The logistical origins of violence in Central Africa: roadblock economies in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic

Colloquium | November 7 | 12:30-2 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall

 Peer Schouten, Postdoctoral Fellow, DIIS and UCB Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley Department of Geography

 Center for African Studies

In this paper, Peer explores the centrality of logistics in the violent history of Central Africa. Focusing on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, it shows how the two universal aspirations to make things circulate and to benefit from the power to slow things down, have condemned the region to a condition of poverty and violence since pre-colonial times. Combining historical inquiry with extensive fieldwork and a mapping of over 1,000 roadblocks in Congo and the Central African Republic, it traces how aspirations to control long-distance trade gave rise to a particular history of violent conquest that culminated in colonial pathways of power; how connections were engineered in the post-independence period between these pathways in Central Africa and political control in the West; and how control over these flows ultimately became a key stake in global politics of ongoing civil wars in Central Africa.

Before delving into the past, Peer sets out contemporary forms of logistical violence. Dominant approaches to Central Africa’s conflict economies foreground ‘conflict minerals’: the involvement of armed groups and the armed forces in small-scale mining. Reporting on a recently completed mapping of roadblocks, Peer argues, instead, that rebels predominantly deploy strategies to feed off economic circulation—both local trade and flows of capital and goods engendered by multinational corporations and aid agencies. The term ‘roadblock economies’ points towards investigating the ensuing entanglements of coercion, mobility, globalization, logistics, and taxation in Central Africa as new configurations of political (dis)order. How, he asks, might we come to terms with dynamics of violence clustered around the ‘sphere of circulation’?

Schouten is a postdoctoral fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies, associate researcher at the International Peace Information Service (Belgium) and editor-in-chief at Theory Talks. He researches the political economy of conflict in Central Africa, as well as the politics of infrastructure and the historical sociology of state formation. He has worked in numerous African countries, for or in partnership with a number of NGOs and IOs. Peer is the author of numerous scholarly articles, book chapters, and research reports on above—and other—topics.


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