Louisa Lombard has some interesting thoughts from the field on the nature of the state in the Central African Republic:
"...the CAR state appears absent, too. It does nothing for long-distance trade and travel besides impose roadblocks and fees (arguably impeding these processes more than anything else). It has an impressive capacity to demand rents, but it does not collect taxes in any kind of standardized or all-encompassing way. (There is a tax code, and the tax collector here does seem to follow it to the extent he can. But that covers only the more-formalized sector of the economy.)Lombard's thoughts made me think of two things. First was Christian Lund's work on what he terms "twilight institutions." The "twilight institution" as he defines it refers to the trappings of a state that remain even in the state's essential absence. It's a useful way to think about why, for example, there's still a guy who issues drivers' licenses in Goma even though whether or not one has a driver's license is largely irrelevant for almost any of the realities of negotiating traffic there (Unless one stops when the police wave one over. Then the lack of a driver's license becomes the excuse for a bribe that would have been paid anyway.).
"Still, describing the state here as weak, or describing it in terms of the things it does not do, is not very useful. For despite its apparent “lacks” the state here is pretty powerful. But its power lies less in the rational-bureaucratic mode of operating that Weber believed the state to incarnate, but rather leans more heavily on a “magical” mode of operating...
"I'm not satisfied with this word “magical,” but I'm having trouble replacing it. I would like to somehow encompass how the state here can be both the source of so many problems and yet simultaneously held out as the great hope and problem-solver by many people. People's orientation to the state has more of what a secular Western observer such as myself would label a religious character than anything else."
What Lombard describes also reflects the general view of the state in the eastern Congo. Despite Jeff Herbst and Gregory Mills' suggestions to the contrary, people in the eastern DRC really want the state to work, and believe that one day it will. They don't want to secede or to become a semi-autonomous region. They want the state to do the things a state is supposed to do. Part of that may be a reaction to the perceived expansionist tendencies of some of their neighbors; it's entirely possible that the strong support for the Congolese state derives from an assumption that the alternative is to live under Rwandan rule.
But I think there's something else going on there, something having to do with a deep-seated, psychological attachment to the state. I've mentioned before that when asking the eastern Congolese as to why they have such a strong national identity, most reply that it's the one good legacy Mobutu left them. Historical precedent could explain it, but we're well into a period in which the vast majority Congolese adults today weren't around in the era when Mobutu's rule was beneficial.
What do you think? Have you seen this phenomenon of an almost religious or mystical attachment to the idea of a non-functioning state elsewhere in the world?