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Congo's 'Change of Mentality'

The question seems particularly urgent in Lubumbashi, where Congo's wealth is paraded daily before the people it has always eluded.

Heavy trucks heaped with ore rumble down shady boulevards lined with money-changers and fruit vendors who advertise on scraps of cardboard. Multinational mining company executives sip wine at $30-an-entree restaurants with names such as Planet Hollyboom, served by waiters who live without running water.

Foreign businesspeople zip around town hustling up mineral deals that rely largely on a vast network of informal Congolese miners who make $3 digging on a good day.

Attempting to satisfy the rising expectations since the 2006 elections, the governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi -- who presides over an area the size of France -- has made several symbolic gestures.

Though he has no official power to do so, he decreed a new minimum wage of $150 a month. He bought several ambulances and hearses with his own money. He levied new property taxes, planted roses at the airport and painted downtown shops in shades of salmon.

But provincial lawmakers here worry that such efforts will remain symbolic unless a culture of reform takes root, which they say would begin with the implementation of the new constitution.

Meanwhile, the provincial assemblies are still waiting to receive their 40 percent share of national revenue.

"People in my area, they have submitted projects to be implemented in 2007, and now it's 2008 and it's not been realized," said Dany Banza Maloba, a politician. "The central government has 100 percent of the money, but they have not completed any projects in my area, zero. I repeat, zero."

Maloba was among a group of young politicians who gathered around a table in the old Belgian theater recently to discuss how things have changed since the Mobutu years.

He and his colleagues said there is a constant, at times frightening pressure not to disrupt the old, corrupt system.

"When you find something irregular and you try to raise your voice, people call you," said Prince Pitonsi Ehud, a lawyer. "I've had ministers call me, relatives of the president -- they try to pressure you until you stop, until you just shut up."

Even so, he said, he expected that Congo would change, eventually.

"Nobody would think that one day Mobutu would fall," he said. "But he did."


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