Violence with a purpose: exploring the functions and meaning of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo

In situations of protracted armed conflict such as in sub-Saharan Africa, there exists a strong tendency to describe rebel violence as a senseless war of ‘all-against-all’. This ‘Hobbesian’ violence (a theory that people have the fundamental right to pursue selfish aims but will relinquish those rights in the interest of the common good) is often illustrated by the sight of drugged and gun-toting youths engaged in the harassment of innocent civilians. Their sole motivation appears to lay in the benefit of organized plunder. However ‘senseless’ it may appear, the violence still has its functions. It is used to foster strategies of political control, and has an important identity and social dimension. This article explores both the political and socio-psychological functions of violence in the rural areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The analysis focuses on the provinces of North and South Kivu and on Ituri, where the authors have carried out extensive field research. Their analysis will be developed in particular regard to the current demobilisation and reintegration efforts that are carried out within the scope of the ‘transition’ process in the DRC, but which so far have seen limited results. Finally, the authors will explore some alternative methods to rethink war trauma and the rehabilitation of ex-combatants in (former) conflict areas such as the DRC.

Beneduce, Roberto; Jourdan, Luca; Raeymaekers, Timothy; Vlassenroot, Koen