Congo: A dream deferred though the world won’t admit it yet

Friday May 31 2019

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Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi (right) shakes hand with newly appointed prime minister Prof Sylvestre Ilunkamba Ilunga on May 20, 2019. PHOTO | DRC PRESIDENCY 

By The EastAfrican

Newly elected Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has finally appointed a prime minister–Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba.

This development has largely been received positively across the world. The consensus view is that another step has been made towards consolidating a post-Kabila era.

But by this appointment, the DRC has signalled that, instead, it is consolidating its history of strife and death. The dream of national renewal and recreation has once again been deferred.

Under Mobutu Sese Seko, Congo-Kinshasa, whimsically renamed Zaire by the dictator, a country of fabulous riches, became one of the poorest and most dysfunctional in Africa. The only spaces where there was a semblance of order were the magnificent palaces Mobutu built for himself.

In these modern day recreations of Versailles, sumptuous dinners were held, with chefs flown in from Europe.

Outside of the palaces, the jungle and its rules reigned. Roads, public services, law and order had collapsed.

In the east of the country, militia regularly went on killing sprees and rape rampages, a situation that continues today. Just last week, gunmen killed dozens of villagers in a market, for no reason other than a morbid fascination with death.

After the overthrow of Mobutu, the DRC was ready to usher in a revolutionary era that would negate in total its previous history. But Desire Kabila’s and his son Joseph’s regimes, once in power, continued to preside over the deadly mayhem that was the legacy of Mobutu.

Nobel laureate Dennis Mukwege’s work with victims of mass rapes in the east of the country is testimony that life under the Kabilas was “nasty, brutish and short,” just as it was under King Leopold of Belgium and Mobutu Sese Seko.

Last year, Kabila finally agreed to hold an election after 18 years in power. Once again, with the election of Felix Tshisekedi, whose father had bravely opposed the decaying dictatorship of Mobutu, the DRC was ready for a new beginning.

But again, that hope has been betrayed. Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga is not only an ally of Joseph Kabila, but incriminatingly, he served as finance minister in Mobutu’s kleptocracy.

Pray, how can a Mobutu-era functionary lead the reinvention of The Congo? He lacks the ideological aptitude, the intellectual acumen, the moral authority, the desire, the visionary drive, and the physical energy to oversee a revolutionary transformation.

In Africa today, no one, except reckless pan-Africanist ideologues, disputes that the cause of Africa’s dysfunction is bad and corrupt governance; governments that have no ambition beyond power and personal wealth. We see daily evidence of this in many countries.

In Kenya, for example, the relatively youthful duo of Uhuru and Ruto promised a new way of doing things, a new urgency, a new mentality.

Instead, they have presided over the most corrupt regime since Independence. Uhuru’s appointments to key positions, just like those of Tshisekedi, consolidate the old, rather than usher in a new governing culture.

In our popular imagination, the word Congo evokes imagery of ancient Africa – peaceful, one with nature, noble. Thus black American poet Langston Hughes writes in the poem, A NegroSpeaks of Rivers:

I built my hut near The Congo/ and it lulled me to sleep…


We dream with Hughes of ripples and other sounds carrying over from the jungle; man in elemental nature, unadulterated by the strife and chaos of modernity.

We know, however, that the reality of Congo has been one long history of suffering and death. So perhaps the poem that captures that tragic history is Harlem.

In this poem, Langston Hughes speaks to the inner city blues of Harlem, its promise of recreation but also the potential for deadly explosion. He writes:
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?


Congo has always been a dream deferred. It has festered like a sore over the decades, causing anguish and death. Its great potential hangs like a heavy load on the conscience of humanity.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Dr Mukwege looked into the eyes of the world and asked why we let this sore fester.

If the world fails to listen to his impassioned plea, soon enough, the DRC will explode into nights of great terror.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.

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