Internally, Zaire is a unitary state, whose power is
downward to the local level. In such a centralized system,
government enjoys little autonomy.
The local government of Mobutu's Zaire, like the
administration that served as its model, has as its major
the control of the population: counting the people,
their movements, issuing identity cards, and taxing them
to pay for
the operations of the local administrative units that
these tasks. Although the labels attached to the
units and to the administrators who hold them have
structures themselves are very similar. In many ways, the
of the relationship between the citizen and the state
resembles that of the Belgian era.
At the same time, there are great differences between
Mobutu administration and its colonial predecessor in the
areas of efficiency and honesty. Few would dispute the
effectiveness or probity of the colonial administration,
own terms of reference. By contrast, the Mobutu
widely regarded as corrupt and inefficient. Indeed,
scientist Michael Schatzberg has shown that the
long constituted a powerful mechanism for pumping
resources out of
the impoverished rural population.
The territorial administration was the crucial armature
colonial state. A thorough penetration of the subject
basic to the colonial project, and the loss of control in
territories in 1959 was a mortal blow to colonial
Territorial control was no less central to the policy
of the independent state that became Zaire. The loss of
provincial administration, and the fragmentation of
authority through a multiplicity of factionalized
jurisdictions and local rebellions, were defining
of the First Republic. During the 1964-65 rebellions, the
of state power even remotely responsive to Kinshasa were
over large areas of the republic. Reestablishing the
the state, by restoring the ascendancy of its central
administration, was a first priority for the Mobutu
Initially, it appeared that this goal was being met.
unified hierarchical grid of the centralized state was
least in form. But new self-destructive tendencies became
by the 1970s; the credibility of the state was at issue as
inability to perform basic services became manifest, and
pervaded its apparatus.
Under the Belgians, the entire colony was divided into
subdivisions. Each province was divided into districts and
district into territories, all units on a given level
juridically equivalent. There were about 125 territories
twenty-five districts; totals varied as a result of the
redrawing of boundaries in a vain attempt to obtain the
match between administration and society. The province,
district, and the territory all were headed by Belgians.
territory was the most crucial echelon, as it represented
at which the European administration exercised its control
African intermediaries, the so-called chiefs.
The local colonial administration functioned without
substantial oversight or control from outside bodies.
consultative provincial councils appointed by the
until the last few years of the colonial era they
, ch. 1). At the
of the colonial period, elected communal councils in urban
and appointed rural councils were authorized. The former
to function in the major cities until the end of the 1960s
last elected organs from the First Republic to survive).
councils never really took shape.
In the First Republic, the province was a political
an elected assembly and ministers theoretically
responsible to the
assembly. However, such elected bodies were never created
working level where the state had its interface with the
intermediaries it had created, the chiefs.
The symmetry and formalism of the Belgian system, its
(almost unparalleled in Africa), and its relative freedom
legislative oversight, all were powerful influences on
Zaire. The Second Republic attempted not only to
system, but to extend its application to the cities and to
local level in the countryside.
In February 1966, three months after his seizure of
Mobutu signalled his intention to bring the provinces to
reunification and depoliticization. By the end of the
twenty-one so-called provincettes had been reduced
provinces (renamed regions in 1972), plus the capital,
meaning that colonial provincial boundaries had been
completely restored. The exceptions were the division of
Kasai Province into Kasai-Oriental and Kasai-Occidental
division of the former Léopoldville Province into
fig. 4). The provinces, once quasi-federal
units with their own governments, were reduced to
subdivisions of the unitary state. Their chief officers
by the president, they were rotated frequently, and they
were assigned outside their home areas.
The heads of the various administrative subdivisions
essentially the same role--representing the central state.
similarity in role was symbolized by the adoption of
terminology: the regions, subregions, zones, and
the colonial provinces, districts, and territories were
1972 on) all were headed by commissioners
However, the weight of the colonial legacy was reflected
decision in 1982 to revive the prestigious title of
gouverneur (governor), in place of regional
(commissaire de région).
Although the governors clearly were dependent upon the
president, problems of control did not disappear. At first
governors were kept on a short leash by the simple
shifting them very often. Despite the frequent changes,
governors briefly succeeded in building up personal
machines. To prevent this process, and generally to keep
an eye on
the regional administration, Mobutu added a parallel
of state inspectors. The state inspectorate seems not to
served its purpose; it was abolished in 1971. By the late
Mobutu also had abandoned the practice of constant
instead, governors were named to three-year terms.
Although in theory the Mobutist state was highly
in practice local administrators enjoyed a degree of
were charged with implementing within their regions the
taken by the president, and an administrative memorandum
that the word "decisions," which appears in the
be understood in a very broad sense. Mobutu frequently
decisions, and governors often had nothing more to go on
radio broadcast, telephonic instructions, or a vaguely
telegram. Thus, they had considerable discretion as to how
decisions should be implemented. There were risks at the
if their interpretations were subsequently to incur
displeasure, they could lose their jobs.
Since 1977 the Mobutu regime supposedly has been
a policy of decentralization, beginning with urban areas.
there seem to be two contradictory tendencies: toward
decentralization and democratization, under pressure from
aid donors, and toward tighter administrative controls.
1977, a plan was announced for sweeping reorganization of
areas, so that no zone would contain more than 200,000
no subregion would comprise more than three zones. New
were created in parts of Bas-Zaïre, Équateur,
Shaba. But full implementation of this plan would have
meant a huge
expense, and it was never completed.
Reorganization moves reflected both the administrative
rationale and political considerations, particularly in
home region of Équateur. Mobutu's transformation of his
village of Gbadolite into a city, and the development of
town of Gemena, also in northwest Équateur, into an
center as a result of his activities and those of his
associates, led to the creation of new subregions around
greater importance been attached to "administrative
then surely the reorganization of Équateur Region would
completed. Indeed, plans had been prepared for all the
"unorganized" regions and portions thereof, but the
politico-economic situation led to their indefinite
This wave of reform affected only the number and scope
administrative units, not their relationship to the
until 1984, when Mobutu accepted suggestions from external
donors that he carry out political "liberalization," were
regions given legislative assemblies and a degree of
In May 1988, Mobutu proposed improving the functioning
regional structures and redrawing their boundaries, so as
the administrator closer to the administered." The
to begin with the division of Kivu Region into three new
Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu, and Maniema; the reorganization was
implemented immediately, but seemed to be in effect by the
1990s. Zaire thus was divided into ten regions plus the
Data as of December 1993