Explaining conflicts in DR Congo from infrastructure perspective

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Military Observer
Affiliation: The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Journal nameAsia and Africa Today
EditionIssue 8

For more than twenty years the Democratic Republic of Congo has been experiencing bloody conflicts which have resulted in millions of deaths. The intervention of international community had a limited success and violence continues to date. Despite abundance of academic literature related to the theme, there are very few papers which employ quantitative research to explain this violence. Furthermore, there has not been any research which illustrated conflicts in the country from the perspective of what is called infrastructural violence. The article aims to fill this gap and prove that infrastructural deficiencies are among the primary contributors to the violence in the DRC. The paper employs results of quantitative research and personal experiences of the author (three years as part of the UN mission in the country) to support its theoretical assumptions. The article might be very informative and helpful for the personnel of international organizations, the DRC Government and its donors. It might also be interesting for a broad circle of researchers from such areas as African, conflict and peace studies. 

KeywordsDRC, Congo, conflict, violence, infrastructure
Publication date10.08.2019
Number of characters28276
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1 The Democratic Republic of Congo is seen by many as a vivid example of a failed state. Since its independence from Belgium in 1960, the country suffered conflicts on regional, national and local levels. The Second Congo War, which ended in 2003, resulted in more than 5 million deaths and became the bloodiest conflict since WWII [1; 13, p. 40]. In spite of the progress in restoration of peace since international pressure on belligerents, withdrawal of foreign troops and massive deployment of UN forces (MONUC/MONUSCO), the country continues to experience high rates of violence.
2 Since 2003, the country has been suffering a series of provincial scale conflicts. Starting in 2004, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu provinces are subject to waves of fighting between different armed groups, fighting of them against the government as well as infighting. Ituri conflict, though in a lesser scale, continues its being since 2003. Katangese secessionist movements disbanded themselves only in 2016. Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been being active in Bas-Uele and Haute-Uele provinces over a decade. Starting in 2013, clashes between Twa pygmies and Bantu tribes have been ongoing mostly in Tanganyika province. They resulted in thousands of deaths [3] and more than 650 000 displaced [11]. Relatively new rebellion named Kamwina Nsapu erupted in Grand Kasai region in 2016. Despite absence of centralised organization and clear political program, the rebellion affected different provinces and caused more than 5000 deaths [19]. Meanwhile, it seems that these spots of violence generate and spread instability further as neighbouring to conflict zones territories become affected by violence as well.
3 As it is seen, the feature of the current state of conflict in the DRC in general is that there is no conflict in its traditional meaning. There is no strong enough active armed force or an alliance of forces with any political ambitions of country-scale to challenge the dominance of the current regime of power. None of cities or towns has been under control of an armed group in recent years. Nevertheless, activities of a multitude of outlaw groups have been causing casualties and other deplorable effects comparable to a conventional conflict. This asymmetric war is happening contrary to the efforts of international community aimed at stabilizing the situation. The country accommodates the biggest UN mission and force in the world. This raises the question whether the country’s government and international actors are addressing the root causes of the country’s conflicts or they are too engulfed with curing ‘disease symptoms’.
4 The existing academic literature explaining the conflicts in the country has mostly two flaws. Firstly, it almost does not employ quantitative research. This can be partially explained by absence of reliable statistics mostly in all spheres of the country. This, in turn, provokes the second problem - an obsession with conflict explanations which do not require a substantial statistical data to support their assumptions. The field is flooded with theories proposing different descriptive explanations of violence in the DRC or its parts: political disagreements [8]; autochthony, tribalism and regional nationalism [7; 12; 16]; unfair distribution of national income [5]; ‘conflict minerals’ [6] and corrupt power-sharing practices [15].

6 The current paper does not deny the mentioned factors as contributors to violence. Nonetheless, it argues that country’s conflicts these days are mostly caused by socio-economic reasons, rather than by those from other domains. The violence in the country collocates with degradation of infrastructure since the country got its independence in 1960. By late 2013, there were fewer than 31 000 km of operational roads (mostly located in Kinshasa, Bas- Congo, and southern Katanga regions), down from 145 000 km of roads in 1959 [14, p. 16]. As per 2019 the changes were insignificant.
7 As it is seen from the Map, the vast majority of violent occurrences are taking place in areas with poor road system and isolated from the biggest natural transport artery - Congo River and its tributaries.
8 This article argues that it is infrastructure deficiencies, including also those related to education and healthcare systems, which lead to violence, at least on basic, territorial level. Infrastructure deficiencies preserve backward economic model and society structure which, in turn, cause demographic pressures. These pressures in conditions of organised along bloodlines society and weak state performance create a breeding ground for existence of armed groups. Generated by armed groups violence, in turn, aggravates all segments of the mentioned problem chain and adds recursion to negative socio-economic processes.

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