Zaire Table of Contents
Under Mobutu, resistance through public or institutional channels of expression generally has met with state repression and/or co-optation. Political resistance is often bought off with the offer of high-salaried posts. In the past if this failed, leaders might be imprisoned or sentenced to internal exile in their home villages.
Strikes by workers have occurred intermittently but have not been effective tools for social or economic change. Typical is the 1980 secondary school teachers' strike against low pay and overcrowded classrooms in Kisangani. Strikers were threatened with dismissal, and strike leaders were repeatedly summoned to appear in the offices of the secret police. Threats against strike leaders' lives were made, and the strike was eventually broken. When an institution's personnel have gone on strike or had the temerity to hold public protest marches, as university students have done periodically since the late 1960s, the state has responded with force.
The hopelessness of public protest has given rise to alternative forms of resistance. Farmers' resistance to compulsory cotton cultivation quotas has been well documented. Faced with low producer prices, and dishonest state marketing boards, farmers sabotaged cotton production by diverting fertilizer intended for cotton production to their own food crops, by failing to space plants appropriately, and by refusing to replant their fields as instructed. Farmers then redirected their energies to the cultivation of more profitable food crops such as corn, manioc, and peanuts. No more cotton hectarage was planted than was required to escape fines and imprisonment.
A similar form of resistance has been practiced in the area of palm oil production. Low wages for palm oil plantation workers and low prices for palm nuts purchased from petty producers resulted in workers deserting plantations in areas such as Bunia, near Lake Albert. Their preferred course of action was to abandon commercial crop production in order to concentrate on producing food crops.
Resistance has also taken other forms. Illicit mining of gold in the Kivu regions and Haut-Zaïre occurs on both an individual and group basis. Mukdrya Vwakyanakazi has documented the formation of villages of illicit gold miners in Kivu, villages that have their own authority structure independent of the government. In HautZaïre , people engaged in illicit mining activities protect themselves and their operations with private militias against government soldiers and officials, or, elsewhere, local officials are paid off for protection against interference. Similar arrangements have been reported for illicit diamond mining.
Smuggling across Zaire's porous borders is another means of resisting pauperization. A large-scale illicit trade flourishes in all commodities that can be sold for foreign currencies, among them gold, coffee, ivory, diamonds, cobalt, tea, cotton, and palm oil.
Finally, resistance is expressed linguistically, in the labels used to deflate state institutions and ideologies and to create an alternative folk consciousness. In this vein, the national army's proud slogan of being toujours en avant (always out front) is transformed into toujours en arrière (always behind). The national airline, called Air Zaire, has become known as "Air Peut-être" (Air Maybe) and the national highway authority, the Office des Routes, is called in popular parlance the Office des Trous (Department of Holes).
Such resistance began long before the economic crises of the late 1980s and early 1990s. When Mobutu officially changed the names of the nation, the Congo River (name change not recognized by the United States), and the national currency to Zaire, and referred to them as Les Trois Z--Notre Pays, Notre Fleuve, Notre Monnaie (The Three Zs--Our Country, Our River, Our Money) in 1967, the radio trottoir (literally, sidewalk radio; meaning public grapevine) quickly recharacterized the president's program as Les Trois M--Mwasi, Moyibi, Masanga (The Three Ms--Women, Thieves, Booze). Or when students in Bandundu were required in the name of the state doctrine of authenticity to replace their European first names with African ones in 1971, first names such as Mambo Ve (Doesn't Matter) suddenly appeared on teachers' class rosters.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents