|Ex-Decentralization Minister Antipas Mbusa|
Lack of progress in territorial decentralization has put into question the political will of the Kinshasa authorities to redefine the administrative map of the country and transfer rights and responsibilities to new decentralized political entities.
President Kalila just took a bold decision by abolishing the Ministry of Decentralization and Urban and Regional Planning. While it could be interpreted as reprisal against former rebel leader Antipas Mbusa and now ex-Minister of Decentralization for entering the race for the presidency, it is more likely a commentary on Kinshasa’s policy about this financially important and politically sensitive priority.
When the Congolese people ratified the 2006 constitution they were promised greater local-level autonomy within a three-year period. The aborted decentralization process reveals how an important constitutional commitment was made without taking into account overwhelming administrative, political and macroeconomic challenges. The commitment was also made without thinking through the mechanisms and technicalities of implementation. Research shows that low income countries emerging from conflict rarely have the human and material resources to make decentralization happen. It should have been obvious at the outset, given the extent of state collapse, Congo would not have the means or the political will to decentralize.
Decentralization is a complicated political process that requires the commitment and involvement of both central government and provincial authorities. It cannot take place in a democratic vacuum where political actors ignore – or distain – the principals of accountability. The process requires the establishment of overlapping interests and the achievement of mutual trust between the central government and representatives from the decentralized entities.
From the Kinshasa perspective, decentralization is antithetical to its efforts to consolidate power. The government’s objective is to capture and secure power, not redistribute it. A system has to be strong to share power; the Congolese government is too vulnerable to share.