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Hybrid Political Orders and Violent Exchanges in the Eastern Congo

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CONGO (Hybrid Political Orders and Violent Exchanges in the Eastern Congo)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

The eastern Congo (DRC) has experienced conflict and violence since 1994, with the death of more than 4 million people, mostly civilians. The blurring of state and non-state armed groups has created a hybrid political order where a myriad of armed groups fight for power, sovereignty over territory and populations and material resources. Combatants and entire fighting groups regularly shift their allegiances, revealing the interconnected social networks of trust and suspicion running throughout the region. Based on anthropological fieldwork, the aim of this study was to explore political orders, local governance and authority in the eastern territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

To do so the research applied the concept of ‘violent exchange’ (Jensen 2013). This concept is useful in explaining how violence opens up a space in which people are forced to engage with violent networks (such as armed groups, rebel groups, militias, local criminal groups, warlords) and enables an exploration of bottom-up relations and how authority yields profits through violent interactions. The study has a strong comparative and interdisciplinary approach as it will contribute to critical inquires of western assumption of state power. The study was part of a wider research project located at DIGNITY: Danish Institute against Torture (DGN) in Copenhagen, Denmark. A group of researchers carried out fieldwork in the DRC, Liberia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Philippines and South Africa in order to examine violent exchanges in the Global South. The goal with the project was to collect new empirical data and to contribute to social science and anthropological theory and develop the concept of ‘violent exchange’.

On the theoretical level the study moved beyond theories that conceptualize the state as a monolithic entity that seize monopoly and power over territories and populations. The study argued that in order to understand violence in the DRC it is necessary to explore structures of violence as they occur in the absence of a functional state and to move beyond the notion of a ‘failed state’. The research was complementing the failed state approach by building on recent literature that argued for an in-depth analysis that captured the emic understanding of everyday relationships and local notions of authority and power. In order to explore how residents negotiate and navigate unstable terrains the study also invoked the concept of ‘violent exchange’ to further explore the competing claims of power and how logics of order overlap and intertwine. Through the concept the study was able to re-conceptualize authority and power relations between state and non state actors and explore the relationships (the violent exchanges) that occurred between them. In order to explore the prism of violent exchanges the project asked:

- How do local residents negotiate power, survival and livelihood within these hybrid political orders?
- How does local authority govern and determine everyday life and everyday social realities and what role does violence (as real or imaginary) play in these relations?

The project was based on 4 months of fieldwork in Goma and Kinshasa in the DRC. The overall objectives of the study were also to achieve a better understanding of everyday violence and political orders as they shape structures “beyond the state” through empirical development of the concepts of ‘violent exchange’. Apart from generating new empirical and comparative field data the objectives of this study were to support DGN interventions strategies and improve human rights work in fragile states. A critical examination of how fragile states are de facto functioning are important if we are to move away from assumptions based solely on western definitions and conceptualizations of the state. The results of the ‘Violent Exchange’ program will also support DGN intervention strategies and improve human rights in fragile states.
"The research project has generated the following publications:

Hedlund, A (2018).""Do No Harm? Ethics, Politics and the Ethnography of Armed Groups', article submitted to POLAR
Hedlund, A (2018). 'Magic Militias': The Intersection of Magic, Ritual and Rape in the Eastern Congo conflict, article submitted to Aggression and Violent Behavior
Hedlund, A (2018). Exile Warriors' Violence and Community among Hutu Rebels in the eastern Congo (manuscript accepted for publication, University of Pennsylvania Press).
Hedlund, A. (2017) ”Simple Soldiers?” Blurring the Distinction between Compulsion and Commitment among Rwandan Rebels in the Eastern Congo. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute: 87 (4). Pp. 720-738
Hedlund, A. ‘We are Not Part of Their War.’ Hutu Women’s Experience of Rebel Life in the Eastern DRC Conflict’. In Connellan, Mary & Fröhlich, Christiane (eds.) A Gendered Lens for Genocide Prevention (2017). London: Palgrave Macmillian, pp.111-130
Hedlund A. ‘Våld och Socialisering: Våldets Organisation bland Huturebeller i Kongo’. In, Edling Christofer & Rostami Amir (eds), ’Våldets Sociala Dimensioner. Individ, Relation, Organisation’ (2016). Lund: Studentlitteratur, pp 209-227
Hedlund, A (2016). Review of Spencer, Jonathan, Jonathan Goodhand, Shahul Hasbullah, Bart Klem, Benedikt Korf and Kalinga Tudor Silva (2015). Checkpoint, Temple, Church and Mosque: A Collaborative Ethnography of War and Peace. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, Vol 24 (1) p 129-130
Hedlund, A (2016) ‘Sharp Lines, Blurred Structures: Politics of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict’, Focaal Blog:
Hedlund, A (2016) ‘Why Study the Bad Guys? OpenDemocracy:
Hedlund, A (2017) ‘With Peace Comes Money’: Photo Essay published at the website L’Osservatorio: Research Centre on Civilian Victims of War: with-peace-comes-money

Publications by team members in the 'Violent Exchange' research group:

- Jensen, S and Andersen, M. K (2017).Corruption and Torture: Violent Exchange and the everyday policing of the urban poor. Edited volume. Open access:
- Sharma, R. S. and Andersen, M. K. 2017. Torture redress mechanisms in Nepal and Bangladesh. Economic and political weekly. Vol. LII. No. 17.

The overall originality of the violent exchange program, beyond academic publications and scientific contributions, were to come up with policy and recommendations of how to monitor violence in urban settings. Hence, the results of the study have a larger impact and an interest beyond academic circles. For example, Europe plays an important part in its contribution towards conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution in Africa. While EU continues to provide practical support to the Congolese government and work in the field of “good governance” this research on local and hybrid political authority will be of interest to law and policy makers, to the EU commission and to organizations working towards implementation both in Europe and Africa to combat violence. Conceptual, empirical and policy contributions can support European actors to strengthen its existing, and developing new strategies in security and peace-building sectors.