués. Clergy, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and chiefs were intermediaries who did not have évolué status. Clergy in particular had a distinctive status, being the only Africans in colonial society who were considered on a plane of approximate social equality with Europeans.
With the growth of nationalism in the late 1950s, the term évolué was gradually displaced and rejected in favor of the new status term, intellectuel (intellectual). An intellectuel was generally someone who had some secondary education and a white-collar job. This class was well positioned to take advantage of the flight of Belgian civil servants and army officers following independence in 1960. Although there was only a modest difference between the income opportunities of colonial-era évolués and other Congolese, the opportunities available to the new elite were substantial. Clerks and NCOs moved up into the vacated positions above them, and Congolese who shot up into the senior executive ranks of the civil service or into national and provincial ministerial offices enjoyed huge increases in income. In the nation's first cabinet, nineteen of the twenty-three ministers were former clerks.
This new elite quickly invested in those commercial sectors where the state's regulatory position could be converted into competitive advantage, including the acquisition of urban land titles, supplying the state, constructing rental housing, and selling licenses for the right to import goods. In addition, corruption served as a source of capital for the new politicocommercial class; by 1971 theft of state funds was estimated by one analyst at 60 percent of the national budget.
The new class profited spectacularly from the government's 1973 Zairianization (see Glossary) decree in which all foreign-owned plantations and many commercial firms were turned over to nationals (see Zairianization, Radicalization, and Retrocession , ch. 1; Zairianization , ch. 3). The term used to describe a politically connected individual who was given ownership of a foreign business was acquéreur (literally, acquirer). First used as an administrative term, acquéreur rapidly became transformed in public usage to a synonym for a member of the ruling circle; it further degenerated into an epithet shouted out by children whenever a Mercedes drove by. In Young's words, "In the metamorphosis from évolué to acquéreur, social respect was transformed into class conflict."
As few members of the politico-commercial class own productive resources unrelated to political influence or protection, they remain dependent and insecure. Turnover in the upper echelon of the regime is rapid, so economic security for its members has been precarious. This elite has consequently preferred either to invest in short-term, high-return enterprises like the import-export trade, urban property, or taxis or to stash its funds abroad for safekeeping.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents