Zaire Table of Contents
Woman selling food at a Kinshasa market
Courtesy Sandy Beach
Central Market, Kinshasa
Courtesy Zaire National Tourism Office
Zairian and other official statistics on the composition and growth of GDP should be taken as approximations at best, in particular given the chaotic nature of the economy and society in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, some basic trends can be observed. The Zairian economy grew slowly throughout most of the 1980s (except for 1982) but declined sharply beginning in 1989. Real GDP growth in 1980 was registered as 2.4 percent. The rate increased to 2.9 percent in 1981, but dropped sharply to -3.0 percent in 1982, a year of decline in the price of copper. Thereafter, it increased once again and sustained positive real growth rates of 1.3 percent in 1983, 2.7 percent in 1984, 2.5 percent in 1985, 2.7 percent in 1986 and 1987, and 0.5 percent in 1988. In 1989, however, the growth rate fell to -1.3 percent and continued its decline with negative growth rates of -2.6 percent in 1990, -7.3 percent in 1991, and -8.0 percent in 1992.
Zaire's poor economic performance has had a severe impact on the populace's standard of living. Even in years of modest GDP growth, economic growth was outpaced by the nation's very high population growth rate, which has been estimated at over 3 percent per year. As a result, per capita GDP has often fallen, or risen only slightly, even in years of improved economic performance. In terms of per capita GDP, mineral-rich Zaire found itself among the desperately poor African nations.
Nevertheless, although living conditions and purchasing power for the average peasant and city dweller are indeed meager, and for many people desperately low, official estimates of per capita income indicate a much lower standard of living than has actually been the case, especially prior to 1992. Many Zairians eke out a living through subsistence agriculture and barter and informal trade in a range of goods and services that show up nowhere in official government or donor country statistics. This energetic informal economy is often described by the apocryphal article fifteen of the first postindependence constitution, "fend for yourself" (see The Informal Economy , this ch.).
The sectoral composition of GDP has changed substantially since independence because of a drop in the real value of mineral production and because of the chronic weakness of other sectors, such as transportation and manufacturing, which the government has neglected. According to estimates by the government's Ministry of National Economy and Industry, agriculture accounted for 22 percent of GDP in 1970, industry for 8 percent, mining and metallurgy for 22 percent, and services for 48 percent. By contrast with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, where agriculture lost ground to other sectors, Zairian agriculture's share of GDP had risen to 32 percent by the late 1980s, with industry dropping to about 2 percent, mining and metallurgy rising to 24 percent (but then dropping to 17 percent by 1990), and services and other sectors falling to about 42 percent. The increased contribution of agriculture to the GDP despite the fall in agricultural output in staples and cash crops is a vivid indication of the overall weakness of the economy. The increased importance of the mining and metallurgy sector was caused principally by the success of the legalization of the artisanal (panning) diamond market in 1983 and a substantial increase in cobalt production. The surprisingly large service sector is generally attributed to a bloated and grossly inefficient public sector and the fact that people receiving government pensions were included in this figure.
In a regional division of GDP, it is not surprising that Shaba accounted for 30 percent of the nation's total and Kinshasa for another 20 percent. The remainder was divided fairly evenly among the other regions.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents