Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's up with Le Potentiel?

There was a time when le Potentiel was one of the most critical newspapers in the country. Founded in 1982, it was one of the most independent newspapers in the country, run by Modeste Mutinga. Building on this reputation, Mutinga went on to become the head of the High Media Authority (HAM) during the 2003-2006 transition.

For some reason, however, it seems that Le Potentiel (circulation ca. 4,000) has been losing its edge, it might even be seen to be cozying up the the government. Over the last week, it has published an article titled "Assassination of Floribert Chebeya: The 'crime d'etat' should be excluded," suggesting that it the government had no interest in killing Chebeya and therefore it couldn't have done it. They quoted an anonymous source in the ministry of interior who said that "this scenario is not being considered by any serious criminologist." They published a similar article a week earlier.

Then came a belligerent article denouncing an initiative by the opposition to launch a shadow government as "political infantilism" and a distraction. In the same edition, they hosted a question and answer to the director of the Cité du Fleuve, a mega construction project in the Congo river that members of the government are rumored to have interests in.

The firebombing of the Congolese ambassador's residence in London also provoked a strong reaction from the newspaper:
This attack being the umpteenth act of terrorism perpetrated against our diplomats, it’s fitting to pose questions about the ability of British authorities to protect foreign diplomats and particularly those from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It also included a warm endorsement of the Congolese ambassador in London.

All of these opinions are, of course, legitimate, although one might disagree. But they are opinions, not news articles. And they seem very sympathetic towards the government.

It should also be pointed out that Modeste Mutinga went from being the head of HAM to becoming a senator and joining the presidential AMP coalition. He frequently writes articles in his former newspaper, which has led much head-shaking amongst kinois, who lament the conflict of interest and the fact that he does not put them in an opinion section.

Let's hope that this is just a temporary fluke.


Alex Engwete said...

Ha! Ha! Ha!

It's not a temporary fluke. You just discovered a Congolese norm of "normal"... And btw, rationally and "objectively" (adverb used by Le Potentiel), how could this murder profit the government?... Seriously!

As for the attack on the residence of Kikaya in London, I also strongly condemned it--for personal reasons, among others! Kikaya was a buddy of mine while he was doing his graduate work at Boston University. We even went out one evening to a Papa Wemba concert in Boston...

In any event, as for the general point you're trying to make: Congolese politicos are fickle! It's a cultural trait: people would insult each other one day and make up the next day (and vice versa)!

I remember what an American anthropologist told me when Mobutu left the Interahamwe and ex-FAR by the border with Rwanda: "This is the death of Mobutu and Zaire! Does he think these people are like Zairians who fight at noon and then go out to drink lotoko [moonshine] together in the evening?"

Another example of Congolese fickleness: a staunch Mobutu opponent like Tshisekedi actively collaborated with Mobutu in the end!

Jason Stearns said...

Exactement. The examples are legion - a good chunk of Bukavu civil society joined the government in 2003-6, Zahidi Ngoma was tortured by LD Kabila, then worked with J Kabila, Henri Mova was stanch opposition activist under Mobutu, then worked with LD Kabila, Mende/Thambwe Mwamba/Endundo have all worked with several different rebellions and political parties. A leopard can't change its spots, but the leopardis congoliensis sure can. Vraiment.

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