The politics of football in Kinshasa: power, profit and protest

Authors: Kristof Titeca and Albert Malukisa Nkuku

Working paper 2022.07

Abstract

This paper discuss the politics of football in Kinshasa, with a particular focus on the ways this manifested itself during the regime of Joseph Kabila. The literature on the politics of football shows how the sports can play both a hegemonic and counter-hegemonic role: whereas the former primarily happens by financing football clubs, and reputation building for individual politicians; the latter happens through collective action by soccer fans, which – for example through riots – are able to contest political regimes. Similar dynamics play out in Kinshasa. On the one hand, soccer clubs constate an important way to build political capital for the regime(s) in power: many regime politicians involve themselves with soccer clubs, in a way which allows them to improve – or launder – their reputation. This primarily happens through financial support, and was particularly important for the Kabila regime, which was largely unpopular in the capital. On the other hand, football also is a space for political opposition in Kinshasa. For example, in a situation of escalating repression under the Kabila regime, football stadiums offered the possibility to voice opposition to the regime, through the singing of anti-Kabila songs. That being said, this political agency remained confined within a structural context of a much more powerful  authoritarian state.