The Roads of the Congo  

One of the key ideas that ended up in Why Nations Fail emerged out of a theory of why the Congo had so few roads.

The original impulse for the idea was a critique that Congolese (then Zairean) president Mobutu had made of President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda. After 1990, Habyarimana suffered an invasion of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in the north of the country. Mobutu criticized Habyarimana for building roads. Observing, as quoted in Jeune Afrique that

now they are driving down them to get you.

This incident coalesced into our idea of “political losers” – that one of the problems which impeded development was that by promoting development a political regime might destabilize its political power.

In the Rwandan example, building roads helped the RPF to invade the country and facilitated their attempt to overthrow the Habyarimana regime.

Mobutu was cleverer (more cynical?) than Habyarimana, he had not built any roads and this made his grip on power more secure. But ironically it was Laurant Kabile with RPF troops that eventually walked right across the Congo to overthrow Mobutu in 1997.

We did not use this example in the book but rather others from modern Sierra Leone and 19th century Austria-Hungary and Russia but Jim’s recent research trip to Kasai allows us to make a report on the state of the Congolese roads.

As the pictures below taken on route to Mushenge show, the state of the roads in Kasai is pretty much the same as when Mobutu left power. According to Google driving between Kananga and Mweka takes 2 hours and 57 minutes which is almost correct, give or take 9 hours!

Here below we show some typically idyllic Congolese motoring scenes.


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