Contractual dependencies: Disability and the bureaucracy of begging in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

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by CLARA DEVLIEGER

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One of the most conspicuous livelihood strategies for physically disabled people in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, is a particular style of begging known locally as “doing documents.” Confronted with the stigma of begging, disabled beggars create documents in an attempt to legitimize and regulate begging through formalization and bureaucracy, presenting their relationship with donors as NGO fund‐raising and government tax‐collecting. The dynamics of petitioning for these “contractual dependencies” provide a nuanced perspective on desired dependencies: dependencies can be presented in multiple ways, and people consider some dependencies more legitimate and valuable than others. Recipients are not passive but play a defining role in shaping these relationships, seeking a balance between proximity and desired distance to patrons.

An untitled painting by Kinshasa artist Bosoku Ekunde, 2014. The painting depicts documentaires, or those who beg using documents in Kinshasa. While the artist made the painting at the author's request, he chose to depict the international population from which beggars request donations. From left to right, he shows documentaires begging from people of West African, Asian, and Congolese origin; both beggars and donors point at documents. In the foreground, he depicts individual beggars.
An untitled painting by Kinshasa artist Bosoku Ekunde, 2014. The painting depicts documentaires, or those who beg using documents in Kinshasa. While the artist made the painting at the author's request, he chose to depict the international population from which beggars request donations. From left to right, he shows documentaires begging from people of West African, Asian, and Congolese origin; both beggars and donors point at documents. In the foreground, he depicts individual beggars. (Photo: Clara Devlieger)