Congo-stream: Trends and Dynamics in the DR Congo under the Kabila Administration (2001-2019)
In January 2019, following eighteen years of presidential rule, Joseph Kabila stepped down from the Presidency of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The proposed stream provides a space for scholars to reflect upon and discuss the multifaceted societal trends, dynamics, characteristics and challenges that marked the Kabila administration. The anticipated set of panels will reflect on cultural representations, social mobilities, political turbulences, economic outcomes, and religious interferences that emerged and impacted the discourses and experiences of Congolese people during this period.
We will invite and expect to gather scholars from diverse academic disciplines such as history, anthropology, political science, sociology, economics, law, peacebuilding and conflict studies. We are particularly interested in critical analyses and empirical studies that have explored these multidimensional aspects of the Kabila administration from the perspective and lived experiences of the Congolese people.
1. Religious trends and societal dynamics in Kabila’s era
Convenor: Sublime Mabiala (University of Edinburgh)
Religion played a significant role in Congolese society during Joseph Kabila’s era (2001 to 2019). Christians currently comprise 95 % of the DR Congo’s population (Pew Research Center 2019). They are composed of Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Pentecostal revivalists and Kimbanguists. The proposed panel plans to diachronically and synchronically evaluate the multilayered trends of religious agencies during Kabila’s administration. The discussion will borrow Robert Bellah’s idea of “Civil Religion” as “a public profession of faith that aims to inculcate political values and that prescribes dogma, rites and values for citizens of a particular country”. This conceptual framework points to the civil/public engagement of religious institutions and actors by connecting citizens through shared beliefs, experiences and rituals for nationalistic awareness and social change.
The panel expects thematic paper presentations and discussion axing on: 1) The relationships of the above religious platforms with Kabila’s authoritarian regime; 2) The repercussions of religious interferences in the DRC’s political landscape; 3) Kabila’s ambiguous discourse about sovereignty and how it relates to cultural and theological metanarratives; 4) Kabila’s option for a strict separation between church and state or religion and politics in his memorable speech of January 24, 2018 after violent bloody repressions against Christian protesters; 5) the pressure of transnational religious corporations on Kabila for the country’s democratization, the respect of constitutional law and peaceful political transition.
2. Fragmented authority, armed politics and violent networks in eastern Congo
Convenor: Christoph Vogel (University of Zurich)
Throughout Joseph Kabila’s tenure, rampant insecurity has by and large defined the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. While looming conflicts had criss-crossed with larger national and regional tensions during two grand wars (1996–1997, 1998–2003), eastern Congo became a place of ‘no peace–no war’ as these wars were subsiding, and Kabila succeeded his father as President.
Yet, throughout Kabila’s reign armed mobilization increasingly fragmented into multiple tangential conflict arenas whose ‘local’ entrenchment entangles with provincial, national and regional politics. Recurrent cycles of mobilization and nested ‘local’ conflicts kept feeding into each other, fostering insecurity, as armed groups multiply and reproduce themselves with different shapes, genealogies, origins, structures and ideologies. These belligerents evolve across fluid and contested social spaces.
Questions of identity, land, and politics intersect with dynamics of marginalisation, infrastructural and institutional bust. Health and education systems operate through their own decay as Congolese respond with proverbial débrouillardise. Wrapped in multiple repertoires and contexts, auto prise-en-chargebecame a recurrent punchline, and a rare commonality across armed groups.
Against this backdrop, the panel takes a comprehensive angle in tackling four questions: based on the trajectories of the conflict, how have armed politics evolved from 2001–2019? Which endogenous and exogenous factors shape it? How do networked dynamics of authority shape conflict? And, what does this mean for our understanding of the Congolese state more broadly?
3. Continuity and contestation in the Congolese economy
Convenor: Ben Radley (London School of Economics)
Following the end of the Congo Wars in the early 2000s, and under the close supervision of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a raft of reforms was introduced – including a new investment code, mining code, forestry code and labour code – to relaunch the Congolese economy, founded on the overarching principle of making it as attractive to foreign investment as possible. Foreign investors responded to the call and around a decade of high GDP growth followed, driven largely (but not exclusively) by investment in the country’s mining sector. Yet recent research suggests that this period of sustained high growth failed to diversify the economy (Otchia 2015) or reduce poverty (Marivoet et al. 2019). In addition, in the final years before Kabila stepped down from the presidency, growth had slowed, prices had begun to rise, and foreign exchange reserves were dwindling as mass discontent against Kabila and his administration swelled across the country.
In this context, the panel invites submissions which deepen our understanding of the external constraints and internal dynamics that structured the evolution of the Congolese economy under President Kabila, as well as the social structures and groups that were marginal to this evolution, but whose rise might provide a viable alternative platform for more diversified, inclusive and autonomous forms of economic development in the future. The panel is particularly interested in critical contributions from the fields of heterodox economics, political economy, and anthropology, but is open to papers from across other disciplines, where relevant.
4. Open call for papers in this research field.