Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Combattants and Anti-Combattants (Collabos): Congolese Transnational Politics in Pretoria

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Combattants and Anti-Combattants (Collabos): Congolese Transnational Politics in Pretoria

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This paper explores the escalation of Congolese (1) transnational political activities in Pretoria between the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. Ethnicity, regionalism, and political rivalries constituted major influences on these activities. Principally, these conflicts brought into opposition Congolese from the East, who are Swahili speakers and mostly pro-Kabila supporters, (pejoratively termed collabos),(2) and Congolese from the West, who generally speak Kikongo, Lingala and Tshiluba, also known as combattants,(3) and are generally in the antiKabila camp. Joseph Kabila, who became President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2001, shortly after the assassination of his father and former president Laurent-Desire Kabila, fought as part of the rebel forces that helped his father depose President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.

In view of the fact that the rivalry of these two opposing groups appears like a "dichotomy of interests between movement and countermovement" (Tilly 1993-1994), the main question this paper aims to explore is: how do Congolese transnational political activities influence the political scene in the DRC and in South Africa? Furthermore, to what extent do the political activities of both countries influence Congolese transnational political activities in Pretoria?

To answer these questions, this paper has five main parts. The first part succinctly attempts to identify gaps in the literature on transnational political studies and discusses the theoretical framework for the study. The second part provides a historical overview of Congolese political transnationalism in South Africa. The third part touches on the impact of the division between the combattants/anti-combattants in the DRC. The fourth part analyses the influence of South African politics on the political behaviour of the combattants/anti-combattants. The last part assesses the impact of the conflict between the combattants/anticombattants in South Africa.

2. Theories on transnational politics

Since transnationalism and conflict are central to this study, it is necessary to look at literature that informs debates about transnational politics and diasporic political conflicts. However, due to space constraints, this article cannot extensively explore these two large bodies of literature. Nevertheless, it is crucial to emphasise that the literature on transnational politics covers various phenomena, including transnational election campaigns and/or transnational voting (for example, Itzigsohn etal 1999; [empty set]stergaard-Nielsen 2003), contributions to peace building or democratisation (Lyons 2009); dual or multi citizenship issues (Swyngedouw and Swyngedouw 2009); and transnational advocacy networks (Shawki 2010) among others.

However, many of these studies pay less attention to transnational politics based on ethno-regional and political conflicts among immigrants. Another particularly less studied feature is the fact that politicians from sending countries conduct election campaigns among their compatriots in the diaspora, who curiously do not have voting rights back home.

Considering the landscape of the Congolese East-West conflict in Pretoria, it is indeed relevant to scrutinise this issue from an ethnicity and regionalism perspective. Some authors suggest that "ethnicity is highly relevant to the study of immigration, as a source of boundarymaking" (Elias 1994; Tilly 2004 cited in Boccagni 2013: 58). Along this line, Boccagni (2013: 58) contends that looking at ethnicity informs the processes of distinction and boundary making even among immigrants from the same community.

Nevertheless, these authors' views on ethnicity seem rather thin on facts because they do not take into consideration many other factors influencing transnational political conflicts based on ethnicity and regionalism. Therefore, Basedau and Stroh (2012: 6-21) argue that ethnicity is just one among a number of factors that play a role in diasporic political conflicts. …

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