War, Displacement and Rural–Urban Transformation: Kivu’s Boomtowns, Eastern D.R. Congo


This article addresses rural–urban transformations in the war-torn Kivu provinces. The spectacular growth and development processes of fast-expanding boomtowns in Kivu’s rural areas serve as an entry point to investigate the relationship between conflict, displacement, urbanisation and development in Eastern D.R. Congo. Based on qualitative research on urban expansion in different smaller towns in North and South Kivu, this article analyses the characteristics of these ‘new’ urban spaces. It demonstrates that boomtowns represent centres of opportunities as well as contestation, and that they play an important role in the economic dynamics of development as well as in the political dynamics of stability and conflict.


Cette étude traite les transformations rurales–urbaines dans les provinces du Nord et Sud Kivu (République Démocratique du Congo), ravagés par la guerre. La croissance et le développement spectaculaire des villes d'expansion rapide (en anglais : boomtowns) dans les zones rurales de Nord et Sud Kivu est utilisé comme point de départ pour étudier la relation entre le conflit, le déplacement, l’urbanisation et le développement dans l’est de la République Démocratique du Congo. Basé sur des recherches qualitatives sur l’expansion urbaine dans diverses petites villes au Nord et Sud du Kivu, cette étude analyse les caractéristiques de ces ‘nouveaux’ espaces urbaines. On démontre que les « boomtowns » sont des centres au même temps pleins d’opportunités et de contestation, et qu’elles jouent un rôle très important dans les dynamiques de l’économie du développement, ainsi que dans les dynamiques politiques du conflit et de la stabilité.

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  1. 1.

    For the period between 1958 and 1970, for example, annual growth of 14 % for Goma, 9 % for Bukavu and 8 % for Bunia and Butembo was documented.

  2. 2.

    Literally ‘those coming from Rwanda’ in Swahili. In Rutshuru Banyarwanda are the majority, and there a large part of them were present since long before the colonial demarcation of the political border.

  3. 3.

    Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie, a rebel group that occupied large parts of Eastern D.R. Congo between 1998 and 2004.

  4. 4.

    Statistics of the bureau du chef lieu du poste secondaire Hombo Sud, 2015.

  5. 5.

    Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda.

  6. 6.

    Phone interview with chef de village (Numbi, August 2015).

  7. 7.

    Focus-group miners (Numbi, April 2014); interview with chef de village (Numbi, April 2014).

  8. 8.

    Data from 2014, interview with chef de village, interview with chef de poste, statistics from local health centre.

  9. 9.

    Focus group with shop owners (Nyabibwe, May 2013); Interview with federation of economy and commerce (FEC) representative (Nyabibwe, May 2013); Interview with traders (Numbi, April 2014).

  10. 10.

    http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/drc (accessed 7 April 2018).

  11. 11.

    https://www.unocha.org/story/south-kivu-spiralling-humanitarian-crisis (accessed 7 April 2018).

  12. 12.

    http://www.mediacongo.net/article-actualite-15932.html (accessed 19 April 2018). See also Mathys & Büscher (2018).

  13. 13.

    Congrès national de la défense du peuple.

  14. 14.

    Focus group discussion with commerçants, Hombo, February 2014.

  15. 15.

    Interview with representative of conflict mediation initiative, Hombo, February 2014.

  16. 16.

    Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo.

  17. 17.

    Interview with president of FEC, Numbi.

  18. 18.

    Interview with priest, Numbi, April 2014.

  19. 19.

    Loi organique no 08/016 du 07 octobre 2008 portant composition, organisation et fonctionnement des Entités Territoriales Décentralisées et leurs rapports avec l'État et les Provinces.

  20. 20.

    Décret no 012/11 du 18 février 2012.

  21. 21.

    Décret no 13/029 du 13 juin 2013 conférant le statut de ville et de commune à certaines agglomérations de la province du Sud-Kivu.

  22. 22.

    Focus group of IDPs, Hombo Sud, February 2014.

  23. 23.

    Interview with mwami, Hombo Sud, February 2014.

  24. 24.


  25. 25.

    https://www.radiookapi.net/actualite/2010/03/05/kitshanga-des-gens-ont-marche-pour-reclamer-le-statut-d%25e2%2580%2599une-ville, for an analysis in more detail, see Mathys & Büscher (2018).

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The research on Hombo Sud and Numbi has been made possible with the FWO Grant (G098012N) of the project “The social-economic impact of artisanal mining in Eastern Congo”. The research on Kitchanga was made possible through a grant from NWO-WOTRO (W 08.400.104) within the project “Looking through the lens of land”. Special thanks to Jeroen Cuvelier, Mathijs Van Leeuwen, Gemma van der Haar, and Lotje Devries for their indispensable help and input during the research. The authors wish to explicitly thank APC Bukavu and L.N, O.N, J.A.N, and one anonymous researcher for their indispensable help during the collection of data.

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Correspondence to Karen Büscher.

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Büscher, K., Mathys, G. War, Displacement and Rural–Urban Transformation: Kivu’s Boomtowns, Eastern D.R. Congo. Eur J Dev Res 31, 53–71 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41287-018-0181-0

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  • DRC
  • D.R. Congo
  • Boomtown
  • Conflict
  • Urbanisation
  • Kivu