The Moral Economy Of Paternalism. Reflections From The Congolese Copperbelt

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 415
Oral Presentation
Benjamin RUBBERS , Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales, Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium
Once the most important mining enterprise of Congo-Zaïre, famed for its outward paternalism, the Gécamines – the former Union minière du Haut-Katanga, nationalized in 1967 – went into a steep decline in the 1990s. To address the situation, the World Bank advocated, in the early 2000s, the sale of company assets to private investors, and the dismissal of 10, 000 Gécamines employees with more than 25 years service. Based on ethnographic research among these employees made redundant, this paper aims at reflecting upon the future of paternalism in the Congolese Copperbelt at the dawn of the 21st century. It shows that, with the decline of Gécamines and the impoverishment of its workers in the 1990s, the models of relationship once promoted by the company’s paternalistic policy (the company as a benevolent father, the workforce as a unified community, the individual worker as a responsible, Christian, pater familias, and so on) came to be more and more put into question. Nevertheless, as several examples will make clear, these models, or norms, continue to influence workers’ expectations – and to be used as a reference – in their relationships with public authorities, with their wife and children, with (former) colleagues, and with non-Gécamines workers. At a more general level, the paper suggests that, far from being limited to ex-Gécamines workers, this paternalistic “moral economy” underlies the relationship that most inhabitants of the Congolese copperbelt have with wage work and institutional employers. To avoid conflicts with workers, local communities and public authorities, the mining companies that came in Katanga during the last decade have but no choice to take such expectations into account. By doing so, they contribute to the emergence of a new form of paternalism, distinct from the one developed by Gécamines in the 20th century.