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Leave My Country Alone: A Response to Professor J. Peter Pham


Claver Lumana Pashi, PhD
Associate Professor
Université Pédagogique Nationale (UPN)


In “Imagining the Congo Secure and Stable”, an essay which won the 2008 Nelson Mandela International Essay Prize, Professor J. Peter Pham makes a few points about the origin of the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. First, he considered the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a crisis of the “colonial order”. The misery faced by the citizens of the DRC “is directly attributable to the immense natural wealth of the Congo itself”, said J. Peter Pham. These riches were at the core for the carving out of the DRC for Leopold II, King of the Belgians by the 1885 General Act of Berlin Conference.

Second, Professor J. Peter Pham argues that the “challenges of geographic breadth …and the near total lack of responsive governance” since independence have contributed to the continuing crisis in the DRC. He believes that power in the hands of the central government has “ceased to deliver even the most basic services” to its citizenry.

Third, he contends that “no move was ever made to right the original historical wrong of throwing together in a single unit the size of Western Europe what has proven to be an explosive mixture of peoples with little historical basis for national cohesion”.

Fourth, Professor J. Peter Pham believes that the privatization of the state by the Mobutu regime has led to the mushrooming of the “various armed groups imbued with a 'fend-for-yourself' ethos simply used force to seize control of patches of territory, thus acquiring effective dominion over strategic assets which they then leveraged to acquire the wherewithal to combat opposing factions – all to the detriment of the overall peace of the country and the stability of its neighbors”.

Fifth, he contends that the Congolese have failed to refashion “l'état importé and reframe its statehood through an “arrangement that is not only stable, but also accepted by its citizens as legitimate, as well as sufficiently capable of performing the basic functions of statehood”. He considers boundaries inherited from the colonial powers as artificial and dismisses the hopes generated by African independence leaders as “surreal” for “forging nations out of heterogeneous groups of peoples and cultures”.

Sixth, Professor J. Peter Pham uses a simple definition of a nation given by Anthony D Smith (i.e. ‘named human population sharing a historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members') on the basis on which he concludes that there has never been a ‘Congolese nation' but rather “an archipelago of population centers separated from each other by literally hundreds of kilometers of impassable forest”.

Seventh, Professor J. Peter Pham strongly believes that the DRC's internal legitimacy is non-existent and that the DRC standing as an artifice is merely maintained by international judicial recognition through the status quo formalized by the former Organization of African Unity's stipulation that the received colonial borders constituted a ‘tangible reality' which required member governments to pledge themselves ‘to respect the frontiers existing on their achievement of national independence'.

Eighth, Professor J. Peter Pham concludes by saying that the “preservation of arbitrary territorial divisions has benefited illegitimate and, often enough, incompetent rulers; and has led to the pattern of localized armed plunder that has characterized the DRC's political economy the past decade to the detriment of the citizenry.

A few of the most “imaginative solutions” provided by Professor J. Peter Pham for Congo to become secure and stable include the following:

First, he calls for the International Community “to break the Congo apart”. This could be accomplished by changing the role of MONUSCO which would basically act as a de facto military force and make the national armed forces of the DRC (FARDC) irrelevant in protecting the people and the riches of their own country.

Second, Professor J. Peter Pham proposes that once the Congo is broken apart, then it must be organized along ethnic community lines. He basically believes that war lords such as Nkunda under CNDP or Makenga under M23 are “fashionable brand of leaders…who maintain control over a territory and population through networks of clients, have control over arms and economies that use force to generate resources and maintain power – in other words proto-state figures. He believes that despite the fact that these war lords attain their power through undemocratic means, the actual exercise of their authority does place them within a political framework, however primitive, and involves appeals to kinship, ethnic, or religious bonds of identity. He sees these kinds of organizations appealing for the future security and stability of the Congo.

The third imaginative solution provided by Professor J. Peter Pham for imagining a Congo secure and stable is to make sure that once the Congo is broken apart and given to disparate ethnic-based community statehoods, then the private sector (international financial institutions and multinationals) could come in to strengthen these new statehoods. Professor J. Peter Pham indicates that the motivation behind this proposal is two-fold: “to give international donors ‘entry points' in an otherwise impenetrable society where they might fruitfully engage in a way that has a positive impact on the lives of ordinary citizens; and to shift the momentum in state-building to a place where those citizens can more readily assume ownership of the process”.

With this background, observers of the Congo crisis can understand the recent article written by Professor J. Peter Pham and entitled “To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart”. Professor J. Peter Pham is a keen advocate of the disappearance of the Congo as it is configured presently. He is from the neo-liberalism school of thought, which believes that the rich have to grow richer and the poor have to grow poorer. According to Elizabeth Martinez and Amoldo Gracia

Neo-liberalism is a set of economic policies that have become widespread during the last 25 years or so. Although the word is rarely heard in the United States, you can clearly see the effects of neo-liberalism here as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer....Around the world, neo-liberalism has been imposed by powerful financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Inter- American Development Bank....the capitalist crisis over the last 25 years, with its shrinking profit rates, inspired the corporate elite to revive economic liberalism. That's what makes it 'neo' or new.

So the question to Professor J. Peter Pham is to come clean and indicate whose financial institution or multinational interests is he actually serving by advocating the breaking apart of an African nation? It goes beyond belief that Professor J. Peter Pham, while cautioning the use of the term of “l'état importé” goes on to suggest a “solution importée” from Eurocentric views to the challenges faced by Congo. If one believes that breaking apart the Congo would actually save it, one might be out of his mind and in the realm of satire and utopia. It is simply an insult to the intelligence of the African people. A call for another Berlin-like conference to revisit what is often “termed” as artificial boundaries is indeed a call for the second ‘disguised' scramble to carve out Africa for economic purposes ‘revisited'.

Furthermore, by using the definition of a nation by Anthony D Smith, it virtually means that a few nations would actually meet the standards including the United States if ethnic homogeneity needs to prevail. We suggest that Professor J. Peter Pham takes heed of Ernest Gellner who defines nations as “groups which will themselves to persist as communities”. Gellner suggests that ethnicity is neither a prerequisite nor a required element in the formation of nations, and therefore the supreme loyalty of man is to his nationality rather than his ethnicity. Clearly the Congolese people will themselves to build a nation by those who owe it loyalty.

Finally, there is a big difference between a nation and a government. If Professor J. Peter Pham is not fond of the government in Kinshasa, then the solution is not to break the Congo as a nation apart but rather to change the government either through legal means or through a revolution should all legal means fail. Consequently the best way to resolve the Congo crisis is not to resort to ethnic-based, violence-prone proxies for economic ends but rather to instill loyalty to the construction of the nation. To those who keep bringing “eurocentric solutions” to solve the Congo crisis, we simply say “leave our country alone”.

12 December 2012

© 2012 Congo Vision

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