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‘MOBUTU'S GHOST’: MOBILIZING AGAINST FOREIGN RETAILERS IN CONTEMPORARY CONGO

  • Aurelia Segatti
Abstract

Since 2009, several unions of Congolese retailers have demanded the implementation of a 1973 law forbidding foreigners from operating small businesses and limiting their access to retail. Seemingly similar mobilizations have been observed elsewhere in Africa (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa), but the Congolese situation remains undocumented to date. The current discursive patterns and social practices that have emerged from this mobilization call for a socio-political enquiry, interrogating their xenophobic undertones but also viewing them in relation to the distribution of power and emerging political subjectivities of post-Mobutuist urban contexts. Based on extensive fieldwork, combining ethnographic research with interviews with key informants, conducted in Kinshasa between 2010 and 2012, this study focuses on mobilization techniques, the web of representations they give rise to, and political actors involved in or resisting the movement. It reveals a complex type of nationalistic discourse that draws on historical and contemporary global sources, while also being influenced by Congo's ambivalent relationship to national identity in the post-Mobutuist period. The non-distinct xenophobic undertones of the discourse, while mostly directed towards Asians and Lebanese, also result in the systematic targeting of West African business operators. Yet, despite often xenophobic and virulent rhetoric, interactions between Congolese and foreign traders have mostly remained characterized by ‘peaceful coexistence’. Those Congolese and foreigners who have chosen to resist injunctions to exclude the latter from economic spaces thus directly question national citizenship as the main basis for political and economic membership in the city of Kinshasa.

Depuis 2009, plusieurs syndicats de vendeurs congolais demandent la mise en application d'une loi de 1973 interdisant aux étrangers la pratique du petit commerce et limitant leur accés au commerce de détail. Des mobilisations en apparence similaires ont pu être observées ailleurs en Afrique (au Ghana, Kenya, Nigéria, et en Afrique du Sud) mais la situation congolaise n'a pas été étudiée jusqu'ici. Les formes discursives et les pratiques sociales qui ont émergé durant ces mobilisations se prêtent é une interrogation socio-politique de leurs sous-entendus xénophobes mais aussi des dynamiques de redistribution du pouvoir et des subjectivités politiques émergentes dans les contextes urbains post-Mobutistes. Fondée sur un long terrain combinant recherche ethnographique et entretiens avec des informateurs clés, á Kinshasa entre 2010 et 2012, cette étude s'intéresse aux techniques de mobilisation, au réseau de représentations qu'elles suscitent, et aux acteurs politiques impliqués dans la mobilisation ou s?y opposant. L'étude dévoile un type complexe de discours nationaliste d'inspiration internationale á la fois historique et contemporaine, mais aussi influencé par la relation ambivalente du Congo á la question de l'identité nationale dans l'ére post-Mobutiste. L'amalgame xénophobe présent dans les discours de mobilisation, bien que s'adressant essentiellement aux Indiens et aux Libanais, aboutit aussi au ciblage systématique des opérateurs ouest africains. Cependant, en dépit d'une rhétorique souvent xénophobe et virulente, les interactions entre Congolais et vendeurs étrangers demeurent caractérisées par une forme de ‘coexistence pacifique’. Ceux des Congolais et des étrangers qui ont préféré résister aux injonctions d'exclusion des étrangers des espaces économiques interrogent ainsi directement la nature de la nationalité comme base unique d'appartenance politique et économique á la ville de Kinshasa.

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References
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