Building on the analogy between armed factions in contemporary conflict settings and states in the making, this paper explores the conditions under which indirect rule emerges in contexts of armed conflict, and the consequences that this governance arrangement has on local governance institutions and legitimacy.

The paper adopts a historical and qualitative perspective, building on fieldwork and interviews carried out in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It provides a theoretical discussion of the strengths and limitations of the comparison between armed factions and proto-states, and develops novel analytical tools to understand ‘indirect rule’ governance arrangements by armed factions.