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date: 03 March 2021

Congo-Kinshasa: The Military in the State-Building Processlocked

  • Emizet F. KisanganiEmizet F. KisanganiDepartment of Political Science, Kansas State University

Summary

The fundamental challenge facing social engineers is to project authority. State building is a process that establishes political order over time. As a top-down strategy, it emerges as an antidote to state collapse. The success of a state is in its capacity not only to provide national security while controlling the means of violence, but also to supply other public goods funded through direct taxes on citizens, who are supposed to make their rulers accountable. The absence of such state capacity perhaps explains the unending political crisis that plagues many post-colonial states, because they tend to control populations rather than territories. Although some efforts have been made toward state building, the state remains fragile in many post-colonial states. Territorial control is limited, and private taxation continues. Local tensions based on ethnic affinities rather than national allegiance remains intense. The analysis of Congo-Kinshasa illustrates these assertions by contrasting three successive periods: the Congo Free State (1885–1908), the Belgian Congo (1908–1959), and the post-colonial period (1960–2019). Of these three periods, only the second entity was able to professionalize the military for state-building purposes. The emphasis on this top down approach in state building overlooks other configurations that postcolonial state builders should contemplate. Societies have historically compensated for the failure or absence of statehood through a number of mechanisms that include, among others, councils of elders and secret societies that may not be difficult to reconcile with the demands of the modern state. The search for this bottom-up approach to state building perhaps explains so many internal conflicts in most post-colonial states as marginalized groups intend to insert themselves into the political system that has excluded them from power.

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