Sons of Which Soil? The Language and Politics of Autochthony in Eastern D.R. Congo

Published: 1/Sep/2006
Source: African Studies Review

By Stephen Jackson, African Studies Review, Volume 49, Number 2 (September 2006), pp. 95–123


The recent wars in the DR Congo have led to a marked upsurge in both elite and popular discourse and violence around belonging and exclusion, expressed through the vernacular of “autochthony.” Dangerously flexible in its politics, nervous and paranoid in its language, unmoored from geographic or ethnocultural specificity, borrowing energy both from present conflicts and deep-seated mythologies of the past, the idea of autochthony has permitted comparatively localized instances of violence in the DRC to inscribe themselves upward into regional, and even continental logics, with dangerous implications for the future. This article analyzes how the “local”/”stranger” duality of autochthony/allochthony expresses itself in the DRC through rumors, political tracts, and speeches and how it draws energy from imprecise overlaps with other powerful, preexisting identity polarities at particular scales of identity and difference: local, provincial, national, regional. Across each, autochthony operates as a loose qualifier, a binary operator: autochthony is adjectival, relational rather than absolute, policing a distinction between in and out, and yet not indicating, in itself, which in/out distinction is intended. Thus many speak of “Sons of the Soil,” but of  which soil, precisely? The slipperiness between different scales of meaning permits the speaker to leave open multiple interpretations. This indefiniteness is a paradoxical source of the discourse’s strength and weakness, suppleness and nervousness, its declarative mood and attendant paranoia.

Link to African Studies Review website

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious
Regions: Democratic Republic of Congo
Year: 2006