The Congolese people that want to keep the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as one country have expressed misgivings about the idea of decentralization. While they are not totally against decentralization as such, they reason that decentralization presupposes the existence of a strong central state with viable institutions. In any state a certain amount of centralization is essential for the effective functioning of a large entity, be it a corporation or a state. On the other hand, over-centralization produces undesirable outcomes such as inefficiency and red tape. When this occurs decentralization is recommended in which minor decisions are made on lower levels of administration.
Since its creation as a state in 1885 in the wake of the Berlin Conference on the partition of Africa among European countries without waging war against one another, no efforts were made neither by king Leopold II who owned Congo Free State as a private property until 1907, nor by the Belgian government that assumed colonial responsibility for Congo from 1908 to 1960 when the country became independent as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nor since independence as Zaire and now again as DRC since 1997.
I have just completed thirty days of listening and hearing stories of people from all walks of life in the Great Lakes Region. I spent three weeks in DRC, one week in Burundi and some hours in Rwanda. I have read quite a lot about the historical relations between Hutu and Tutsi people including the tragedies of 1972 and 1994 in Burundi and Rwanda respectively. Until this visit to the region my contacts had been with the elite from the region and around the world familiar with the history of the region. But I had never had the opportunity to listen and hear the views of the ordinary people. During these thirty days I made every effort to listen in formal and informal meetings (I learnt a lot more in informal meetings with individuals), ask questions, seek clarifications, probe as much as possible and repeat the same questions with different groups in order to get a consensus, noting the differences as well. Like a good medical doctor, I wanted to get to the root cause of the problem.
The article in Uganda’s New Vision dated March 10, 2010 written by Baroness Kinnock, UK’s Minister of State for Africa is a balanced one. It has touched on areas where progress has been made and where more needs to be done. I wish to highlight a few areas – not for criticism – but to inform the public.
The historic economic relationship between the UK and Uganda has been marked by inequality in the sense that UK determined that Uganda would produce raw materials (cotton, coffee, tea and tobacco) in exchange for manufactured products. Winston Churchill and Fredrick Lugard decided that Uganda’s comparative advantage was in agricultural raw materials although at that time Uganda had a vibrant manufacturing sector and was not producing any of the export raw materials just mentioned above.