Having chosen the governance and statebuilding pathway of International Development and having always had an underlying interest in states, what defines them, and electoral systems, I found the presentation on ‘Engagement with Non-state Actors (NSA)’ in my Development Politics course to be quite enlightening; it also reinforced a lot of previous information I had gathered over the years from reading travel writing from various journalists and experts who had visited the DRC, ranging from Michela Wrong’s In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz to Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World’s Most Dangerous Country by Tim Butcher, a well-regarded journalist. Other than reading various books on the country and its history, other background information came from watching Lumumba, a film on the nation’s first prime minister’s life and from reading various biographies and history books. Much of this background information also included detailed, but almost always out-of-date information on rebel groups that have operated in the country’s eastern regions from the First Congo War (1996-1997). Although this is only a brief summary of the situation in the Eastern Congo and how much of the state is actually visible in that region, more substance about what defines a state can be found by reading Acemoglu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail: The origins of power, prosperity and poverty (2012) and Thomas Risse’s Governance Without a State?: Policies and Politics in Areas of Limited Statehood (2011).
The presentation on NSA’s included a quick look at what defined the state, especially in the Congo’s case. With more than half a century of kleptocratic rule, much of the nation never received any semblance of social services, and those that did exist in the security sector were made up of corrupt officials, often placed in remote cities by the central government in Kinshasa. In the Congo today, most people would openly admit that they simply do not trust government forces and police, as they are as corrupt and if not as brutal, as the various rebel groups operating in the country’s east. Beyond acknowledging that the security services can be considered to be both inept and unreliable, another key point is the involvement of surrounding nations in Congolese affairs. Beginning with the downfall of Mobutu, and not including earlier intervention in the 1960s, surrounding nations played major roles in both Congo wars, between 1996 and 2003. These interventions, many of which continued to be funded by the Rwandan government, both indirectly through rebel groups and directly through Rwandan military forces, continued to impact the strength of the Congolese state in eastern regions.
To conclude, it being quite apparent that the Congolese state is viewed on par with the various rebel groups, it can be surmised that interacting with NSA’s might be productive in that they play an important role in remote areas of the DRC. In smaller communities, Mai-Mai self-defense groups operate with the claim that they provide security where the state and rebel groups do not operate. As with more organized rebel groups, they also collect taxes through roadblocks and forms of resource extraction; much of the funding behind rebel groups comes from mining. I feel that it is apparent that donors and other outside actors might find it more productive to reinforce civil-society groups who are not connected to armed NSA’s and work through them to reach local populations in Eastern Congo.