Academic journal article Africa

'La Crise': Lexicon and Ethos of the Second Economy in Lubumbashi

Academic journal article Africa

'La Crise': Lexicon and Ethos of the Second Economy in Lubumbashi

Article excerpt


The second, or informal, economy developed later in Lubumbashi (DRC) than it had in Kinshasa. The Katanga metropolis, long protected from the process of informalization thanks to its large industrial complexes, suffered seriously from the crisis of the 1990s which led to the collapse of the mining industry and, more generally, of the whole salaried sector. After a brief history of the city and of the state of play of the informal economy, this article attempts a detailed analysis of this economy's lexicon. Expressions newly created from Swahili, French and other languages provide an excellent point of entry into the concrete practices of this sector, as well as the representations and morality on which such practices are based. Strongly associated with expressions of energy, cunning and conspiracy, the vocabulary emerging from the second economy bears witness to the appreciation of the 'anti-hero' and demonstrates the inception of a new moral economy in which the state and the powerful have become targets of legitimate predation based on the principle of redistribution.


L'economie seconde ou informelle s'est developpee avec quelque retard a Lubumbashi (RDC), si l'on compare cette situation a celle de Kinshasa. Longtemps protegee de ce processus grace a la presence de grands complexes industriels, la metropole katangaise a subi de plein fouet les effets de la crise des annees 1990, qui virent l'effondrement de l'industrie miniere et plus generalement de tout le secteur salarie. Apres un bref historique de la ville et un etat des lieux de l'economie informelle, cet article entame l'analyse detaillee du lexique lie a cette demiere. Les expressions nouvellement creees au depart du swahili, du francais et d'autres langues offrent un excellent mode d'acces aux pratiques concretes de ce secteur, ainsi qu'aux representations et a la morale qui les fondent. Fortement associe aux registres de l'energie, de la ruse et de la complicite, le vocabulaire emergent de l'economie seconde temoigne de la valorisation du 'heros malin' et revele l'apparition d'une nouvelle economie morale, dans laquelle l'Etat et les puissants sont devenus les cibles d'une predation legitimee par le principe de redistribution.


Vying with South Africa and Nigeria in the 1960s for political and economic leadership in Africa, Congo (DRC) now comes to mind as a paradigm of informalization and criminalization of the state and the economy. As Janet MacGaffey demonstrated about fifteen years ago, however, compared with certain of its neighbours, Congo was not a truly exceptional case; a 'second' or 'informal' economy was already common in many African countries (MacGaffey et al. 1991: 15-19). What is peculiar to Congo is the nature of the state in which this underground economy has developed: a state fundamentally marked by thirty-two years of patrimonialism under Mobutu's regime (1965-97)--which led the country to bankruptcy and a virtual disappearance from international economic statistics--and by six years of civil war (from 1998) implicating notably Rwanda and Uganda as well as numerous other African countries.

Life in Congo is profoundly affected by this precarious context. Virtually all the state's usual attributes have been influenced by informal privatization (Blundo and Olivier de Sardan 2001a): public officials--or those pretending to be--have taken over the customary functions and prerogatives of the state, selling their services to their 'customers' (as police officers in Lubumbashi call plaintiffs, for example). The Congolese rely less and less on the state for services, and increasingly resort to their own initiative when facing everyday problems such as the procurement of food, water, shelter or education. Recent work by Theodore Trefon (2004a, 2004b) demonstrates that far from adopting a passive attitude, Kinshasa's inhabitants have developed a strong sense of inventiveness and determination to 'reinvent order' amid this apparent chaos. …

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