Zaire: Continuity and Political Change in an Oppressive State

Zaire: Continuity and Political Change in an Oppressive State

Zaire: Continuity and Political Change in an Oppressive State

Zaire: Continuity and Political Change in an Oppressive State

Excerpt

On June 30,1990, the Republic of Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, celebrated thirty years of independence. The country first emerged on the international stage when Africa was partitioned by the European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884. After more than one hundred years as a political entity, Zaire still captures international attention.

Zaire has had a turbulent past. The country has experienced foreign conquest, colonial exploitation, and finally--in 1960--independence hastily engineered by the Belgians. The postcolonial period between 1960 and 1992 has reflected this legacy: Violent upheaval and tenuous stability on the political front have been coupled with brief periods of growth in the midst of general economic decline. Although it is potentially one of the richest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, given its vast natural resource endowments, the fortunes of the majority of Zaire's citizens have not improved. Nevertheless, Zairians have shown an amazing resilience and a determination to survive and cope, often against tremendous odds.

Over time, there has been a fundamental element of continuity between the contemporary state and its past. The country still remains vulnerable with respect to foreign penetration and influence over the economy. Colonial economic and political structures remain, albeit adapted to modern realities, as traditional life and customs continue. Furthermore, Zaire has been ruled by one president, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, for over twenty-five years. In the view of the major Western powers, this rule has provided a powerful element of stability over time, but the oppressive, authoritarian nature of the regime has had an adverse impact on socioeconomic welfare. These threads of continuity in turn have implications for the future evolution of the Zairian state and the larger society as well as for the country's ability to function from a position of strength in the international economy. Prospects for change are inevitably shaped by the past and present. In the . . .

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