Eddy Mazembo Mavungu: Regionalism, Democracy and Conflict: comparative analysis of South Africa, Congo (DRC) and Switzerland

South Africa, Congo and Switzerland are all democracies, though they certainly stand at different levels of democratic consolidation. These countries differ in terms of how democratic systems are conceived and implemented. They also significantly differ in terms of socio-economic development and political culture. However, they have in common the constitutional requirement and public expectations of democratic governance. This means that socio-political conflicts are widely expected to be resolved in ways that conform to democratic imperatives.

These three countries have gone through a process of regionalism that has been fraught with intense contestations and conflicts. In South Africa, several local communities have clashed with the national government over their provincial location.  These territorial conflicts constituted the main focus of the researcher’s doctoral thesis at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. In Switzerland, the Jura conflict which resulted in the creation of the 23rd Canton of Switzerland in 1979, continued in the form of a boundary dispute between the new Canton and Republic of Jura and the Canton of Bern. Indeed, several actors have described the current form of the Jura problem as a border dispute. A conflict on whether the current frontier separating the Canton and Republic of Jura with the Canton of Bern should be re-demarcated in such a way that the Canton and Republic of Jura is expanded to include the current Bernese Jura (or South Jura). A fresh referendum which re-ignited old tensions was held on the 24 November 2013, but has failed to resolve definitively the Jura problem. The Democratic Republic of Congo has had a history of unstable and contested provincial boundaries. The number of provinces and provincial boundaries shifted on many occasions depending on the political agenda of the governing regime. The Constitution of 2005 envisaged the creation of new provinces, taking the number of provinces in the DRC from 12 to 26. However, enormous difficulties have prevented the constitutional project from being implemented, including lack of political will and deficient planning. Lack of progress in implementing this constitutional provision has led to protestation, condemnation and even rebellious dynamics.  

Using these three contexts as case studies, this research project seeks to answer the following questions: How is space constructed? How is a region represented? And why? Who is included and excluded in (from) the region? And on what basis? How do these criteria or conceptions evolve over time? What are the key factors that determine their evolution? How are conflicting representations of a region handled, arbitrated or legitimated?  How do these political processes adhere to democratic norms or acquire legitimacy? What are the similarities and differences across the three country studies (Switzerland, South Africa and Congo (DRC))? How dynamics in a particular country help illuminate what is going on in another country (“regard croise”)?  
Publications that will emanate from this research project will make a significant contribution to our understanding of regionalism in a context of conflict and democratic governance as well as to theories on the socio-political significance of borders and frontiers in the modern world.


Researcher: Dr Mazembo Mavungu Eddy
Contact details: me.mavungu-at-unibas.ch
Funding: ESKAS
Research Group: Safeguarding Democracy