Policy and Research Papers
Contesting Authority: Armed rebellion and military fragmentation in Walikale and Kalehe, North and South Kivu
This report from the Rift Valley Institute analyses the involvement of the armed groups in public life in the territories of Kalehe and Walikale in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The current political and military landscape in these territories, defined by the presence of armed groups and the consequent fragmentation of local authority, is mainly caused by unresolved tensions between and within communities over territory, authority and resources; the lack of capacity of the Congo’s state services to provide protection; and the limited success of reintegration efforts. The report explores how these armed groups are embedded in local communities, how they are connected to local power struggles and how they are involved in the exercise of local authority, including in the fields of security, dispute resolution and revenue generation. Armed groups are able to mobilize popular support by evoking two issues of existential importance to local communities—marginalization and security. While the former revolves around the historical marginalization of local communities in politics and governance, the latter frames local communities as in need of protection. These issues give meaning to armed groups’ bids for local authority and legitimize their engagement in a wide range of governmental practices normally ascribed to the state, such as taxation and the provision of justice and security.
Armed groups have evolved into dominant power brokers, which are deeply involved with ruling territory, people and resources. They have become part and parcel of local and sometimes national power dynamics, have colluded with local and national political and customary leaders, and have developed different techniques and strategies to impose or sustain their authority. The end result is further militarization and fragmentation of public space and social interactions.
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This article introduces the notion of circular return to explain the permanent state of mobility between civilian and combatant life of combatants. The phenomenon is widely seen in eastern DRC, where thousands of Congolese youth have been going in and out of armed groups for several decades now. While the notion of circular return has its origins in migration and refugee studies, the article argue that it also serves as a useful lens to describe and understand processes of incessant armed mobilisation. In conceptualising these processes as forms of circular return, the article's authors want to move beyond the remobilisation discourse, dominant both in DDR literature and policy speech. This discourse tends to be too security oriented, emphasising the security threat of armed mobilisation and the failure of DDR processes and the institutions supporting them. More importantly, it ignores combatants’ agency and larger processes of socialisation and social rupture, which are key drivers of armed (continued) mobilisation. The article argues that armed groups are experiments in creating new social spaces, providing new forms of social capital and constituting new identities. Circular return points at combatants’ capacity to navigate between these new spaces and older ones.
For access to the full text "The in-between of being a civilian and combatant – circular return in eastern DR Congo", please follow the in-text link.