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11— The Formation of the Political Culture of Ethnicity in the Belgian Congo, 1920–19591
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The Invention of 'the Luba' in the Belgian Congo

The situation in twentieth century Africa differs substantially, as a discussion of colonial Zaire demonstrates. For lack of any long-standing cultural, ideological, or religious unity spread through western-type schooling, and given its very particular history of industrialization, an internal enemy is lacking to the generality of African peoples in modern Zaire. Whites fill this role only to a certain extent on account of the economic and political might of the West. At the level of popular discourse, race relations are used to express class relations by the likening of the black bourgeoisie/bureaucracy to the white race.[14] In the context of a national political culture, meaning may be most ambiguous, and various stereotypes of whites play many different roles according to the then current state of affairs. It is because of this situation that, on the ground which hegemonic and popular cultures hold in common, the 'white' embodies the image opposite that of the 'native', the important difference being, however, that a 'black' may presently become 'white'. If the crowd shows occasional hostility towards the white, envy and the pursuit of patronage leaves little room for contempt. This is a far cry indeed from the case of the chronically politically marginalized Jew in the West.

Internal enemies have been seen as existing in Zaire, but many of these were identified as foreign: the 'West Africans' and whites from the outlying zones of Europe. The Portuguese and the Greeks in colonial times ordinarily symbolized the evils of mercantile exploitation. In the political culture of the 1960s and


1970s, however, another internal enemy was added to the earlier list of 'strangers'. This new enemy's actual identity varied, mirroring and personifying the ills inflicted by Zairean national mercantile and bureaucratic domination of more parochial regional groups and interests. 'The Luba' (the name given to those people native to Kasai who use the Luba language when speaking with whites and who have worked for them) were one example of this phenomenon of the internal enemy that was identified throughout the country. The country's individual regions, however, possessed their own particular examples in varying degrees, determined by local mechanisms of colonial and post-colonial domination.[15] Even if, in both instances, the 'foreigner' and domestic enemy partially complemented one another, any resemblance with the case of the Jew in the West can only be partial, given the country's distinctive history and its current socio-economic condition. Yet there are similarities.

A certain early tolerance in the Belgian Congo of the small mercantile careers of 'foreigners' by the dominant political powers provided opportunities for their growth, as did also the preference of western big businesses for 'foreigners' as their local agents. This early attitude, which was underpinned by fears of the development of a local national black bourgeoisie, was transformed during the industrialization of the 1920s when the climate was marked by nearly open hostilities.[16] This change was accompanied by a rise in popular resentment of 'the exploiters' and by the fragmentation of these 'exploiters' into smaller groups who pursued the only avenue open to outcasts, small businesses on the fringes of legality.

The disruption of the country's main economic networks that began after Independence in 1960 offered to these marginalized businessmen the opportunities of a huge market, activities which, licit or illicit, they rapidly monopolized. Small businessmen, grouped in ethnic communities or family arrangements, replaced the more formal credit institutions and the supply systems which were previously inaccessible. Because of their unique position as the sole people 'institutionally' equipped to confront the collapse of the country's economic system and to tackle the reeling state apparatus, they reaped profits. But they also paid dearly for it later, when they were caught between growing popular resentment, which was fed by the economic crisis of the 1970s, and the mounting hostility manifested towards them by the state's bureaucrats who themselves were hoping to invest in commercial activities. Altogether removed from political circles, and thus possessing no political influence, they were relatively easily eliminated from the national scene in the 1970s, expelled gradually as 'undesirables'.

In contrast with what has been observed with regard to so-called 'foreign' enemies, the mechanisms necessary to the 'production' of domestic enemies have been quite different, the direct—which is not to say planned—effect of colonial social action in the context of industrialization. The case of the Luba probably goes back farthest, and because it concerns a group known for its numbers and its important involvement in the country's industrial development—especially that of the Shaba area—it has acquired a national significance and merits discussion here. Numerous analyses, as well as popular perceptions, clearly indicate an initial relationship in the shaping of Luba ethnicity which was at once contingent in regard to partners and necessary as far as its structure was concerned.[17]

During the final decades of the nineteenth century, a vast and rather heterogeneous group of agricultural peoples dwelling in the Kasai Basin of Central Africa had come under pressure from neighbouring predatory groups. Caught frequently between African agents of commercial penetration from both


the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts, on the one hand, and Belgian colonial penetration on the other, many people had been driven to migrate. These came to rely on the protection of various new colonial institutions such as missions, business enterprises and the embryonic colonial state. Groups and individuals alike settled under the protection of Catholic missions, state posts, and, later, capitalist enterprises in general and, especially, the Forminière company.[18]

Beginning with the schooling of catechists and the fixing of a written language, originally for purposes of evangelization, a conceptualized model of a Luba 'language' was established with Catholic and Protestant missionaries creating two different standards of its written form. At the same time, a new Luba culture was created through the process of selection of various local, cultural elements as appropriate. This process was encouraged by the fact that, outside the protected areas, especially in Christianized villages, where the socialization and cultural conditioning processes which accompanied the creation of a wage-earning class were strongly felt, the Kasai region as a whole continued to be prey to black and white predators alike until the 1920s. For the 'protected' people the way was thus paved for future receptivity, by both individuals and the collectivity, to the wage system, agricultural production for the market and formal schooling, together with the conversion of the children to Christianity and values associated with it.

In the 1920s, at the time when the new institutions of the colonial administration were being set up, middle-range power fell to a new indigenous bureaucracy presented as possessing 'traditional' power. This process took place rather easily, as there was a lack of organized opposition to it, and the Belgian bureaucracy met with little political resistance when it implemented 'native' colonial policies. Thus the Luba, who already were seen as stout, hard-working and intelligent collaborators, found themselves being offered, rather forcefully perhaps, three quite 'untraditional, opportunities: (1) wage-remunerated work in the mining region, at a time, during the 1920s, when working conditions in Industrial Upper Katanga (Haut-Katanga Industriel) were improving considerably; (2) cash-crop agriculture in the new villages lining the Bukama-Port Franqui railway; and (3) school education in the missionary-codified written Luba language. At the same time, colonial anthropology and the first formally trained Luba intellectuals were beginning enthusiastically to elaborate the cultural and linguistic model for being 'a Luba'.[19] The rapid spread of the market economy, bolstered by the authoritarianism of colonial society, opened the way for this in that it demanded the restructuring of African society in accordance with the principles included in a new public model of social and economic organization of the indigènes ('natives') predicated upon an assumed lineage-based mode of production that was predominantly patriarchal in character. This approach constituted the kernel of the so-called indigenization policy.[20]

During the 1920s heavy investment in the establishment of industrial capital had occurred and this was accompanied by the regionalization of the colonial administration. For the Luba, then, two objective conditions for a specifically ethnic integration were brought together. But the question remained as to whether the necessary subjective conditions were already present in the people's collective consciousness. In fact, the shock of the period between the 1880s and the 1920s had prepared them for their collective socialization as a wage-earning group and for their reception of a unique common ethnic culture to replace the pluralism and heterogeneous village culture of former times. The missions had begun the training of an indigenous (local and later national) elite whose socio-political fortunes became tied to the advancement of a posited homogeneous culture which, however, would always remain distinct from the hypothetical


colonial culture of the Christian, French-speaking Belgians.[21] The suppression of the missions' political autonomy and the implementation of the official policy of the indigenization of blacks provided this potential elite[22] with its social base.

The widespread use of a Luba language that was greatly simplified out of local dialectal variants and coded for use in trade and work as a lingua franca of the colonial world offered many opportunities to Luba-speakers, its use both setting limits to the importance of having a command of French and eliminating competition from other 'ethnic' groups. The demands by the colonial administration for indigenous African lieutenants and by commercial enterprises for local African agents to serve as clerks made participation in the exercise of power a possibility for Luba-speakers. The opening of the Bukama-Port Franqui railway in 1928 gave new life to Luba as a language of colonial communication and confirmed the Luba-speakers in their role as agents of economic activity. In addition to the Luba colonialization effort favoured by Forminière, moreover, regional recruitment of Luba workers by the Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK) was begun at the same time that Luba agricultural resettlement along automobile routes and the railway was occurring. The Luba language took its place alongside Swahili (Kingwana) in the UMHK's worker compounds despite the fact that the company adopted a policy of ethnic mixing following ethnically organized resistance to the lay-offs of the Depression years. The company nonetheless actively encouraged the reinforcement of the ethnic identity of its workers who were then settled in the compounds. Marriages, for example, were arranged at the worker's home village by the local recruiter, missionary, and administrator, with the local chief also participating, while visits of the rural chiefs to the camps were also organized. In fact, Luba replaced the Bemba language, the use of which declined when the company ended recruitment of workers from Northern Rhodesia. An urban Luba-speaking culture gradually developed as may be witnessed by the importance of 'modern' popular songs in Luba by the end of the 1950s and 1960s.[23]

However, it was Swahili which in Katanga would become the language of the workplace and hence the language of colonial communication.[24] There were two reasons for this, and they need no extensive elaboration. First, the decision, in keeping with state policy, to entrust schooling and evangelization in the camps to Catholic missions effectively offered to the missionaries the choice of the language for communication in the colonial situation. The choice appears to have been determined on the basis of whatever language was already in use among the members of the religious orders charged with evangelization and education in the region. Many such orders, such as the Benedictines, decided to use Swahili as an expression of their 'modernistic' views which showed their opposition to indigenization and as part of their strategies to eliminate rival institutions.[25]

Second, the reorganization of the administration between 1931 and 1933 created Kasai Province, which incorporated the region of Lomai, thereby establishing the administrative separation of the Kasai 'storehouse' from the Katangan workplace. Thus, the Luba of the Kasai were effectively divided between the areas in which they produced crops to supply industrial workers and the place of their employment as wage-earners, existing as it were in different parts of a linked and unified city-country space. An administrative framework was thus created for Luba emigration and the underdevelopment of the Kasai.[26]

The emphasis placed on indigenization as a guiding administrative and political principle, combined with the destruction of provincial political autonomy, drove the white colonial world to seek a new basis for provincial specificity. The cultural identity represented by the use of a specific local language meant that the Kasai


was to be set apart by the prevailing use of Luba and the Katanga by the use of Swahili.

To the extent that my argument that the autonomy of the colonial state depended on its ability to draw reality out of the fiction of indigenous society is valid, it is only logical that there was a realization of this on the provincial level. It came about, in fact, through the conscious breaking up of the economic bases of provincial autonomy. Thus the political creation of a Congo-wide national space was accompanied by an initial phase involving the development of specific regionalisms. Since they could not be based on economic realities over which there was any local African political control, collective identities took shape as those ethnic consciousnesses which best expressed and gave form to the social solidarities necessary to survive in a world subject to an imposed, arbitrary political order.

Thus regionalism occurred as a nascent political force prior to 1930 and took ultimate shape as a specifically Katangese collective identity because of the policies of white society.[27] It survived and assumed a particular importance during the turmoil of 1960 essentially through the efforts of the white Katanga society and through the manipulation of African resentment—in large part that of the Lunda—over the successes of the Luba in being integrated into colonial structures. This distinction suggests that regionalism is a form of political articulation of collective identities in societies where national integration in the form of the complete mobility of the workforce and of capital is only a gradually realized event. Ethnic identification and awareness would then be a type of political framework belonging to societies where wage-remunerated migrant labour and non-economic management of the workforce and the means of production are dominant. It would, in this view, be a form of white political management, but it would be a form of African internal control over the city-country space for as long as the social autonomy of the cities and the capitalization of agriculture had yet to be accomplished.

Towards the end of the 1930s the Kasai, under administrative supervision, became a storehouse that supplied workers and agricultural products alike, responding to the competing demands placed on it by enterprises in Industrial Upper Katanga, by the industrial and administrative centre at Léopoldville, and by the demand for crop exports. If Luba-speaking people contributed in important ways to these developments and were thereby involved deeply in the monetary economy, it should be pointed out that the policies of indigenization and the imposition of a system of mandatory crop production throughout the entire African agricultural sector ruled out the possibility of any real capitalization of African agriculture. Therefore, only commercial activities, such as small business opportunities, which became increasingly accessible to Africans in the 1940s, and membership in the industrial wage-earning class-in-the-making offered the possibility of a rise in socio-economic standing and permitted 'investment' of consequent earnings. Both avenues, however, led necessarily to the resettlement of Luba-speaking people in areas outside the Luba-speaking region, where, moreover, the thorough knowledge of this language of colonial communication could be relatively advantageous to them. All non-agricultural activity thus automatically placed the local African world in a direct juxtaposition to the white colonial world. In this way, the Luba progressively became the 'cultural brokers' (intermédiaires culturels )[28]par excellence, first in the Kasai, then in the south, and then even in the centre of the country, with the exception of the Lower Congo area. And, as they did so, they became internally derived 'strangers' in the country.


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11— The Formation of the Political Culture of Ethnicity in the Belgian Congo, 1920–19591
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