This paper is an attempt to explain the lack of economic development in the Congo. I will focus on the political system and its disastrous effects on various sectors of the economy, especially the rural sector. Anthropological fieldwork was carried out in the period 1986-90 (thirteen months) in the two cities, Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, and the countryside of the Pool and Kouilou provinces. Changes in the political system seem to be under way but it is too early to be specific about the outcome. I will argue that the economic crisis of today is very much produced by the Congolese state and the state class. The responses to the crisis are therefore divided. There is a response from circles outside the power core in the direction of democratization and an apparent determination to put an end to the privatization of the state economy, while the state class itself seems to have accelerated its flight of capital during the second half of the 1980s.
During the 1980s it has become clear that most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are in deep economic crisis. The optimistic visions of the 1960s were never realized, nor was foreign aid able to alter the downward trend. Many African countries are much worse off today than they were at independence.
The Congo is no exception. The country, situated in West Central Africa north of the Congo river, has about two million inhabitants in an area of 342,000 square kilometers. The industrial sector is more or less limited to oil. A great deal of money has been spent on state enterprises, both industries and state farms, but their performances were bad in the 1970s and even worse in the 1980s. Production of food for the domestic market as well as crops for export is decreasing. Agriculture is carried out in two very different domains;