Militias and “Local Governance” in DRC

The Guardian posted a mini-doc this week on Kimua, which is located in Eastern DRC.  The small community there has been plagued by violence from the FDLR since they fled into the region following the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

What’s interesting about this story is the ability for this community to overcome collective action issues.    For nearly twenty years, their government and military has failed to provide adequate security.  The people of Kimua, as one mother explains in the video, are willing to strap guns to the backs of their sons, who are as young as 13, because they must.

While D.R. Congo might be seen as a sovereign state to the international community, hence its vote in the UN-GA, in reality, the government controls very little of its territory and does not have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

This story is illustrative of how a breakdown in the state’s capacity to govern and protect its citizens has resulted in competing militias who provide this service to communities instead.  The violence that these young boys engage in to protect their village from marauding bandit rebels and rival militias can be seen as legitimate because the people there accept it as so.

The use of the word “militaire” rather than “milice” speaks to this legitimacy that has been bestowed upon the FDC.  By calling them “military” rather than “militia” this community is bestowing a sense of legitimacy upon their actions and accepting the security they offer as a form of “state”.  The use of the word by the Guardian implies that the media outlet also sees legitimacy in the FDC’s actions.

The FDC appear to be getting the job done for the moment. MONUSCO and Kinshasa don’t seem to mind them doing the work for them either.  This made me wonder if local militias are the way to go in some circumstances.  Of course, then how does the state tame them, i.e. keep them focused on local issues on the periphery and not threaten the center?

One of the comments made toward the end of the documentary is telling.

With a gun and a uniform he is no longer the same person. He is someone else. The soldier who has a gun, he’s not a friend of the population. He’s 50% for the population and 50% for the military. Even if it’s my child, if he has a gun and orders me to sit down, when the boy orders his father to sit down and it is his son, it’s very serious.

If the FDLR were to disappear tomorrow, would the FDC lay down arms and start farming again?  Will these young boys’ newly found appetites for adventure, fame, and prestige be satiated by a simple life of  farming?  Will they be able to return to a life where they are treated as inferiors to their elders?



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