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The city as frontier: urban development and identity processes in Goma

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This innovative paper from the Crisis States Research Centre challenges traditional studies that explore sites located on borders from a central or capital city perspective. Focusing on processes and expressions of identity in the city of Goma, (capital of the North Kivu's, DRCongo), this paper illustrates how the struggle for political, social and economic control impacts local urban life and has broader implications for regional relationships and realities. Conclusions from this research suggest that Goma must be understood as a site of dynamic change and fluidity rather than (as borders are commonly depicted) a static and dependant environment. An increasing sense of independence and freedom in Goma, this paper argues, is directly linked to state decline and to the dynamics of regional conflict. Paradoxically, Goma has become an area of military rebellion, political struggle and economic competition. At the same time, it has evolved into a city of flourishing trans-border trade, political independence and economic opportunity. The presence of the international humanitarian community, the role of natural resource trade and trans-border mobility have shifted the structures of the city, altering both Goma's relationship with the state and its citizens' relationship with their city. This paper highlights the need to closely follow the increasing national and regional role that Goma, and other emerging urban centres on the periphery, are playing. The findings serve as a reminder that while borderlands may facilitate contact and linkages with the wider national and regional community, they may also become enclosed and isolating resulting in political and economic conflict.

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