This article presents the historical and political trajectory of Kitchanga town in North Kivu, to demonstrate how current processes of urbanization in a context of civil war in Eastern Congo are strongly intertwined with regional politics of refuge. Kitchanga, an urban agglomeration that emerged from the gradual urbanization of IDP and refugee concentrations, has occupied very different positions through different episodes of the wars, ranging from a safe haven of refuge, to a rebel headquarter, to a violent battleground.

On the basis of a historical account of Kitchanga’s development, the paper argues for a spatial reading of broader geographies of war, displacement and ethnic mobilization in North Kivu. It shows that these urban agglomerations as ‘places’ and their urbanization as ‘processes’ are crucial to better understand the spatial politics of refuge in North Kivu. The article builds on original empirical data.