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State Capacity Blogging


July 30, 2006

Here’s my State Capacity post of the week (just to continue the trend.)

From Today’s Washington Post:

Some in Congo Long for the Order Of Late Dictator

Yes, folks, we’re talking Mobuto Sese Seko. Who ever thought you would long for the man who invented the kleptocratic state and his leopard-skinned chapeau?
He brought State Capacity, of course!

On the eve of the first multiparty balloting here since 1960, nostalgia was running high for a man who, though corrupt and brutal, kept united a country that has experienced little but mayhem since he was driven from power in 1997….
… many Congolese say they crave a return to the elder Mobutu’s proud, nationalist style.
“Under President Mobutu, people lived in peace,” Nzanga Mobutu said during an interview at a family mansion overlooking the Congo River. “People lived in security.”

Once again, here you have it–he may have been a sonofabitch, but he was our sonofabitch–wait, wrong dictator argument, i mean, he may have been a sonofabitch, but he brought state capacity.

Mobutu, a former army officer who took power in a 1965 coup, was one of Africa’s archetypal Big Men, putting his image on currency, on pictures in public buildings and on billboards across the country. The evening news began with images of him descending, god-like, through the clouds. And he changed his name to an eight-word phrase meaning “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”

He looted, by various estimates, billions of dollars in government revenue from a country whose population remained mostly poor, helping give rise to the term “kleptocracy.” He so feared coups that he built few roads that might assist advancing armies, leaving a country the size of the eastern United States with only 300 miles of mostly battered pavement. And he sharply limited political debate, allowing for most of his reign only a single party — his own Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution.

“During the Mobutu regime, we didn’t have freedom of speech,” said Katunda Mubalu, 48, who peddles rare memorabilia of the late president — some currency, military medals and a book featuring Mobutu on the cover — at a Kinshasa market. “He didn’t want the country to be developed.”

Yet what came after, voters say, was worse in almost every way.

After Mobutu’s fall, the country endured years of devastating wars under both Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001, and Joseph Kabila, who signed a peace deal the following year. But during the strife, foreign governments and investors divvied up much of Congo’s vast mineral wealth. Deaths from the years of instability were estimated at 4 million, with most coming from easily preventable diseases and famine.

The United Nations has a 17,500-member force in Congo, the largest peacekeeping operation in the world. In advance of the vote, U.N. tanks drove through Kinshasa while Congo’s own military was confined to barracks.

Makes you long for the good old days of State Capacity, eh?

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.