In line with the main focus and aims of this paper, rural-urban transformation and boomtown urbanization in the three countries under study are being presented below along the following structuring lines for comparison: (i) underlying economic processes leading to the emergence and development of new urban agglomerations; (ii) consolidation trajectories defining temporary or permanent forms of urbanization and (iii) the impact of violence and forced displacement on the spatial and socio-economic characteristics of boomtown urbanization.
5.1. Underlying Processes of Town Booming
In Angola, war has dictated the booming of mining-related urban agglomerations after independence and reverted the dominance of large-scale mining companies for all settlement in mining regions [50
]. While the characteristics of informal booming towns throughout the conflict have not been particularly ’urban’ given the absence of infrastructural investments or development strategy by the military that controlled these spaces [56
], these unplanned settlements, which emerged in new rural areas, heavily associated with the garimpo
, concentrated more than merely large numbers of population. The local populations, the military and cross-border migrants from the DRC [57
] compounded the effervescent new agglomerations in the Lundas. The “booming diamond settlements” [56
] (p. 550), where new displacement economies were flourishing [52
], concentrated dynamics of urban living, consumption, and, above all, of intense commercial and trading activities. After the end of the civil war, these boomtowns “resumed their status of government and mining company-dominated settlements, where control and planning prevail” [52
] (p. 687). The new mining law of 2011 that aimed at regulating informal garimpo
and settlement related to it clearly targeted returning the control of the diamond economies to the government but also of the emerging towns. Angola’s urban growth over the last decades has been characterized by rapid agglomerations in existing towns and cities—and in the capital Luanda in particular—as a result of the civil war playing out in the countryside. The post-war tendency, however, has been of state-led urbanism, with an emphasis on major infrastructural investments [58
]. The two main types of urban emergence and growth—the expansion of existing towns and the garimpo
boomtowns—combine dynamics of both formal and informal construction and a variety of scales of urban dynamisms.
A surge in mining investment since the early 2000s as a result of growing demand for copper/cobalt has seen the emergence of large-scale and small-scale mining in Africa’s Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is occurring in predominantly rural areas, such as in Zambia’s North Western province [61
]. These dynamics are changing the character of places where residents have mainly been making a living from small-scale agriculture, hunting and gathering, and some trade in agriculture and forest produce with adjacent urban and border regions [62
]. Mining has attracted new migrants. Many are coming from the older, established mining towns of the Zambian Copperbelt, where the withdrawal of state welfare that came with deregulation of the economy and the reprivatization of the state conglomerate, the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) from the mid-1990s, saw massive job layoffs and a protracted economic crisis [49
]. A dual process of mining urbanization is occurring alongside both large-scale and artisanal mining. It is catalyzing demand for goods, services and housing both for short- and longer-term stays. At artisanal and small-scale mining operations, and on the fringes of the planned towns for large-scale mining, settlements that do not lend to easy description of rural or urban have emerged. Their ambiguous character can be described as ‘rurban’, connoting the interconnections and social political transitions between countryside and city [5
The North and South Kivu provinces in Eastern Congo are not only characterized by the abundance of natural resources, but also by the mobilization of armed groups, strong ethnic tensions, violent struggles over public authority and militarized land conflicts. In the early years of the new millennium, during the RCD rebellion that coincided with the global boom in demand for coltan and cassiterite, several boomtowns emerged around artisanal mining sites in these provinces. Over the last two decades, towns like Numbi, Nyabibwe or Rubaya have experienced spectacular growth, transforming from small villages into extended ‘urbanized’ agglomerations. The substantial influx of refugees and IDPs further pushed their demographic expansion in the context of war. The thriving forces behind the fast expansion of these mining agglomerations are multiple, and a combination of structural processes and people’s agency. The more these boomtowns expand, the more miners and IDPs have been followed by an influx of all kinds of other ‘migrants’ seeking to integrate into and invest in these emerging semi-urban economies. This has led (in some cases more than others) to the creation of an ethnically and economically diverse demography, the development of new markets, increased circulation of money and goods and the spontaneous development of infrastructure and services. The urbanization process may initially unfold in an informal way, yet various actors (such as economic big men or political elites) have increasingly tried to incorporate this process into their own political or economic ambitions [22
]. While in some cases, local influential actors explicitly invest in these towns, in other cases, rumors circulate about elites boycotting investments in urban expansion to prevent external actors from interference. The transformation of peripheral rural sites into urbanized centers of (largely informal) accumulation and survival has resulted in a profound socio-economic, spatial, but also political reorganization. Urbanization comes with increasing presence of state services, which often results in a ‘double’ governance system, whereby customary (traditional) authority and state (administrative) authority are exercised simultaneously, often in competition. In light of regional (violent) ethnic politics, this fragmented leadership has been often conflictual.
5.2. Town Booming Trajectories and Undefined Settlement
In Angola, accounts of forced migration and settlement in mining regions have been concentrated in the provinces of the Lundas. Here, the conditions dictated by the developments of the civil war made the life of the residents constantly uncertain, straddling between the rural and the urban. The civil war created the conditions for the persistence of undefined makeshift settlement for many years in the booming mining agglomerations while the ‘safer’ cities in the country and abroad were the alternative in particularly ‘unbearable’ periods of the civil war. Accounts collected in the Lunda Sul frequently refer to the unclear and unpredictable developments of the war linked to undefined conditions for settlement. The realities lived there during these periods were also quickly changeable and unclear. The thriving economies developed during the war involved intense circulations and a variety of businesses. M.S. mentioned that there were traders from Zaire based here that directly exchanged products for diamonds with the population; no money was even used. These traders brought clothes, guns, and other commodities (M.S., Cacolo, July 2011). The existence of the war and of what it would dictate in terms of settlement and local socio-economic dynamics generated unclear and uncertain settlement and also led to displacements of varied extension. As S. accounted, he had come back to Cacolo in 1994 when his father (since colonial times, a businessman in the region, in Cacolo) needed him to come back from Brazil where he had lived “because one could not cope with the war. I left Cacolo in 1998 inside an army tank” (S., Luanda, August 2011). Unsteady settlement and living were also, at specific points in time, the reality of varying numbers of people in the Lunda region. For instance, M. referred that the mining town of Lucapa, that had been projected for 10,000 people, had, between 1992 and 1994, 100,000 inhabitants living there because the government “closed the eyes” to the garimpo (M., Luanda, 18 August 2011). The region’s boomtowns are then characterized by the expansion and contraction of agglomerations, the intense movements between the rural and the urban and by the unpredictability of urban consolidation.
Kalengwa in Zambia, is a mining outpost whose settlement dynamics have changed in relation to the country’s copper fortunes. The state mining conglomerate ZCCM had run the satellite mine there until 1982 when low copper prices had made it financially unfeasible to continue operations. Kalengwa had been managed as a mining camp in contrast to the company towns on the Copperbelt province that the mines administered. When mining operations ceased, the population in the area declined due to the breakdown in basic services such as water, and the absence of wider employment opportunities. In the aftermath of the reprivatization of ZCCM, Kalengwa mine was sold and embroiled in an ownership dispute. Following the 2000s’ commodity boom, Kalengwa saw, from around 2007, a growth in the local population as newcomers arrived in the area to engage in artisanal mining and other economic activities [64
]. Some came from other rural areas in the region such as Kabompo district; others from the urban centers of Copperbelt and the capital city, Lusaka. Newcomers comprised men, women and children engaged in artisanal mining, trade, brewing beer, and the provision of services, such as the collection of water. In line with our ethnographic approach, to illustrate migration and settlement trajectories into the town, we briefly introduce some individual narratives: S.B., a woman in her thirties (interviewed on 4 August 2008) had moved to the area with her husband and four children from an informal settlement in Lusaka. S.B.’s husband, J.B., had been the first to move in 2007 to informally work at the mine. From the proceeds of mining, he had bought pigs to resell in Lusaka. After an initial period of moving back and forth between Kalengwa and Lusaka to visit his family, his wife S.B. and the children joined him in Kalengwa. S.B. saw an opportunity in brewing beer for sale, and did quite well with the business. After failing to get the children into the local public school which became crowded out, her children stayed with her at the makeshift structure that made for a temporary home, where they helped to carry and sort copper ore. S.B. and her husband were building an earth block house in the village, and scouting for agricultural land in the adjacent, more fertile areas, to consolidate their ties in the area, but they also maintained their base in Lusaka as it was good for trade.
The straddling of life between the mining outpost and established urban areas was not unique to artisanal mining sites. It also applied to places where large-scale mining was happening, like in Kalumbila (formerly Solwezi West) where, despite well-developed infrastructure and the availability of a growing number of formal jobs, mainly in mining, residents still maintained ties with older established urban areas. An illustration of this is B.C. (interviewed in Kalumbila on 26 July 2016), born in 1990, and trained as a mechanical engineer in Kitwe, a town on the Copperbelt, and was a job-seeker living with his older brother L.C. They lived in a two-bedroom architect-designed house with a landscaped garden, which they shared with two other subletting tenants. One was a male electrician, B.C.’s age, and was working for a construction company; and the other a female, aged 29 years, working as a shopkeeper. The house was a rental, with an option to buy, an initiative the company was promoting to encourage long-term settlement. L.C. had been working in Kalumbila as a mechanical fitter for the mines since 2013 and was, at the time, engaged to be married, though his fiancée had put off moving to the town until she completed her teaching training on the Copperbelt. To earn a living while looking for a job, B.C., despite the irregular transport links between Kalumbila and the nearest big town, Solwezi, travelled monthly to the Copperbelt to buy groceries for resale, but also to keep an eye on other job opportunities; he was also saving up money to buy a stove so he could bake scones to sell. In line with the multiple livelihood options that residents from the Copperbelt had taken up following the economic crisis, his brother L.C. had acquired a piece of land in the nearby rural area and planned to establish a farm. Kalumbila’s mine township population at the time was largely male as formal jobs for women in mining and construction were limited. It meant that some residents were reluctant for their wives to move to the town, especially as some already had established businesses on the Copperbelt. Those with children were also concerned about the quality of education in the region so kept their children in schools on the Copperbelt and maintained dual households. Thus, despite the visible urban infrastructure that was being developed in the mining town, the lag in services, and lack of diversity in economic opportunities effectively made for less stabilized residents.
The Zambian situation contrasts with the specific context of instability and violence in Eastern DRC that strongly increases people’s mobility and the ‘undefined’ status of people’s settlements. Against a backdrop of protracted and repeated displacement, IDPs who install in these boomtowns largely live in limbo. In the case of mining boomtowns, the fluctuating prices and governance regulations of natural resources may also increase people’s mobility. The ‘accidental’ urbanity produced in this context strikes a balance between safety and contingency, and is shaped by the tension between temporality and permanency. It is clear that many IDPs perceive their stay as transitory. However, in a situation where after almost three decades of war displacement has become a permanent state of being for thousands of people, any sense of temporariness is nuanced [65
]. Long-term displacement may lead to long-term engagement, creating permanent forms of urbanization. Urbanized environments, with their extended educational facilities, healthcare, infrastructure, transport, markets, and culture, can provide an appealing environment to broaden one’s horizons. In some boomtowns (like Kitchanga in North Kivu for instance), the permanent settlement of IDPs has been documented to be politically influenced. In the context of the fierce struggle over land and public authority along ethnic lines, the ‘politics of presence’ and the ambition for ethnic majority has led, for example, armed groups and local authorities to distribute land to IDPs and to push them to permanently settle in these towns [2
]. Additionally, the process of town booming is further politicized by the current Congolese decentralization reform, whereby several boomtowns are in the process of changing their administrative status from ‘village’ into ‘commune rurale
’. According to the decentralization reform, agglomerations change administrative status according to their demographic statistics, and since 2013, a number of boomtowns in different provinces have been listed for such an ‘upgrade’ under condition that they meet a number of criteria (like minimum urban infrastructure). In the current context of violence, ethnic tensions and a confusing situation of a half-implemented decentralization law, this administrative ‘upgrade’ of boomtowns becomes a highly political and heavily contested process. Local elites in these boomtowns mobilize along provincial and national political levels to either push for or boycott the official recognition of their agglomeration as a commune rurale
. This recognition implies a number of important political/administrative shifts, by which state authorities in power will be locally elected instead of appointed (and thus inevitably represent the ethnic majority of the town), and by which customary authorities will become largely irrelevant and lose their public authority (and capacity to levy taxes, for instance). In some cases, like Minembwe in South Kivu, the installation of the commune rurale
led to a national crisis, when the installation of the new burgomaster was perceived by parts of the local population as a ‘coup’ by one ethnic group to dominate over others. Fueled by historical narratives of ‘balkanization’, and further reinforced by ongoing dynamics of violent struggles over land and political representation, the administrative recognition of Minembwe resulted in an escalation of violence, and an eventual intervention by the President of the Republic himself who cancelled the process (https://www.bbc.com/afrique/region-54515096
, accessed on 12 February 2021). In other cases, like the mining town of Rubaya in North Kivu, it has been observed how in the light of this decentralization process, local elites intensively invest in their agglomeration for the town to be legible to the status of commune rurale
. Simultaneously, they mobilize their political connections at the provincial and national level to secure a key political position in the future governance structure of the town. The act of ‘making permanent’ temporary urban settlements like mining towns or former IDP camps is, as such, an explicit political engagement, as are the attempts to (sometimes violently) boycott the process to prevent this permanent status.
5.3. Urbanity Shaped by Dynamics of Violence and Forced Displacement
As emphasized, Angola’s civil war dictated the flows, directions and durations of migrations and settlement. This was particularly key in defining and shaping the dynamics of urban emergence and of town building in the Lundas. The absence of a national census between 1970 and 2014 makes it difficult to trace population estimates and indirect accounts point to intensified rural-urban movement, particularly in the studied towns of Saurimo, Cacolo, Luó and Itengo [24
]. Massive migration to the ‘safe’ cities controlled by the government during the war took place at the same time as artisanal mining booming settlements were appearing under the control of the UNITA guerrilla and the influence of external markets, migrations and a series of ‘blood’ diamond mining-related businesses. These dynamics made population fluctuate in size, attracting then repelling in-migration, and creating different conditions for migration, at times forced and in other occasions, voluntary, like in the case of diamond ‘luck’ seeking. M.S. was born in 1938 in Xassengue and became a teacher in Cacolo in 1961 and a deputy Municipal Administrator of Cacolo in 1986. He mentioned that after independence, “many people from Xassengue, Cucumbi and Alto Chicapa came to Cacolo because of the war, especially in 1983.” Cacolo, a town built in colonial times, has expanded and contracted the number of residents agglomerating there as the war evolved. During the war, the government and the UNITA guerrilla would alternatively occupy the town for two to three months and during these occupations, the population that could, would further move to the capital of the province, Saurimo. He mentions that “in August 1995, we walked to Saurimo to escape the war. Thirteen died on the way. Some remained in Cacolo, in captivity (cativeiro
) because they could not reach Saurimo.”
While Zambia does not have much of a recent history of conflict-related dispossession—except as a receiving country of refugees from neighboring Angola and the DRC [66
]—forced relocations, in particular of rural residents, have been connected to large-scale developments, such as in the seminal work of Elizabeth Colson [67
] on the building of the Kariba Dam in the 1950s to industrial mining at the turn of the 20th century on the Copperbelt, and more recently, since the 2000s, in North Western province to emergence of new mines. As Lisa Cligett and others [68
], following up decades later on the experiences of residents who were forced to relocate with the building of the Kariba dam, socio-economic effects across generations on those relocated can create a protracted situation of chronic precarity. Residents of the chieftaincy of Musele who paved way for the mining development in Kalumbila were well aware of the long-term consequences of the mine on their livelihoods and ways of life. For those who had to move and who lost their gardens and were compensated under a combination of both national and international mining guidelines, for them, the compensation packages could not replace the sustained livelihood that lifelong access to land could. This led, for some, in the planned resettlement area, and others within the densifying villages to uproot to the further distant rural regions in the province.
The specific context of the war-torn DRC results in the interesting, contradicting image of boomtowns as both ‘safe havens’ as well as ‘rebel hotspots’. In Congo’s Kivu provinces, urbanized sites embody ‘safe’ spatial environments for IDPs or refugees, at the same time, being safe havens or strongholds or strategic targets of armed groups [65
]. As a safe haven, boomtowns attract refugees and IDPs because of the relative presence of security forces, infrastructure and international actors such as MONUSCO and NGOs. The presence of IDPs has become a common characteristic of boomtowns in the Kivu provinces. In mining towns like Nyabibwe, Rubaya or Numbi, IDPs settled within the mining agglomeration where some of them went to work in the mines, others integrating into other livelihoods. Other boomtowns, like Kitchanga, evolved from the gradual urbanization of IDP camps, where forced displacement was the main driver of the town’s expansion. The impact of the proliferation of armed groups in the Kivu provinces on boomtown urbanization has been described in earlier research [22
]. Boomtown expansion in a context of war in the Kivu provinces has generated an urbanization process, which is profoundly militarized. This militarization translates itself not only by the physical presence of armed groups or the formal Congolese security forces, but also by the vast proliferation of arms among its inhabitants, the relatively easy access to violence to settle disputes or the public authority of military actors such as generals or colonels investing in the town’s economy and real estate. These tendencies make boomtown urbanization a process that is often conflictual. As the example of Minembwe in this paper or Kitchanga in earlier research demonstrates: boomtown urbanization can trigger conflict and violence. Without being the main cause of violence, the process of boomtown expansion can reinforce historic struggles over land, citizenship and public authority along ethnic lines.