Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents



Given the polarization of Zairian society since 1960 into an upper class dominated by the external estate and the politicocommercial elite and a lower-class group of subbourgeoisie, workers, members of the informal sector, and peasants, open conflict would seem inevitable. At least three major reasons why this has not occurred may be cited.

One is the power of the myth of educational mobility (see Education , this ch.). A link between education and upward mobility is widely believed to exist, which has given parents hope that however bad their own current conditions, through education their children might advance and prosper. Parents have made painful financial sacrifices in order to get their children into and through secondary school.

The myth obscures the fact that schools vary widely in quality and that only some urban and church-run schools offer the quality of instruction needed to pass the national state secondary school examinations. In addition, many parents in the politico-commercial class send their children abroad to be educated in Europe and elsewhere, giving their offspring an advantage unavailable to the children of other classes. Nevertheless, despite the progressive closure of avenues of advancement through education, the myth of its availability has been a significant factor in dampening social unrest.

A second factor is the availability of outside force to back the state in case of rebellion or invasion. The external estate depends on the government as a guarantor of the order needed to conduct its economic activities and to protect its luxurious lifestyle; thus, it has tacitly backed the status quo. The state in turn depends on the external estate in order to operate the mining industry; that industry has long furnished it with the bulk of its revenues. Both the external estate and the government are closely linked with a group of Western states, most importantly Belgium, France, and the United States. Whenever the external estate or key productive installations, such as Zaire's copper or cobalt mines, were threatened, foreign powers intervened militarily. The knowledge that their rulers might rely on outside military aid has had a restraining effect on those in the lower classes who might otherwise have contemplated active opposition to the state.

A final factor in the failure of the people to revolt in response to their pauperization is their own strength in creating alternatives to the formal market economy. The informal sector has shown remarkable resilience and has provided a means of subsistence where the formal economy has failed. The weakness of the state in its attempts to regulate or control these parallel markets has, paradoxically, helped to ensure their survival. For people who would starve if limited in their activity to the formal market, the parallel markets of the informal sector offer a chance for survival.

Data as of December 1993