Saturday, February 12, 2011

Democratic Republic of Congo - Better to be ruled by a bad tyrant than be a bad democracy?

A great many African nations gained freedom from colonial rule around 1960 and started out with hopes and dreams of a glorious free era, with democracy. But what followed was bloodshed and violence unprecedented perhaps even in their long history of slavery or colonial rule and apartheid. What caused this violence and what are the political lessons from it—lessons that can lead us to solutions? Did African people fail at democracy or has democracy failed them?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo—the Most Violent Place on Planet Earth
It may come as a surprise to some that the most violent place on planet Earth is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, yet this has been so since about 1998 post the overthrow of a dictator in a quest for democracy. The civil war which then started has been proclaimed the deadliest conflict since World War II, with over 5 million deaths.

Why then is Congo not always in the news?
Why is it not in the limelight, why isn’t everyone thinking and talking about it? Maybe because we don’t know whom to blame! It is always easier when a dictator is in the seat of power, like in Zimbabwe or Sudan, as we can lay the entire blame on him. We also have the quick fix solution—bring in democracy and all the problems will solve themselves. But we already condoned the overthrow of a dictator in Congo and nearly a decade after that (2006), democracy too has been ushered in. Yet violence has only escalated and no solution seems to be in sight.
In retrospect, Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the nation for 30 years, did not develop the country as expected—but he only led it to stagnation, not complete ruin. That came only with the ethnically-inspired power struggles between different rebel factions after he was overthrown to establish a democratic republic.
As per the UN reports, the government troops are involved in the worst forms of violence, especially sexual violence. The common people themselves engage in widespread crime and brutalities against each other. Even the UN troops allegedly have been involved in gold and arms trafficking. This seems a textbook example to prove Plato’s theory that a bad tyrant is far better than a bad democracy, as under the former only one person is responsible for bad deeds whereas under the latter all the people are now responsible for such deeds.
Congo has descended into lawlessness and is on a suicidal path. It was already suffering from weak leadership under Joseph Kabila, whose main claim to the "democratic throne" has been that he is the son of the slain rebel leader Laurent Desire Kabila. The nation has suffered even more in the wake of democratic reforms that seem to have further weakened the state authority. The assembly and legislature are merely paper-pushing entities meant to keep the international forces happy but having no relevance or meaning in reality. Congo is without hope on the current path.