Who was supporting M23?

If you haven’t seen the interactive graph of support for M23 by foreign states (Rwanda/Uganda) and individuals that was published in Stability Journal recently, it’s worth a look.  The data comes from an article by Cathy Nangini, Mainak Jas, Hugo Fernandes and Robert Muggah.

Here’s a still shot of the interactive version.  One thing that strikes me in looking at this is that running a rebellion is actually an intensely diplomatic endeavor.  Think about the challenges of negotiating relationships with all of these sponsors and allies while also trying to take territory and (in at least a minimal sense) govern it – formidable!

m23-dataviz

Late nights at the “market of the unsold”

This article by Guillaume Iyenda on the lives of street vendors in Kinshasa’s informal economy is nearly a decade old now, but it doesn’t seem like things have changed that much:

Our research showed that the highest diversity of sales took place between 10 and 12 in the morning. As many households consume only one meal a day, people prefer to do their shopping at this time and then cook a meal that is eaten between 4 and 5 p.m. In the late afternoon, sales are high in what is locally called the wenze ya bitula, the “market of the unsold”. Here, people generally sell all their perishable goods, which they are unable to keep from one day to the next because they lack freezers. As a result, these goods are sold at half price or less. Shoppers who most frequently use these markets are those who consume their one daily meal between 8 and 10 p.m.; most of them have to wait for the main income earner to return from work, bringing back the daily money for the food shopping.

Interesting throughout.  He also has a related paper [PDF] on how street food preparation is a primary source of income for many women in Kinshasa whose husbands are disabled or unemployed.

Snapshots of non-state power in Africa

I haven’t properly written up my observations from last year’s African Studies Association meeting yet.  In reviewing my notes, I found that one of the themes that cut across the various panels I attended was the unexpected uses of non-state power.  By this I mean the exercise of (potentially) coercive power by non-state actors in ways that challenge the state’s monopoly on violence or taxation.  Here’s a snapshot:

  • Steven van Bockstael noted that most artisanal mining in Liberia is done without the permission of the central government and is therefore illegal, but that miners also frequently ask the permission of land owners, chiefs, and even local government officials before proceding.  This type of “highly personalized” authorization clearly has value to the miners, but also means that they’re in a constant process of negotiation with officials.
  • Joshua Walker made a similar observation about diamond mining in Mbuji-Mayi, saying that artisanal miners often pay a daily fee to local militias to gain (illegal) access to land owned by parastatal mining agencies.  Note that this is actually a bit at odds with the “conflict minerals” narrative of militarized mining in the Congo, which seems to assume that rebel groups operate the mines themselves, rather than simply charging others for access.
  • Komlan Agbedahin observed that colonial borders have done less than expected to shape the exercise of chiefly power in central Ghana and Togo.  Local chiefs still engage in cross-border power struggles, and the religious spheres of local gods often cross borders as well.  Less surprisingly, he also found that local border agents frequently supplemented their salaries by cutting holes in border fences and charging people who wished to cross.
  • Nicole Eggers noted that Christian prophets in South Kivu often exercise real political power, sometimes to the point of challenging the mwami or other local authorities.  Part of the reason for this is that the South Kivutien mwamis’ power is typically tied to the land, and diminishes if they’re forced to flee due to violence, while the prophets’ power is seen as “heavenly” rather than local, and thus not so easily diminished by flight.

Mob justice, traditional authority, and witchcraft in the DRC

Judith Verweijen has written an interesting post about her recent research on justice populaire in the Kivus.  I’ve always thought of mob justice as a reaction to the state’s inability to provide security or prosecute those accused of wrong-doing, but Verweijen points out that it may also be a response to the declining authority of customary officials.

In some places, vigilante committees, sometimes dominated by demobilized soldiers, have been key in orchestrating the killings. This has been especially the case where vigilantes have taken on the role of assessing witchcraft allegations, which are the second major source of mob justice next to crime suspicions. … The events in the chefferie (chiefdom) of Wagongo in Mahagi territory seem to corroborate this conclusion. In the course of a recent visit, I was told that there had been a strong increase in witchcraft-related mob justice since a conflict around customary power had split the vieux-sages (old, wise men) into two opposing camps, thus reducing their capacity to credibly deal with these cases.

The whole piece is worth reading.