What people in Eastern Congo do for money

Mountains of the Moon
Installation by MICHELA FLÜCK on my research in Eastern DRC. 
On show at TRANSACTIONS, Parrallel Event of MANIFESTA 11, Zürich, 2016.

“Den Binnenvertriebenen im Kongo bleibt nichts als ihr Körper, den sie im alltäglichen Kampf ums Überleben verkaufen. Die Künstlerin Michela Flück setzte die Forschung von Politgeograf Stephan Hochleithner um”. (Theo van Däniken, UZH News)

For more details and photos see: Michela Flück’s Website.

The east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been afflicted by violent armed conflict for the past 20 years. These conflicts result in a variety of challenges for the local population, especially in rural areas –also and especially beyond direct physical violence. Among these challenges, continuous displacement is one of the most crucial: About one million people are currently on the move in eastern DRC, without leaving the region during their flight. For the latter reason, they are classified as “internally displaced persons”, whose forced journeys last for a long time, for years, sometimes even for decades. It is the IDPs’ struggle to not only find means to make a living but to find a way to make a life, which significantly contributes to a rapid transformation of social structures.

Stories of IDPs’ lives, collected during ethnographic fieldwork between 2012 and 2014, illustrate how violence forced them to leave their homes and abandon their fields. Many then found shelter not in camps but with local hosts, until they again had to move on. And so forth. On their way, the customary system of organizing access to land, Muhako, functioned to integrate them into their host communities. Thereby, the Muhako is as central for gaining access to land as it is for social reproduction, for gaining access to the community as a whole. 

Yet, with the duration of repeated displacement, hosts have been becoming increasingly reluctant to shelter IDPs out of pure hospitality. Subsequently, monetary based arrangements increasingly replace traditionally solidary hosting. IDPs now mostly find shelter for money, which also increases the pressure to obtain financial funds. As a result, IDPs are turning into a ‘conflict proletariat’, engaging in all sort of paid labor –under degrading, sometimes slavery-like conditions for as much pay as they need for their rent and to (poorly) feed themselves. These labor-relations are also mediated by the Muhako, which ultimately leads to a transformation of this system towards a capitalist mode of production –affecting both, material (re-)production as well as social reproduction.