|Title:||Exile Warriors: Violence and Community among Hutu rebels in the Eastern Congo|
South African Research Chair in Social Change
University of Johannesburg
My PhD thesis is an anthropological study of war and violence in the volatile eastern territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ethnographic focus is on one of the largest rebel groups currently operating in the Congo conflicts, the Hutu-dominated Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These Hutu rebels arrived in the Congo in 1994, after the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Whereas the leadership of the FDLR is implicated in genocide and war crimes in Rwanda, the majority of the combatants and their family members are now second-generation refugees living in exile. For 20 years, the Hutu rebels have lived in the mountainous forests of the Congo, fighting with and against various state armies and local militias, as well as carrying out violence against the Congolese civilian population.
Fieldwork with the soldiers in this Hutu rebel camp reveals a long and complex history of violence that begins in neighboring Rwanda and continues in the eastern Congo in various forms. Based on participant-observation and interviews with high-ranking rebel leaders, combatants, child soldiers, and their family members inside a rebel military unit, this study shows how individuals perceive their own life conditions in war and in everyday life. The study is moving beyond stereotypical labels of this group as "perpetrators." Instead, it describes the rebels' worldview as exiles and the micro-politics and practices of everyday life in a military camp. By analyzing narratives and experiences of history, war, and violence, this study shows how individual and collective identity is constructed inside the rebel camp. In the social practices of a rebel community, reconfigurations of memory and history, including the memory of genocide, structure the way in which ideologies of war are produced and maintained.
The study further shows how a rebel community is socially organized. This organization is more than simple military hierarchy. Social order goes hand in hand with the mundane routines of everyday life. Hence, this study explores religious, political, and military practices, how individuals deal with the surrounding emergencies of war, and how physical violence can explode in specific contexts.
Finally, the study shows that although some individuals might profit from procuring and distributing scarce resources in a conflict situation, the majority of the soldiers and their family members are caught up in a political and structural conflict where individuals find few exits. For many of these Hutu rebels, soldiers, and their families, their everyday life is at the most marginal of levels, reduced to a life of war and violence in the forest.