Zaire Table of Contents
The Inga dams barrage, Zaire's largest source of
electricity, on the lower Congo River near Matadi
Courtesy Agence Zaïre Presse
Mobutu's efforts to centralize state power in his hands in order to penetrate all aspects of society have been analyzed by Thomas Callaghy, who has demonstrated that in the economic realm these efforts met with catastrophic results. When Mobutu came to power, Zaire began major state expansion and consolidation. Key to this process was the notion of economic sovereignty. Furthermore, Mobutu sought to bring economic activity within his tight control and was especially concerned with mining activity in the secessionist Shaba and Kasai (present-day Kasai-Oriental and KasaiOccidental ) regions. Some have speculated that insecurity about Shaba separatism in part led Mobutu to construct the country's primary source of electricity, the Inga I and Inga II hydroelectric plants, west of Kinshasa, in order to increase the capital's control over Shaba. Mobutu sought to reverse the traditional dominance of the mining region over the rest of the nation. The nationalization of the Belgian-owned UMHK in 1967 and its transformation into the Zairian-owned parastatal Gécamines, for example, was both a political and an economic act, deliberately and carefully planned. Its primary objective was the consolidation of presidential authority and spending ability. To finance state goals, Mobutu had to acquire major new financial resources for development projects and for slush money.
The government became increasingly preoccupied throughout the 1970s with raising revenue to finance grandiose projects. The practice of patrimonialism gave free rein to the enrichment of the president and his associates in government and other spheres. According to Callaghy, "the revenue needs of the state intersected the need of the regime to finance its patrimonial processes of power maintenance and the ambition of the emergent political class for a swift accumulation of wealth."
These needs and ambitions led to a continuing financial crisis. Government administration developed weak, inefficient, and infamously corrupt financial structures; the revenue collection system, in particular, was little more than an open invitation for personal enrichment by favored administrators. Mobutu, as the patron of patrons, demonstrated a voracious desire for more revenue to spend as he saw fit. Much of this spending was untraceable, according to foreign technocrats brought in to salvage the economy as its crisis deepened. The expense of this quest for power and glory, and the costs of defense, grandiose projects, and a lavish life-style as well as the corruption and largesse inherent in a patriarchal patrimonial regime also brought the Zairian state to the point of collapse in the late 1970s.
In Zaire, corruption appeared to be the norm, not just an occasional or problematic exception. Access to high office was controlled by the president (see The Presidency; The National Executive Council , ch. 4). Because no one could be sure of remaining in office for very long, the incentive was to profit as quickly and as much as possible. Access to high office was the only hope of the Zairian elite or would-be-elite to attain, or maintain, a decent standard of living. The system guaranteed that top functionaries would serve the president, the ultimate source of their livelihood, rather than the nation. But corruption in Zaire was economically dysfunctional. Corruption did not serve to grease the wheels of the economic machine by creating jobs or other forms of expansion. Unfortunately for millions of Zairians as well as for frustrated foreign donors, the system was incapable of promoting sustained development. Nonetheless, to the extent that this system had enriched the president and kept him in firm control of a disparate society, it had worked well, and Mobutu appeared unlikely to abandon it, even under the heavy internal and external pressures he faced in the early 1990s.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents