Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Sons of Which Soil? The Language and Politics of Autochthony in Eastern D.R. Congo

  • Stephen Jackson
Abstract:

The recent wars in the DR Congo have led to a marked upsurge in both elite and popular discourse and violence around belonging and exclusion, expressed through the vernacular of “autochthony.” Dangerously flexible in its politics, nervous and paranoid in its language, unmoored from geographic or ethno-cultural specificity, borrowing energy both from present conflicts and deep-seated mythologies of the past, the idea of autochthony has permitted comparatively localized instances of violence in the DRC to inscribe themselves upward into regional, and even continental logics, with dangerous implications for the future. This article analyzes how the “local”/“stranger” duality of autochthony/allochthony expresses itself in the DRC through rumors, political tracts, and speeches and how it draws energy from imprecise overlaps with other powerful, preexisting identity polarities at particular scales of identity and difference: local, provincial, national, regional. Across each, autochthony operates as a loose qualifier, a binary operator: autochthony is adjectival, relational rather than absolute, policing a distinction between in and out, and yet not indicating, in itself, which in/ou t distinction is intended. Thus many speak of “Sons of the Soil,” but of which soil, precisely? The slipperiness between different scales of meaning permits the speaker to leave open multiple interpretations. This indefiniteness is a paradoxical source of the discourse's strength and weakness, suppleness and nervousness, its declarative mood and attendant paranoia.

Résumé:

Les guerres récentes en république démocratique du Congo ont engendré une insurrection marquée dans les discours à la fois de l'élite et du peuple et une violence autour des questions d'appartenance et d'exclusion, exprimées à travers le discours vernaculaire de l'identité “autochtone.” La notion d' “autochtonie,” dangereusement flexible politiquement, nerveuse et paranoïaque dans son langage, dégagée de toute spécificité géographique et ethnoculturelle, utilisant l'énergie de conflits à la fois présents et des mythologies profondément ancrées dans le passé, a permis des éclats de violence très localisés comparativement en RDC, s'inscrivant dans une logique régionale et même continentale avec des implications dangereuses pour l'avenir. Cet article analyse comment les dualités “locaux/étrangers” et “autochtones/allogènes” s'expriment en RDC à travers des rumeurs, des tracts politiques, des discours, et comment elles tirent leur vitalité d'assimilation avec d'autres polarités identitaires puissantes et préexistantes sur des échelles particulières des notions d'identité et de difference: au niveau local, provincial, national, régional. A chaque niveau, l'autochtonie opère comme un qualifiant vague, un opérateur binaire: la notion d'autochtonie est adjectivale, relative plutôt qu'absolue, régentant une distinction entre l'intérieur et l'extérieur, sans pour autant spécifier, en elle-même, sur quelle distinction “intérieur/extérieur” elle opère. Beaucoup parlent alors de “fils de la terre,” mais de quelle terre s'agit-il au juste? La fluidité entre les différentes échelles de sens permet à l'orateur d'ouvrir son discours à des interprétations multiples. Cet aspect indéfinissable est l'origine paradoxale de la force et de la faiblesse du discours, de sa souplesse et de sa nervosité, son humeur déclarative et sa paranoïa vigilante.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Appadurai, Arjun. 1999. “Dead Certainty: Ethnic Violence in the Era of Globalization.” In Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and Closure, edited by Meyer, Birgit and Geschiere, Peter. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Bakajika Bankajikila, Th. 1997. Epuration Ethnique En Afrique: Les Kasaïens (Katanga 1961—Shaba 1992). Paris: L'Harmattan.
Bauman, Zygmunt. 1997. Postmodernity and Its Discontents. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Berkeley, Bill. 1993. “An African Horror Story.” The Atlantic Monthly, 08.
Biebuyck, Daniel. 1978. Hero and Chief: Epic Literature From the Banyanga (Zaire Republic). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Coghlan, Benjamin, et al. 2006. “Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Nationwide Survey.” The Lancet 367: 4451.
Dalrymple, William. 2005. “India: The War Over History.” New York Review of Books, 04 7.
Douglas, Mary. 2002 (1966). Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge.
de Villers, Gauthier. 1998. “Identifications et Mobilisations Politique au Congo-Kinshasa.” Politique Africaine 72: 8197.
Foucault, Michel. 2001. Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Geschiere, Peter, and Ceuppens, Bambi. 2005. “Autochthony: Global or Local?Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 385407.
Goyvaerts, Didier. 1998. “L'Afrique des Grands Lacs: Annuaire 1996–97—Review Article.” African Affairs 97 (389): 577–78.
Gupta, Akhil, and Ferguson, James. 1997. “Culture, Power, Place: Ethnography at the End of an Era.” In Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology, edited by Gupta, Akhil and Ferguson, James, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Harding, Andrew. 2000. “DR Congo's Forgotten Disaster.” BBC News Online, 09 14. http://news.bbc.co.Uk/l/hi/world/africa/923568.stm.
Heilbrunn, John R. 1993. “Social Origins of National Conferences in Benin and Togo.” Journal of Modern African Studies 31 (2): 277–99.
International Crisis Group. 2005. The Congo's Transition Is Failing: Crisis in theKivus. Africa Report No. 91. Brussels/Nairobi: ICG.
International Crisis Group. 2006. Katanga: The Congo's Forgotten Crisis. Africa Report No. 103. Brussels/Nairobi: ICG.
International Rescue Committee. 2004. Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results From a Nationwide Survey, April—July 2004. New York: International Rescue Committee.
Jackson, Stephen. 2001. “Nos Richesses Sont Pillées: Economies De Guerre Et Rumeurs De Crime Dans Les Kivus, République Démocratique Du Congo.” Special Issue, “République démocratique du Congo: la guerre vue d'en bas.” Politique Africaine 84 (Décembre).
Jackson, Stephen. 2003. “War Making: Uncertainty, Improvisation and Involution in the Kivu Provinces, Dr Congo 1997–2002.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University.
Lemarchand, Réné. 1994. Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1963. Totemism. Boston: Beacon Press.
Loraux, Nicole. 2000. Born of the Earth: Myth and Politics in Athens (Myth and Poetics). Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Lyons, Maryinez. 1996. “Foreign Bodies: The History of Labour Migration as a Threat to Public Health in Uganda.” In African Boundaries: Barriers, Conduits and Opportunities, edited by Nugent, Paul and Asiwaju, A. I.. London: Pinter.
Malkki, Liisa. 1995. Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mamdani, Mahmood. 1996. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. London: James Currey Press.
Mamdani, Mahmood. 2001. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Maquet, Jacques Jerome. 1961. The Premise of Inequality in Ruanda: A Study of Political Relations in a Central African Kingdom. London: Oxford University Press.
Mbembe, Achille. 1992. “The Banality of Power and the Aesthetics of Vulgarity in the Postcolony.” Public Culture 4 (2): 130.
Meyer, Birgit, and Geschiere, Peter. 1999. “Introduction.” In Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and Closure, edited by Meyer, Birgit and Geschiere, Peter. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Minority Rights Group International. 2000. The Batwa Pygmies of the Great Lakes Region. London: Minority Rights Group.
Mueller, Melissa. 2004. “Born of the Earth: Myth and Politics in Athens—Review Article.” Electronic Antiquity 8, no. 1 (07), http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ElAnt/V8N1/Loraux2.pdf.
Ndeshyo Rurihose, Oswald. 1992. La Nationalité de la Population Zaïroise d'Expression Kinyarwanda au Regard de la Loi du 29 Juin 1981. Kinshasa: Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur l'Integration Africaine/(CERIA) Edition Électronique ASYST.
Newbury, Catharine. 1993. The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda 1860–1960. New York: Columbia University Press.
Newbury, David S. 1999. “History, Identity, and Politics in Central Africa.” Paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Chicago.
Nzongola-Ntalaja, George. 2002. The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila. London: Zed Books.
Pottier, Johan. 2002. Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reyntjens, Filip. 1999. “A Dubious Discourse on Rwanda.” African Affairs 98 (390): 119–22.
Ruhimbika, Manassé. 2001. Les Banyamulenge, Congo-Zaïre, Entre Deux Guerres. Paris: L'Harmattan.
Rwasa, Agathon. n.d. “De la Crise Burundaise ou Crise des Grands-Lacs?” La Voie D'issue Nr: R 02-017/PLPHT-FNL-02. Bujumbura, Burundi: Présidence du PALIPEHUTU.
Sanders, Edith R. 1969. “The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Functions in Time Perspective.” Journal of African History 10 (4): 521–32.
Scott, James. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Strathern, Marilyn. 2004. Partial Connections. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Alta Mira Press.
Vansina, Jan. 1990. Paths in the Rainforest: Towards a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa. London: James Currey.
Werbner, Richard. 1996. “Multiple Identities, Plural Arenas.” In Postcolonial Identities in Africa, edited by Werbner, Richard and Ranger, Terence. London: Zed Books.
Willame, Jean-Claude. 1997. Banyarwanda Et Banyamulenge: Violences Ethniques Et Gestion De L'identitaire Au Kivu. Paris: L'Harmattan.
Zex-Kongo, Jean-Pierre Nzeza Kabu. 1999. “Du Zaïre Au Congo: La Question Agraire Au Nord-Kivu.” Afrique Politique.
Zizek, Slavoj. 1989. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Phronesis.
Zizek, Slavoj. 1994. “The Spectre of Ideology.” In Mapping Ideology, edited by Zizek, Slavoj. London: Verso.
Zizek, Slavoj 1990. “Eastern Europe's Republics of Gilead.” New Left Review 183 (10): 5063.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed