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The study of politics in the African Great Lakes region is not exempt from the epistemological hardships that often accompany the study of Africa more broadly: dehistoricization and simplification, analogies with the West, a decontextualized miserabilism, and poverty porn. Internal political processes, often visible from a bottom-up perspective, allow us to understand sociopolitical transformation and the meanings that local citizens give to them. In the case of the Great Lakes region, it is a question of understanding the complexity of politics through an articulation of the historical heritage in the longue durée, the strategies adopted by the elites in power, and the national, regional, and international strategies that influence them. It is necessary to abandon an analogic, exotic, culturalist, or romantic point of view that represents a way of understanding African dynamics that still bears the legacy of colonialism. Such an improved framework calls for a rigorous analysis comparing different ideological visions and theories of realities with the reality on the ground in the Great Lakes region.

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Liberation movements in Africa are nationalist movements that have resorted to armed struggle to overthrow colonialism, white minority rule, or oppressive postcolonial governments. Claiming to represent the national will, some are intolerant of opposition, others dubious of the legitimacy of multiparty democracy: this difference is a reflection of whether the military wing of the liberation movement dominates the political movement or whether the reverse situation applies. In the post–Cold War era, liberation movements espouse notions of the “developmental state,” continuing to ascribe the state a primary role in economic development event though they may simultaneously embrace the market. The extent to which they subordinate political considerations and freedoms to the pursuit of economic growth dictates whether they pursue paths of authoritarian development or developmental stagnation