Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life gets better for Kinshasa elites, but is a struggle for most

I have just returned from a quick trip to Kinshasa, my first in a long time.

Several things surprised me. First, the city has developed spectacularly in some respects over the past several years. Dozens of kilometers of new roads have unclogged traffic in some select areas of the city as Chinese contractors have repaired and broadened some of the main thoroughfares: Boulevard de 30 Juin, Avenue des Huileries, Boulevard Lumumba (under construction), Boulevard Triomphale and Avenue des Poids Lourds. The favorite word for the construction seems to have been "anarchique," as the roads often lacked drainage, resulting in flooding, and traffic signs - dozens of people have been killed in traffic accidents as a result.

But there is no doubt that there has been some modest - and relatively untransparent, given some opaque tenders - improvement to infrastructure in the city. The main Boulevard de 30 Juin is a different (and less leafy) street altogether. Add to this the Hôpital du Cinquatenaire, the largest Central Africa apparently (but which has also raised questions about expropriation of land, long delays, and management challenges), the Rakeen Towers, the quixotic Cité du Fleuve, and a possible new Sheraton, and some Kinois grudgingly admit that the government is developing the city.

But the progress has mostly benefited the narrow elite - the number of new highrises, restaurants, internet cafés and bars is astounding (as are the prices on the menus). For the average citydweller, life has gotten harder, mostly because the cost of living has gone up. A look at food prices gives a decent idea of these hardships:

Much of this price hike is due to inflation, but for Congolese who earn in Congolese francs, that is not a great consolation. In addition to this, gas prices have gone up around 10% in the past two months alone, which trickles down to higher food and transport prices. So when the Kinois see a new highrise, instead of talking about development, they are more likely to quip about which minister is gone into business with which Lebanese businessman.

(The Crown Towers, the Congo Futur Shopping Mall, Paradise and Riverside complexes belong to the Tajideen family, which is close to Kabila and (partly) under US sanctions for supporting Hezbollah; the Rakeen Towers is a UAE investment; the Sheraton building reportedly belongs to an Indian businessman who owns Services Air airlines.)

It is difficult to separate perception from reality and to say whether life has really gotten worse for most. But the frequent strikes by state employees (including doctors) and the rising food prices put a stain on the picture that the government wants to paint of its burgeoning capital.


Anonymous said...

There is a big infrastructure improvement in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi ,but the rest of the country has completely been forgotten. Fo example in BuKavu and Goma there is a housing boom and villas are spreading up like mushrooms but there is no more paved roads and public hospitals are in decay ,even the hotel de ville (city hall) is a rundown building ,once you live Kinshasa and Lubumbashi you start to feel that there is no government in the rest of the country .corruption is very rampant in provinces and governors and big city mayors are getting away with murder because the authorities in Kinshasa care less wath happens in the rest of the country .when I was in Bukavu many peoples I talked to where telling me that the only way out of this is secession like south soudan. They feel like theire minerals have just benefited kinshasa and Kigali and they do not see any light at the end of the tunel. They got nothing out of 30 years of Mobutu and after giving. KABILA 90% in 2006 he turned his back on them.

Anand said...

I would love to say that these signs of "progress" in Kinshasa are a good thing, but as the previous comment notes, these gains seem limited in scope. It is hard for me to separate them from the questionable business dealings that have led to them. Widening the gap in standard of living/lifestyle, between have's and have not's, in a country like Congo, can hardly be considered progress. It looks like progress on the surface, and I am sure that many western diplomats will fall for it.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous - March 22, 2012,
That is your wish, but it will not be fulfilled.
We are congolese and we remain as so. Remember we know who kill us and rape our daughters and create havoc on our land. And it is not a congolese...

Anonymous said...

Western diplomats will be more impressed if the DRC meets its macroeconomic forecasts rather than high-profile projects in Kinshasa...though these probably do reflect increased investor confidence.

The figures I've seen at African Economic Outlook seem promising. Since 2004 annual real GDP growth rates ranging between 6-7%, which are projected to continue through 2012. In the absence of a global economic downturn, the overall macroeconomic picture looks reasonably good for sustained growth...which does not automatically translate into improved living standards - but it is a prerequiste.

Granted 2009 was a bad year when GDP growth plummeted to 2.8% due largely to external economic factors. The graph shows that food prices spiked that year when inflation increased to 46.2%. In 2010 inflation dropped to 23.2% and food prices fell accordingly. If the government meets it targets of reducing inflation to the 9-10% range...still too high, but genuine progress, food prices should remain stable.

From a structural standpoint, the graph posted here points to a need for greater government focus on agriculture and the need to increase food production. Continued political instability in agricultural production areas in the east is an ongoing problem. Right now the DRC is only utilizing a tiny fraction of its arable land. Government fixation on the lucrative mining sector is diverting its attention from other sectors like agriculture.

Obviously, another factor in the high cost of living is the lack of transportation infrastructure...getting food to urban population centers. From the maps I've seen of transportation infrastructure development projects that are part of the Chinese deal, a lot of the focus is in the east. These projects will facilitate the flow of agricultural products as well as you have to factor in the multiplier effects of these major investments - increased employment, rising consumption and lower transportation costs should boost living standards.

China, India, and Korea seem eager to invest in the DRC and diversification of economic relations is generally a positive sign of progress. Continued economic uncertainty in the US and the EU might constrain western investment in the short-term...but if Asian investors are seen to be doing well, their western counterparts are not likely to stand idly by and miss out on a growing opportunity.

I believe the IMF conference just concluded in Kinshasa was focused on improving budgetary resource flows from the extractive industries...and now is the time to do that when global demand is strong. How the Congolese government performs in terms of budget management and improving the social infrastructure is something the donor countries and IFIs will be watching.

Anonymous said...

"Government fixation on the lucrative mining sector is diverting its attention from other sectors like agriculture.", yeah dude.

clearly, the congo cannot grow in a sustainable manner until its peasants can increase their production, which will increase their income, which will increase tax revenues to pay for infrastructure, which will expand the all important but collapsed manufacturing sector, which will ofcourse boost the economy further.

then, the congo has got to sell more to the world than minerals, trees, and other commodities.

doesn't take an economist to figure that out.

problem is, the congo is led by a particularly impatient and short term looking regime that is either unwilling or unable to make the necessary plans to make anything of this happen-primarily because they are too drunk living off a shrinking (due to corruption) gov't tap. and, to add to the problem, some (not all but some) of its intellectuals who guide the elite are pretty much hard core marxist/nationalists who believe that international system is stacked against the Congolese/Africa/developing countries.

so sure, the macro fundamentals are sound (assuming Greece doesn't implode and China contract ofcourse) and the elite will continue enjoy Kinshasa's and Lumumbashi's increasing "elan".

but until the elites in the Congo decide that investing in productive assets (farms, factories, infrastructure---not buildings to earn rent)in their own economy is worth their time, the opportunity to enter the middle class for the vast majority of its peasants will be a LONG and SLOW process.

honestly, what would a minister or civil servant prefer to invest in? Some swank restaurant in Kinshasa or commercial maize or bean farm Kisangani?

i've personally asked this of a few middle-ranking civil servants I know in Lumumbashi over the years and, without fail, its a restaurant or rental flats. sure, the risk is lower for the restaurant or flat building. but the higher the risk the higher the reward and, right now, the cultural mileau in the congo is such that taking bold investment risks isn't something its elite are willing to do and this reflects the incoherence and mining focus of their economic policies.

and if the congolese themselves are unwilling to invest in their own nation why on earth should international investors of considerable means in the non-resource sector?

again, as long as this is the choice and the congolese refuse to invest in productive assets and the attendant infrastructure to get goods to market quickly and efficiently, the macro economic situation may improve but the lives of the vast majority in the Congo will continue to be desperate and hard.


Anonymous said...


You make some good points regarding the need for economic diversification and investment in manufacturing and the non-resource sector.

I would point out that when the current government came into power the Congolese economy was flat on its back - hyperinflation, a worthless currency, no economic growth to speak of.

Sound macroeconomic fundamentals don't happen on their own...they are the result of policy decisions. Again, the investments in infrastructure that will reap economic rewards for generations to come are the result of policymakers taking a long-term view of the country's needs after decades of neglect and collapse.

I'm not a marxist so I don't have a problem with Chinese investment, western investment, private/public long as capital is flowing into the DRC and there are quantifiable results.

I do take your point that it would be preferable for Congolese elites to invest in their own country. The kind of rent-seeking investments you refer to probably do seem like a rational investment choice for middle-ranking bureaucrats in a climate of economic uncertainty. For now, it seems Chinese, Indians, S Koreans, Lebanese etc. are willing to undertake the high-risk that is a starting point.

Rural Congolese will continue to engage in agricultural production as they traditonally have done. It would help if the government would address their security concerns and make the kinds of policy choices that have led to green revolutions throughout the developing world...the DRC need not be an exception.

Anonymous said...

we are (mostly) in agreement my anonymous friend.

i guess where my concerns lie is the lack of coherence in economic planning in kinshasa. its great and a real accomplishment that the macro fundamentals are getting better. i take no argument with that.

it just feels, however, that there policies are not coherent. as an example, do you know whether or if there is a master infrastructure plan in the congo? some plan that tries to link the regions and economic centers of the congo together and that takes into account the needs of the cities and rural areas on ALL levels- roads, rail, water, electricity,ports, airports, schools, clinics, etc?

i don't see such a plan and, i'd imagine, neither do international investors. it seems like a hodgepodge of things- a railroad here, a road there, a power plant here- but nothing coherent.

i completely realize that security concerns and newness to planning generally is a variable to this lack of coherence but, at some point, one would think someone would say:

"ok, how do we get wheat and coffee from the Kivus, rice from Mbandaka, poultry from Gbadolite, bananas and palm from Banadudu, and cattle from Katanga to consumers in those areas, everywhere else, and abroad?"

it just hasn't happened friend or, if it has, it isn't being implemented and this regime has had 10 years.

over time, as a business middle class takes root, i am sure they will demand this since their very livelihoods will depend upon it.

but for that class to even emerge, it will be critical for policy planners at the Ministry of Finance to coordinate with others to create a master plan (or plans) of some kind that- literally- brings the country together into a single market with infrastructure planning that is in line with that plan.

then I am sure we will get to a more productive and "certain" economy where taking investment risks is a norm- not the exception.

getting the "macro" right has been a struggle and the congolese have made real and (hopefully) lasting progress here.

its time for some "micro" as well and, here, they are lagging and it is literally killing average congolese.

personally, i think a good question for policy planners to ask would be:

"if we wanted to stop taking aid and loans and grants from the West or China and depend solely on taxes from our citizens what would need to happen?"

something like that would really focus planners beyond the macro, i believe. but do the congolese have the confidence in themselves to do that? in my view that's a cultural change question, not a macroeconomic one and that's where I believe we will see some real change.


Anonymous said...

Thank you to Jose and Anonymous, March 23, 2012 9:35 AM.

Your opinions on the diversification of the economy of the DRC have been very informative and enlightning as they shows a way forward for the DRC in terms of policy for growth.


Anand said...

I very much appreciate the informed discussion on this thread. I wonder though, if the particular concerns of economic growth in the Congo are simply overshadowed by the issue of political will. I see no indication that the current regime has the socio-economic, future well being of the Congolese people in mind. An infrastructural plan, an economic growth plan, all presume that the upper echelon of Congolese political leaders have this agenda in mind. I don't see that they do. At least not past the degree that it benefits them directly. The emergence of a middle class business sector is also dependent upon political climate. The current climate is rampant with corruption and self interest. Even any well intentioned plans for advancement are hindered by the over arching political realities. I wonder if we are seeing the modern face of an essentially kleptocratic regime. Enough progress to show the world that "progress" is being made, but just that much. The seeds of economic growth can't grow and breathe in this type of political climate. Let's start with the fact the current regime has maintained power through fraudulent elections and repression of dissenting views. I don't see that anything specific we are talking about will matter to the average Congolese until the governmental situation is changed. I would be very interested if anyone has ideas on how positive, sustainable economic growth can occur with the current self interested political system. This is an important question since work on everything in Congo (health, education, rights, etc.) has to currently be done by side stepping the existing politics.

Anand said...

Another question, slightly off topic. Somebody mentioned green business, I think. I have been wondering how sound environmental practices would look in a developing nation. Seems like you might be working on reversing or changing current behaviors a little bit, but not nearly as much as in a more urban/ industrialized societies, like the U.S. If you are shifting from a hugely rural setting in some areas, and slowly introducing industrialization, infrastructure, etc, then environmental practice would have to tag along with that growth. Political realities aside, this scenario may be an opportunity to show how environmental policy should look from the outset, instead of fixing broken, shitty environmental practices later on down the road..

Anonymous said...

RDC : La crise alimentaire s’est aggravée en 2011

L’édition 2011 de l’indice de la faim dans le monde mesure l’évolution de l’insécurité alimentaire dans plus de 80 pays. Dans cette nouvelle édition, la République démocratique du Congo (RDC) est le seul pays à passer de “situation alarmante” à “extrêmement alarmante” en 2011.

Les conflits successifs et l’instabilité politique ont provoqué une augmentation de 63% de son indice de la faim.

Dans la sixième édition du Global Hunger index (indice mondial de la faim), publié par l’Institut international de recherche sur les politiques alimentaires (IFPRI), 26 pays continuent de présenter une “situation grave” et 9 pays ont connu une aggravation de la faim. Dans cette petite trentaine de pays en grave insécurité alimentaire, la République démocratique du Congo (RDC) fait office de mauvais élève. La RDC est en effet le seul pays a nettement reculer dans ce classement. Le Congo passe donc de “situation alarmante” à “extrêmement alarmante”.
L’IFPRI affirme que la République Démocratique du Congo compte “la plus grande proportion de personnes sous-alimentées (environ 70 % de la population) et l’un des taux de mortalité infantile le plus élevé au monde”.

En cause : les déplacements massifs de populations et le marasme économique liés aux guerres des années 1998–2003. Le rapport note que pour sortir de sa situation précaire en matière de sécurité alimentaire, “la RDC aura besoin de programmes de développement solides incluant des volets de sécurité alimentaire, en nutrition et santé”.
Pourtant, la RDC possède le premier potentiel agricole d’Afrique, avec ses 80 millions d’hectares de terres cultivables. De quoi subvenir largement aux besoins alimentaires des Congolais. Problème : seuls 10% sont utilisés. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cela. A commencer par la “mégestion” de l’Etat. La rente minière, autrement plus lucrative, a toujours été privilégiée par les gouvernements congolais, de Mobutu à Kabila.

En 2010, la RDC n’a investit que 0,64% de son budget dans l’agriculture.

Une goutte d’eau lorsque l’on sait que le budget national ne dépasse pas les 5 ou 6 milliards de dollars. Conséquences : aucun investissement, manque d’entretien et d’engrais… le rendement chute.
Les nombreux conflits armés à répétition sont aussi à l’origine de la baisse de la production agricole. L’insécurité provoque le pillage systématique des cultures et des lieux de vente, comme les marchés. Autres entraves à la commercialisation des produits agricoles : le manque d’infrastructures routières qui freine également l’acheminement des produits et les nombreux “barrages”, où les producteurs sont “taxés” par les divers services de sécurité ou les groupes rebelles.

Et la situation se dégrade : le nombre de personnes sous-alimentées est passé de 11 millions en 1990 à 44 millions en 2006.

Les ONG présentes en RDC mettent essentiellement en cause la mauvaise gouvernance de l’Etat congolais.

Christophe RIGAUD

Anonymous said...

This is a really fascinating debate, as per usual on our threads.

As an investor in the Congo, I can definitively say that the macro picture is improving. The middle class is there for sure but, honestly, holding on for dear life. Having traveled to Africa quite a bit over the years, they are essentially where Kenyans were in the late 80's, early 90's. And ofcourse, the Kenyan middle class today is increasingly large, vibrant, and confident.

Broadly speaking, however, I'm with Jose and Anand. It just really does appear that the elite in the Congo are themselves holding on for dear life. As such, they just don't seem willing or able (I think its both) to come up with "coherent" policies that do not seem like hodgepodge and piecemeal. Self preservation is the rule and anything else in tangential.

This doesn't mean that Congo's economic planners haven't made real strides. They certainly have and should be applauded for it.

But, until the political culture/system ditches the bunker mentality/theft purview, I don't see coherence being becoming a part of economic planning. Once the elite feel secure in the system they will be more forward-looking and investment focused more consistently as opposed to doing whatever it takes to stay in power.

I'd also add that this isn't a Congo issue either. Development is a challenge for most of the world and there still remains in some African elite quarters an unease and ideological aversion to capitalism and making money and consumerism. Plus, there doesn't seem to be a "consensus" in the West any longer about development either.


That's an interesting question about enviro policy. One of the benefits of being a developing country is that you can more or less start on the right path with all types of policy (enviro, labor, educational, health and child care,etc) without all the trial and error gained from the experience of us Westerners. I also get the feel, though this is all anedoctal, that the Congolese inherently see the need for protecting Mother Earth in a way that Americans really don't or perhaps can't/won't.

Perhaps its because so many of them live so close to the Earth and are noticing its changes? I dunno.

Overall fine discussion Siassa readers!


Rich said...

Great thread and thanks to all the contributors -

This is just a brief one to to get some sense of realism back where it belongs.

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing about the common catch phrase amongst young Congolese and street kids in Kinshasa. You here most of them saying, "tozangi misala vieux, bapesa biso misala..." translating as "we need jobs, they need to give us jobs.." and I can confirm that they mean it when they say it.

The sticking thing is, today in Kinshasa if you are a qualify builder or a brick layer, you will not struggle that much to find a job. the same goes with many construction jobs.

I know there will still be many qualified people out of work but we must admit the fact that a true middle class will also need a minimum of qualification or competence, skill, training, education of some kind to help its chances of getting their chare of the Congolese dream.

Touching upon Anand's interesting question,I can only say that there is a massive vicious cercle in DRC's reality and where to start will always be an interesting question to ask.

There are several development plans some more interesting and realistic than others but since we don't seem to have a tradition of continuity in anything we do, people tend to relativise on them simply because they think once the current government or regime is gone the next one will dismentle everything ans would start from scratch this sense of insecurity and the lack of confidence or animosity within the political class is a massive threat for any sense of confidence in continuity. ...

Sorry if this reads like all over the place...


blaise said...

@ Rich,
all over the place,lol, but right into the point.As one said, great capital hates insecurity. In order to invest one has to believe that there is a future. The other alternative will be a carpe diem and we all know that nothing can be build unless it's planned.
People need to believe in dreams in order to go forward.

Anonymous said...

actually that's super helpful, rich.


Anonymous said...

Best. Line. In. This. Blog. EVER....

"People need to believe in dreams in order to go forward".

Amen, Blaise.


Anonymous said...

@ jose, Bismark, Anand, Rich, Mel and others:

You are all raising pertinent points regarding the political side of political-economy...precisely where attention is needed. I am completely mindful that entrenched elites still have a grip on the political system in a political culture that is still not appropriately accountable...but they have a constructive role to play as well.

Sound macroeconomic fundamentals are a necessary first step in building a middle-class. Experience in democratic transitions and consolidation indicates that when the middle-class reaches a critical mass you see the political system becoming more accountable to the people. Middle-class investors of modest means will never have the same access to the corridors of power that elites they join together and form bonds of collective agency - and they vote! The middle-class represents a bridge between the rural and urban poor at the bottom and elites at the top.

Building a demographically dominant middle-class is partly a matter of social policy (public investments in education, skills-training, healthcare etc.); much should be left to market forces. Getting Congolese across the economic spectrum to invest in their own country creates a nation of stakeholders in the political system - and politicians and policymakers will have to pay attention to them.

Right now the DRC is at the beginning stage of this process...for the first time in the country's history we may be witnessing a break with the predatory past. Whether this process is successful remains to be seen. The election fiasco indicates there are forces resistant to genuine reform; there are many historical factors dating back to the colonial era that explain why the prevailing political culture is so deeply embedded.

@jose Regarding a comprehensive plan, the Chinese mining deal is as close to one as any I'm aware of. It envisages building an intermodal transportation infrastructure as well investing in universities, hospitals, clinics etc. The current government is a major stakeholder in the plan; I am sure its successful completion is a legacy the incumbent regime hopes will mark its place in history.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for an interesting blog. It certainly is a good sign that investment is coming back into the DRC (even if mainly in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi). While many governance problems remain, I believe it is time to give credit to the authorties for having been able to keep in place a relatively stable macro economic framework for some time now. Including, quite remarkably, during the election year. This is quite a significant feat that has perhaps been insuficiently acknowledged by many Congo-followers who always find so many parts of the cup to remain (and often rightly so) half empty

blaise said...

@ Bruce,
that's great materials for thinking. I firmly believe that the force that the institution that can help in the short term to bridge the gap between classes (or at least have the middle class connect to the poor ) will be the catholic church.
It's the only organization with the man power, networking to achieve any meaningful change. The key is to have the priests to understand their role and put their efforts in saving the country not just the soul for the afterlife.
The civil society is a nebulous with local agendas. the church has a clean cut hierarchical organization, a score of scholars and a potential to be a game changer. Imagine the Catholics taking the helm and extending their network to all the protestants' factions and Muslims. They have the power and the cloud to be the light in the darkness.

Thomas Hubert said...

Interesting to read from the perspective of someone who has been away from Kin for a few years... Too bad I missed you Jason.
Two reactions to this post:
- I'd be curious to see whether the Sheraton thing materialises. As far as I know the radio-trottoir "fact" that Sheraton is coming to Kinshasa is based on a single visit by a group of Starwood execs last July who said they might set up in the Modern Construction building and got a brief mention on Radio Okapi's website. No mention of Kinshasa on Starwood's web page listing new hotels opening in the next 4 years. It would be significant if Sheraton actually came as it would be the first major international retail/services chain to set up here. But I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out like the ZTE million-hectare palm oil plantation or the year-old "Opening soon" banner outside the planned Nando's on the Boulevard... Never seem to have got anywhere.
- Road improvements in Kinshasa extend beyond the main boulevards. Some communes of Kinshasa like Barumbu, Ngiri-Ngiri have new paved streets that have taken thousands of people out of serious isolation rigt in the middle of the city - no cars could access there. This doesn't take away from the massive unaddressed needs elsewhere as described in other comments above.

Anonymous said...

I Just want to thank Mr Jason Stern for this article , for a long time now everything you read about the Congo in the western medias and the mostly Inti KABILA Congoles diaspora medias was just the boring doom and gloom staff. Yes the last 5decades have been a nightmare for the DRC but the future looks promising. The Chinese,Korean ,Indians,south africans...are all investing in the DRC and I will urge the Americans and Europeans to jump into the wagon before this locomotive of African development leaves the station .the south African fast food giant,Nandos has just append in Kinshasa and they plan to open 30 more restaurants elsewhere in Congo ,the Russian investment group,RENAISSANCE is building a new modern City and business center near Lubumbashi KATANGA that will be 3 times bigger than the 5 billions TATU city that they are building in KENYA. Yes there stil some insecurity in some part of the Country but 95% of the country is safe .

blaise said...

@ anonym MARCH 24, 2012 10:46 AM,
really interesting take of the situation. I have to agree with you that western medias are kind of bias. They just report the bad and leave the goods. It's the nature of the news business. For the Congolese diaspora, it's perhaps frustration,idk.
Promising future? That's optimistic in my opinion. Those countries that you are praising don't exactly have a track record for charitable endeavors.Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
If you want to help JK's image you should show us progress and make people understand that there is a plan in motion here but not,like I think, some cosmetic isolate actions. Don't take me wrong, Jk, like his father LDK, has grandiose ideas for the country but the execution is not quite there.
95% safe? I guess you are playing the part of the glass half full while others see it half empty. I don't think there is any safety without justice, the rule of law, impunity. As long any armed person can take your life and be reward for this act of bravery, there will be no safety for anyone in Congo.
To conclude, Mr Hubert stated right when he recognized that although some road are paved it should not occult the fact that a lot should be done. I will even went as far as questioning the actual job done. It's curious that we can still see the paved roads in Lemba left by the belgians but a lot of our modern roads need repair every 6 months. Corruption or incompetence? pick your poison.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know the make up of the DRC elite that Jason is talking about. Who are these people who are having it better in the DRC. Are they all DRC citizens? How many are the elite compare to the 60 million + Congolese? Are they only in Kinshasa? How did they become the elite? How did they make their fortunes ?
Some are talking about a middle class. Can some one define the contours of this middle class (the social group between the upper and working class) what criteria is used here. What is the profile for the middle class in a country where most people are unemployed?
Someone seemed to be happy to have Chinese, Koreans, Indians, South Africans and others come and invest in the DRC. I would have been happy if they were mentioning the Congolese elite that Jason is talking about has serious investors in the DRC.

Who is in the middle class in the DRC, what is the middle class in real terms in the DRC.


Anonymous said...

@ blaise

Yes, the Catholic Church is an institution with a nation-wide presence...and it is there day in and day out trying to address people's everyday needs. I like your idea of bringing together people of all faiths in the cause of social justice.

Jason has mentioned how political parties seem to disappear between election cycles, only to reappear when it is time to ask people for their votes. The parties could take a lesson from the example of the Church.

My thinking has been influenced by the writing of Congolese theologian Ka Mana...his idea of "l'imaginaire des peuples d'Afrique." I think it corresponds with the social constructivist idea of "imagined community" which is not imaginary or a fiction...rather it refers to inner values, ethics, and morals that people hold in one sees one's place in the world in relation to others.

Anyway, Ka Mana has been writing for decades about the crisis of a political culture based on a self-centered indifference to the plight of others. Perhaps you are already familiar with his work?


Anonymous said...

It sims like the Majority of Congoles who are posting on this blog do not like to hear any good or positive news from their Country.this is not about KABILA but its about your country.they blame Rwanda and at the same time they are more comfortable praising Rwanda but when it comes to the DRC ,they sim to be suffering from a very severe shortage of patriotism.
Are you trying to tell the intire world that there is no middle class in Congo? Iast year I went to KIN ,Goma and Bukavu then Lubumbashi and in all those 3cities there is a crazy housing boom. and this is not some small 2 bedroom homes but 5,6 bedrooms modern European villas spreading like mushrooms in Goma and Bukavu . There is allso a vibrant business community doing all kind of import export business with Dubai,China...I am not a KABILA supporter nor a UDPS activist. I am a hard working Congoles immigrant and any positive news from my country makes me fill good.I am not trying to scare investors away from Congo just because I dislike KABILA or because me and CHICHI we come from the same ethnic 2011 the DRC economic growth was 6.8% and there is a double digit prediction for 2013. Yes the country stil have very long ways to go but after 2 decades of a catastrophic war ,the picture looks promising.

Anonymous said...

Sorry BLAISE I was addressing DISMARK.on the middle class subject.

Anonymous said...

@ Bismark
Could you send along info about this theologian? I’d love to read some of his works. While American, I’m fluent in French, Lingala, Swahili, and Spanish (and Hebrew, I’m part Jewish) and thus can read his works if they are in French.

@ Bruce

Good question about the middle class. My husband, who is American but grew up half of his life in Lumumbashi and Kalemie (he’s family are long time Methodist missionaries to the Congo going back 100 years) and the other half here in Florida (where we live), has been investing in the Congo for years. So, while this is by no means scientific, here’s what I’ve noticed about the emerging (and still fairly tiny) middle class from my travels to that city, Kinshasa, Mbandaka, Kisangani, Bunia, and Kalemie

-they are mostly small to medium sized business owners or professionals (mostly teachers and lawyers I’ve noticed). Most are involved in various kinds of trade and they tend to be entirely family-owned.

-they tend to own property- either their business location, flats, fairly large farms (10-50 acres)

-they tend to derive income from a variety of sources- business and farms mostly.

-they travel internationally, mostly for business, atleast three times a year.
-They all have bank accounts, cell phones, and nearly all have a used car and get motorbikes for their kids.

-They tend to all be evangelical Christians and are deeply committed to their faith though many seem to have been raised Catholic

-They tend to intermarry among ethnic groups which I notice is a mark of pride for them or something they always highlight when talking about their lives.

-They are deeply committed to their kids and the young folks in their extended families education. Given the influence of American evangelicals in their lives a big goal is sending their kids to American universities- or atleast the brightest ones.

-They can’t stand politicians and the lack of having a functioning state but do seem confident about the future. They often must give kickbacks to officials in order to conduct business and bitterly hate this and complain about it.

-They have a deep and abiding love for their broken country- must for its size, its many resources, the musical traditions, and the bounty that comes from its rich soils.

Again, this isn’t scientific and I think you’d be hardpressed to find actual studies of the emerging middle class in the Congo (primarily due, perhaps, to the fact that people prefer to study the violence, war, state collapse, etc) but this is from my small network of around 50-60 families I know there.

And I would add that this basic process of uplift is the path all middle classes take in all countries throughout history. As Congo’s economy stabilizes opportunities will grow and the class will expand and begin to coalesce around certain values, customs, norms, etc and build social capital to reproduce themselves that is distinct from the rest of the classes of the society.

Finally, I would argue that it is not entirely necessary for the political system in the Congo to be less predatory or more forward thinking to allow a middle class to emerge. Most of the middle classes, throughout history, emerged under autocratic regimes (kings and queens in the old days, junta’s in the modern era, one party rule, etc) so I don’t think its necessary to have an efficient, professional, political elite for this to occur.

It’s nice to have but not totally necessary.


Anonymous said...

Sorry one other thing: (my friends in the Congo do read this blog so I don't want to leave this out!!)

I also notice that they try, as best they can, to sustain instituitions in the community that help everyone- schools, churches,orphanages, community centers, clinics, etc- via fundraising and volunteering when they can.

This is a constant feature and it challenges and stretches them beyond belief because the need is so great and state so weak but they do this quite a bit.


Anonymous said...

The catholic church in Congo is a divided and allso corrupt institution and I don't see the reason why they should be given such responsibility .most Catholic Cathedrals ,schools...are in decay and under severe disrepair .the catholic church is also ethnically very divided and does not always speak with one voice.in2006 the church in Kinshasa endorsed JP Bemba and the Churches in the East endorsed KABILA ,in 2012 the same thing happened again and the church was divided between the Swahili east and the lingala west. By failing to bridge the east west divide that emerged with the 2006 election and taking sides instead,the Catholic proved to be irresponsible and they shall stay out of politics.

Anonymous said...

Ce blog est toujours aussi surréaliste.

A quand une image fidèle de la situation au Congo ?

1. Le Congo est pillé de fond en comble par des étrangers avec la complicité de Kabila
2. Cette situation a fait d'un des pays les plus riches en matières premières au monde le DERNIER aux indices de développement internationaux
3. Les Congolais ne supportant plus cette situation ont massivement rejeté Kabila et ont élu Etienne Tshisekedi président
4. Par la violence des armes Kabila maintien son régime de pillage en violentant le peuple Congolais
5. Tout le monde sait
6. La soit-disant communauté internationale s'accommode du viol de la population Congolaise, tant qu'un régime crapuleux lui garantit un accès gratuit aux ressources minières du Congo

Le reste c'est du vent.

Rich said...

Mel -

Great definition of the Congolese middle class.

I can only insist on what you said, they tend to be business owners and professionals.

That is very true and here although I would have teachers at the bottom, there are hopes there since public servants are likely to get some pay raise and that the education sector is likely to see some more money affected there by the central government in line with the millenium development goals on education.

Professionals count also army and police officers, they too are likely to get some pay rise in the coming legislature in line with the new law on the status of army and police officers.

Doctors are the other ones I wanted to mention since some of them are doing quite well working in both the private and public sector.

I also wanted to add the Congolese diaspora whose contribution to the economy and the overall Congolese society is very big.

One other thing is the multiplicator effect of the redistribution of wealth encouraged by Congolese solidarity. In my opinion, this is one of the things that get that country moving despite the political situation and even when all the classic indicators are said to be in red.

All this said, since we can agree on the quality of the Congolese middle class, I guess the next question will be to argue about the size of this middle class. The latest census was in 1984 and there are signs that the next one will be organised soon. Since many partners of the DRC are involved my hope is that standard questions are asked so that data on the categories we've mentionned here are collected.

I am likely to be involved in the next census and amongst other things, I have pencilled some of the things we said here down and will make sure they feature in one way or another in the census questionnaire.


blaise said...

@ Mel & Rich,
ty for that broad perspective of the middle class, very informative. As for the corruption, there was an interesting thread earlier about the whys congo revolution never took shape. One reason was that the middle class instead of banding together to resist corruption will pay the bribe. Maybe if they find a way to resist corruption together, they will thrive.
I wonder if a list of congolese's fortunes is available somewhere. I read that the son of Mpinga kasenda was doing very well for example.
@ anonym MARCH 24, 2012 9:37 PM,
the church is made of people, what they vote as they feel. Beside, according to the UN rapport, that massive vote from the East was quite coercive.
I still believe that the catholic church is the least corrupt functional institution in the country. Unless I'm mistaken, what we talk about big high schools, they are most likely catholic.
Maybe I'm wrong. My point wasn't to put the church in politic but to use it like a platform for social development since they have the brain and manpower regardless their tribal affiliation. As a body of people sharing the same basic ideals, it will be easy for them to connect and unify all those middle class across the country.

Anonymous said...

I would not leave out evangelicals, siassa reader. They are a growing force in Congo and, yes, have many emerging middle class adherents. Perhaps, like in South Korea, they will "band" together, say "enough", and demand more accountable government. Yes, Catholic Church divided. But, like pentacostals, this the ONLY thing Congolese people control themselves. What missing in Congo is a economic vision. What do we want to be in world? Many plans in Congo but no overarching vision. Just produce minerals and coffee? Is that all we can do? I think we need a vision and plans to match the vision. Vision would allow for "coherence" and ensure infrastructure policy, macro policy, educational policy, and trade policy all are coordinated and part of holistic approach.

Also, for smart Congolese, now a good time to invest building material factories (brick, tile, plaster, paint, etc) due to property growth. Even poor civil servant could see promise in this type of investment?- Marie

Anonymous said...

Yes, coherence is the bright topline for me in this thread.

Imagine this problem: what if a local investor started a poultry hatchery and wanted to distribute newborn chicks far and wide in the Congo. How would this work?

It may not be the sexiest business in the world but given the very real protein deficiency in the vast bulk of the Congolese’s diet and the fact that a grown chicken is quite a productive asset for rural Congolese (they could sell the eggs, kill and sell the meat, etc) it meets both market demand and a social good right? It would also be highly profitable given I once purchased a full, frozen chicken in Kin for $6 dollars and Goma for $8- both of which were imports.

Well, just how exactly would one get chicks to the large and small markets spread out over the Congo’s land mass? Putting aside the management and technical skill needed to run such an enterprise, it would be nearly impossible to engage in national distribution with so critical a business. An investor could locate on the Congo River and use it as the main distribution system but once you get to Kisangani how do you get to Bunia? Goma? Kindu? Gemena? The dirt road between Kisangani and Bunia that barely functions? (i’ve traveled it and, trust me, both you and the chicks would likely die on the way). Then how would you get them to Kikwit? Lumumbashi?
My point here is that while the macroeconomics are surely improving economic policy in the Congo doesn’t seem to be coordinated with other plans- as Marie is suggesting- and, as a result, there isn’t really a “national” market in the Congo but regional ones cut off from one another.

I really do feel that the Congolese need to start thinking through connecting population/economic centers together as the priority and then connecting to mining areas. While I understand the rationale behind starting with Kinshasa and mining centers as a strategy, the geographic reality is that doing so creates inefficiencies and retards broad based economic growth that reaches down to the average Congolese- who have not made their lives around mining centers.

Perhaps the simple solution here is getting a bright business woman to run for President or something.

The Congo has been led by soldiers, generals, intellectuals, and civil servants and its plainly obvious this hasn’t helped create an environment where the people can grab hold of opportunities.

- D

(I realize my poultry business here could have a regionally-based distribution model vs my more “hub then spokes” model. Indeed, a regionally-based model is more efficient given the state of infrastructure in the Congo. I’m just using this as an example of the planning woes in the Congo- not creating an actual business plan. But its also true that multinationals- be they foriegn or African based-think "national distribution" and in the Congo this is patently not possible which means the type of investments the nation needs that creates jobs don't materialize)

blaise said...

@ anonym MARCH 25, 2012 12:40 PM,
that's exactly the point! Why should we wait for the politicians to make this happened? Why can't the business peoples and the civil society band together to define a vision( to borrow Marie ideas) and develop inter-communal exchange markets? As Mel stated : " is not entirely necessary for the political system in the Congo to be less predatory or more forward thinking to allow a middle class to emerge. Most of the middle classes, throughout history, emerged under autocratic regimes (kings and queens in the old days, junta’s in the modern era, one party rule, etc) so I don’t think its necessary to have an efficient, professional, political elite for this to occur. "
I just think that the easiest way to obtain the result, while considering the difficulties of the task , is to build from an existing platform which is proven to have the network in place (it's not a small task to mobilize 30,000 observers across the country, we have to recognize that).

Anonymous said...


The map I've seen for the proposed intermodal transportation plan is a combination of new and refurbished roads and railway lines along three corridors: (1) New road from Lubumbashi to Bukavu, Goma, Bunia, Isiro and over to Kisangani (2) Lubumbashi, Kolwezi, Kananga, Mbuji-Mayi, Kindu. Railway linking Lubumbashi, Kamina, Kananga. (3) Matadi, Kinshasa railway extended to Kenge and Kananga. I guess transit along the Kinshasa, Mbandaka, Kisangani corridor would still be by water.

@ Mel, Most of Ka Mana's work is in French, but at least one book has been translated into English and is available on Amazon.


Anonymous said...

that's a good idea, blaise.

now, i do want to take some exception to mel's contention about the conditions of a middle class emerging. it is true that happened. but, the difference i think is that the elites- while autocratic- were fairly committed to building the state and thus ensuring the conditions necessary for a middle class to take root.

take elizabethan england as an example. liz the 1st was no fool. while the country was beset with the increasing divisions over the "true faith" and, like the congo, there were foreign powers who either denied her legitimacy (the vatican) or coveted her throne via hand in marriage (france, spain, austria) or war (spain), elizabeth continued the state consolidation policies of her father (Henry VIII). that meant increasing trade, building roads, streamlining the administration, hiring skilled bureaucrats, and revitalizing the privy council as an institution to both provide advice and balance ambitious (and treacherous) nobles against each other to check their ability to conspire against her.

(from my understanding, the Luba Kingdom employed a similiar council- though mostly to prevent the succession crises' that beset other kingdoms like the Kongo.)

the result? well, the english middle classes expanded given the more favorable (and more peaceful) environment. now, they also mostly became puritans and helped plunge england into a civil war! but, the point here is that elizabeth I was committed to building a strong state to help her people (and thus secure her own throne) and ward off england's enemies (internal and external).

we don't have any of this foresight in the Congo.

the elite either do not want to build a strong state, don't know how, or just can't because the corruption/patronage network is too powerful to overcome.

one can be autocratic and still be efficient (Singapore, China, Rwanda, the various Prussian states, etc). well, in the Congo, we have the peculiar challenge of autocracy coupled with both incompetence and a patronage system that eats away at the state and what competence it does have.

a sign of this challenge? if i am correct, the total number of state employees is nearly 900,000 people. well, in america its twice that but our economy is nearly 500 times as large as are our government receipts.

there is no reason, whatsoever, for so large a public servant bill that- to add to the problem-is concentrated in kinshasa. that is expressly a result of patronage: patrons (senior officials) take on clients (family members, tribal/ethnic compatriots seeking jobs or contracts) who take on still more clients and the glorious result is a CRAP TON of corruption.

a more efficient state would reduce salaries, lay off folks, redistribute folks to the provinces and districts, and reallocate manpower to the security and justice sectors. but as long as we have the "we need to eat too" problem in the congo, the conditions to allow a broader middle class to emerge will continue to be so restricted.

so, a middle class can emerge in these conditions. but it's going to be a long slog if this basic situation doesn't change.

that's why i just hold out hope that kabila will, as we said last week, 'see the light', and finally try to push some VERY HARD reforms to the "we need to eat too" system he presides over.

or, the international community begins to demand it in exchange for money for the provincial elections.

kabila has not consolidated his rule just yet given the provincial elections will determine the make up of the senate. well, if the IC demands a better and more transparent election it is possible that the opposition- if it can get its act together- could capture the upper house of the Senate.

and if that happens we have a real game changer since they will be able to thwart kabila's authority and provide a "check" to the power of the executive.

we shall see...


Anonymous said...


"The Crown Towers, the Congo Futur Shopping Mall, Paradise and Riverside complexes belong to the Tajideen family, which is close to Kabila and partly"

well thats a big step towards achieving the MDGs. At least poverty reduction has got a boost.


Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I'm green of envy of the Senegalese...If only Kabila were Wade...

Anan said: "The current climate is rampant with corruption and self interest. Even any well intentioned plans for advancement are hindered by the over arching political realities. I wonder if we are seeing the modern face of an essentially kleptocratic regime."

Could not agree more with this candid assessment. The images of Kinshasa,Lubumbashi are improving…Infrastructure development…bla, bla, bla.

The Kabila regime is like this father whose kids are starving, are not going to school, are sick but who’s only concerned with refurbishing his living room to impress visitors. Even so, he’ll readily borrow 1000$ to buy sofas which cost only 400$ and pocket the balance…

A small digresson: have you noted how, as I once remarked, silent castigators of "violence-inciting statement" (Ref. 6 Nov. 2011) have gone these days in the face of ACTUAL VIOLENCE (Ref. latest UN report)...Interesting to note the stark contrast between universal condemnation vs. universal silence...

Anyway, thanks and congrats to all the 'Siasans', Jason, Rich, Mel, Anan and others, for your very interesting blogs over the last few weeks...even though I'd place few words of caution on Jason's theory on why Limete did not turn Tahir Square, or on some of Mel's comments...


Anonymous said...

Great debate. Jose you are right on the money on your analysis of the current situation. I am perplexed and frustrated at the slow progress that the DRC is making. I don't see any major reforms being taken, I don't see any coherent plan being put in place and communicated to the population but on one side there is an achievement of a certain macro-economic stability.... I think this contrast lies in the people who are leading the country. The president has no education so master plan and things of that nature I think he has no idea about those, the last 2 prime ministers had a strong marxist/nationalist history both members of the PALU, this makes them dangerous in my opinion because they are mostly anti-foreign investments and they think they know it all. The area where this administration has had a relative success is in its handling of monetary policy and control of inflation (I am mostly comparing to the 1980 and 1990) The architect of this stable environment is the Head of the Central bank a US educated engineer and MBA from LSU, he has worked for Citibank and has headed the Central Bank of Congo for the past 12 years or so..... Although he is from Katanga I think that Kabila should appoint him as Prime Minister with full power.....this could be a game changer.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting analyses posted here.
I am glad to hear that Kin is regaining her name of "La Belle". Although many areas are probably still "la Poubelle". Let hope that the whole city will become again a beautiful city. When you actually listen to the Ads of: "Cite du Fleuve" they predict that Kinshasa in years to come will be the Biggest City in Africa (15 millions people) after Cairo. Hopefully the city will be able to manage this predicted growth. For many years the city is crying out for an Efficient Waste Management Company. May be one of the "Elite" or "Middle Class" mentioned here will jump on that. It will help the City tremendously.

My take on all other subjects discussed here is as follow: The Congolese Thinkers, leaders, decision-makers, entrepreneurs, government, opposition, Diaspora need to sit down and put together a Vision 2030 manifest and outlined some solid vision and a roadmap to transform the whole country to a solid and vibrant economy. Personally I believe that a solid Decentralization and selection of Good Governors for Each province will be important to implement this vision. Key thing, focus on the development of Infrastructure (Roads, Water, Electricity, Telecom, Air Transportation and Water Transportation). Heavily invest in the Education and launch Institutes of Technology in all Key Cities. Preach Entrepreneurship in every class of the Country. All those kids on the streets (Chege or today 'Kulanu' or ex-rebels in the East) screaming out for Jobs, train them and send them out there to build the infrastructure, Either by launching an Army Corps of Engineers and Navy Construction Units or Promote the Launch of reliable Construction Companies in Each City of the country that will employ all that youth and make their energy in a good use.
A complete Infrastructure Development Effort for the DRC is big effort and will require the collaboration of each and everybody in DRC. It can be as simple as launching cooperatives to start clearing and grabbing and grading earth road in their villages, cities, provinces and the whole country to eventually having reliable InterProvince and Local Infrastructure Systems. People need to stop looking at Kinshasa as the only place where they will get a solution to their problem. The whole country MUST start creating a mentality of Problem Solving and less of Problem-Whining and Complaining.
Starting from the local villages and growing to the whole country. Combining that effort with a powerful vision, trust-worthy leaders and Entrepreneurs, I give you 20 years, the DRC will be a completely different place. I believe it will happen! Many people are working behind the scenes to make it happen and they are genuine people who truly care about the DRC. I believe those are the people who will make a difference.

Zeeshan Haider said...

can any one tell me please the cost of live of employer offer me a job of 2500$,is it ok to fulfill my basic needs like accommodation,food and utility charges and can i save something from this amount.i am a single female from India, aged 29 years. most probably i will take off with in a next week for Kinshasa.please any one tell me a rent of average single room apartment or house whatever.if i cook food myself then is there any possibility to save some money from my monthly salary which will be 2500$. i will really appreciate if u guys help me. Thank you.

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Eagle Pointe Properties said...

Excellent dialogue and very great information from all, thanks.
I am one of those Americans that is planning on building American style homes in the Kinshasa area. Does anyone know of a knowledgable real estate agent that can assist me? Thanks. Keith

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