The Democratic Republic of Congo is often represented as an isolated “Heart of Darkness”. Its booming cross-border trade nonetheless represents a powerful answer to state collapse and armed conflict and introduces new, surprisingly liberal, forms of government.
Observers often agree that ‘history repeats itself’ in Eastern Congo – from the slavery conditions imposed by Belgian King Leopold over Mobutu’s predatory state, to today’s armed militias. The reason why these ghosts come haunting Congo’s present is primarily related to unending competition over the ‘right to protect’ unfree populations.
The existence of such regionalized markets for protection in Congo’s eastern borderlands results in a situation whereby violent accumulation often outlives ideal statehood: soldiers, armed rebels, police and ‘non-state’ authorities fight for the right to exploit local communities and accumulate capital through extra-economic means. One the one hand, this pushes people further into poverty and undermines their efforts to earn a living; on the other, it leads to more stationary forms of predation as a result of post-war integration of such protection rackets into national state government. (cover picture courtesy Justine Brabant)
This guest post by the The Committee of Congo-in-Europe describes the motives for the march of John Mpaliza and his friends to ask for justice in DR Congo. John is an inhabitant of Reggio Emilia (Italy) since 18 years. He left on foot from Reggio Emilia in July 2012 to reach the European capital, walking over 1.600 kilometres during one and a half months, and traversing seven European countries.
In an opinion article for Foreign Policy Magazine, two established scholars, Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills, make a case for the abolishment of the Democratic Republic of Congo as a unitary state: rather than focusing on the promotion of the Congolese state, they say, foreign governments and aid agencies would do better dealing with those agents and institutions that are “actually running” the country. Instead of the usual panoply of ministers and state administrations, this would bring to the fore a “confusing array” of governors, traditional leaders, warlords, and whomever exerts control on the ground. The reason, they say, is that the country is just too big to be governed by a single state: resource rich provinces such as the Kivus and Katanga (themselves the size of other African countries) could never be improved as long as they fall under a “fictional” Congolese state. Besides economic federalism, their reimagined approach also assigns priority to the US’s historical ally Rwanda, given that much of the current violence in Eastern Congo derives from the wake of the 1994 genocide. Get this right and there might actually be a chance to reduce the violence that has haunted the Kivus and the Congo for the last decades, they say.