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Georges BAKALY Sembe: The Limits of State Power in Africa: A Case Study of The Democratic Republic of Congo, ISBN: 1-4276-1149-1, 2006, 296 p.

In November last year, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC also knows as Zaire during the reign of the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko who was at the helm for 32 years) inaugurated its Third Republic after a decade of war and a long peace process. Today expectations are high as the people of the DRC hope that the new democratically elected government will bring with it the bounties of democracy especially poverty relief. However, as many have written, there are concerns that the entire peace process and the elections that followed were driven more by the international community, under the umbrella of MONUC the most expensive UN operation in the world, than by national politics.

Hence, for the regeneration of Congo, it is vital that its sons, intellectuals, free thinkers question the process, and think about the future of their country, to try new and other approaches as there are still issues in the DRC that leads to frustration, anger, resignation, and revolt. How does a country that produces vast amounts of minerals and endowed with so many natural resources be one of the poorest countries in the world? This leads to other questions: what has been done to improve things and how to do that? What must be done now to offer another Congo to Congolese who seems to be, from the incept of their country at the 1885 Berlin International Conference, the only African country to be owned by a single individual, as a gift to Belgium King Leopold II, who managed it as if it were his pocket, perpetrating heinous crime in the process even though he named the country the Congo Free State? How to break this view of Congo as a mere provider of natural resources that ignores the welfare of the Congolese people?

Those questions and many others are at the heart of Georges BAKALY Sembe's thinking, a member of a new generation of the Congolese of Diaspora, those who, studied in the West and are bringing fresh eyes and a new style that uses the latest political approach, international concepts and theory, in order to rethink the Congo. The author, who is making his first steps in writing with this political book, refuses to fall in despair, as he quotes from Julius Nyerere: “Of all the sins that Africa can commit, the sin of despair would be the most unforgivable .”

Presenting himself as a member of the new African and Congolese generation, one who must now try to create a new Africa ; he argues that it is commonly made mistake to think that the failure of Congo , as described in his book, is only the failure of the political elites. For it is the failure of an entire society so, each one of us, has a duty to think about the regeneration of the Congo , and Africa as a whole. His introspection starts with a seemingly simple question: what is the State. As there are many definition of State, the author starts with Max Weber's: The State is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. But, for Georges BAKALY, the State must also be an expression of the General Will of the population, it must be a collective decision to defend common interests and build a common history and world-view. The State therefore becomes what Ernest Renan described in the following words: “A nation is a soul, a spirit principle. Two things that, to be honest, are only one make up this soul, this spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other one is in the present. One is the common possession of a rich legacy of memories; the other one is the actual consent, the wish to continue to assert the heritage received undivided.”

The problem for the DRC, he argues, is that from the beginning it was imposed by people external to Congolese society, first by Kind Leopold II then by Belgium and the international capitalist system. For the author the Congo has never changed as each regime, president, came in just to fill a power vacuum never to change the underlying structure created by Leopold, a King that managed the Congo and Congolese as if they were his own personal property and never intended to build a modern nation state. That is why, the author tried to describe in many pages a history of the Congolese States and also the Congo of the Lords of wars. One feels as if he is trying to understand and is sharing his thoughts and findings with Congolese of his generation, many of whom have not tried to understand Congolese history and the implications it has for modern day Congo .

For the author, the Congo of 4+1, the power-sharing DRC, the one just before the election, is the lamest and most criminal one, managed again by the “international community” without any care for the Congolese population's poverty and misery. The International community just “covered the salaries of State officials”. Figures speak for themselves: the president had a salary of 7 billion Congolese francs and the Agence Nationale de Renseignement, the security and Intelligence Agency, to compare but a one, had a budget of 1.3 billion. This is one of the main problems of the Congo : many leaders, as described in chapter VIII, are only the Children of Leopold II for whom to quote from Louis XIV “ L'Etat , c'est moi. ” How has this situation endured for so long?

Doing a sociological analyses of the Congolese society, BAKALY summarizes the real problem in the chapter titled “La grande peur” as Congolese people seem to never revolt against the oppression, but it also shows the will of all the Children of Leopold II, since he built his Congo with blood and sweat, with arms and hands cut for his rubber, use the oppression to impose their views to Congolese. But, it would be naive to think that Congolese remained every time in oppression. Like a joke, they know how and when to take their advantage against the oppression. The Independence history is an example, the failure of Mobutu is another one.

The book would be incomplete without the last part: Policy proposals . In fact, a case is made for a new approach, a redefinition of the role of the State, a state that must be capable to resolve issues such as poverty, lack of education, tribalism, HIV, etc... The task of Congolese and African intellectuals and politicians must be to answer the question: “How do we create states that meet the needs of 21st century Africa ?” For the Congo , the subject of this study, an overview of 5 policies is suggested by the author. The most important one, in my view, is “the national integration of the Republic-the need to create a fully integrated country or turn a geographical area into a state” .

Through the pages of Georges BAKALY Sembe's book, one has the impression of embarking on a real journey with the new and young Congolese intelligentsia approach as they question the political heritage of their homeland, there is also an impression that the author seems to have a strong knowledge and masters a multidisciplinary approach of issues, as he quotes and explain some philosophical, political, sociological and even historical theories and how those apply to the Congo. Many philosophers ranging from Socrates to Weber as well as current international issues are all explained in comparison to the Congo . Any reader would not be tired to read this book and any researcher will find a useful bibliography of nine pages as well as notes at the end of the book, to help him to continue the study. The book is only an attempt to spark the debate, the first step of research. For his age, in a Congolese and African view and approach, BAKALY is a real promise for the new Congolese and African intellectuals who must try, nowadays, to link and change their passive intelligence to the active one, leaving the laboratory scientist world to the social one, looking for solution to those issues, using the multidisciplinary approach, as issues are very deep. Of course, the design and the writing of the book can and should be improved. Reading it and sending comments and remarks could help him to grow and to propose us others books. I am sure. For pages and lines on end, quotes, notes, Latin's words used in English, historical facts and latest historical facts, the readers will not be tired to in revisiting the Congo . And on the eve of the Third Republic , the Congolese should not consider the election as a panacea; they should not fall asleep and wait for some magical solution, as BAKALY concludes: “True patriots should not be disheartened with the results of the elections. Rather, they should embark on a journey to create the conditions for proper leadership to take over five years from now. There should be literacy programs, and political awareness programmes. The masses must be empowered and the faults of whoever wins must be exposed at every turn so that five years from now, all Congolese can reap the rewards of the “Open Society.” Even a civil war should not stop us.” (268)

By Norbert X MBU-MPUTU
Freelance journalist, Writer and Researcher
norbertmbu@yahoo.fr
Newport , Wales , United Kingdom

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