Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Kongo and Ethiopia: Two geopolitical antipodes, nonetheless indispensable partners for the African renaissance.
In Kinshasa, one is often reminded of Ethiopia through various names such as Asosa, Sayo, or Gambela. In remembrance of military achievements by Congolese soldiers in the war of liberation of Ethiopia under fascist occupation. During the Abyssinian campaign of World War II, the Congolese were credited with such feats of arms as the capture of nine Italian generals, 370 high-ranking officers and 15,000 men of Italian troops, according to the Russian embassy in DRC which chose to honor Congolese veterans as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War.
With those few names of streets and popular places in Kinshasa, the parallel between the two countries almost ends there. One is twice as big as the other with astounding potentials including mineral resources such as diamond, oil, cobalt, copper, coltan, gold, with very large arable lands, various lakes and streams, among which the richest in fish. And a population of around 70 million inhabitants divided into 450 tribes. The other has no mineral resources at all but hosts the second largest population in the whole continent estimated at some 95 million inhabitants from around 70 tribes. The former, though showing some economical growth in the few past years with an interesting rate of 7%, is nonetheless in a situation of an abysmal lack of infrastructures, an appalling scarcity of normally featured and recognizable industries, a chaotic administrative, political, judicial, educational and defence system. The later is praised for its vibrant economy with a long-sustained GDP growth of around 10%. The third fastest growing economy in the world. Ethiopia is acknowledged for its increasing investments in infrastructures, a fabulous industriousness, a respectable defence system and an enviable governance. To name some of the remarkable achievements the Ethiopians are acknowledged for, they have one of the most reputable airlines in the world with not less than 13 Boeing 787 Dreamliner in an ever increasing fleet which is expected to reach some 120 airplanes in the near future. Ethiopia has a well-established automotive industry which provides both civil and military vehicles. And recently, the Ethiopians tested the first sub-Saharan light rail system amidst the rapid development of a highways network.
Perhaps, the only thing Congo and Ethiopia actually have in common is the hydroelectric potential. Thanks to the world largest waterfall of the Inga fall with its 42000 m³/s flow on the mighty Congo river, the Congolese have the greatest hydroelectric potential that is being unfolded in different stages with the Inga stations. They are nevertheless enduring great shortages of electric power in big cities, while the mining industry is faced with poor supply and a large part of the country remains unelectrified. Currently two Inga stations, INGA I and INGA II, are operated for an initial installed power of respectively 350 MW and 1420 MW, and they only work at 40% of their capacity. Since their construction in 1972 and 1982, these two stations have been crippled by maintenance issues which saw over the years multiple reassessments of costs for rehabilitation with partial financing by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank to get the combined 14 turbines operational, with no effective implementation so far. The 12 billion $ INGA III project, mainly aimed at supplying the mining companies and foreign countries, is in a phase of advanced planning with a projected power of 4800 MW, a 3500 km transmission line to South-Africa, and 2020 as the year of completion. The project is financed among others by bilateral contributors, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the Development Bank of South-Africa. It is a first stage out of six to the Grand INGA scheme, which, with a power of 40,000 MW, will be by far the largest hydroelectric station in the world at a cost of 80 billion $.
Ethiopia on its side is building since 2011 its Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river with a power of 6000 MW at a cost of 5 billion $, for a completion expected in July 2017. The project is financed by the government through bonds, and private contributors as well. Traditional financial institutions like the World Bank, or the IMF, which have not always been renowned for noticeable achievements in infrastructure investments in the continent, have not been invited.
The striking contrast between the two countries truly deserves a thorough questioning if we are to understand the situation they find themselves in. And the situation in Congo is similar to the one experienced by the vast majority of African countries in a continent where Ethiopia seems to be an exception to the rule. One of the explanations that automatically comes to one's mind in the case of Congo is the twenty-year war that has been imposed on the Congolese by Western powers through proxy countries. Though this war has tremendously affected the socioeconomic fabric of the country, nonetheless, as the Inga story clearly shows it, the problems in Congo are anterior to that war. As a matter of fact, Congo has a long history of notorious mismanagement which culminated in the war. Serious lack of culture of maintenance, pandemic corruption or systematic ransoming by public servants and officials, formidable incompetence mostly by tribal cronyism, atrocious lack of professionalism and true commitment are constants in the DRC.
Conversely, Ethiopia, which has gone through unspeakable challenges in a recent past as well, was not affected to the point where an organized disorder would be put in place to rule the country. As explained in an excellent article by Dr. Abdulkarim H. Matan, "Non-corrupt and able leadership with zero tolerance for corruption; stable government policies; sound economic plans based on successful economic growth models; and millions of hard-working and law-abiding workforce with favourable work ethics and can-do attitude inherited from Ethiopia's past greatness have enabled Ethiopia to grow its economy at a much faster pace than other African countries."
It becomes evident that the difference between these two countries finds its origin in the path they took in their respective courses of history.
Of all the African nations, Ethiopia has the particularity of never having been colonized or significantly conquered by any foreign power. As an ancient civilization, it has a rich cultural and historic identity with well-established religions of its own accommodation. Though of apparent foreign origin, Judaism and Christianity as practiced in Ethiopia are intimately linked to the people of that country since their inceptions. So much so that many even believe that the ark of the covenant is housed in Ethiopia today. Contrary to a remarkably widespread idea, Judaism was not introduced in Ethiopia by Queen of Sheba. According to the book of Numbers in the bible, it clearly appears that Moses himself introduced Judaism in Ethiopia because the woman he actually married as the precursor of his religion was Ethiopian. Since in the Jewish tradition, one needs to be born of a Jewish mother in order to be a Jew, as a matter of course, the Ethiopians who descended from that woman can reasonably be considered as the true Jews. As for Christianity, in Ethiopia, it predates the one in the Roman empire. Islam has also been involved in the country, since the beginning, to such a point that the Prophet himself, peace be upon him, declared Ethiopia a friend of Islam.
Such a strong and genuine religious identity has certainly contributed to the fortification of the people in regard of foreign influences and assaults. As a matter of fact, the only time the then Kingdom of Aksum would start experiencing difficulties and chaos in its history was when the Roman Catholic Church attempted to take over the country by baptizing its King in 1624 until his successor finally decided to reestablish the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1632 and expelled the Jesuits who infiltrated the Kingdom. Another attempt by “Rome” through fascist Italy to conquer the country during World War II failed miserably as reminded in the introduction, after a previous humiliating experience in 1896 when the Italians were defeated by Ethiopia over a land dispute.
As an ancient civilization, Kongo has known a glorious past as well. The ancient federation of Kongo which laid from Southern Africa to the South of present-day Cameroon emerged in the fifteenth century as a well politically, socially, and economically structured entity, as observed by the Portuguese, with its own currency. The Portuguese were the greatest global power at that time and dealt with Kongo as equal partners with formal diplomatic representations. The fate of Kongo took the nation to a radically different destination when it converted to Roman Catholicism, only to have the Portuguese proceed with slavery crusades which durably let the nation vulnerable to the Arab razzias. Before the Western exploitation in the late 1800s and the subsequent colonization or occupation in the twentieth century.
Today, it seems, though the Western occupation was terminated in 1960, the country has remained in a state of an invisible de facto occupation, where the external interests are served in the exact same way as in the past. Why the Congolese lend themselves to such an obscure scheme is certainly interesting to examine. The most vicious aspect of colonization is without a doubt its ability to seriously affect the mind of those who have been constantly exposed to the inseparable injustices of such an organization. Even when the occupation is ended, the rejection reflex they express towards the system unfortunately does not disappear spontaneously without an appropriate work specifically oriented for that purpose. So much so that, even long after the occupier has left, those who become citizens of their own country remain in the same state of rebellion against an inherited state that they still unconsciously perceive as oppressive and abusive. And they persist in the same attitudes and practices as they feel entitled to bypass the system. Whether through fraud, corruption, embezzlement, neglect or whatever means of sabotage seen as an act of resistance or bravery in an otherwise occupied country or a stolen land. The burden of the management of state affairs is viewed as a privilege for the occupying power. It's interesting to note that in the case of Congo, the state, the occupying power, and the pain of a forced labor, bear the same name in local languages, “Mbula-Matari”, i.e, stones breaker...in reference to the works related to the building of the first railroad in the country. One can only imagine the “passion” and the “commitment” the Congolese political leaders are likely to show in the achievement of any public endeavor such as the building of some dam. It's no surprise that even today, for every single matter they have to deal with, both the opposition and the government resort to some foreign entity such as the MONUSCO, which is the UN mission in Congo. Or some other foreign chancellery locally designated as “partners”. While Ethiopia for its hydropower project has ruled out the contribution of the World Bank with its hegemonic inefficiency, in Congo, it is the natural way to go, only to contract more debts, despite the enormous natural assets that the country presents and which could well be capitalized on.
With the occupier gone, African countries still remain under external control through vicious instruments of domination such as international organizations, foreign companies, NGOs and other financial institutions. It's not uncommon to observe in these countries how they still operate in the exact same process as they were operating under occupation. The economy is in the same situation of exploitation for foreign interests. The administration is in the same mode of exaction. The army and the police operate under the same logic of repression while generally incapable of defending the country or the people as such a noble goal was not in the occupier's scheme. The educational system remains in the same state of indoctrination, debilitation and subjugation that was designed to produce good servants, certainly not inspired and dedicated leaders. The net result of all this is that a tiny country like Rwanda would be able to give a hard time to Congo precisely because it has been less exposed to the Western influence. Of course, the Rwandans have never been exactly depicted as fervent Roman Catholics either. In fact, the Rwandans first encountered white people, almost in the twentieth century, in 1898 with the landing of the Germans. Another sadly almost comical result of the brainwashing in a subjugated country such as Congo: while the Ethiopians are proud to fly various modern airplanes, including the most sophisticated on earth, Congo officials are enchanted to show to the world, in one of those pompous ceremonies where Western “partners” are always happily conveyed, a “newly” acquired A320. A ludicrous plane of a used condition...
Against all odds, still Kongo remains a key player in the renaissance and the emergence of the African continent. Though seriously embattled, today the European Union is globally admired for both its exceptional political and economical apparatus. Yet little is known about the fact that this institution headquartered in Brussels was built on the economical legacy of Kongo since Belgium emerged as the only debt-free country after World War II. Kongo, with its resources not only maintained Belgium in an economically viable state, it also played a central role in the freedom of the entire human kind as most of its natural resources were directed to allied countries as a war effort. Why would not Kongo play the same role for Africa as it did for Europe ?
Bukoko Ikoki, Ordinary citizen.
As of Christ, we do not accuse. Neither do we judge, nor condemn. We do not stone. We do not curse. We bless our enemies and persecutors. While we let the dead bury their own dead, as we pick up our Cross, we revive our loved ones from lethal errors.