Title: Restraining the State: The Role of Social Groups in Limiting State Violence and Dominance in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Name: Michael Nest
New York University
Year: 2001
Type: Research Grant

The goal of my dissertation was to analyse how social groups restrain state violence and dominance in a "fragmented" state: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). My field researched confirmed that the state had undergone a severe institutional fragmentation and contraction of capacity to an archipelago of "enclaves," largely centred on mineral exploitation. My case study of two such mining enclaves (Lubumbashi and the 'Copperbelt', and Mbuji Mayi) demonstrated that communities had managed to limit violence and state authority, despite war, state incapacity and traumatic state-society relations elsewhere. I sought to explain: 1) how state fragmentation and reconfiguration shape the preferences, interests and strategies of the state's constituent components; 2) how political and economic uncertainty - particularly uncertainty generated by conflict - both shape and circumscribe the behaviour of state and civil actors; and 3) how involvement in the civil war by regional governments created new possibilities and constraints for state, society and external actors.

My dissertation argues that theories of state formation in the DRC and elsewhere in Africa, fail to coherently trace the role of revenue in the creation, expansion and development of state capacity. Yet, I argue, the search for revenue was the most important process shaping the DRC state's evolution and explains the historical puzzle as to why the state fragmented the way it did. That is, because mining enclaves provided reliable sources of revenue, the state concentrated its capacity within those enclaves and facilitated the stable conditions required to continue production.

I found that the relative peace, stability, and more respectful behaviour by state agents towards the public in Lubumbashi and elsewhere on the Copperbelt, was not simply the result of distance from the frontlines of the conflict. Rather, it was linked to the presence of large mining enterprises (with extensive property holdings and which provided scarce rents to the state), and the fact that foreign militaries, especially the Zimbabwean Defense Force, had established commercial interests there. For both these groups, stability was essential for continued profit-making.

Thus, while some entrepreneurs favour the uncertainty in fragmented states because of the higher profits that ventures may yield, many prefer the certainty that comes with stronger state institutions and guaranteed contracts. Contrary to media reports of a new 'scramble for Africa' - by Africans - in the DRC, I found that state fragmentation that results in a weak regulatory and institutional environment has little appeal to a large cross-section of business.

My dissertation was completed in May 2002. The eventual title was: The Evolution of a Fragmented State: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo.