Some argue the Congolese state remains mostly irrelevant outside its capital or even that there is no such thing as Congo. Others contend there is no lack of state order, but that it is characterised by predatory rule and (privatised) extortion. This paper puts both claims into perspective and assesses how different actors re-deploy various rationalities and practices of statehood. Based on fieldwork in South Kivu, it considers the making of public authority in the territory of Kalehe (eastern DRC), where numerous armed and other actors have claimed and exercised power.

The paper stresses these actors’ competing claims to public authority are intimately linked to struggles of territory and resemble and reproduce previous state practices and norms. The idea of the state seems to be a principal object of reference deployed by these actors to legitimate their claims, as it still resonates with the social imaginaries of public order.