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)