Breaking Down: Unite et Litre by Baloji

The Congolese-Belgian artist, Baloji, discusses the economic struggles of his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in his song “Unite et Litre”. The lyrics of the song are written in French, the official language of the country as it was inherited during its colonization period. While I don’t speak French, the language barrier doesn’t take away from enjoying the upbeat elements of the song and the music video. The aspects of both make you want to learn exactly what Baloji’s words are.

In the music video, the main focus is on a young woman dancing in different locations, including that of which looks like the building of a brewing company. Baloji’s lyrics aim to critique the economic conditions of the Congo, with telecom companies (unit) and alcohol breweries (litre) possessing significant power on the continent. In fact, these two products became the cheapest available on the continent as of 2015–the title of the song refers respectively to these two industries. Through the choreography in the music video and the lyrics of the song, I decided to analyze the Zairianization and economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as the Republic of Zaire, was under the rule of Mobutu. Following the nation’s achievement of independence from Belgium, Mobutu’s actions of the privatization of assets worsened the economic crisis, which led to the people conjuring up the strategy known as “debrouillez-vous”. This phrase translates to “you are on your own, fend for yourself”–similar to Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”. This strategy led to the connection of community groups s a result of the people needing to provide for themselves.  The poverty that the nation faced, and continues to face as a result of expansion and globalization, is a situation where the state is failing to provide assistance for the basic needs of its people. African women have been forced to break their normal gender roles in order to discover their capabilities so that they may be able to provide for their families, instead of depending on the government and their husbands. As more and more men have become unemployed it is especially important for the women to step up to the plate, during the nation’s economy continuation into a downward spiral.

Through the economic downturn, a woman is often still expected to be the submissive, stereotype if her husband so chooses. As I read in, “Survivors of Sexual Violence Narratives on Women’s Livelihood Strategies in the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC Prior to the 1996 War”, Dario claims that “individuals, when facing life challenges, deploy different coping strategies to achieve an objective […] This objective is also subject to geographical location and socio-economic status issues that influence the adoption of any coping strategies” (Zihindula). To continue on, the feminist theory of rape is explained in connection to female dependence on their male counterparts, stating that “…dependence on men for their livelihood is related to male domination and men’s intention to continue excluding women from accessing and controlling economic resources” (Zihindula). The explanation of the feminist theory of rape abled me to make a connection to the dependence of the poor onto their elite counterparts–it is a never-ending cycle through lack of education and opportunities on both spectrums.

Next, I would like to discuss Zairianization and how this impacted the Republic of Zaire. For those of you wondering what Zairianization is, it was an ideology created by Mobutu in the nation of Zaire. As defined in the Oxford Dictionary, Zairianization, or Mobutuism, was originally based on a uniquely Zairean identity and increased the focus on Mobutu’s role in the nation. Throughout Mobutu’s time as ruler, he stole heaps of money from the country’s economy, and due to the theft, the economy collapsed–which of course connects to the trust of the “common people” in the “elite”. This leads to his Zairianization ideology, and created many nationalized companies that soon went bankrupt. Although Mobutu eventually turned over many of the companies back to the people. What I have found particularly intriguing is the fact that the country’s economy was never able to recover–which leads us to the economic struggles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in today’s day.

Today, the Congo maintains “an extraordinarily high unemployment rate” (Kim). Further into this article, “To Grow the Economy, Support Female Founders” by Jim Yong Kim, he advises that in order to achieve a common goal of ending extreme poverty, the amount of women-owned businesses need to increase. Kim believes that through investing in women in this manner, the goal will be achieved much faster in that these businesses create jobs and break societal norms and laws in countries that block them from being independent of a man (Kim). However, while businesses in general clearly create more jobs and grow the market, I do not see how strictly investing in women-owned businesses would at all initiate an end to worldwide poverty. An alternative that I see better fit, in connection with the issues Baloji highlights through “Unite et Litre” would be to open the market to more businesses in general in order to lessen the domination of telecom companies and breweries in the Congo and other countries in the center of the continent of Africa. Furthermore, Kim states that through training and mentoring programs it has proven to build up businesses run by women, and they have created great results. If these strategies were opened into workshops for all people, I think that it would lead to a jumpstart in the economy and create a better variation of wealth distribution and product options.

Through new policies and business-building workshops, I believe that the economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo faces a better chance of climbing its way back up the ladder. As of now, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries, still suffering from economic impact under the rule of Mobutu. Baloji’s critique of the economy in his home country is a fair one, in that the two cheapest products remain to be considered luxuries. How is it that the telecom companies and breweries have made their products the most accessible? Join me in my next post to critique and discover, alongside Baloji, just how despite the nation’s independence of European colonization, lead them to be under the control of these industries that are able to dominate and maintain low prices in Central Africa.

Make sure to check out the video imbedded here on my blog!