I’ve come across two great articles recently that push back against the idea that a weak central government leads to lawlessness and a lack of political order at the local level. At Pambazuka, Patience Kabamba writes about the way that businesspeople from the Nande ethnic group have created a decently well-functioning shadow state in the eastern Congolese city of Butembo. Quoting at length because this is such a fascinating story about globalization and state formation:
In the absence of an effective national government and in the presence of many competitors for power, the Nande … have prospered for more than three decades, managing to build and protect self-sustaining transnational economic enterprises. … The Nande import containers of goods ranging from textiles, motorbikes, and automobiles to spare engines, medicine and other merchandise from East Africa, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and China, [and] export agricultural products ranging from coffee, potatoes and beans to papaya, latex and other vegetables as well as minerals such as gold, coltan, wolfram and cassiterites. The elite of Butembo, the most successful import-export traders, are millionaires in US Dollar amounts…
In addition to a booming import-export trade, the Nande have significantly contributed to the infrastructure of Butembo, taking over multiple functions previously assigned to the state. Each Nande trader is responsible for 50 kilometers of road. A tollgate is generally organized and the money collected is used to repair and mend the roads. … As a result, the Nande region is one of the only places in the country, apart from Katanga— a central site of mineral exploitation and extraction—that has good road networks. Butembo also sports a new airport, a hydroelectric dam and an impressive, three-story mayoral office. The Nande distribute food, clothes and medicine to refugees and contribute significant sums to the construction and maintenance of the local universities. The local federation of traders even has a court that is often used in lieu of the state court for litigations concerning succession and land ownership.
Maria Eriksson Baaz and Judith Verweijen have a good piece at Democracy in Africa about the fact that even the notoriously predatory Congolese army also serves some law enforcement functions. In eastern DRC, citizens are able to negotiate with the army to carry out extra-legal judiciary tasks that wouldn’t otherwise take place through the corrupt formal system:
It has become a relatively widespread practice for civilians to solicit the FARDC to intervene in all sorts of conflicts, located on a wide private-public spectrum. These include disputes over debts, the division of profits, land, and other property, but also conflicts related to a wide range of private and family issues, like debts, dowry, divorces, love affairs and personal rivalries. The reasons for this must largely be located in the weak capabilities and legitimacy of local civilian authorities, and the inaccessibility, slow pace and costly nature of existing dispute-resolution mechanisms and formal justice.
I’ll give the last word to Baaz and Verweijen: “These findings highlight the limited analytical utility of approaches to the Congolese state which conceptualize it as a monolithic whole and focus solely on its predatory and abusive practices. While such practices are undeniably omnipresent, they represent only one dimension of what the state apparatus in the DRC is and does.”