2014 - 2015
2015 will mark fifty years since Mobutu took control of Congo. What he left after 31 years of unshared reign is a bloodless and bankrupted country. How come the potentially richest country in Africa fell into such a financial dismay, with all the consequences leading to actual ongoing internecine wars? The project is to find the answers by questioning and documenting Mobutu’s prestige policy, echoing his unqualified desire to build a strong Congolese nation through pride. A desire still plaguing the Congolese national debt today.
In the early 1970s, President Mobutu starts shaping the identity of “his” Zaire. His vision involves mammoth constructions, gigantic and unrealistic energy projects and hollow industrial plans. These are called The White Elephants: utopian and overly costly projects with no tomorrow.
Energy programs, such as Inga’s hydropower plants, could have brought real sustained development in Congo. Financed by the resources honey pot and international monetary institutions, which have provided Mobutu with billions, Inga I and Inga II are launched at the beginning of the seventies. Panglossian perspectives leave the hydropower plants with many expectations, but no maintenance nor technical support. The dam supposed to tame Congo River is just decaying metal machinery bringing the Democratic Republic of Congo very little power and dismal debts.
The Maluku smelter follows a similar path. The smelter is build upstream of the Congo River and is part of Mobutu’s vision to develop a wide industrial area. All in all, the smelter operates five years at only 10 per cent of its capacities. 300 million USD was invested, for a result that never benefited the Congolese economy, on the contrary.
Beyond energetic and industrial projects, Mobutu works on more personal and megalomaniac’s intentions. He builds himself a small version of Versailles in his hometown of Gbadolite, way up north in the province of Equateur. This is probably the most striking embodiment of his vision of an “African village”. By mid-1980s, nothing is missing in the town: 24/7 electricity, running water, good roads and an international airport. But his “jungle Versailles” signs a decadent and wasted era.
If Mobutu’s quest to bring Zaire in the international spotlights while giving all his people a strong identity could be one approach of his legacy, one should not forget the costs of a wasteful and dangerous policy, led by a man blinded by his own vision.