– Frank Van Acker and Koen Vlassenroot –
Is Kivu burning? This might appear as a mere rhetorical question in view of the urgent situation reports circulating, were it not that the term ‘burning’ seems sadly inadequate for the experience of conflict which the Kivu provinces in the east of the D.R.Congo are undergoing. ‘Smouldering’ might perhaps be a better metaphor, meaning both ‘burning slowly’ as well as ‘consumed with rage’. It would at least underline the complexity of the situation, by implying there is neither total war nor total absence of it. To wave off the issue by wrapping it in a stale description such as ‘new barbarism’ in reference to the Mai Mai, seems totally inadequate considering that the conflict carries elements of civil war, organized crime, as well as an invasion of standing armies of third states. To better understand the conflicts of South-Sudan, East-Congo, or other such places, there seems a lot more work left in terms of upgrading the level of sophistication of analysis. As Donald Crummey states: ‘the real challenge is to see violence within its social setting, to appreciate its roots in social conflict, and to understand why and how people turn to it’ . Lately there have been a number of promising approaches, in which the opportunities arising from the criminalization of economies and the instrumentalization of disorder take center stage. Yet, when it comes to the criminalization of economic exchange, in ex-Zaire the running down and looting of assets had been going on since the middle-seventies, both formally and informally. Why did it not plunge the country into this type of conflict before? The picture of criminalization would need to be fitted into the larger one of a different world order; First, the breakdown of the cold war politics of containment ruptured the international commitment to the preservation of Africa’s colonial borders and flooded the region with small arms. Second, the concomitant wave of democratisation brought renewed and multiple claims on the state. Third, the scale of the grey and illegal markets (high-value extractable resources, arms, and drugs) and the possibilities for their integration has vastly increased. Fourth, the paradigm of humanitarianism inserts assets in zones where all other assets have been run down. Unlike the cold war era when belligerents drew on military supply lines from their patrons, humanitarian intervention has become a central asset in terms of the media coverage it attracts, the communication possibilities it opens up, and the amount of relief goods, services, and cash it injects into a local economy characterized by divestment. Finally, it seems the role of dispossessed youth searching for ways to achieve a modicum of status in a much more fluid and unpredictable social landscape, has scarcely been highlighted.
The combination of these diverse elements is what makes the so-called ‘complex emergencies’ so intractable, and what has put humanitarian agents unwittingly at risk of being a party to the conflict and an object of attack. To give but one example, in 1998 the UN reported that Rwandan ex-FAR, Interahamwe, and other armed groups were directly involved in the drugs trade, whereby the refugee camp in Lokichogio, Northern Kenya, functioned as the transit point for the smuggling of mandrax from India and drugs from Latin America to South-Africa.
From these scattered elements it is necessary to construct new ways to analyse this type of conflict, and to give workable suggestions that might give humanitarian organisations a second breath. In our analysis of the conflict in Kivu, both market forces and cultural discourse play a central role, against a historic background of the long deterioration process of the Zairian state. The central thesis of this paper is that violence is used as a means to reorganise economic space and control mobility within and between spaces. War is then understood as an effort to concentrate violence in manageable and exchangeable forms. The role and position of youth will be put at the center of analysis. The argument to be developed can be broken down in three parts. First, the political economy of social fragmentation in Kivu is the outcome of a long historic process, in which internal and external elements became intertwined to produce a qualitatively different economic use of the available space and the mobility of labour within it. In Kivu, the economic use of space traditionally reflected the social organisation. The reorganisation of that space by the entrance of new participants via politics and the market, eroded the customary social organisation. The result was a structural change of rural society, most notably a change in the nature of risk pooling at the community level (when viewed as a network of households) and at the household level itself, both between the sexes and between generations. The market increasingly mediated the handling of risks associated with subsistence living. The nature of these changes, in combination with population growth, produced an agricultural labour surplus of mostly young men that opted for demographic strategies of temporary migration, thereby setting a precedent for the future.
Second, the principle of stratification under Mobutu –converting political loyalty into economic assets – required the regular recycling of the political elite, under his proverbial divide-and-rule strategy. As the crisis of the state became more pronounced, the available assets dwindled. Combining this aspect with the push for democratization in the eighties, Mobutu encouraged exit-strategies based on ethnic criteria. Local political leaders enforced the suggested exit of a particular group by mobilizing others not belonging to that group. The loot would be based on ‘self-service’. Destined to be a self-defeating strategy in the long run for Mobutu, it did introduce violence based on ethnic identity as a legitimate instrument to bring about change. More especially, it upgraded the status of those young men marginalized in the customary networks of dependency: the most mobile, that is those with the least to lose. The Rwandan refugee crisis and the subsequent wars further reinforced the view that violence based on ethnicity and carried out by groups of mobile youth had become the dominant principle to effect structural change. In addition, organizing distress brought in the much-coveted and seemingly inexhaustible stream of humanitarian assets that could be ‘harvested’ at will by strategies of exemplary terror.
Third, the context of state-desintegration and growing insecurity gave rise to the development of new strategies of economic control. Disorder, insecurity and a general state of impunity encouraged the formation of new and militarised networks for the extraction of economic benefits. Reference to ethnic belonging became an integral and crucial part of both strategies of control and resistance. The main consequence was a total reorganisation of the existing social and economic space. Three different, but intertwined dynamics can be distinguished. Primo, at a grassroot level, the formation of militia not only offered some opportunities to the younger generations to escape from further alienation. In the current context, violence actually advantages them in their search for new forms of integration. Many young Congolese today reject the existing social and political order and opt for new egalitarian forms of social organisation with violence as the main mode of discource, which, in every community, is leading to a shift of influence to the advantage of this generation of ‘combatants’. Secundo, the shift to violence gave rise to a new kind of local strongmen (in some cases former army-commanders), that try to control the remaining local markets though militarised informal networks. These ‘local warlords’ find in the existing grassroot militia an easy power-base for the protection of their rent-seeking activities, which gave a new impulse to militia-formation. Their attempts to coordinate the activities of the different branches of the Mai Mai and to link them to the remnants of Interahamwe and FDD gives another dimension to the existing conflict. Tertio, warlordism is not only reduced to local actors, but seems to be one of the driving forces of some RPA- and UPDF-commanders actually present in Eastern Congo.
Social fragmentation in Kivu: the role of land
In order to analyze structural change in terms of control of economic space, the erosion of stable patron-client structures that find an equivalent expression in land tenure rights provides the most meaningful departure point. In different parts of Kivu, especially the highlands with their rich volcanic soil, a land tenure system evolved in which the granting of use rights to the subject in person rewarded loyalty and subservience to the traditional chiefs. In such a system, social power is closely connected to the separability of use rights and benefit rights. To the extent that the two are separated, use rights can be accorded in exchange of tribute. Rent benefits are then subdivided in an elaborate system of dependencies. The place in the hierarchy and the allegiance commanded is clearly circumscribed by the amount of rents over which the person in question exerts control in terms of tributes received versus tributes paid. In Kivu, the result was a tightly controlled social pyramid with the custodian of the tribal land (mwami or chief) at the top, and at the bottom the peasants that paid tribute without receiving any. For a peasant family the system traded social integration and hence security for loyalty and tribute to the mwami, while for the mwami it provided power in exchange for granting non-alienable use rights over the customary dominion. Non-alienable, because even in the case where a land had been farmed for several generations by the family of a particular person, no subject could legitimately own land (in the full sense of usus, fructus and abusus) which was held for the community as a whole by its traditional custodian. Even when a man cleared virgin land or forest, he basically extended the collective dominion while gaining some use rights of his own. To the extent that these were further divisible and hence rendered him capable of exacting tribute, these use rights could propel him higher into the hierarchy as the head of a new lineage. So basically, the result was a complex structure of rights were nobody had complete property rights, but few – if any – had no rights at all.
Seeing in the Kivu highlands the potential for a rich and diversified plantation agriculture, the Belgian colonial administration introduced a system of land registration and private ownership. To do so, it carved out the necessary land from the collectively held communal lands by declaring all vacant land property of the state. Although it introduced a dual system of property rights and encroached on communally held lands on the basis of declarations of vacancy, it did recognize within limits the legitimacy of the locally evolved land tenure system. The introduction under Mobutu of the land law of 1973 meant a radical break with this tradition. The 1973 law declared all land – whether vacant or not – state property, and discarded customary law in land transactions as a legitimate source of land rights, without according any legal status to customarily occupied lands. The enactment of this law provided a powerful instrument to modify Kivu’s social structure; throwing out the notion of diffuse property rights introduced the possibility for a class of people without land and rights to form. In essence it allowed the economic control over land to shift from colonial family-held plantations to a new class of urban Congolese entrepreneurs and for it to be concentrated in their hands, save for a limited number of surviving company plantations. The mechanism that allowed this effect to play out was the conversion of social capital built up in Mobutu’s political entourage into economic property rights, as Mobutu rewarded political loyalty with the distribution of nationalised assets, including communal land that could now be expropriated without a preliminary investigation of vacancy. Encroaching upon customarily held land and subjecting it to market transactions, had therefore a number of far-reaching and inter-related effects.
First, the rise to prominence of the new breed of Congolese entrepreneurs meant an increase in heterogeneity of local society – in the form of inter-household social differences in wealth and interests – over and above the degree of heterogeneity that had been introduced mainly by the colonial politics of massive labour import from nearby Rwanda. As the controlled labour migration reflected the political economic conditions of the colonial era, so did the emergence of a new class of people reflect the political economic conditions of the post-colonial time. The new principle of stratification and elite-formation that was introduced with the process of nationalisation, mirrored the shifting alliances of Mobutu: closeness to Mobutu allowed economic prominence. This evolution also introduced the notion of absentee-landowners that were not dependent on the productivity of the land for their economic success, unlike the former colonial planters. In 1984 for example, the largest plantations in Bushi (a part of South-Kivu) covered about 10,270 ha, of which 36% was not used (Dupriez). In essence, such figures are merely a reflection of Mobutu’s disregard for small agricultural producers as a basis for revenue and legitimacy. In some places in Kivu, the conditions underlying the political economy of the colonial and post-colonial era came together in what was to become one of the triggers of the current conflict, when certain Banyarwanda became Mobutu’s closest allies in the seventies. Rewarded with ministerial posts and armed with the 1972 law on Zairian nationality, they were able to concentrate a large number of former colonial estates in their hands. Mararo has documented how labourers recruited from Rwanda between 1943 and 1947 settled Muvunyi-Kibabi, at the center of colonial-led settlement in Masisi in North-Kivu. With the enactment of the 1973 land law and zairianization measures, some of the biggest ranches in the area passed into the hands of Banyarwanda. The biggest of all – the Osso ranch – went to Bisengimana Rwema, Mobutu’s chief of staff at that time (Mararo, 1999).
The effect of social differentiation however was not limited to the acquisition of former plantations. It went further in that land held under customary law was sold – mainly by the bami – either to the plantation-owners or other entrepreneurs, or to persons high up in the local administration. In the eyes of these rural ‘newcomers’, the law provided a fully legitimate framework to do so. To the local people, customs dictated legitimacy. Between the two, assets were diverted from the customary towards the modern legal system, with the bami as gatekeepers. The latter functioned as appointed state representative at the local level, in addition to their customary function as custodian of the collective interests and assets of the people. In this latter function, they could repeal use rights; a decision which they could then enforce in their capacity of judge of the customary courts by adjudicating according to the interests of modern actors and the rules of cleptocracy.
Second, extracting land from the system of customary ownership – the main integrative focus of the social fabric – had the effect of wearing down the social structure based on it. Capitalizing the rents embedded in the land eroded the web of mutual dependency that was built on the careful cropping and (re-)distribution of these rents over time. Not unlike feudal social structures, land-based social organizations form a stable structure as long as rents are created and are not destroyed by rent-seeking. The main form of rent seeking that destroys rent from land is the capitalization of the full rent, that is the cashing in of the discounted future benefits of the land by means of subjecting land to the laws of the market (Sorensen, 1996). When the concentration of land in private hands is seen in conjunction with an unrelenting population growth and the expropriation of land by the state for public purposes, the effect becomes even more pronounced. Whereas in 1980 only 13.4% of Zaire’s population lived in areas where population density exceeded 100 persons/km2, in the Kivu provinces this was 49%. In his survey of 84 farm-exploitations in the zone of Luhoto (North-Kivu) in the beginning of the nineties, Tsongo found that 31% of these exploitations covered 71,2% of the cultivable area, with a Gini coefficient of 0,599. Tied in with this process of subjecting land to the laws of the market, was a subtle evolution in the nature of subsistence risk-management. This, as stated above, initially depended on the pooling and redistribution of risks via intricate patterns of dependency that were based on the traditional land tenure system. As the market increasingly mediated the management of risk, it did so not only at the cost of changing inter-household and community ties, but also at the cost of changing intra-household relations in two different ways: a gender and generation effect. Both of these effects were expressed in a changing use of space, and a changing mobility within that space.
On the one hand there is a gender-effect; Increasing land pressure in highland Kivu eroded traditional coping mechanisms built into the farming system, such as crop diversification according to agro-climatic zones and the integration of pastoralism and agriculture. Accordingly, land with the most secure tenure status, mostly close to the homestead, was increasingly reserved for cash-crops (mostly bananas), the domain of men. Food crops, the women’s domain, were relegated to areas formerly governed by rules of open access but now subject to systems of short-term contracts: the valley-bottom swamps and the hillsides formerly used for woodland and grazing. This evolution contributed to a shift in cropping patterns from nutritious leguminae to the protein-deficient cassava that was easier to cultivate and market. In the sense that food security was increasingly at risk in the later eighties – with an outright famine in 1989 – impoverishment reached new thresholds. For the area of Bwisha in North-Kivu, Pottier documented how increased vulnerability at a time of such severe shock further enhanced inequality and the concentration of land and other assets (Pottier…). With the crisis of the rural areas so pronounced, people became more open to the promise of radical change that came with the ethnically-based mobilization that passed for democratization in much of Kivu.
On the other hand there is an inter-generation effect. The increasing land pressure also put more strain on customary arrangements whereby every male heir was entitled to a part of lineage land. In the absence of any noteworthy industrial development, the only option for the new class of landless young men – the so-called baginzi – was to gain a living via the market. This could be done in different ways. Either by cultivating marketable foodcrops on land with very precarious tenure security, or by voting with their feet and opting for demographic strategies to either sell one’s labour elsewhere as migrant agricultural labourer, or make a living in ex-Zaire’s large grey economy of gold digging, smuggling, and poaching. In this sense, increased mobility of mostly young men was an answer to a social situation under severe strain. In addition, it allowed them to gain access to a number of token symbols of modernity. A whole economy developed around this migration of young men. On the one hand, with the liberalization of gold-mining in 1982 in Kivu’s hinterlands and the great number that were prepared to test their luck, a migrant commerce developed between these areas and a number of border-towns, especially Bujumbura’s Zairian twin-town Uvira. Bruneau has documented how the population of Uvira had one of the highest growth-rates of Zaire: 124% between 1970 and 1984 as against 19% for Bukavu in the same period (Bruneau, 1995). This trade not only dealt with the marketing of gold and necessary inputs in the remote digging areas (food, implements…), but also with the symbols necessary to become a zappeur, the local interpretation of a modern young man marked by success: spiffy clothes and lacqué shoes, trendy haircuts, drink and prostitutes… On the other hand, a number of young men worked as migrant agricultural labourer in the lowland plantations of Walikale. They were paid in kind, and traded these goods along the route on their way back to highland Kivu. Also here, a trading economy developed around this migration pattern.
New possibilities for social mobility: the promise of ethnic conflict
Not only local people increasingly sought to mediate the risks of structural change via the market, also Mobutu did. The political strategy guiding former Zaire’s president had been rather straightforward from the very beginning: divide the opposition, then collect the ‘tepid’ and cash-strapped from among the group of disagreeing politicians and flood them with funds. If this fails, resort to techniques of terror. To do this, Mobutu needed to build up both a trusted group of military (the DSP: Division Speciale Presidentielle) and a network of patronage by maintaining a high rate of pay-outs. As the instance of zairinization and the land law of 1973 shows, he did this by constantly converting economic assets into a stock of political resources for (re-)distribution to those who had shown political loyalty, without however giving them a chance to become powerful enough to mount a leadership challenge. This required that they be regularly stripped of their privileges and ‘recycled’ as opposition politicians, from where they could be fished up again. In this way, senior politicians like Nguz-Karl-I-Bond regularly found themselves back in political exile in Brussels, before being reintegrated as Mobutu’s trusted handymen. The process of shifting government income to the president’s office for discretionary spending however contained the seed of its own destruction, as it gutted productive capacity. To give an idea, in the period 1958-1993 the population of Zaire soared from 15 to 42 million inhabitants, while the production per capita shrank approximately 65% from 377 $ in 1957 to 117 $ in 1993. Estimates are that between 1988 and 1993, the BIP per capita contracted by 11.7% per year. The central problem that confronted Mobutu therefore during his long hold on power, was how to continue to assert authority amidst declining resources. As Reno affirms, to the extent that formal state bureaucracies collapsed under Mobutu, the latter increasingly exerted authority through control over markets rather than bureaucracies. Additionally, to the extent that formal markets collapsed, the extraction of resources from the ‘grey’ sector of informal and/or illegal economic circuits assumed greater importance (Reno). The difference signalled an important evolution in the use of state power. Initially a vehicle to manipulate access to the distribution of resources derived from the export of minerals and the implementation of mega-projects (e.g. the Inga-dam), the destruction of Zaire’s formal economic and centralized political fabric necessitated a shift to a more decentralized patronage network. This meant that Mobutu used state power to manipulate market opportunities related to the more ‘traditional’ clandestine trade (smuggling of gold and diamonds), while he also directed attention to new rackets that subverted state regulatory authority. One of these was the issuing of false bank-notes, especially the bills of 5 million Zaires – popularly calledmayeshe (ape) because of the gorilla figuring on it – in which the powerful generals Nzimbi and Baramoto (chiefs of the DSP and Garde Civile) were involved. This business allowed Mobutu and his allies to launder money from the drugs and arms trade by financing the purchase of diamonds from small traders with useless Zairian currency, and then converting these diamonds in the Antwerp market into dollars of suspect origin. So rather than being directed from state bureaucracies, these patronage networks were organized as a decentralized network of contending centers of accumulation, with nothing but ‘l’Afrique inutile’ between them. Not being able to provide direct pay-outs, Mobutu managed to maintain a modicum of stability by balancing competing forces through either selective support or selective encouragement to commit acts of violence.
In order to achieve selective violence, Mobutu gave the army leeway to act as a private army. This was clear from the way Zaire’s regular army behaved during the widespread looting in major cities in ‘91 and ‘93, and the humanitarian rackets it organized in Kivu. In addition, a new and untested element came onto the scene: groups of youth militia, which could be made to spring up effortlessly from that same ‘Afrique inutile’. In this way, the fates of rural youth marginalized from meaningful ways of social integration, and that of Mobutu manipulating the polity with ‘scorched earth’-strategies, joined in the formula of exit-strategies. To enable the effectiveness of these strategies, a climate of impunity was guaranteed by the skilful management of disorder. The first demonstration of how this strategy worked took place a few years before the Rwandan genocide, where indeed it was pushed to the very limits of its cynical logic. In Katanga in 1991 and 92, special youth groups of the Katanga ‘nationalist’ party UFERI, under the name of JUFERI, were assigned the task of pushing out by whatever means the Baluba towards their native Kasai. These youth groups encouraged the participation of other civilians in the use of violence. In this way, Mobutu wanted to undercut the power-base of his arch-rival Tsishekedi in the rich and strategic province of Shaba. Sometime later in 1993, Mobutu actively encouraged stirring up the cauldron of ethnic resentment in the provinces of Kivu. It started with Masisi in North-Kivu in 1993, and was followed up with the encouragement of ‘exit’ of Congolese Tutsi in South-Kivu. In April 1995, the High Council of the Transitional Parliament passed a resolution that included a list of Banyamulenge to be expelled, the cancellation of any transfer of assets that involved them, and the banning of Tutsi from all administrative and other posts. In September, Uvira’s District Commissioner Shweka Mutabazi ordered a list of all properties and land owned by Banyamulenge. Popular demonstrations and increasing incidences of harassment of Banyamulenge by the Zairian army and youth militia in Uvira followed these official proclamations. On the other side, a Tutsi youth militia from Bujumbura (the so-called sans echec) was trucked in to assist the Banyamulenge in their armed resistance.
Two military campaigns and Mobutu’s removal from office later, the imprint of the latter’s strategy to instrumentalize disorder lingers on unabated. Three of its main consequences are of prime importance to the arguments presented in this paper. First, ethnicity continues to be the main instrument to organize disorder: no other theme or issue has any remotely similar mobilizing power. Second, in the absence of any political space to express contention, the discourse of violence remains as the sole legitimate expression of the wish to bring about structural change. Third, the control of limited resources that allow the extraction of rents, in terms of a reward for their mere possession, remains central. In Kivu, after the dismantling and ‘export’ of the limited industrial infrastructure, this contest for control is centred on the mining centres. This is not surprising, given that in circumstances of general insecurity as some studies on the mafia have shown, the criteria for assets coveted are the relative ease of monopolizing markets and the realizable value added. In spatial terms, it seems to refer back to the pre-colonial era of ‘l’Afrique des comptoirs’, where a limited number of economically worthwhile enclaves is surrounded by ‘l’Afrique inutile’. Yet, humanitarianism introduced a shift in that the population contained within this ‘useless’ rural Africa is a potential asset that can attract aid and attention. As the recent history of the conflict in South-Sudan has demonstrated repeatedly, using exemplary terror against the civilian population carries a potentially large dividend. After dissident factions of the SPLA looted and burned some villages and harvests, humanitarian aid began to arrive diligently. What this point indicates is that local dynamics are now played out in a wider theatre, where regional political and economic interests and humanitarian intervention interact with local agenda.
From patrimonial to military control of resources
On the ground, Eastern Congo came to resemble what could best be described as ‘a mosaic of different enclaves of control’. The urban centres are under control of the rebel-movements, while the interior is controlled by armed groups such as Mai Mai,Interahamwe, ex-FAC… So far we have argued that the internal political crisis constitutes the key-element to explain the current situation, as the context of state-disintegration and growing insecurity gave rise to the development of new strategies of economic control. At this point, the paper will add the argument that the two consecutive military campaigns of 1996 and 1998 had the effect of linking local and regional dynamics, and of encouraging the reorganisation of the economic space in which the use of violence became a crucial characteristic. Disorder, insecurity and a general state of impunity encouraged the formation of new and militarised networks for the extraction of economic benefits. To develop this argument, the paper will put forward two elements. First, patterns of elite formation have changed drastically. Due to the absence today of any political framework capable of organising social and economic interaction, novel types of strongmen have surfaced that profit from the existing circumstances of general insecurity to monopolise the control over certain markets. Second, the result is not limited to a general militarisation of rent-seeking activities, but implies a much broader transformation of the existing social and economic fabric.
First, with the local economy in complete tatters and the region flooded with small arms, the absence of any authority capable of regulating the economic and social competition encourages the militarisation of economic relations. On the one hand the decline of the economy rendered fragile the existing politico-commercial networks, on the other the shift to violence promoted a different kind of local strongmen that replaced the traditional coalitions between the customary authorities, administrators and local entrepreneurs that worked so well under Mobutu. For this new breed of ‘brokers’, the situation of open conflict creates the necessary opportunities to control whatever remains of the local markets and extract the benefits through newly formed and militarised networks. It also puts at an advantage the local youth in its search for new forms of integration. Marginalised socially, scores of young people have been attracted to the attempts of new local actors to mobilise the younger generations. Reducing the explanation of the current crisis to an ethnically underpinned message – in essence a strong expression of being anti-Tutsi – is generally sufficient to convince youngsters of joining (or forming) militia, presented as local branches of the Mai Mai movement. In this regard, the two dynamics of strongmen seeking economic control and youth seeking social integration interact strongly, invigorating the tapestry of rural militia, especially since the outbreak of the second war. Doted with a renewed stamina, the rural militia also became an attractive vehicle for resistance for urban youth and civil society members in exile, as expressed by better organised alliances that even have political representation abroad. To give an example, different branches of Mai Mai have representatives in Kigoma, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. What is more, the ‘Union des Forces Vives pour la Libération et la Démocratie’ and the ‘Conseil Régional pour la Lutte contre l’Occupation Etrangère’, both presenting themselves as political branches of the Mai Mai movement, have sent memoranda to the UN and the White House.
The second point to be indicated as one of the most striking consequences of the continuing conflict is the corrosion of the social fabric. There were two steps to this process. First, during the era of democratization ethnicity was used as a vehicle to propel politicians into national politics on the basis of aged but undigested grassroot conflicts. Second, in the current phase of the conflict in Kivu, in which local client regimes are pitted against one another, regional actors mobilize the same grassroot animosities to leverage their strategic advantage. As to the first ‘round’ in the process, ethnicity proved to be such a powerful instrument for political mobilisation, because it expressed the particularistic links between local political entrepreneurs and their constituent communities. The introduction of the notion of ‘géopolitique’ in the early phase of the democratisation process (a crucial part of Mobutu’s divide-and-rule strategy) was the first element to intensify local ethnic competition. This notion emerged during the National Conference in 1991, and established that national institutions and key-posts in the administration should be established on the basis of regional quotas.
As indicated earlier, it was the trigger of the well-documented exclusion campaign in North-Kivu, but also of the political strife expressed in ethnic terms between Bashi and Warega in South-Kivu. It is important to stipulate here that ethnicity was not only cultivated and mobilized from the top-down. It had also been a crucial instrument in grass-root political and economic competition before it was eventually groomed into the principal social cleavage. In the Ruzizi plains (South Kivu) for example, an intensive local conflict erupted between the migrant Barundi and the local Bafuliiru for the control over land-access. In 1996 this was also the reason for the conflict between Babuyu and Babembe in South Kivu. In both cases, the ‘indigenous’ community rejected the land-rights of the ‘exogenous’ communities on the premise that historically, they are the sole owners of the land. In the case of the Ruzizi plains, the Barundi control over land access provoked resentment among the Bafuliiru-population for decades, erupting in frequent local skirmishes over the years. The role of the democratisation-process however, was to trigger a new local campaign of exclusion of Barundi in which the local leader of the UDPS channelled and amplified ethnic resentment to his advantage in national politics. As a result, the Bafuliiru were recognised as the legitimate local representatives and replaced the Barundi-chiefs, until the AFDL rolled in and once again restored the power of theBarundi-chiefs during their military campaign
After a prologue shaped by the introduction of ethnic quota in regional politics, the two consecutive wars produced more disastrous effects on the relations between different communities. In the actual context of war, existing local disputes are easily linked to the broader context of the RCD-conflict. Due to the presence of different local and foreign militia, the availability of light weapons, the actual state of the economy and the importance of ethnicity as a driving motive for violence, most of these local disputes risk to escalate and be linked to the higher, regional levels of conflict. A recent and very tragic example is the revived conflict between pastoralist Hema and agriculturalist Lendu in the Ituri (North-Kivu) area, again mainly motivated by land-disputes but to be explained in a much larger context of economic competition and privatisation of violence. With the help of local administators, members of the Hema-community tried to extend their property-rights onto land supposed to be Lendu. The first reports of this type of friction date back to 1911, and in 1998 a firm local solution seemed to have been achieved by the ‘Consultative Council of Customary Chiefs of Ituri’ (COCCI). According to some reports, Ugandan soldiers were actively involved in rekindling the conflict, training Hema youth militia and providing protection to Hema in exchange for cash payments.
As IRIN reported on the subsequent creation of the new province of Kibale-Ituri in July 1999, ”the UPDF overall commander in DRC, Brigadier General James Kazini, appointed Adele Lotsove, a Hema, as its governor, thus triggering great discontent among other tribes in the area, notably the Nandi, the Ngeti, and the Lendu”. In addition to the regional accommodation of local conflicts, this example demonstrates the shift away from traditional spheres of dialogue that foresee a primary role for the elders, towards new networks premised on the use of violence and the role of youth and their links to regional allies. The growing importance of young combatants within the different social networks lies at the heart of what we have called the corrosion of the social fabric. At the level of the community, the traditional decision-makers such as the customary chiefs and elders either lost their position or have no other option than to support the opinions of the young combatants that are, in the pursuit of their interests, following a logic of violence. At the level of the family, the authority-crisis combined with the intensified economic strife seems to lead to strong competition between generations within the same household. To bring it back to the importance of land, there have been some instances – notably in Walungu – in which sons have tried to poison their fathers in order to gain access to land.
Before continuing to elaborate the role of violence as a means of social integration, it is important to indicate the seemingly paradoxical point that these ‘rural warriors’ and their adversaries – the Banyamulenge-combatants – share the same logic. For the Banyamulenge youngsters, their exclusion became all the more critical after the announcement of the democratisation-process gave rise to a local anti-Banyamulenge campaign instigated by local politicians. From the eighties onwards, most of the educated Banyamulenge tried to exit by finding a job in Kigali or Bujumbura. The 1991 census – the so-called ‘Mission d’Identification des Zairois au Kivu’ – was a major reason for the increase of cross-border movement of young Banyamulenge, this time out to join the RPF-campaign in Northern Rwanda.
With the help of the local district commissioner, the Zairian Speaker of Parliament (Anzuluni Bembe) mobilised young Babembe to form groups of armed resistance and start a campaign against the Banyamulenge-population. Being a member of the local Babembe-community and facing elections, he was eager to muster a much needed following by linking the longstanding local economic conflict between Babembe and Banyamulenge to the larger, national discussion about the nationality of theseBanyamulenge. In reaction, additional numbers of Banyamulenge looked for support in Kigali. In 1995 an increasing number of young Banyamulenge were military and politically trained by the RPA, to become one of the initial pillars of the anti-Mobutu rebellion. The continuing context of conflict caused a shift in the social structure of the Banyamulenge-community to the advantage of the combatants. Before the start of the two rebellions, the council of elders took the important decisions affecting the community. Both in 1996 and in 1998, the young combatants decided to take up arms for the protection of their community without consulting these elders. So although different ethnic groups may oppose each other at different moments in ever-shifting alliances, the basic logic guiding their actions as a community is premised on the role of youth and the use of violence. It is to this point of violence as a means of integration that we will now turn.
The formation of enclaves: Mai Mai as strategy of exit or entry?
The kind of power deployed in Eastern Congo challenges the traditional notion of violence in pursuit of clearly defined political objectives. Today, journalists and academicians alike are strongly attracted to the premise that this kind of violence is to be interpreted as the next demonstration of ‘African Barbarism’. Our research however, suggests the need for a different perspective in order to understand such violence as political. Even where rebel movements condone atrocities against their own communities (the LRA in Northern Uganda or the different militia in Liberia or Sierra Leone for example) it should be understood as a manifestation of political violence. To a certain extent, violence is turned into an attack on society itself, because of a deep-rooted crisis of confidence in the principles of social accountability of state institutions.
In this sense, terror – however abject and cruel – is not so much random as exemplary, directed, and proportioned. The use of exemplary terror should be seen as an option to gain access to power for those generations that suffered the effects of educational collapse and social exclusion. This in contrast for example to the generations of young Zairians that grew up in the seventies, and sought social integration via the creation of alternative structures that came to constitute the bulwark of civil society. In Eastern Congo, the frustration caused by this exclusion is shared among a large number of young Congolese that show a growing willingness to act against what they perceive to be the root of the current crisis, i.e. the so-called Rwandan occupation of their province. In reality, banned from any meaningful political participation, these young Congolese opt for violence as a strategy that provides them a semblance of social integration and access to some ‘fruits of modernity’. Opportunities to access violence as a means of integration could be had either by joining the ranks of the rural militia or those of the ‘Kadogo’ (‘small ones’). The recent formation of some militia perfectly illustrates this dynamic. In Ngweshe (South-Kivu) for example, the appearance of Mai Mai is closely related to the loss of political power and economic control of the local Bashi since 1996. Two sons of an uncle of the local mwami teamed up with the Mai Mai, actually creating a local branch, because of a conflict between their father and the regional administrator. In so doing, they hoped to recover control over land that presumably held some gold.
Besides joining the rural militia, there was for a while the alternative option of enrolling in Kabila’s rebel army. In Bukavu and Goma, hundreds of young people joined the AFDL after the defeat of the FAZ. Masasu’s presence as one of the four leading members of the AFDL was a crucial element in this mobilisation campaign. Masasu, himself a young man from Bukavu, grew immensely popular with young people and set an example of a new type of social mobility. The public meetings of the AFDL in Goma and Bukavu converted many youngsters from a public of eager listener to active participants in what was presented as a liberation war. Commonly known as kadogo, these young people however were not so much driven by a new patriotic spirit as by more opportunist motives. As a survey demonstrates, 25 % of the kadogo joined the AFDL-forces on the promise of generous compensation, a social position, and other material interests. Some 28 % explained that the social situation at home and the lack of employment opportunities forced them to look for other options, while 15 % said to have been convinced by other kadogo. Vengeance against the ex-FAZ was cited as the main reason by 15 % of the respondents. Only 7 % claimed to have joined the AFDL because of a patriotic wish to liberate the country from Mobutu’s shackles. The survey also revealed that most of the young people took their decision without consulting their parents. Only 20 % became a soldier with the agreement of their parents. In the field, given their lack of training, the kadogo turned out to be one of the weakest parts of the army and were hardly given any responsibility. As they never really participated in military activities, the best they could hope for was to be trained as body-guards of ranking commanders. Most kadogo considered Masasu as their only leader, and the arrest of the latter in 1998 forced the kadogo to regroup in training camps such as Kibomango camp near Kisangani, from where they were virtually completely excluded from any further military participation. Many left these camps and joined the ranks of the Mai Mai, while others stayed to be integrated in the armies of the different rebel groups. For sure, a sense of frustration with Kabila and a reaction against his imprisonment of Masasu may have been elements in the latter choice, but also because staying in the army is still experienced as a better alternative than going back to their families. It might be worthwhile at this junction to qualify the meaning of army as an ordered force, at least the ones present in the DR Congo, in the sense that these too are to an extent made up of irregulars. As Onyango-Obbo recently noted in his column in ‘the East African’, “Most of the soldiers in all but two of the foreign armies are irregulars, drawn from the riff raff in the villages, petty thieves on the streets, demobilised soldiers, and militias”.
At this point, it is necessary to elucidate the role and position of the Mai Mai as a particular expression of social integration and resistance. First, we need to embed the origins of the current resurgence of Mai Mai firmly within the dynamic of social exclusion, presented earlier in this paper. Second, the development of organized forms of social resistance does not start from scratch, but implies a certain path-dependency which will be indicated here. Third, we will argue that such a movement can be considered as a sort of ‘enclave’.
Local resistance in Eastern Congo did not need to develop from scratch, given a strong foundation based on elements of traditional beliefs to build on. At different times in recent history, local tribal militia mobilised parts of the population in order to defend the traditional rural order which is expressed via spatial (land tenure) arrangements, against what were seen as foreign (colonial) influences. Examples are the Kitawala in North Kivu and the Binji Binji sect in South Kivu in 1931. The nameMai Mai itself appeared for the first time during the sixties, when local militia among the Babembe in South Kivu allied themselves with the Mulelist rebellion against Mobutu’s army. The main reason for their existence was to counter what they explained as an encroachment upon their tribal areas by Banyarwanda in the Fizi-Baraka area. The origins of the current resurgence of Mai Mai have to be located in a dynamic of social exclusion, and not surprisingly therefore started in the most marginalised communities. Already in the early nineties, local youth in Congo-Manday and Kasingi (North-Kivu) formed rural and cross-border gang-like groups known as the ‘Kasingiens’, which targeted the existing political institutional order. This included the power of the traditional chiefs as an element to rebel against, as they were considered to be ‘prostitutes’ of Mobutu. To imply therefore that a degree of historic path-dependency in the local concept of violent resistance automatically signifies a bond between traditional authorities and the Mai Mai would be erroneous. From the Kasingiens, the phenomenon of militia-formation would spread to other regions of Eastern Congo. The Kasingiens soon started to cooperate with other groups: the Ngilima, based in Lubero and Beni (North-Kivu) that drew its members mainly from the Nande (as the Kasingiens did), the Katuku, operating in the southern parts of Walikale (North Kivu), and the Batiri, operating in Masisi (North-Kivu). In 1993, these militia played a crucial role in the local campaign against the Banyarwanda-communities in North-Kivu. At that time ‘Mai Mai/Bangilima‘ came to be used as a loose term for the description of any local armed youth group, suggesting somewhat prematurely a unification of all these local groupings. Since the first outbreak of massive violence in North-Kivu however, suggestion and reality have grown closer together, as these local militia have played a crucial role in the development of informal militarized social networks.
It can be argued that the newly formed militia in Eastern Congo should be interpreted as experiments with more egalitarian forms of social organisation for self-help and protection, with violence as the main mode of discourse. What obviously seem to be bizarre patterns of dress, behaviour and violence associated with the Mai Mai, is tied to the use of spiritual products developed by their own spirit-doctors and diviners (‘ganga-mai’, mostly girls) to obtain the status of invulnerability during military actions. More importantly however, their behaviour is shaped by a strict moral code that aims to create and enforce some form of egalitarianism between the different members of the militia. In this sense do the spiritual fetishes function as a token of membership and bond between the different individuals. From this vantage point, the movement can be considered as a sort of ‘enclave’, i.e. an egalitarian organisation that differentiates itself from the existing social structures by its internal organisation and egalitarian attachments, but also by its broad rejection of the society as a whole. In fact this new form of organisation should be seen as a reaction against the failing state institutions and is presented as an alternative to the existing patrimonial public order. As such, the formation of Mai Mai is a social process that – in the rejection of the going institutional order – creates a rationality of its own, especially when the existing environment offers opportunities to build and exploit clandestine trade networks and induces the development of warlord activities. The traditional authorities considered the Mai Mai initially as an easy instrument to protect their position of control over land allocations. More ominously perhaps as an indication of their temperament, the movement also served the interests of local businessmen from the very start of its resurgence. It is generally accepted for example, that Nande-merchants mobilised the Bangilima in their competition withTutsi-businessmen, in order to protect their economic position in North Kivu. The same ambiguity can be found in the role – and exemplar – played by the Zairian army (FAZ). As early as 1986 the FAZ – like the Kasingiens later – was very active around Beni, officially to prevent Congolese dissidents from infiltrating from neighbouring Uganda. In reality, local FAZ-officers created a climate of constant insecurity in order to protect their private rent-seeking activities such as the control over the export of coffee, gold and other minerals. Both the FAZ and the police forces were actively involved in the different orchestrations of inter-ethnic violence. This allowed them to profit from the disorder for their businesses as well as gain financially by offering protection to the highest bidders.
All this leaves some questions as to the role and position of the Mai Mai for the future development of the conflict. Are they merely a modern interpretation of traditional brigands or benefactors that seek to rid Kivu from ethnic overlords? In order to clarify this issue, it is necessary to consider in a bit more detail the context of the ongoing conflict and how the Mai Mai relate to it.
Komona clair: to be wise or cunning?
In this point we will develop the following arguments. First, at different levels, war has evolved as an alternative way to gain profit, power, and protection. Warlordism however is not limited to local actors, but includes many of the past (ex-FAZ, ex-FAC) and current (RPA, UPDF) commanders involved in the subsequent phases of the conflict in Kivu. Second, the enduring context of war and state implosion has created possibilities to link grassroot realities directly to regional political dynamics. The Mai Mai constitute the essence of that link in the shape of an informal militarized network. Third, the shiftiness of the Mai Mai reflects the success of the alliances between the actors at the different levels, in harnessing the potential power of that informal fabric at grassroot level for their attempts to gain economic control.
The arrival of more than one million Rwandan and Burundian refugees created massive new opportunities for enforcing the link between rent-seeking activities and the use of military force, as the reports of the UN International Commission of Inquiry on the trade of small arms revealed. By bringing together three elements – the different military actors and militia of the region (including the Interahamwe), the funds lifted from Rwanda’s coffers by the engineers of the Rwandan genocide, and the logistic facilities provided by Mobutu – the refugee-camps provided ideal conditions for the unrestrained proliferation of weapons. The position of the Mai Mai in all this may seem rather confusing. In general, they legitimise their actions based on a strongly pronounced ethnic ideology. However, the content of this ideology does not prove to be a very stable one, as the Mai Mai appear to form shifting alliances in order to achieve what seem rather short-term parochial goals. This explains why they joined the Kabila-led rebellion against Mobutu but opposed it when it came to power. The initial support for the AFDL could be explained as a continuation of their conflict with a then newly formed coalition of local Hutu-combatants and the Rwandan Interahamwe. It is commonly explained that the Mai Mai opposed Kabila when they saw the AFDL turn into a Tutsi-led movement, foreshadowing a Rwandan occupation. To illustrate this, the destruction of the ‘royal tombs’ in Kabare and the generalized looting after the RPA’s second invasion – for which RPA-elements were held responsible – is presented as one of the main instigations for the formation of new groups of Mai Mai. Without downgrading this argument, an alternative explanation could be that the movement shifted allies when Kabila refused to offer them compensation for their help in the military campaign against the Hutu refugees. On the contrary as stated earlier, many of them ended in military training camps such as the Kapalata camp near Kisangani, that turned out to be mere prison colonies where many died from cholera or malnutrition. From 1997 onwards, most of the Mai Mai groupings joined forces with the roaming bands of defeated Interahamweand ex-FAR, and the Burundian FDD. A combined force of Mai Mai, Interahamwe, and the Ugandan ADF rebels for example, carried out a recent attack in Bundibugyo District in Western Uganda, in an attempt to gain Nyakahuka airstrip for supplies. This episode suggests a political consolidation of the movement, as well as a military strengthening. Nevertheless, anti-Tutsism as a general cloak can cover many things. The Mai Mai continue to be a shifty force, constituting a flexible and attractive instrument of destabilisation in alliances with aspirant strongmen that seem sometimes hard to comprehend. An example may be had from their contacts with exiled Mobutists, their erstwhile foes during the AFDL campaign. Former commander of a special intelligence team created by Mobutu, col. Boluka was visited in South Africa by a certain Gahala, representing the Hutu-rebels, and by a certain Ferudji, sent by the Mai Mai. Word has it that these delegates received approximately 20 million US dollars for the training of a 22.000 strong rebel force.
What the latter example clarifies is that the current context of war and state implosion links these grassroot realities directly to regional political dynamics in the shape of informal militarized networks. Emerging local strongmen – be they ex-Mobutist or ex-FAC commanders or other – attempt to unify the different, often ethnically embedded, armed groups for the defence of their personal stakes. Already at the end of 1997 there was a first serious attempt in South-Kivu to co-ordinate the activities of different Mai Mai groupings and urban political movements. Since the start of the second rebellion in August 1998, renewed attempts to unify all these groups have been much more successful. On the one hand, the nature of the current conflict wraps the movement with a fresh legitimacy in its struggle against the Rwandan dominance. In this light, the promotion by Kabila of some Mai Mai commanders has to be explained as a tactical ploy to integrate these militia in his strategy to gain internal legitimacy, on the basis of an ultra-nationalist discourse. On the other hand, the actual state of disorder creates the necessary conditions for the formation of new militia and, more importantly, for the spreading militarisation of informal social networks.
Very important with a view to the eventual resolution of the conflict in Eastern Congo, the actual state of disorder offers the necessary conditions for the formation of new patterns of economic control and hence for the perpetuation of the conditions that sustain the conflict. At different levels, war is becoming a way of creating an alternative system of profit, power and protection. Even at the grassroot level, economic relations are highly militarised. There is of course the well-known and rather ‘traditional’ plundering by diverse military. Grossly underpaid – if indeed paid at all – soldiers try to survive through looting, harassment, and robbery. Local commanders often orchestrate these episodes of looting, turning into small entrepreneurs themselves. In regions that are under control of the Mai Mai, combatants force the local population to perform manual labor and to pay taxes at local marketsDevelopment of warlordism as a strategy of economic control is giving new impulses to the dynamic of militia-formation. The shift to violence gave rise to a new kind of local strongmen (in most cases former army-commanders), that try to control the remaining local markets through militarised informal networks. These ‘local warlords’ find in the existing grassroot militia an easy power-base for the protection of their rent-seeking activities. Their attempts to coordinate the activities of the different branches of the Mai Mai and to link them to the remnants ofInterahamwe and FDD has given another dimension to the existing conflict. Most notably, new local strongmen are developing strategies to gain control over the artisanal production of high-value goods. Since September 1998 for example, a former FAC-general has been inciting ethnic strife while recruiting fighters among the Warega in the gold-rich regions of Kamituga and Mwenga (South-Kivu). In order to establish control over the local exploitation of gold around Kamituga and to modify existing trade patterns, he is trying to co-ordinate with the different Mai Mai groups and Burundian and Rwandan Hutu-militia in the area. To co-ordinate the strategies of different militia is notoriously difficult however. On the one hand a strong co-ordination of activities between Mai Mai, FDD and Interahamwe could be noticed around Uvira, while elsewhere links between these different militia have been reinforced over the past few months as evidenced by the recent, well-organised attacks launched on Butembo and Bunia. On the other hand, recent reports indicate growing tension between Interahamwe and Mai Mai in other regions such as Bunyakiri and Walungu (South Kivu).
Warlordism, however, is not only reduced to local actors, but seems to be one of the driving forces of some RPA- and UPDF-commanders actually present in Eastern Congo. The most important level of rent-seeking activities enforced by the use of violence, is without any doubt deployed by the external forces that are involved in the DRC-conflict, as indicated by the extent of commercial activities in Eastern Congo developed by some RPA-and UPDF-commanders close to the political centres in Kigali and Kampala. This puts forward the question whether this practice of pillaging is a consequence of the actual state of disorder and conflict or, to the contrary, should be understood as functional for those controlling these illicit networks. In any case, there is solid ground to doubt whether security reasons were the sole motivation for the Rwandan and Ugandan support of the second rebellion. Even with a strong military presence in the DRC, the borders between Congo and Uganda and Rwanda have never been completely sealed to insurgents. Neither the killing of eight tourists in Bwindi in March 1999 could be prevented, nor the reassembling of some 4000 Interahamwe as they moved from Walikale to Northern Burundi. It would be more realistic to state that the intervention in Zaire since 1996 opened up some important commercial opportunities and made it possible to extract extensive economic rents through the exploitation of local mines. Both Ugandan and Rwandan officers are actively involved in the exploitation of gold and other high-value goods such as colombite-tantalite. These activities were made possible by Kabila’s initial attitude of laissez-faire. Examples are the opening of the trading company ‘Caleb International’ in Kisangani by Salim Saleh – Museveni’s half-brother and general of the UPDF – in 1997, in view of getting a monopoly over the production of the Kilomoto mines baseline;vertical-align:baseline’>. Once Kabila came to power however, he showed his determination to reduce the rent-seeking activities of his Eastern allies and get a better grip on local mining production himself, something that heightened frictions between the former allies from the beginning of 1998 onwards. The support of the second so-called rebellion again suggests the primacy of economic interests over security reasons. Both on the Ugandan and Rwandan side, militaro-commercial lobbies are profiting from a context of insecurity to increase their control over the remaining economic fabric, often mobilising local businessmen in Goma, Bukavu or Kisangani, and linking up with international commercial partners baseline;vertical-align:baseline’>. Activities are not only reduced to the exploitation of mines but also include the control over the import of petrol and other more mundane products such as cigarettes. In the RPA-controlled areas, Rwandan agents have been assigned to all revenue-generating services. Military entrepreneurs take advantage of a climate of insecurity, but also cause further tension due to their differing individual interests, as show the clashes between the RPA and the UPDF in Kisangani in August 1999.
The current configuration of forces does not augur well for the future. Before looking at the prospects of peace by guise of conclusion, it may be helpful to briefly restate the main points we have attempted to bring forward in this paper. On the one hand, in resistance to the effects of state collapse and armed foreign interventions, rural youth has combined former traditions and newly developed patterns of mobility in an interpretation of customary defence, that is based on the social meaning of land. This has not meant that they link up with the traditional emanations of authority. A crisis in the social fabric has rather meant a shift of authority towards these combatants and the use of violence. Shared feelings of antipathy allow for links to be created between these diverse local groupings, collected under the name Mai Mai, and other foreign emanations of armed militia roaming the local countryside. Consolidation however remains shifty; as the shared ideology does not run very deep, alliances continuously change. On the other hand, regional forces thrive on the continuing weakness of the Congolese state, partly enforced by them, to create an open war economy. Commanders – former and current, Congolese and foreign – that stepped forward from this background of repeated wars have emerged as new strongmen. To be successful war entrepreneurs and consolidate their hold on the ground, they need to recruit the network of local militia for their own economic and/or political endeavours. Rather than developing a shared ideological reference that may be of use in a renewed process of state-building, these networks are mobilized and divided in a continuous process of change on the basis of ethnic and/or pecuniary considerations.
Conclusion: African Renaissance or Gangsta’ Rap?
This article has presented a brief picture of the dysfunctional features of a system that proved intensely vulnerable to external intervention and institutional collapse. As a consequence, Kivu currently has all the appearances of a checkerboard. Geographically, the provinces have been carved up into a series of enclaves of shifting political and economic control. Informal lines divide the zones of influence of Mobutist and ex-AfDL commanders, of the amalgam of groups conveniently collected under the name Mai Mai, and of the Rwandan and Ugandan armies. Qualifying these enclaves as shifting, underlines the importance of the informal alliances that prop up the emanations of authority. Perhaps the most notable piloting force of the conflict in Kivu, is the nature of the link between regional and local dynamics. Regional states adhere to a kind of vigilante diplomacy when it comes to respecting international humanitarian law. In their endeavour to settle national security matters by military force across international borders, they attempt to recruit the elements that guide local dynamics, notably youth vigilante groups. These sprang from the local peasantry and carry ethnic security as guiding principle, folded in a discourse of nationalism mixed with traditional fetishism. The best illustration of the nature of these alliances and their shifting character would be the current allegation that a considerable number of Mai-Mai from North-Kivu have been recruited by the Ugandans and sent to Bafwasende near Kisangani in September, in order to help in a coming assault on Rwandan-held positions in the city. The current shifting of alliances and of forces from one location to another, represents not so much an attempt to conquer and subjugate as to consolidate gains, anticipating possible developments in the peace-building process.
As we have done in this paper, some serious issues can be raised in this regard. Militarily, the situation seems blocked because the military power of intervening regional actors – against or in support of Kabila – appears to be matched. Yet is the current status quo on the ground not what the diverse actors were after? In other words, is it about carving out zones of influence and teaming up with local militia to establish militarized control over processes of accumulation, or about defending the integrity of a state against cross-border rebel activities? With forward positions a 1000 kilometers and more inside the DRC and supply lines extremely stretched, the latter argument seems questionable to say the least, and the sorry fate of the Lusaka agreement rather deliberate. The current war economy is an open war economy, in which the Kivu provinces have become both source and transport and marketing corridor for precious contraband. This pattern of regional economic activity is associated to social and political networks that compete with and undermine official economies and states. Rwandan and Ugandan nationals are in charge of the gold comptoirs in Kisangani, Uganda’s fledgling consumer industry is doing great business in North-Kivu, coffee from the Equateur province is shipped via the MLC to Uganda, the new Rwandan ‘Compagnie Aérienne des Grands Lacs’ has a monopoly over any shipment of goods from Kigali or Goma to Maniema… The list could be made to run for pages. The point is that what might have started as a genuine security concern, has evolved into a cultivar business venture that is directed regionally rather than locally, but which requires the active enhancement and maintenance of disorder at the local level.
Rather than just determining a state of affairs – at least for the civilian population trapped within the confines of this conflict- the overarching question is to find out how the situation will or can evolve. We will raise four points in a look at the possible answers. First, looking at it from the viewpoint of the population on the ground. It is clear that with an almost zero predictability of the range, frequency, and severity of possible events, households adopt risk-minimizing strategies. This means that households will retreat into an almost complete subsistence economy, and retire from a market that is governed by violence. Militarized – and to a certain extent foreign – predatory forces are certainly less negotiable than patrimonial predatory forces in their processes of accumulation. In addition, the range of co-variate or individual risks cannot be pooled via traditional coping mechanisms such as labour exchange, lending or borrowing of available assets, likelemba (joint saving groups) etc. for two reasons. Primo, the situation resembles the setting of an assurance game. The chances for an individual to behave in a co-operative fashion depend on the predicted actions of all the others. When it becomes impossible to predict these actions because of an unpredictable overall setting, then non-cooperation becomes the norm. Secundo, as the social climate itself leads to the erosion of the asset-base of most households (killing of farm animals, destruction of crop and seed stocks…), there remains very little to pool. When capital and labour cannot be pooled, and people cannot or do not want to become displaced as refugees, then they will resort to mobilize their labour as last asset available, as they did in the plantation economy of Kivu in the later eighties. In the current circumstances, the options are limited and people (especially young men) can choose either of three courses of action. Either actively join the system of militarized predation, by becoming an operative Mai Mai, or join any of the different standing armies as ‘Kadogo’, or work in a setting and market controlled by militarized forces, such as the different mines and quarries. Locals are thus faced with an exit-option that fuels the very dynamic that is destroying the social and economic fabric. All this means that households are forced not only to retreat into subsistence. While doing so they lose resilience as livelihood systems are severely affected. But in devouring the fabric that sustains it, predation finds its own limits. When extrapolating current trends without considering possible intervening factors, it is hard to see how at some point, most households would not fall below the food line (minimum calories needed to physically reproduce). The regularity of alarming humanitarian reports substantiates these fears. Furthermore, it is an open question how current patterns of mobility – labour, displacement and predation – will affect property relations and the potential for conflict in the future.
Second, adopting a macro-perspective, the assumption that current structures of authority carry any significance or legitimacy for the local population – and hence the possibility of durability – can be severely questioned to say the least. Some areas allegedly under the control of Rwandan forces, such as the Maniema province, have never received the visit of any figure of authority since the fall of Kindu more than a year ago. In other areas, the intricate tapestry of control consists of areas under the tutelage of Rwanda (‘RCD-Goma’), Uganda (‘RCD-Wamba’ and MLC), and a new province being declared (Kibali-Ituri) of which the ‘constitutional’ embedding is even more indeterminate. The main arteries connecting these areas – such as the roads between Kindu and Kasongo, Beni and Kasindi, and Butembo and Goma – have never been pacified and are under constant attack from the diverse militia. In addition, it is hard to see how these different authorities could hope to achieve a degree of fiscal self-sufficiency, a necessary condition of viability for any state. Taxes could be levied on economic production and the movement of goods, as in the past. But with the ongoing dismantling and shipping of the remaining industrial infrastructure and the contraction of the subsistence economy, hardly any added value apart from raw mining is created in Kivu’s current economy. The economic incentives for misgovernment are overwhelming. Only the mining production and transit trade are worth the effort of taxation, while the rest of the economy is hardly productive enough to make governing it worthwhile. As reports indicate that the mining production is not taxed, this leaves only the mobility of goods as a source of taxation and of conflict between the different claimants to authority. Essentially this means taxing the ‘modern’ economy by taxing the flow of consumer goods from Uganda and Rwanda into Kivu at the level of the importers (and hence consumers), and taxing the subsistence sector at the level of remaining producers (and hence consumers) in the local markets. Even without any statistics at hand, one can confidently say that these revenues are diffuse and difficult to claim by any centralized authority presiding over the remnants of a civil service that has not been paid for years. Recovering the cost of more than an extremely svelte administration of such an economy and society is exceedingly difficult. So the current conflict does make for a consistent economic rather than political statement, as long as we understand economic to refer to patterns of accumulation. On the other hand, there is no law that states that such conflicts could not be solved politically.
A third point to consider therefore, is the possible implication of the Lusaka agreement on the situation on the ground. There are two major issues to raise in this regard: the difficulty to get a grip on private corporate interests and on grassroot militia via such accords. Primo, a political solution of an intricate and long-standing conflict is possible, and the example of Mozambique’s peace agreement might be edifying in this regard. In this sense, the Lusaka agreement made all the right moves. Angola however, proves where it can go wrong, that is where the control over massive economic interests is at stake, which was not the case in Mozambique. Where business concerns attempt to protect or build up their assets, they will tie up with the parties to the conflict. There have been indications for example that private South-African interests have imported heavy equipment to excavate industrial diamonds in Banalia near Kisangani. Even more remarkable is the business deal concluded in November 1999 between the offshore ‘First International Bank of Grenada’ and Wamba dia Wamba’s faction of the RCD, worth 16 million $. As multi-national private interests are mixed into the conflict, they will want to recoup investments over time in a stable economic (even if militarized) climate. To the extent that security and violence become an integral part of the corporate set-up of ‘l’Afrique utile’, peace agreements between states have to deal with the reality of heavyweight corporate involvement they can scarcely hope to affect. Secundo, neither Mozambique nor Angola had to deal with an amalgam of local and foreign militia, which do or do not genuinely believe in the nationalist discourse they profess. The very possibility to integrate them into peace talks chances to trigger their fragmentation in struggles for leadership, a scenario well-rehearsed by the RCD, while it would accord them legitimacy. The difficulties to bind these groups in any national peace-agreement or to defeat them militarily, is also the shifting sand that displaces and expands the security problems across porous borders throughout the region, threatening especially Burundi as the weakest link in the chain. In this sense, the call of the Lusaka agreement for an international force to disarm the militia – most by the way are armed with farm-tools – and have the estimated 40,000 remaining Interahamwe and ex-FAR voluntarily repatriated to Rwanda, seems not to take into account the reality on the ground. Apart from rounding up the whole local population in camps and then assuming that any farmer with a machete roaming unauthorised is a Mai Mai remnant, there is no criterion to define a youth carrying a hoe or axe as suspect. This strategy of hamleting has been tried in Burundi and before that in campaigns against Maoist guerrilla in Central America and the Philippines, and never stood out as particularly successful other than the sheer degree of humanitarian need it engendered. Not surprisingly in the light of such elements, barely a month after the agreement was finalised, Kabila’s Justice Minister Mwenze Kongolo said at the SADC meeting in Maputo on 17/8 that ‘as far as we are concerned, the Lusaka protocol is dead’.
The fourth point looks at the prospects for reconstruction departing from Kongolo’s assertion. Two questions are crucial in this regard. First is not the question whether Congo will be partitioned, but rather whether it can or will be reassembled again. Second, reassembling and peacemaking requires not only political negotiations but transforming the war economy into a peace economy and creating institutions for accountability over economic and political decision making. There have been calls for a massive Marshall Plan operation in Central Africa. Although this looks like an absolute must in the medium term, there are severe pitfalls. Wars develop particular patterns of economic activity. The longer they persist, the more society and economy adapt to war. Transformation of this criminalized transnational war economy is thus essential not only to the DRC but to neighboring regions. The solution is to consider peacemaking in the DRC as part of the larger problem of transforming the political economy of a region, a realization which also took root in the Balkans and Central and Southwest Asia (Afghanistan). At the heart of it is the need to change the image and role of the state, seen as a distant and unresponsive if not downright hostile power. Local power structures, such as Kabila’s former dominion in the Fizi-Baraka highlands, largely grew as defensive measures of self-rule to keep the state or patrimonial powerholders away. The dual approach that stood at the core of Museveni’s original vision has lost nothing of its validity: combining the regional integration of markets as a way to integrate Africa more soundly in the world economy, with the development of a fresh institutional basis for articulating a national interest. Both elements come together in any endeavour to replace illicit transnational trade militarily enforced, by regional trade configured by political negociations. The rising tide lifts all ships, the saying goes. In this light, the region as a whole stands to gain much more from a reconstruction of the DRC under international auspices than from the continuation of cross-border predatory politics. Especially Rwanda might find in a larger regional identity based on political negociations an answer to its Malthusian trap that forces it to adopt an expansionary militarist ‘Lebensraum’ philosophy.
In the short run however, humanitarian aid is the only option left to ward off a massive disaster. Yet humanitarian aid has severe drawbacks in a setting that resembles warlordism, as was the case in Liberia and Sierra Leone and still is the case in Somalia. In an account of the civil war in South-Sudan, Prunier has documented how humanitarian aid itself – in the form of ‘operation Lifeline’ – became a major asset that allowed the conflict to go on for another decade. And as humanitarian aid strides along with the very conflict it helps to alleviate and fuel at the same time, ‘compassion fatigue’ gradually overtakes it. In Somalia for example, only one third of the total humanitarian appeal requirements for 1998 were covered. It is clear that the conflict in Kivu presents all outside actors interested in a genuine and peaceful solution with a familiar quandary. ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. Yet when the choice – compelling indeed – for intervention is made, there may be an overarching consideration. Not only is it impossible to ‘patrol this whole country’, as U.S. Ambassador Holbrooke stated during a press-conference in Kinshasa on December 14 last. Peace is a process as much as an end-state, if indeed it exists at all as a condition rather than a constant movement towards that condition, and it does not come about as the result of outside interventions solely. In essence it is about the rebuilding of trust through the aggregation of many discrete decisions – at all levels – to cooperate. As Malan states in reference to peace-building in the DR Congo from a South-African perspective, “it is more profitable to invest in projects which aim at developing good process rather than specific outcomes. For generations to come South Africans will have to make collective decisions and cooperate in spite of what happened in the past and in spite of their cultural, political and economic divisions. We have to develop and inculcate good processes of decision making if this is to succeed”. Supporting this process is where aid can play a central role.
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Ellis S. (1998) ‘Liberia’s warlord insurgency’, in Clapham C. (ed.) African Guerillas, London, James Currey.
Fighting rages in Northeast DR Congo, Deutsche Presse Agentur, 23/11/99.
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Keen D. (1996) The Economic Functions of Violence in Civil Wars, Adelphi Paper no. 320, London.
Malan, M. (1999), Renaissance peacekeeping: a South African solution to conflict in the DRC?, ISS Paper 37, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria.
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————— (1997) Understanding the Crisis in Kivu, Report of the CODESRIA Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mararo, B (1997)., « Land, power, and ethnic conflict in Masisi, 1940s-1994 », The international Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol.30, pp.503-537.
The New Vision (1999), Rwandan, DRCongo rebels implicated in attacks in Western Uganda, Kampala, 18 December.
Njangu Canda-Ciri A. (19976) ‘La secte Binji-Binji ou la renaissance de la résistance des Bashi (juillet-septembre 1931)’, in Lyangombe, mythe et rites. Actes du 2me Colloque de CERUKI, Bukavu, CERUKI.
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Pottier, J. et Fairhead, J., (1991), “Post-famine recovery in highland Bwisha, Zaire: 1984 in its context”, Africa, 61 (4), pp.437-470.
Prendergast, J., Smock, D. (1999), Putting Humpty Dumpty together: reconstructing peace in the Congo, United States Institute of Peace.
Prunier, G. (1996), “l’Economie de la guerre civile au Sud-Soudan” in JEAN, F. et RUFIN, J.C. (eds.), Economie des Guerres Civiles, Paris, Hachette.
Reno W. (1997) ‘Sovereignty and personal rule in Zaire’, African Studies Quarterly 1(3).
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Willame J.-C. (1996) Banyarwanda et banyamulenge, Cahiers Africaines no. 25.
 Komona Clair is a phrase used in Kinshasa, that literally means ‘to see clear in order to behave wisely’. In practice it refers to the capability to be smarter and more cunning than the others.
 CRUMMEY, D., Introduction: ‘The Great Beast”, in: CRUMMEY, D., (ed.), Banditry, Rebellion and Social Protest in Africa, London, Portsmouth, James Currey, Heinemann, 1996(2), p. 3.
 See for example: CHABAL, P. and DALOZ, J.-P., Africa works: Disorder as political instrument, Oxford, Bloomington, James Currey, Indiana University Press, 1999.
 United Nations International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda), Final Report of the international Commission of Inquiry about Illicit Arms Transfers in the Great Lakes Region, 18 November 1998
 In different parts of Kivu this system has different names – kalinzi, vusoki,… – but the basic outline is identical.
 DUPRIEZ, H., Bushi: l’asphyxie d’un peuple, ADI-Kivu, Bukavu, 1987.
MARARO, B., « Land, power, and ethnic conflict in Masisi, 1940s-1994 », The international Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol.30, N°3 (1997),pp.503-537.
 In 1937, contrary to customs, the bami were given the judiciary authority of president of the customary courts. In addition, in 1973 they were given administrative authority (chef de collectivité) in the chain of command from capital to locality, on top of their political function as regional representative of the parti unique.
 DE SAINT-MOULIN, L., “L’evolution des densités de la population du Zaire”, Revue Belge de Geographie, Vol. 58/1995/1-2, p.95. In 1983, the ‘collectivité’ of Kabare in South-Kivu had a population density of 535 persons/ km2, and within it the village of Ikonde had the highest population density of Zaire, with a whopping 600 persons/ km2.
 TSONGO, M., Problématique d’acces à la terre dans les systemes d’exploitation agricole des régions montagneuses du Nord-Kivu (Zaire), Louvain-La-Neuve, UCL, 1994.
 POTTIER, J. et FAIRHEAD, J., “Post-famine recovery in highland Bwisha, Zaire: 1984 in its context”, Africa, 61 (4), 1991, pp.437-470.
 BRUNEAU, J.C., “Crise et declin de la croissance des villes au Zaire: une image actualisée”, Revue Belge de Geographie, vol. 58, 1995.
 VAN ACKER, F., La « pembenisation » du Haut-Kivu : opportunisme et droits fonciers revisités, in MARYSSE, S., REYNTJENS, F., L’Afrique des Grands Lacs, Annuaire 1998-1999, Anvers, Centre d’étude de la région des Grands Lacs, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1999.
 DEVEY, M.,“L’economie Zairoise: etat des lieux”, Marches Tropicaux, 10/01/1997, pp.57-96.
 RENO, W., “Sovereignty and personal rule in Zaire”, African Studies Quarterly, Vol.1, N°3, 1998.
 Mayeshe was also the name of one of the gorillas killed by the Intarahamwe in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South-Kivu
 BRAECKMAN, C., “Terreur Africaine, Burundi, Rwanda, Zaire: les racines de la violence”, Fayard, 1996.
 IRIN, Briefing: the conflict in South Kivu and its regional implications, United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, 7/10/1996
 GAMBETTA, D., The Sicilian Mafia; the business of private protection, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard UP, 1993.
 Letrre no 003 du Conseil Régional pour la Lutte contre l’Occupation Etrangère, Bukavu, 10 October 1999; Union des Forces Vives pour la Libération et la Démocratie, Memorandum for Information and Clarification with regard to the Situation in the DRC,.
 This contrasted with the former strategy of having an ethnic mix in senior regional posts, and moving people at frequent intervals so as to prevent them building up a regional power-base.
 Local opposition against Barundi-control, however, continues to smoulder, especially after the arrival of 800 Banyavyura-families (ethnic Tutsi, originally living in North Katanga) in 1998 produced additional feelings of animosity.
 IRIN Focus on Hema-Lendu conflict, 15 November 1999; Collectif des ONG d’Ituri, 7 August 1999.
 Fighting rages in Northeast DR Congo, Deutsche Presse Agentur, 23/11/99.
 Personal communication.
 There were persistent rumours that Nyangoma, the leader of the Burundese rebel group FDD, was part of the identification mission to the Fizi-Baraka highlands.
 This initial alliance has since floundered. In 1997 and 1998, the difference of opinion between the RPA and the Banyamulenge was transformed into open hostility. The main reason for the growing mistrust was the feeling, widely spread among the Banyamulenge, that they were but but an instrument for the RPA. It is believed that the RPA instigated the rebellion of August 1998 in order to stop the trend towards a growing autonomy of the Banyamulenge-community, amongst other things. Tensions, however, continue to smoulder. In January 1999 there were serious clashes between Banyamulenge-soldiers and the RPA that are explained as a reaction to the refusal of Banyamulenge to move to frontline positions in Kasai and Katanga. Local Banyamulenge explained that they still fear the existence of an RPA-plan to deport them, and believe that the security of their community should be protected locally. In December 1999, Banyamulenge-leaders again travelled to Kigali to discuss their relations. On the other hand, some of the main Banyamulenge military commanders joined the Ugandan-supported RCD-fraction..
 KAPLAN, R.D., The coming anarchy; how scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet, The Atlantic Monthly, February 1994
 RICHARDS, P., “New Political Violence in Africa. Secular Sectarianism in Sierra Leone”, in: GeoJournal 0, pp. 1-10.
 VLASSENROOT, K., ‘Identity and Insecurity. The Building of Ethnic Agendas in South Kivu”, in: Doom, R. & J. Gorus (eds.), Politics of Identity and Economics of Conflict, Brussels, VUB Press, 1999.
 Actually, Masasu was arrested on the accusation of forming a private militia, while conducting a field-campaign to integrate the kadogo into the FAC.
 Charles Onyango-Obbo, The East African, 13 December 1999
 DOUGLAS, M., In the Wilderness: the doctrine of defilement in the Book of Numbers, Sheffield, JSOT Press, 1993.
 The New Vision, Rwandan, DRCongo rebels implicated in attacks in Western Uganda, Kampala, 18 December 1999.
 BRAECKMAN, C., Les armées officielles coopèrent, le Soir, 10 March 1998. Boluka is one of the co-founders of the ‘Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie’ (RCD) which originally was an opposition movement of exiled Mobutists. Most of them joined the Goma-based RCD later on.
 KEEN, D., The Economic Functions of Violence in Civil Wars, Adelphi Paper, no., 320.
 Author’s interview, Bukavu, May 1999.
 In the fiscal year 1996-1997, Uganda earned over $100m from the export of gold, adding it to the country’s major foreign exchange earners. In comparison, the previous fiscal years of 94-95 and 95-96 yielded resp. $12.44m and $35m. As an article in the New Vision reports on 24/05/97, the ‘increase was attributed by an official of the bank to some gold leakages into Uganda from neighbouring Zaire’; Frank Van Acker, Beyond Berlin, NCOS mimeo, June 1998.
 The crash of a little Cessna plane of Tropical Airways in October 1998 in Beni raised some questions about the activities of some influential Ugandans in the DRC. One of the people that died during this crash was Jet Mwebaze of De Beers, who was involved in a gold deal in collaboration with Salim Saleh.
 The DRC Monthly Humanitarian Bulletin (OCHA) provides a regular overview of the humanitarian situation in the DR Congo.
 After a conflict between the RCD-Wamba and MLC over taxes on container imports into Butembo from Uganda, the bishop of Beni allegedly stated that if only all traders would stop their activities for a few months, the war would be easy to end (REC-info, Brussels, November 1999).
 It called for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of foreign troops, the immediate replacement by a peace-keeping force, the collection of weapons and demobilization of fighters via a system of assembly areas throughout the country, and an election to establish political legitimacy.
 NCN, The new state of Wambaland, november 30 1999
 Prendergast, J., Smock, D., Putting Humpty Dumpty together: reconstructing peace in the Congo, United States Institute of Peace, September 1999.
 PRUNIER, G., “l’Economie de la guerre civile au Sud-Soudan” in JEAN, F. et RUFIN, J.C. (eds.), Economie des Guerres Civiles, Paris, Hachette, 1996)
 Sinking funds in an economy which has not been ‘de-criminalized’ such as Russia, where the IMF is investigating the disappearance of billions of Dollars in special loans. Such money risks to merely pad the pockets of new types of Mafia-like corporate interests that are also flourishing in the DRC’s current economic climate.
 JEAN, F. et RUFIN, J.C. (eds.), Economie des Guerres Civiles, Paris, Hachette, 1996
 Somali News, http://www.etek.chalmers.se/~e3hassan/news4.html.
 MALAN, M., Renaissance peacekeeping: a South African solution to conflict in the DRC?, ISS Paper 37, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoriaala, March 1999
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