Mayamba Thierry NLANDU

Professor of English Literature at the University of Kinshasa (Congo) * 

Kinshasa: When Illiterate and Literate Move Beyond Political Democracy

The future of the Congo may well rest on how it resolves the question of the relation of knowledge to politics. This question, perhaps a commonplace in all political societies takes a particular, and particularly important form, in a nation like Congo, where there is a great gulf between the learned and unlearned, the illiterate and literate. A social formation that Europeans had to address, before the advent of democracy must be faced by Congo in the age of democratic aspirations. The European example of quite partial success under less complex circumstances offers little guidance, and the people of Congo must find their own solution.

One cannot begin this inquiry unless the arrogance sustained by the possession of an academic degree is checked, for the focus of any solution must be on the literate and illiterate’s will to learn from each other. Out of that mutuality, if it can be achieved, there must emerge a shared desire to build up a democratic culture rooted in ethical values that can sustain that culture, avoiding the corruption and distortions of the past. My own readiness to address these questions derives from the experience I have gone through in contact with the suffering illiterate people in Congo. It quenched my academic egoism and taught me humility before the determination to prevail that I discovered among those in whose company I found myself.

1. Re-considering the Illiterate and Literate Relations

Intellectuals in Kinshasa have monopolised the debate on the socio-political transformation of Congolese society. So far the style of dealing with these issues remained a dichotomising one: literate in power because they possess knowledge, illiterate need of power because they "lack" knowledge. Constantly despised the illiterate does not cherish the notion of equality. In this context, egoistic intellectuals craving for power over the illiterate have constantly prevented the majority of the population from relying in itself.

Congolese intellectuals today are in a very peculiar situation. Many among them collaborated with the former dictatorial regime having played roles legitimising the regime’s exploitation and brutality. As a social group and they now feel somehow rejected by the population. Many among them seem to have learnt from their errors and want to be an integral part of the socio-political transformation of this society. These at last understand that in their speeches and actions to remake the distorted Congolese society they must align with the illiterate.

In their quest for more participation, illiterate people in Congo argue that while they cannot read nor write, no one should assume that they cannot see, hear, feel, nor speak. But their voices speak the wrong language. The debate on the transformation of the state takes place in a language mastered by the educated few, that is, French.

When the intellectual today leaves the hills of his university milieu and descends to the shanties and the "Cité," he meets the illiterate and listens to his or her perception of the socio-political life and his strategies to reshape it. He discovers the ordinary man and woman as active agents of their socio-political existence.

The first step of this encounter between the illiterate and the literate is through exercises of social analysis during which they both conjugate three essential verbs, namely, "to see, to judge and to act." But their relation to these verbs is different. Contrary to the intellectual who has a tendency to see only with his mind, the illiterate offers the advantage to see with both his body and his mind. He sees with his brain, his eyes, his belly, his ears, his nose, etc.! "Namoni," in lingala, the language spoken in the area of Kinshasa means to see with all your senses. This engagement must expand the vision of the intellectual, the powerful to humanise and moralise it. Together the illiterate and the literate are now able to see that the main problem in Kinshasa and in Congo is not economical, but ethical and political.

In Congo the world of citizens and the world of political decision-makers have moved apart from one another. A whole series of signs indicates the disturbed nature of the relationships between citizens and politics, between the population and those who govern. The relation has suffered from separatist tendencies: people in power treating the other as objects to be explored, exploited and controlled. In total arrogance these enlightened political leaders have cut off the relational cord with the source of political legitimacy, ignoring the very fact that the others are human beings, actors in their right. What ensues from this is a mood of uncertainty, confusion, and mistrust amongst citizens. It has the feeling of an alien world of political decision-makers separate from people’s needs.

People in Congo are sick and tired with the so-called powerful African leader who imprisons a whole community of human souls for his personal benefit and that of his foreign masters. These leaders who use national sovereignty to deprive mass of citizens of their fundamental human rights no longer have a claim or place in the heart of this society. The economic and political systems have lost legitimacy. Nobody believes in any old or new brand of leadership that alone failed or that will in the future be able to spur economic growth and development. The loss of confidence in a progress and happiness promised by those in power manifests itself in the frustration and anger of the jobless literate and hungry illiterate.

The solution to the crisis is not to reduce the bread price nor to fill the market with unsold products from Western or American economies. People refuse to be reduced to consumers of excessive goods produced by those who have lost any sense of "how much is enough." Their greed has impoverished the world. "Colonisation, Globalisation, Co-operation, Technical Assistance, Aid-project, Aid-program, modernity" are all illusions sold to Congolese people with the complicity of their intellectual sons and daughters.

In spite of all this, the present process that politically empowers the voiceless is irreversible. People in Congo are progressively discovering that they can lead a happier life with less consumption. However they can not lead a happier life with political systems that have no respect for human beings in spite of their claimed economical performance and adherence to the ideas of democratisation.

At times,, the literate and the illiterate together demonstrate how weak is the dictatorial system that reduces men and women to objects. Using a powerful image they compare the system to a reversed triangle. Without pillars this triangle cannot stand in position. It falls down. Power that is not at people's service is as fragile as this triangle. It stands in position simply because there are people in the system who are its conscious or unconscious pillars and who support it. These pillars are Congolese people’s individual fears and passivity, the Church and its opium religion, the army and its repressive methods, money and corruption, the educational system that enslaves people. Remove the pillars, or to use Ghandi’s words "turn against rulers and withdraw" and the system crumbles down because "there is something like political starvation." Indeed this political system like any oppressive one depends ultimately on the submission of Congolese people and institutions. These are moments of such insight—and they are increasing.

These shared moments of enlightenment progressively and steadily shape the collective mind of this society. People can determine and understand the forces at work that prevent them from relying on themselves. Thanks to their capacity to see, feel, and touch their realities, people can efficiently re-read their past, shape their present, and anticipate their future.

Congolese people thought that they could break free of their masters in the so-called independence movements. Independent, they witnessed the betrayal of those among them to whom the White masters had mirrored a better status. Neo-colonised they are the beneficiaries of a humiliating co-operation and assistance that reduces them to receiver. Now they realise that such process of dehumanisation takes roots only among these people who accept it. In Congo a new citizenship is being reinvented. Here and there in the country, efforts in this direction are already under way. They explain the present resistance to any authoritarian regime and people's thirst for more than mere political democracy.

Therefore the first duty is to educate each other, literate and illiterate, to move out of this education that enslaves parents and children, men and women. They are all painfully learning to say no in a constructive way, that is, with alternatives in their hands. Now, throughout the country, people are saying "no." No, to a conception of power that does not place the human being at the core of its action. No, to an economy that reduces men and women to hands. No, to a civil war the victims of which will be innocent Congolese children. No, to monetary reforms that aim at filling the pockets of those who initiate them. No, to political solutions imposed from the outside and that refuse to consider the will of these people who suffered. No, to our individual and collective fears that prevent people from recovering the joys and pleasures of individual and collective freedom. No, to western partners whose actions' roots remain their permanent preoccupation for their selfish interests while promising us a bright new future. No, to a Church hierarchy that plays the role of diplomats instead of the one Christ assigned to them, that is, the role of prophets.

2. Re-thinking methods to bring about change

Facing these huge dictatorial forces at work in our society, the question of "how to cause change" depends on the small forces at work. People believe that like mosquitoes of the African tale they will soon counterbalance elephants. The conviction derives its force from the fact that they are no longer afraid of elephants. In addition, they refuse to imitate them and insist on using their own specific assets. Instead of directly 'moving outward' into activism, people feel this preliminary need to 'move inward' first. Before any action, people meditate and pray. They want to connect the personal with the collective, the small with the huge, the short term with the long term. The desire for peace inspires this creative interaction. In Congo people believe in Ghandi’s wisdom: "There is no way to peace but peace is the way."

This transformation predated the fall of Mobutu; indeed it helped cause it. Peace was the motivation of the now famous Christian demonstration of February, 16, 1992. Christians from different Churches, Catholic, Protestant, Kimbanguist, Healing Churches and men and women of good will, decided to face the soldiers and claim more democracy. On that day many among these civilians gave their lives for the restoration of peace and love in Congo.

After four years of laborious preparation during a dictatorial regime, Congolese people have assimilated non violent spirit and techniques to fight injustice and violence in this society. During these years the victims of the dictatorial regime realised that the solution to injustice was in their hands. Only the victims were able to break the vicious circle in which violence had imprisoned them. The only possible way for a positive change was to refuse using the same means as those of their oppressors. This obviously required the victims’ courage. To give one's life was and is still part of the commitment to a qualitative change of this society. Such a process requires patience. People are aware that they "cannot reach from the ground floor to the first floor in one jump." They have and are willing "to climb one rung at a time" (Ghandi).

3. Actors, Levels and Means of Transformation

The preceding analysis leaves no doubt about the actors for political changes in Congo, the starting point of this constructing process of change, and the means of transformation. Politicians seem unable to offer credible solutions. It is the task of literate and illiterate responsible citizens to think and to explore other approaches. It is their duty to become more vocal about reasonable suggestions for a society more just, equal, free, and more sustainable. In short more human.

People have decided to live up their responsibility as citizens, no matter how modest the size of their contribution. Many continue to dedicate themselves to the struggle for a democratic Congo. They dream of a different Congo endowed with a political system gentle to its inhabitants. By trial and error, learning from each other, Congolese people are searching for love, justice and peace. This project derives its inspiration from Christian principles. It is a lifelong project that touches all aspects of Congolese people's human existence and increases their awareness of their individual and communal limitations.

In this context social and political action becomes a sacred task. It answers the call to be creator with God of a society more whole and more humane. In this perspective social action and political activism become serious tasks. That is why they require spiritual death and personal asceticism, i.e., constant mindfulness and self-transformation. Such is the vision that inspires the present action and preserves the actors from cynicism, for "where the vision disappears, the people go to ruin" (D. Sölle).

The stress in the present social and political action is on the simultaneity of social action and personal change. It is in the very process of social commitment that a change occurs. Change is not either individual or collective but both simultaneously.

3. a. Actors: Governors and Governed Together

It is not superfluous to insist on the necessity for governors to take up the challenge to rethink political and economic power in this rapidly changing social environment. In the context of Congo, it is important to question the why's of the governors' ways of thinking and acting. All instances where the relation to power suffers from a complex of superiority must make particular efforts. The plea is to avoid new confrontations. People want to initiate processes of reflection and action. The purpose is to create a context in which both the governed and the governors set out together in a common search for rethinking power for the service of human beings to restore human dignity. This is probably the only liberating process for both the ruled and the rulers. Obviously it is not an easy task.

Restoring the balance between the governed and the governors is not primarily a matter of inventing new political systems to replace old ones, but of restoring a relationship. It is a matter of abandoning the destructive relation where those in power see themselves as subjects and the governed as objects. This aims at creating a relationship of 'actors,' partners who exchange, who do not take without giving. There is ultimately a quest for a balance between each political and economic decision to intervene in Congo and the question (followed by action): what do Congolese people get back for it?

3. b. Levels: Connecting the Personal to the Collective

Constructing processes of change in Congo will start at the very personal level of people's life histories. The best place to start is where each new generation acquires its moral anchoring: at home, in the family. It is within the nuclear family in the relationship between spouses, parents and children, boys and girls that values such as equality, justice, liberty, participation, etc., are patiently learned and practised. The father copes with the challenge of accepting his wife as his equal created by the same God he worships. His responsibility as the "chief" of the family does not grant him with rights over the other members of the family. Progressively, he learns that to be responsible means to be at the service of the members of his community. He is the head of the family because there is a family composed with many persons endowed with equal rights. If they refuse his authority he will be the head of nobody but himself!

At this level, people question power over the members of the family to introduce a relationship based on the respect of each of its members. Within the family, leadership gains another richer dimension to enable both personal and social transformations. People learn to go beyond male and female, son and daughter, chief and servant, parent and children divide. They engage in a shared process of discovering what male and female, son and daughter, parents and children, chief and servant, mean in their deepest sense for everyday life. What can function in the nuclear family will hopefully work at the level of the local community, the Church, the enterprise, the political sphere and the nation. The attempt is to diminish aggressivity and competitiveness in political life and to introduce more collaboration in finding solutions for society's problems.

Politics and policy-making in Congo ought to be re-invented in their role as creators of society’s order. The political crisis in Congo finds its origin in the way it is usually practised, that is, 'outward oriented.' The political arena in Congo is strongly competitive, geared towards power and control. Sometimes if not often, it does not even try to hide disparities between discourse and practice. It seeks recognition through material successes. To be politically in power is the only mean to have access to material wealth and social prestige.

Rethinking politics requires not only the creation of space in the political field for 'inward oriented' approaches but the interconnection of the two. It invites to deal with problems in society by taking a relational approach besides making rules. It implies connecting issues about democracy, economic growth to ethical questions. In Congolese people’s eyes, the most crucial political question in this country is anthropological. Politically and economically Congolese can settle the majority of the big problems their society is facing. Housing, hunger, violence, unemployment, corruption, tribalism are all human created problems that people can solve. What is blocking the solution is a deficit of meaning and of love.

To recognise people as subjects will probably be the starting point for a qualitative change that will enable all the members of this society to participate to its functioning and to assure its wealth. People in Congo are more pre-occupied with what constitutes their 'be-ing,' in one word, dignity. They worry about the meaning of their existence. More accent is on ethical values as ways to re-invent or re-establish the disrupted family and national community.

In face of democratically uncontrolled forces, the fundamental question in most families and in the country is: how to retain people’s dignity. The search for an answer to this fundamental question explains people's present will to question the traditional customs that are detrimental to the female, the children, the servants, or to subordinate people. Together illiterate and literate are painfully struggling against their need to conserve theses practices which confirm power positions and socio-economic status. This is possible if they submit their life to a profound mutation in thinking, in particular by putting complementary forces (mind and body, reason and intuition,...) on a horizontal rather than a vertical (hierarchical) line. Only then, through common struggle and suffering, they will be able to protect human dignity. This experience is vital for continuing together to face and deal with other forces that tend to separate members of the same family or nation.

In this perspective the challenge remains the ability to select the practises; to choose which parts of one's present way of life ought to be kept or not. For people whose ability has been seriously damaged by mental colonisation and development mimicry to cope with such a challenge is not an easy matter. To overcome their feeling of powerlessness, Congolese are discovering their strength in their specific qualities, particularly by joining hands.

3. c. Means of Transformation

Through educational activities illiterate and literate invite and encourage each other to become subjects and to strengthen their capacity to resist the evil that is the facade political democracy. They want to become creators of their space and opportunities. They must be able to induce themselves to be aware of the deeper reasons for the disparities created by themselves and by external forces between people, within Congolese society and among Congolese people. The need to combine changes in structures and personal lifestyle forms the core of the educational message directed at Congolese people.

This message concerns first the Christian communities of Congo. This is an extremely diverse target group for its knowledge about and attitude towards the human being. In this action a distinction is drawn between broadly based and in-depth activities, each of which corresponds to an individual target group and especially adapted methods. Although there is a theoretical distinction between these two educational strategies, this not at all implies that they are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the program’s aim is to achieve as much interchange as possible between the two levels.

Broadly based activity is accessible to the entire Congolese Christian community: parishes, schools, youth and adult organisations. The wide local basis of this broad base in Congo explains the present choice.

In-depth activity concerns specific target groups who are willing to penetrate the essence of political and economic issues such as democracy, democratic elections, non-violence, social analysis, etc., and at all those who want to experience political activism more permanently. It is at this level that the alliance with the Congolese of different milieus can take root. The in-depth activity invests a great deal of energy in the labour-intensive educational work on which it depends. After all, it is here that the community trains key figures and people with staying power.

In-depth initiatives include three day's evening sessions of two hours each or one day of six hours, conferences, radio and T.V. programs on civic education. Publications of pamphlets, cartoons, production of songs, and theatre complete this program. The principles organising all these activities are: the creation of neighbourhood, rationality, sensitivity, active participation and didactic of hope. They are creating space and opportunities for the Congolese subject (me) to be aware of problems raised by my claim for equality, justice, participation and liberty in present Congo.

4. Learning the Means to Become Democrats

The emergence of a new citizen and political culture in Congo starts with the family, at home where new generations acquire moral anchoring. For the sake of the future of this nation literate and illiterate are learning the social attitudes that will allow them to operate within the future Congolese democratic political framework. We witness throughout the country a real apprenticeship for citizenship and democratic values.

The material used are very simple and adapted. The one associated with the present paper is original. It takes its origin from the games of Congolese little girls playing on the ground. They usually draw figures on the ground and animate them creating narratives the contents of which vary from domestic problems to everyday life issues.

Inspired by these games the animator creates a set of coloured images that are regularly placed on a piece of cloth used as a screen. The images help to visualise the answers to questions previously asked by the animator. Questions are formulated to free the participants’ ability to speak. The debate takes place in Lingala the language spoken in Kinshasa. This sounds simple. Nevertheless one must keep in mind that we are dealing with a population deprived from the freedom of expressing itself openly during thirty-two years and for women it is even more. For these people to speak openly on political issues is an act of courage.

4. a. What is Democracy?

The discussion starts with an attempt to define what, in present Congo, people think "democracy" is. The animator does not expect the participants to give their definition of democracy but the definitions they hear in their neighbourhood. The exercise shows that although Congolese people belong to the same society their understanding of democracy differs depending on their social position and probably on what they expect from or loose because of democracy. A striking example is the reaction of a soldier who refuses to pay for his bus ticket: "You people are now lucky. When democracy will be over, you will see how we will treat you!" According to the soldier, democracy implies a loss of power. It is a temporary situation. Soon he will recover his position of power over the civilian.

Another definition of democracy is its association with disorder. To many people familiar with the dictatorial system, the liberalisation of speech accompanying the democratic movement has created a disorder in the society and within the families. Those concerned with power (men, fathers, church and political leaders, etc.) feel threatened. They conclude that democracy is dangerous because it leads the society to loose its power centre and its leading authority. The result is the political, economic and social turmoil noticed during this transitional period!

The next exercise invites the participants to give their definition of democracy. The answers range from the classical "government of the people for the people" to a system appreciated for its concern for values. People usually refer to values such as freedom, liberty of press, participation, equality, elections as means to choose the ruling people, etc. The aim of this second step is double. First it reveals people’s concern for democracy as a cultural and political system. Second it questions the participants’ definition of the concept "people." Very often in their attempts to define this concept they resort to general definition: ("People are members of the same nation; we are the people; people are citizens of a country.")

The above debate ends leading the participants to discover their place among the "people." You, he, she, and I are components of the reality "people." This is important for the participants who during thirty years have come to think about the State, Nation as an abstract notion for which they have no responsibilities. When people in Congo speak of the State, it is very often with charges to be assumed by those who are in power. They do not participate. They are just passive consumers of political interventions in their favour. It is to be hoped that one of the aim of this session is to come progressively out of this paternalistic system of government with a strong Father figure caring for his children! Do not forget that the President's name was the "Guide," the "Father" of the nation. The citizen's existence depended on the favours he was willing to grant them!

When the participants realise that "people" is nothing but the sum of individuals, the animator can then illustrate this reality using different images representing the members of the community. He deconstructs the notion of "people" on the screen. Participants then discover that the old man and woman, the young boy and girl, the newly born baby, constitute what we call "people."

At this level the animator very often comes across one major problem. People do not accept the newly born baby as part of the reality "people." The argument is that the newly born baby is not responsible and cannot express itself. So for the participants to be part of the "people" one must be responsible and be able to express his opinion. Such is not the case for the newly born baby. Even for Congolese Christians it takes time to accept that the baby is also part of the reality "people."


4. b. The Quest for Equality Within the Family

The debate on what people consider the first pillar of democracy, that is, the notion of equality starts with the representation of three types of families existing in Congolese society. On the screen the animator shows the first family. The father, the mother, the child and what people here call the "civil society," (meaning a member of the large family living in the nuclear family) form this first unit. The member of the ‘civil society’ can be a parent, a nephew or a niece, etc. The animator pays attention to put the father in a position of superiority on top of the family pyramid.

The second family represents the mother on top of the pyramid. This is the family where the woman has gained in power because economically stronger than her husband.

The third family is the one where all the members of the family are on the same horizontal level suggesting the relationship of equality existing between the different members of the family.

The debate that follows is very rich. For, it raises issues on the incompatibility of the value of equality and the idea of the "chief" of the family as experienced by man in the paternalistic Congolese society. The discussion becomes even heated when it comes to consider the situation in the second family where man looses his empowering position. For male participants the second family is unacceptable while they consider the first normal, tracing its origin back to African tradition and to the Bible! Even female participants will agree on man's superiority accepting a traditional custom that is detrimental to the female being. Their biased understanding of the Bible will help male participants to condemn the so-called heresy of the second family type.

The allusion to the third kind of family widens the discussion and questions the received cultural and biblical dogmas. Usually people consider the third type ideal. It is a particular state that is rare. Some people associate it with the conditions of an ideal Christian family. Many affirm that such a family does not exist. Others claim that it exists. They are people living this equalitarian relationship as a reality. Behind this debate lies the issues of authority and responsibilities. Who is the "chief" of the family in this case? Who commands in such a family?

In their attempt to answer these questions the participants come progressively to wish that their families should be built on the model of the third family. Indeed even traditionally man had no power over his wife. As to the Bible it is even balanced on this subject. On one hand it asks women to obey their husbands; on the other hand the same Bible invites men to love their wives. We all know that love is more difficult to achieve than obedience. This debate leads to a richer understanding of the notion of power and authority.

Compared to the first family the third is labelled democratic because it faces the forces of hierarchy. Here the partners do not obey because of fear of the "chief" but because they love him and he reciprocates through the services he renders to the family. The father here is the servant of the family and no longer a dictator. Male participants reach this understanding when they meet the same situation in the second type of family. Women in this family are in power. They repeat exactly the same type of power that men claim to be close to the African tradition and to the Bible. Men's reaction expresses their desire to overcome the feeling of powerlessness they unwillingly experience in such a family.

The participants conclude that authority does not exclude service. African tradition offers the woman to her husband not as a servant but as a partner. The dowry does not give the husband the right to use and abuse his wife. On the contrary it was a means of acknowledging one's gratefulness to the family that educated the person one has chosen to become the mother of his children. What is taking place in the greedy modern society does not take its roots in any African tradition. In addition the participants who build their arguments on the Bible realise that they are wrong. Indeed the Bible, in the Genesis, speaks of man and woman created equals by the same God.

As to the notion of responsibility in an egalitarian family, the participants understand it finally as a shared responsibility. It should no longer be a matter of who commands and who obey, but a question of how the members of the family share the different tasks. In this context there should no longer be works for men and young boys, and tasks for women and young girls.

At this level of the discussion those who cannot read but can speak raise the question related to the assignment of roles to men and to women. They naturally associate this issue with that of the hierarchy of appreciation introduced by this conventional division of tasks. If the academician pays attention he can even hear them recognise that this division of tasks was more of a convention, an arrangement agreed upon, than imposed by man only. Both men and women seize this opportunity to question their mutual attitudes. What is in women's attitudes that makes them inclined to admit this tasks division? Why did men impose such a hierarchy of appreciation of social roles? They do not find answers to these questions but at least they are ready to discuss them.

4. c. From the Family to the State

The extrapolation of the debate from the family to the state enlightens the type of power ruling the country. The head of the nation strangely resembles the paternalistic figure of the first family. People realise that he repeats the same type of power over people. The family was and still is for many leaders the best place where they are consciously or not trained to exercise an authoritarian type of power. Coming from a family that praises authoritarianism they cannot but apply it on the top of the state.

On the screen people use to represent the chief of the state on the top of the country as if he were marching on the people he is ruling. This attitude explains why he exploits them and why he sticks to power. The country is not a burden to him. He becomes the heavy load imposed on the shoulders of all the nation. Consequently if one wants to change this perception of power the starting point will obviously be the family.

The shift from the family to the state opens people's eyes on the plurality of their society. It is true that nobody asked to be born in a given family. People also realise that nobody chose to belong to a specific tribe or ethny. It is the sum of these different families, tribes or ethnies that constitutes the nation called Congo. This moment of the debate is crucial because it helps to question tribal or ethnic presumptions. The present fierce ethnic divisions and conflicts are foreign to their cultures. Its goal is to divide, weaken and scatter Congolese people’s resistance. Indeed it participates to a very old principle praised by those who crave for power over people: "divide et impera." To resist this permanent threat of destabilisation the participants learn to focus on the richness represented by the variety of their ethnies. This plurality is a guarantee for a future strong democratic society characterised by tolerance and respect for each other.

This positive perception of the tribes and ethnies will help in the building of a democratic system that can rely on them rather than be afraid of them. The tribe must become the locus where one builds and expresses his civil commitment. The unity of the tribe is the result of its ability to bring together individuals from different backgrounds although sharing the same language and culture. The nation can learn from the tribe's ability to encourage these individuals to work together, to build the tribe and foster mutual respect and tolerance. If this spirit of tolerance and reconciliation help to solve conflicts within the tribe, it should also be able to put together the different tribes that form the nation. It is time for Congolese people to consider the various tribes existing in this country as the constituent communities fulfilling specific tasks that cannot be removed to higher levels. It is no longer true that the state government should go on seeking to curse the tribe and replace it?

Such an understanding of the tribe is now possible. For in the present context people constantly resort to tribes not as opposed forces but as a locus where they feel protected against the present man-made political and economic disaster. It is here that during these hard times, people feel their basic needs assured through a system of solidarity the formal state has failed to offer. The tribes cease to be the source of conflicts to become the many-coloured flowers of the national garden. It is possible to appreciate them for what they can offer, namely, diversity and cross-fertilisation. Tribes guarantee a zone within which individuals define their lives through free exchange and choice; a zone within which people recognise the distinctive contributions of individuals to the community.

The above perception may seem utopian to many. However I believe that in the acceptance of the different tribes lays the best hope for the emergence of a constructive Congolese multi-ethnic community. This one will deal concertedly with matters of general national concern. It will take care of conflicts, violations of basic rights, environmental degradation, and the extreme material depravity that stunts the bodies, minds and spirits of Congolese people. The communautarian concern that nowadays begins with each Congolese individual, families, and tribes will rise inexorably to the long-imagined community of Congolese people.

4. d. Determining the Duties of the "Father" Figure

The father in the family has the responsibility to the greatest extent possible to provide for himself and the members of his family the material and moral well-being. On the screen this gives a panoramic view of needs that range from food, housing, transport, education, information, leisure, health care, clothing, spiritual attention, etc. The evaluation of the father's ability to fulfil his duties result in a series of negative arrows that conclude to the irresponsibility of the father and his incapability to assume his function. This is true for the father within the family and for the President who pretends to assume the role of the father of the state.

The participants very often experience this moment of evaluation as a microcosmic re-enactment of the debate that took place during two years at the National Conference. During the session and by means of a tree imagery, people become aware of the disaster in which the father of the nation has plunged the whole community. On the screen the first tree represents people’s very present socio-political and economic situation. Here all the signs are negative. The tree is lifeless because it is dry. The second tree is what the participants call the tree of life. It stands for their utopian society, a world as green as the tree and ready to bear fruits.

When it comes to what people have to do with the dry tree, very often the participants start reacting violently and decide to burn it and forget it. However, when they realise that the tree represents the country, their attitude changes. It becomes more positive. They cannot burn the whole country. Then they think of nourishing it. Nobody can revive the tree, the family, the tribe, the nation, but the children of the distorted country themselves. This awareness introduces the second pillar of democracy, that is participation.

4. e. Congolese People’s Thirst for Participation

To transform the dry tree into a green one that can bear fruits, Congolese people need to join hands. Each member of the community taken individually and collectively is invited to accomplish the tasks and gestures that will rejuvenate the country.

The notion of participation is the easiest to explain to the participants. It can trace its origin back to Congolese people’s traditions. Field-works, harvest, rituals, feasts, funerals, wake, etc. were and are still moments when this notion finds its best expression. All seem to be but participation and solidarity.

Present manifestations of people’s thirst for participation are many in Congolese cities characterised by total hardship. Education, environmental issues, security problems to name but a few find a temporary solutions thanks to the participation of all the community’s members.

Facing a state that does not see any priority in education, people have decided to temporally organise this sector. Parents, teachers and students regularly meet at the beginning of the year to determine the financial contribution of each family.

Their contribution will allow teachers to organise the education of Congolese children. The system is not perfect. People are aware of it. It has serious disadvantages for the parents who can not afford the fixed amount. They frequently see their children out of school. However it makes people realise that they are things they can handle if not totally at least partially. Years after years, citizens are learning to become partners of the educational system. Those among them who can pay more are ready to do so. This solidarity allows children from poor families to go to school too.

Financed by parents, the school and particularly the teachers are placed under the control of the community through a parent committee. Tomorrow they will be able to introduce their program and define the profile of man and woman needed by their society.


The same type of participation characterises the attempts to solve questions related to environment and security. Few things are achieved at this level, but they are possible because people are working together. People collaborate to maintain the sewage system still available. For security reasons they reorganise the electricity system providing lights to dark and dangerous corners of streets.

These are probably insignificant actions; but in this context they are part of these small meaningful victories that make these people grow responsible for their destiny.

Progressively during the seminar the participants voice their indignation when they consider the socio-economic situation of the country. This potentially rich country only needs the participation of its children to develop. People do not want to build another America. This is not what people are longing for. However, they have the means to build a country where life will be possible for everybody.

Congo is full of creative brains and powerful hands. In spite of the collapse of the state these brains and hands did not cease to find solutions to their everyday life problems. In diamond area, in the informal sector, these hands and brains have produced 10 per cent of the diamonds exported during these years of total starvation. This represents 500 M $US a year! Imagine that those who govern the country came begging to the meeting with Congolese friends just to receive 400 millions B.F. Imagine that US aid to Congo represents 40 millions US$ when one Congolese wealthy man can pay 5o millions of US$ to get out of prison!

The above debate on participation cannot do without the discussion of the third pillar, namely, distributive justice. It is its absence that makes people unwilling to join hands and develop the country. After thirty years of misery and exploitation nobody is willing to feed the pockets of those in power. This explains people’s present reluctance to participate to the reconstruction of the country. They want to make sure that they will be the beneficiaries of this work accomplished by all the members of the community.

4. f. Distributive Justice

This pillar is tackled by means of a vivid story.

"One evening, after one of his numerous sessions on democracy, Zakimwena found his seven years old daughter waiting for him in the living room. When he asked her mother why she was not sleeping like the others; she immediately answered that she was waiting for him. The father accepted to talk with her after his meal. While he was eating he saw her coming close to him. He wondered what was going on. She indicated the fish on his plate and said to him that they did not have fish for their meal. Zakimwena turned to his wife to know why. She told him that there was not enough fish. That’s why they all accepted to eat the cassava leaves while the fish would be given to the ‘chief’ of the family. The daughter said that it was not correct and this was an act of injustice! Zakimwena agreed with her and decided to share the fish. She told him to wait; went upstairs and asked her two brothers to come down. They divided the fish and they went back to their beds."



A very simple lesson of justice to the teacher of democratic values and his wife! This story is interesting in many aspects. The participants understand that democracy to be relevant and functional in Congolese society will have to shake people’s houses and change their habits. The family is the adequate frame to learn, build and sustain a democratic life that questions some of the acquired traditional customs.

For example, although educated, many women are unable to get rid of this traditional way of redistributing food that insisted on the father as the one who should get the best share. How can they free themselves from this long acquired custom that helps to secure their house? Zakimwena’s wife too was supposed to transmit it to her now rebellious daughter!

In spite of the passion for democratic values, people are not yet ready to question these positions that grant them privileges. The discussion that follows reveals the participants’ opinion about an attitude commonly accepted both by the governed and the governors. The redistribution of national wealth did not escape from this unjust rule. The one in power always claimed for more than anybody else who participated to the production of this wealth. He is the ‘chief’! When there is not enough, the chief is allowed to serve himself in priority forgetting the subjects! Usually people do not openly react. They tend to consider it normal. I am probably caricaturing; but one can imagine the socio-economic disaster of this country as the result of this peculiar way of redistributing the national wealth. Obviously this has to change; and only free people will be able to achieve such a tremendous change.

4. g. Quest for freedom

At the end of the session the participants feel this need for freedom that frees the

individual from "pouvoir, avoir and valoir." Freedom is probably the most difficult value to assume in a society where people care a lot about how others see them. In this society people have been educated to be peaceful "yes-men and women." Baptised to say "yes" to the initial "yes" of his or her God-father or mother, the individual here grows in a family characterised by the primacy of "yes." In the missionary school his or her "yes" allowed him or her to obtain a diploma, symbol of good education and promise of a better future. All the faculties at university crowned this faithfulness to the original "yes" in a brilliant dissertation that attests his or her ability for synthesis. A "yes" militant, the individual is unable to integrate conflicts as components of his or her humanity. How can these people be free in a context where freedom always tends to be associated with subversion? This is going to be a long challenging process during which people will learn not only to be self reliant but also to pay in one way or another


Compared with other African countries, the process of democratisation in Congo is a long one. During these years of transition, forces from the outside have been pushing to accelerate it. Obviously they intend to lead Congolese people to a political democracy. What they want are institutions that will be a facade, a parody of democracy and help to maintain the system of exploitation that undermines the development of this rich country. Fortunately, in Congo, things are not going the way intended by external forces.

Inside the country literate and illiterate are patiently building the ethical foundations, or better the utopia on which their democracy will be constructed. These years of transition are offering the opportunity to root democratic values in Congolese families, tribes, churches, communities and society. During these sessions literate and illiterate are expressing their thirst for democratic institutions that will regulate the life of their society in a manner beneficial to all its members. People are concerned with the birth and growth of a democratic culture that will sustain the organisation of free elections. They crave for democratic values that will organise the parliament and give it a chance to play its role efficiently. People need democratic ethics that will free the judicial system and restore its reliability. They rely on a democracy that will transform the media into a real power of control at the service of the nation. Faithful to values that respect life this democracy will instil strength, clarity and hope to the struggle for a better tomorrow. Different from French, American and Belgian democracies Congolese democracy wants to be a contribution to the universal quest for a political system that places the human being at the core of its preoccupation.

Is the goal of building a democratic culture in Congo utopian? Yes, it is utopian in the same way that it felt utopian to speak of independence in colonial Congo. This time it is Congolese people’s utopia! People in Congo are convinced that this is the moment to struggle for a democracy that will go beyond mere political democracy. This fight is the only one that will likely lead to the type of democratic society expected by all of us. The process is slow, painful but rewarding. American, French, Belgian democracies were not built in one day! A luta continua!


Thierry Nlandu teaches Anglo-American literature at the University of Kinshasa-Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is the Scientific advisor of the Congolese Association of Moralists. Besides he is a dramatist and a political activist, member of "Groupe Amos" in Kinshasa. Visiting scholar. International Centre for Advanced Studies. NYU.