Greed, grievance, and the DRC

14 February 2014 | Eric Bell

Eric Bell is a postgraduate student, studying International Development: Poverty, Conflict and Reconstruction at the University of Manchester’s Institute for Development Policy and Management. He is currently finishing his thesis which focuses on the links between aid, governance and conflict in the DRC. Nearly all of his postgraduate research has been focused on central Eastern conflict and reconstruction.

Understanding conflict is a basic necessity.  As a child, my mother would need to find out why my sister and I were fighting, and, thus, defuse it in order to have a peaceful home.  Work-related conflicts are no different.  Differences in leadership and personality are issues bosses often have to understand in order to maintain conflict-free work environments, thus, maximizing efficiency.  With this in mind, it’s no wonder such attention has been focused on understanding violent conflict, in terms of war.

Motivation plays a big part in this understanding.  Perhaps two of the most popular current theories on conflict motivation are greed and grievance.  Both of these theories are quite complex; however, in essence, the former claims that conflict motivation is based on a cost-benefit analysis – how much will it cost me and what can I get out of it.  The latter concerns itself with perceived injustices – ethnic/religious persecution, political exclusion, etc. If we look at mineral exploitation as the driving factor of conflict in the DRC, then greed seems a logical motivator.

Tin mining. One of the many conflict minerals in Eastern Congo.

Congolese tin miner in Eastern Congo.

Armed militias need capital to finance their operations.  What better way to do this than expropriation of profitable goods?  Even the national army was prone to mineral exploitation and pillaging when the state did not pay or supply them. But many argue that there are some legitimate grievance motivations in the DRC conflict.  Take for instance international actors.  The DRC’s neighbours claim to have been drawn into the conflict based on security issues emanating from cross-border skirmishes.  Likewise, the Mai-Mai were originally established as protection groups for villages in the eastern DRC.  Today, they still make up one of the key armed groups.  There are also issues surrounding identity, access to politics, and land use which play a major role in the dynamics of conflict in the DRC. Yet, there seems to be fluidity between greed and grievance.  The DRC’s neighbours, once drawn into the conflict, turned away from security towards predation.  Rwandan President Kagame even claimed that the conflict was “self-financing” based on mineral exploitation. The Mai-Mai always went the same route, eventually preying on the very villages they were meant to protect.  They are currently implicated in a vast number of human rights violations . As Jason Stearns, a past contributor to Resolution: Possible and leading expert on the DRC, mentioned in his recent book, “the Congolese conflict does not fit well [into] straightjackets”.  This is apparent when trying to find a single motivation factor for the conflict.  Arguments can be made for both greed and grievance, and there is an apparent ability for combatants to slide back and forth between the two.  In my research on the DRC, I have come to a conclusion that I always seem to fall back on, regardless of the issue, and perhaps simplistically.  I believe assistance in the promotion of good governance and state capacity is key to resolving the DRC’s issues.  This is not to say they are the only tools for conflict resolution, but, indeed, a solid starting point.  The issues of greed and grievance could both be alleviated, to an extent, should this be realized.

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