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The governance of natural resources in hybrid political orders (part 1)

Gilles Carbonnier and Lara Atanasijevic

Several recent initiatives have sought to improve the governance of extractive resources in weak states, with a particular focus on war-torn provinces of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Implementing these initiatives presupposes a modern, Weberian state that fulfills security, welfare and representation functions. However, resource-rich areas in fragile, violent environments are contested spaces under the control of a variety of overlapping and competing sources of power and authority. This two-part blog post highlights the relevance of focusing on hybrid political orders and reflect on what this entails based on recent fieldwork in the  province of North Kivu, DRC.

Resource extraction in hybrid political orders

Governing natural resources in environments of fragility is not the sole remit of the state but involves multiple quasi-state and non-state actors as well. Conceptually, both rebels and the state can be considered extractive institutions seeking to maximize revenues from looting or taxing primary commodities. While looting tends to be associated with short-term benefits, longer-term economic incentives can lead to the pursuit of a more permanent territorial control through taxation.

In this framework, state-building may involve ‘roving bandits’ mutating over time into ‘stationary bandits’ as they acquire a greater interest in administering a territory, which may include the provision of some essential services to the population by state and non-state actors alike. In a recent article entitled Natural resource governance in hybrid political orders’, we argue that the actual implementation of international initiatives to improve the governance of natural resources on the ground suffer from major deficiencies. There is a disconnect between their state-centric nature and actual sources of power and authority in conflict-affected and fragile environments.

Rather than looking at fragile states by their degree of weakness, vis-à-vis the Weberian state benchmark, and focusing on how they should ideally look, it is high time to look at how they actually function and what they often are, i.e. hybrid political orders in which ‘diverse and competing claims to power and logics of order co-exist, overlap and intertwine’.

The case of North Kivu (DRC)

The mineral-rich province of North Kivu in eastern DRC provides a good illustration. We conducted field research in the Province (Goma, Rubaya and Bisie/Walikale Centre) as well as in Kinshasa between 2 February and 28 March 2013 to assess how several minerals transparency initiatives are implemented. Our qualitative field research included in-depth open and semi-structured interviews, field observations, and primary documentation analysis.

Several supply chain transparency initiatives—which will be described in part two of this post—have been devised in the aftermath of the Second Congo War (1998–2003) in an attempt to address the link between large-scale looting of the DRC’s vast mineral deposits and the continuation of violence. The relatively narrow and state-centric nature of these initiatives neglects ‘broader socio-economic, institutional and political aspects’ of this complex conflict setting at a time when stabilization, statebuilding and dealing with conflict minerals intertwine and overlap.

The mere enactment of the US Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act resulted in a de facto embargo on precious minerals from eastern DRC in response to the Act’s provision on curbing conflict minerals originating in the DRC (Section 1502). Due to the high dependency on artisanal mining—defined as ‘mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanization, often in the informal (illegal) sector of the market’ and whose supply chain is simply impossible to trace—this arguably left up to two million artisanal miners out of work, threatening the livelihood of local communities without putting an end to resources financing the conflict. In addition, the security situation tended to worsen with more young people turning to armed groups because of a lack of alternatives to artisanal mining.

The challenge of dealing with remote state outposts

Our research suggests that state officials and military units display de facto greater loyalty toward local kin groups, traditional authorities and families than to the central (but remote) provincial government in Goma, let alone the DRC Government in Kinshasa. In the territory of Masisi for instance, customary chiefs and civil society organizations are at times the ones to resolve disputes over land and other sensitive issues. A variety of formal and informal actors intervene in the provision of law and security, as well as in taxation. One of the consequences of this is that the standard dichotomy between legitimate public security forces and non-state or criminal armed groups may be blurred.

However, supply chain initiatives—such as the Small-Scale Mining Technical Assistance and Training Service (Service d’Assistance et d’Encadrement d’Artisanal et Small-Scale Mining, SAESSCAM) or the North Kivu Tax and Revenue Directorate (Direction Générale des Recettes au Nord-Kivu, DGRNK—tend to rely squarely on state institutions to ensure transparency and accountability. Interviews conducted in Walikale and Masisi territory indicate that these state institutions enjoy very low credibility and legitimacy among host communities, which regard them as inefficient. Transparency initiatives seek to support and strengthen such state outposts in remote mining areas. They thus exert a significant influence on the delicate balance of power prevailing on the ground, yet without improving much transparency over the mineral supply chain.

Time to engage non-state actors

The key question, then, is whether and to what extent global initiatives in the extractive sector could become more effective in conflict-ridden environments by engaging political hybridity head on. International initiatives, when being implemented in such environments, could promote collaboration involving ad hoc coalitions encompassing traditional authorities, civil society leaders, and other powerful non-state actors. This is precisely what humanitarian organizations have been doing on the ground for decades in order to gain access to the communities affected by civil war.

Like businesses, humanitarian agencies have no other choice but to engage with governance as it works rather than as it ought to be if they want to remain effectively operational on the ground. But when it comes to internationally-sanctioned transparency initiatives, the political feasibility and legitimacy of such endeavours raises serious legal and operational challenges, particularly with regard to engaging non-state armed groups.

Testing pragmatic approaches to come to grips with the governance of valuable resources in hybrid political orders requires a highly refined understanding of local dynamics. In-depth investigation into how humanitarian actors have successfully engaged state and non-state actors alike may help inform multi-stakeholder groups in finding new entry points for governing extractive resources in support of long-term peacebuilding and statebuilding agendas.

The second post in this two-part series will provide insights into de facto governance of minerals in North Kivu, suggesting that the implementation of current initiatives falls short of coping with the reality on the ground.


This blog post is published as part of a collaborative partnership between SIPRI and Economists for Peace and Security (EPS).


Gilles Carbonnier is a researcher at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.
Lara Atanasijevic is a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.