Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Entropy May Be Enemy No. 1 in Chaotic Zaire

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Entropy May Be Enemy No. 1 in Chaotic Zaire

Article excerpt

On a recent morning in this river town in Zaire, a local businessman decided to fly to the capital, Kinshasa.

There were a few problems, however.

He couldn't go outside because soldiers who hadn't been paid for months were shooting in the streets on a pillaging rampage. The businessman called for help from the provincial governor - on a cellular telephone because the phone lines don't work. But the governor said there was little he could do because he was scared to venture outside himself. Eventually, the businessman bribed some soldiers to protect him en route to the airport. They demanded dollars, arguing that the local currency was worthless. "Nothing works. Yet anything is possible," were the businessman's parting words as he took off for the airport in a heavily guarded convoy. That could well be the slogan of Zaire, the giant lying at the troubled heart of Africa. The state of anarchy has become so advanced that the country has become a bench mark of what happens when central authority collapses. Highways, courts, and health clinics barely function. Many civil servants earn $1 a month and survive by collecting bribes for their services. Zaire is endowed with diamonds, copper, and gold, yet the banks have run out of money. Despite all this seeming confusion, Zaireans continue with their daily routines. The institutional layers of the modern state are stripped away, but something else continues in their place. "We talk about an informal economy, so why not talk about an informal political system also?" asks Richard Cornwell, a political analyst at the Africa Institute, a think tank in Pretoria, South Africa. "What seems like anarchy must be working on some level," he adds. "How else would you have such a high population growth rate? How else could {so many} people survive?" He notes that people manage to eat and work. They sell shoes and buy bread. Banks do not operate, but there are always moneychangers on the streets. Shops may close, but chickens are sold in the markets. In the vast underground economy, people fill jobs that technically do not exist. Life amid chaos The central government may have eroded, but Zaireans still plant new crops, dig new ditches, and punish pickpockets themselves since local police haven't been paid in months. Two provinces, East Kasai and Shaba, are virtually autonomous and have thriving economies funded by their mineral riches. East Kasai even has its own currency. The nation-state of Zaire is "fictional," according to George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economic professor at American University in Washington. He maintains that its collapse is partly the legacy of Belgian colonizers, who introduced a central government to an area accustomed to a loose federation of kingdoms or clans that enjoyed substantial autonomy. Collapsing state "There are two Africas. There is the traditional Africa, which is struggling to survive," Mr. Ayittey says. "Its people go to their farms and markets. …

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