When the hidden transcript storms centre stage: From slow to sudden violence in eastern DRCongo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park

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Abstract

It has been argued that protected areas give rise to forms of incremental ‘slow’ violence when
populations are displaced from their lands and resources. The literature has shown how this can lead communities living at the edge of national parks to resist conservation regulations, often through everyday
strategies designed to go under the radar of park authorities. I make an original contribution to this debate
by exploring how conditions of slow violence and practices of covert resistance surrounding conservation
projects can over time be transformed into forms of overt resistance and a state of ‘sudden’ violence. Taking
a recent conflict over eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park as an illustrative
example, I argue that an attempt by indigenous Batwa communities to violently take back parts of the park’s
highland sector can be explained by three factors: first, the failure of forms ‘rights-based’ resistance strategies to achieve meaningful change; second, specific threats to Batwa livelihoods, identity and dignity that
have emerged over recent years; third, the arrival of opportunities to forge new alliances with more powerful
actors who could support their struggle. My overall argument speaks to the literature on conservation by exposing the intricate relationships between ‘everyday’ and ‘overt’ forms of resistance, and between ‘slow’ and
‘sudden’ violence. In turn, rather than romanticizing the Batwa’s actions, the paper shows how their struggle
has ultimately intersected with elite interests, politico-military networks and wider conflict dynamics in a
way that has led to widespread environmental destruction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalIOB Discussion Paper
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

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