Editor’s note: This review will be published slightly differently in the near future.
Timothy Raeymaekers’ assesses that stereotypical and simplistic understandings about state failure and chronic violence in central Africa, such as the thesis of economic greed, have not led to great insights about either the mechanisms at work, or the emerging orders. As a consequence, Raeymaekers approaches the “constant crisis” in eastern Congo through investigating every day decision-making and its long-term consequences in an “ethnography of critical life worlds” (P.4). Specifically, he focuses on a seemingly marginal group of transnational trader networks in northeastern DRC. He describes how these businessmen of the Nande community have dealt with uncertainty and insecurity over the last century, and how these coping strategies have increasingly appropriated the state.
Raeymaekers explains that the Nande played a central role for the capitalist expansion into eastern Congo’s borderland since 1900. He describes how a combination of political marginalization and protestant work ethic led to the development of a high degree of self-reliance and a strong commercial tradition in the Nande community. Nande traders continuously expanded their successful commercial activities and increasingly asserted themselves against colonial domination. They were subsequently able to use Congo’s post-independence turmoil as a business opportunity, thus riding “the wave of the crisis and bending it to their personal advantage (P.66). This capacity seemed to characterize Nande elites through Mobuto’s reign and the international conflicts of the 1990s and early 2000s, particularly during the second Congo war. While most of the East was plagued by violence, the Nande managed to maintain relative peace and stability through paying off armed actors and engaging in de facto governance.
Through the historical descriptions and detailed examples, Raeymaekers argues convincingly that the informal arrangements of Nande businessmen, concerning for example cross-border trade taxation or the provision of security, became increasingly formalized, in this way transforming local political institutions and unexpectedly leading to new forms of hybrid governance. The description cautions, however, that the “broker” role of Nande businessman also made them complicit as “to avoid redundancy, they have to simultaneously maintain the tension” (P.145). Raeymaekers specifies that as much as Nande businessmen stabilized and developed their heartland during the armed rebellion, they also instigated violence and terror in order to maintain the upper hand in the standoff between political institutions after 2003 (P.133-137). This leads to the question of Nande involvement in the mysterious mass killings in Beni territory between October 2014 and December 2015, which arguably give Raeymaekers research and argument an unsolicited actuality. Although the book is mainly based on fieldwork between 2000 and 2008 and therefore not addressing these issues directly, the provided analysis is very useful for making sense of the more recent killings.