DR Congo

“Everything that moves will be taxed”: the political economy of roadblocks in North and South Kivu


Executive summary

This report explores the political economy of the road in the provinces of North and South Kivu. Its main finding is that control over traffic is a key stake in the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The road is furthermore one of the main sources of illicit fnancing of various state and non-state armed actors, which translates into the omnipresence of roadblocks along them.

Because of this, roads without roadblocks are rare. Our research has identifed 798 roadblocks: 312 in South Kivu and 486 in North Kivu. Of these, 174 or 22% have a presence of armed groups; 55 or 7% are manned by unarmed non-state actors (such as volunteers or self-demobilized elements), and 569 or 71% have a presence of government actors (comprising administrative entities, army, police, etc.) or actors tolerated by the state (such as cooperatives). In many cases, roadblocks are operated simultaneously by different actors (e.g. a cooperative and an armed non-state group, or an unarmed non-state actor accompanied by an armed soldier).

Congolese roads are heavily militarized: at 597 or 75% of all roadblocks, at least one armed actor is present. The Congolese army (FARDC) is the main operator of the roadblocks. Its presence was observed at 379 or 47% of all roadblocks. At 168 or 44% of the roadblocks where the army is present, they engage in the taxation of natural resources (such as minerals, charcoal, timber and agricultural products). The army is followed by the chieftaincy/services (local governance entities), present at 147 or 19% of the barriers. Finally, the third place is shared by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and the Trafc Police (PCR), being present respectively at 10% and 12% of the roadblocks in the two provinces.

The report divides the roadblocks into three categories: “strategic”, “administrative” and “economic”.
The category of strategic barriers comprises military deployments, placed in response to an enemy presence. We identifed 45 of these. In the administrative category fall those roadblocks that lie at the boundary between two decentralized administrative entities (province, territory, groupement). Our study has identifed 37. Most roadblocks, however, are exclusively motivated by economic motives. In the “economic” category, we group all those roadblocks whose presence is justifed exclusively by the imposition of taxes on a person or good crossing of the roadblock. We counted 513 barriers at which the right to pass was taxed, 239 barriers where natural resources were targeted, and 161 barriers placed at the entry and/or exit of a market. A single roadblock might be classed in several categories, for example a military roadblock (strategic) which is simultaneously used to tax passers-by (economic).
The line between legitimate revenue generation and extortion at roadblocks is often crossed. Taxation at roadblocks might be regarded as legitimate, when largely unpaid military or rebel elements posted at roadblocks make informal agreements with the local population. In exchange for the taxes, which sustain their operational presence, the armed actors provide some form of protection in return. But at most of the roadblocks, levels of taxation far exceed the operational and logistical needs of their operators.

Most roadblocks should therefore be understood as one among the many forms of income generation through taxation in the DRC, complementing the direct exploitation of minerals, the monopolization of trade, and the taxation of households. Operating roadblocks is lucrative, widespread, and therefore contributes to the continuation of militarization, insecurity and structural underdevelopment in the provinces of North and South Kivu.

This roadblock mapping can serve as an empirical basis for the fght against illegal taxation and conflict fnancing. The report, more specifcally, provides an overview of a hitherto unknown yet fundamental aspect of the political economy of conflict in eastern DRC, thus complementing existing knowledge on the role of natural resources. The mapping in this report can be used to gain insight into the geographic distribution of armed actors and state services, to gain insight into the scope of extortion, as well as its main perpetrators. Although it is hard to single out one actor, the panoply of road barriers presents a structural violation of human rights and weighs heavily of the subsistence economy in the eastern DRC.