Elements for a Grammar of Revolt: Comparative Sociology of the September 1991 Lootings in Kinshasa, Za´re

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 411
Oral Presentation
Nicolas PINET , Institute of Social Science, UniversitÚ Paris Diderot - Paris 7, France
Popular politics and resistance, in Africa as elsewhere, take shape both through the ordinary (Asef Bayat, Life as Politics) and the extra-ordinary. This paper focuses on one extra-ordinary case of popular unrest: the riots and lootings that occurred in Kinshasa, Zaïre (now Democratic Republic of Congo) on September 23rd and 24th, 1991.

Contrary to previous studies that focused mainly on the historical context, this paper sets the analysis in a broader context through a comparative approach. Drawing on both primary (media and testimony) and secondary sources, it intends to scrutinize these two days of lootings while confronting them to the mirror of contemporary Latin American riots: the Caracazo (Venezuela, 1989) and the Santiagueñazo(Argentina, 1993).

This allows to delineate elements of a shared grammar of revolt: lootings always occur in a temporality of breach (Martin Breaugh), they are akin to carnival both because they are festive and because they momentarily invert the ongoing power relations; they oppose groups of actors whose positions on both sides of a social frontier appear with more accuracy during this cathartic moment. In Kinshasa, the lootings opposed people who considered they hadn’t benefited from the distribution of resources and privileges made by President Mobutu Sese Seko, and those perceived as having benefited from them. The discourses made by the protagonists claim that direct action was made both necessary and legitimate by social inequalities, injustice and deprivation, as noted by E. P. Thompson in a complete different context (“The Moral Economy of the English Crowd”, 1971). Finally the collective violence unleashed in the lootings expresses a desire to put an end to a situation deemed unbearable – the generalized use of fire is symptomatic – and start things anew. This last point invites to take also into account, with Carlo Ginzburg, the ritual dimension of lootings.