Why One City in Congo Is Astonishingly Stable and Prosperous
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Several years ago, I got a request from some officials at a well-known international organization, wondering if we could chat about the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. After some polite conversation about my own research, my inquisitors got to their questions: Why is the North Kivu city of Butembo so stable? How are members of the Nande ethnic group, by whom Butembo is almost entirely populated, so economically successful? Perhaps most important, could their model be replicated to bring stability and economic growth to other parts of the Congo as part of the project to rebuild the postwar Congolese state?
I answered as best I could, based on the academic literature on the Nande that existed at the time. A few weeks later, I related these questions to Rene Lemarchand, the great Congo scholar whose influential work extends across six decades. Lemarchand chuckled and replied, “Well, you know the answer: Because they’re the Nande.”
I was relieved by Lemarchand’s comment, as I had told the officials the same thing. Ethnic solidarity, with strong ties between Nande and powerful business, political and religious leaders who enforced those ties, meant that the Nande were able to easily cooperate to get things done. And no, there is no way that this can be replicated elsewhere in Congo, because other groups do not exhibit the same degree of social cohesion and control that the Nande do.
Five months after these conversations, I found myself in Butembo, attempting to understand firsthand the dynamics of Nande group solidarity as it relates to the provision of public goods like health care and education. What I found was a far more complicated story, one that was outside the scope of my research, but that I have been hoping to learn more about ever since.
Enter scholar Timothy Raeymaekers, whose new book Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo shows that while indeed Nande ethnic solidarity matters in explaining their successful governance of their territory, there’s more to it. The location of the Nande on the Uganda borderlands, far from the authority of the central state and provincial authorities, made it possible for Nande society to produce an entirely new form of governance.