you're reading...

CRN participants at the Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Washington Nov 17-19 2011

1. Ethnicity, Conflict, Identity and Belief: New Directions in Congolese Research

 FRIDAY NOVEMBER 18 – 16.30-18.30  PANEL VII-4

Panellists: Nikki Eggers (Wisconsin-Madison), Miles Larmer (Sheffield), Reuben Loffman (Keele), Harry Verhoeven (Oxford)


Chair: Miles Larmer (Sheffield)


Discussant: Thomas Turner (independent scholar)


Panel description:

This panel indentifies important strands in innovatory research into the history and politics of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rejecting intellectual approaches based on the nation-state as the unit of analysis, the research presented identifies the salience of local, cross-border regional and global factors and influences in shaping Congolese history. The panel emphasises the importance of Congolese agency (albeit often operating from subaltern positions) in complex interactions with external structures, and rejects simplistic notions that Congo has been the victim of outside agency. The panel explores the role of religious belief in shaping ethnic identities and political movements, and foregrounds the role of political ideas and movements in making sense of the local and transnational conflicts that have shaped the country’s late-colonial and post-colonial history.  The papers suggest ways in which the history of Congo, so often treated as an extreme or atypical African country, is better understood on a comparative and/or regional basis, without downplaying the importance of local particularities.



Paper abstracts:



Nikki Eggers (University of Wisconsin-Madison): Kitawala in the Congo: Religion, Politics, Health and Healing in Congolese History

Abstract: Kitawala – a millenarian religious movement with roots in the African Watch Tower movement – has a long history in the DRC, yet it remains relatively unknown outside of the region and has received little scholarly attention. Virtually absent from existing analyses is a discussion of how locally constituted concepts of healing – both on a public and individual level – informed the ideology and practice of Kitawala and contributed to its diffusion and remarkable endurance in the region. This oversight has resulted in a fractured and incomplete picture of the history of Kitawala and the concerns of its followers.  Focusing primarily on a local history of the movement in South Kivu, but also examining its larger regional history, this paper will use Kitawala as lens through which to address larger theoretical and methodological questions about the complex and often culturally contingent relationship between politics, religion, health and healing in Congolese history.


Reuben Loffman (Keele): ‘The Politics of Suicide’: Political Tribalism and the end of Belgian rule in Kongolo, Katanga, 1957 – 1960

Historians are just beginning to examine decolonisation in Congo–Kinshasa, a field traditionally dominated by political scientists. Although these scholars shed much light onto the turbulent events in Congo during the early 1960s, historical insights have much to contribute towards our understanding. This paper draws on John Lonsdale’s work on the Mau Mau in Kenya and argues that his definition of political tribalism, in which power ‘flows down from high political intrigue,’ explains much of the post–independence violence in Congo. This paper analyses a territory in Northern Katanga, called ‘Kongolo,’ and suggests that the two major ethnic groups there each mobilised due to one of the reasons Lonsdale argued were indicative of political tribalism. The Luba–Katanga in the South of Kongolo unified in order to found their own state and so avoid being excluded from power under a newly independent Katangan regime that many felt was populated with Belgian sympathisers. Alternatively, the Hemba mobilised to maintain their access to mission resources. Thereafter, a significant number of Luba–Katanga viewed the Hemba as colonial–collaborators and began to attack them. The various Hemba sub–groups became even closer once Luba–Katanga guerrillas started to assault their villages.



Miles Larmer (Sheffield): Local Identities and Transnational Conflict: the Katangese Gendarmes and Central-Southern Africa’s Forty-years war, 1960-1999

Abstract: Congolese independence in 1960 was immediately followed by the secession of Katanga. The new state’s armed forces, trained by mercenaries, were composed of young, mainly Lunda-speaking men. Following the secession’s defeat, thousands of gendarmes escaped into Angola, where they were integrated into Portuguese colonial resistance to Angola nationalists. Following the Portuguese revolution, the gendarmes, now reconstituted as the National Front for the Liberation of the Congo (FLNC), supported the MPLA in its successful fight to become the government of Angola. In 1977 and 1978, the FLNC launched invasions of Katanga (Shaba I and II) which were defeated by French and US-backed forces. In 1997, the gendarmes helped overthrow the Zairian dictatorship of Mobutu Sésé Seko.

The Katangese gendarmes have variously been identified as mercenaries, neo-colonial puppets, or Marxist revolutionaries. Whilst external perceptions of the gendarmes have been shaped by discourses of national liberation, regional conflict and Cold War rivalry, their own sense of identity has not been explored. Utilising archival sources and interviews with former gendarmes, this paper attempts to situate their identity within these discourses, but also within a sense of Lunda local and trans-national (Congo, Angola, Zambia) identity and an enduring belief in the cause of Katangese self-determination.






Harry Verhoeven (Oxford): Irregular Regimes and the Commitment Problem in post-Mobutu Congo: Laurent Kabila, the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the inside story of Africa’s Great War


In May 1997 the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL), backed by Rwanda and Uganda, toppled the long-running dictatorship of Mobutu Sésé Seko. The post-Mobutu government, with Laurent-Desire Kabila as president and Rwandan James Kabarebe as chief of staff of the new Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC), promised to restore stability to a region wracked by spreading violence and conflict since the early 1990s. Mobutu’s fall marked the highpoint of the rise of Africa’s new leaders and the belief in a progressive restructuring of the heart of the continent through rebellion and war.

However, in late July 1998, fifteen months after taking power, Kabila expelled Kabarebe and all foreign forces from Congo, igniting a bitter second war between ‘brothers’ that would draw in nine regional governments. This paper, based on interviews with key players on each side of the conflict, explores the internal dynamics that led to the breakdown of the post-Mobutu government and the onset of the August 1998 war that would lead to the deaths of millions. It uses unique new evidence to try to answer the vital question of why Kabila and Kabarebe were willing to start the bloodiest conflict since World War II.



SATURDAY NOV 19 10.15-12.15 — PANEL IX-1

Chair: Pedro Monaville, University of Michigan


Isabelle de Rezende, University of Michigan (iderezen@umich.edu), Statesman, Slain Hero and Family Man: Elements for the Construction of a Lumumba Visuality

Pedro Monaville, University of Michigan (pmonavil@umich.edu), Lumumbist Trajectories: Contested Memories and Political Organization in the Congo (1960s-1990s)

Katrien Pype, Catholic University of Leuven and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Katrien.Pype@soc.kuleuven.be), Lumumba and Kabila: Heroes for the Present? Visual Media, Memory and Politics in DR Congo Festive Year 2010

Discussant: Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Université

Laval, Canada (Bogumil.Koss@hst.ulaval.ca)






About Congo Research Network

The Congo Research Network (CRN) is a community of researchers working on DR Congo and its diaspora across the Humanities


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: