Zaire Table of Contents
The peasantry is the class that has probably lost the most since independence. Although the Belgian colonial state laid an onerous burden of labor and taxation on its rural subjects, it did provide some medical and educational services and built a substantial transportation network. All of these services have deteriorated. Resources, whether they are budget appropriations, consumer goods, gasoline, or medicines, have been targeted first to the urban population, with only the remainder going to the hinterland. Rural government hospitals and dispensaries have continued to exist, but have rarely had medical supplies. Rural schools have increased in quantity but, outside of selected schools run by church networks, have greatly decreased in quality. And the road network has so deteriorated that in many areas crops cannot be transported to market and have been left to rot at collection depots.
The decrease in state services has not meant a corresponding decrease in state exactions, however. State economic policies have kept the price of foodstuffs and cash crops alike at low levels, disadvantaging rural producers and favoring urban populations and middlemen or state marketing organs. Production quotas for peasants have continued to be enforced, including those for export crops such as cotton. Coercion is applied not only in the form of hectarage quotas for specified crops but also through direct taxation. Each adult household head must pay a tax, and, prior to 1990 at least, party dues were levied on top of that. Census-takers passing through a village charged fees both for adding names to the roster in case of births and for deleting names from the roster in case of deaths.
Fines have been another form of taxation on rural producers. Fines may be levied for failure to perform unpaid labor for state projects, for digging an improper latrine in contravention of sanitary regulations, or for failing to plant the required hectarage. On top of these charges are the many illegal extortions imposed by government agents. Local police, army units, or party youth groups have long set up impromptu roadblocks where identity cards, official party cards, or other documents can be demanded, declared out of order, and retrieved only after payment of a "fine." Or a market-bound villager's bundle of game meat might be declared to belong to an endangered species protected by law, justifying confiscation on the spot. Young has speculated that "as much as 50 percent of real and potential village income is extracted by the state or its representatives."
Data as of December 1993