Although oil production in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) already started in the 1960s, production and interest in the resource long remained relatively limited. This changed in the 2000s with a renewed international interest in oil across Africa, sparking exploration and exploitation in the DRC. During this period, a range of multinational companies started activities in the country. Very little is known about these oil explorations, despite potentially serious impacts, including border tensions, local disputes (with potential for expansion), and regional power shifts (ICG 2012).
There is a long-recognised link between natural resource abundance and negative political and economic outcomes, a theory generally packaged as the 'resource curse' (Ross 1999). Theorists agree that governance processes are a major determinant of how this 'curse' plays out. While a few policy reports look into the Congolese oil sector (Global Witness 2013, ICG 2012), the underlying governance dynamics, and the risk on conflict, remain poorly understood: no in-depth academic study has been done on this issue. For this reason, this project targets the following questions:
What are the political settlements underlying oil governance in DRC? In unpacking oil governance dynamics, this project draws on 'political settlements' theory, looking principally at the informal coalitions underlying the oil governance arrangements. In gaining a better understanding of these governance arrangements, we are able to understand the potential conflict risk of oil explorations.
How do these political settlement at the national level translate to the local level, and affect the local population? Deals are made at the national level, but have a profound impact at the local level, where the oil exploitations take place. These 'local' translations have a significant but poorly understood impact, which this research project aims to apprehend.
Through these lenses, this project will make a strong empirical contribution to a little understood area with a major impact on DRC's development, and equally make an important contribution to political settlement theory, currently at the centre of international development debates.