North and South Kivu, provinces in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been the locus of much violent conflict since the 1990s. This has reiterated colonial imaginations of the Congo as a ‘heart of darkness’, plagued by irrationality, barbarism, and violence, and in need of ‘civilisation’. While many authors have plumbed the complexity of this violence, and articulated the need for a thorough understanding of the local contexts in which such violence emerges, the historical contexts producing these conflicts and violence remain little explored. A primary focus on the contemporary roots of conflicts has pushed aside historical approaches. Yet, history is crucial to understand these conflicts and the forms this violence takes. For many scholars, the violent conflicts following Congo’s independence in the 1960s serve as important predecessors of contemporary conflicts. This project assumes that these violent episodes in the 1960s involved a rapid (re)negotiation of power relations at the local level, of local sovereignty vis-à-vis the state, and of how state and nation were defined and enacted locally. Therefore, the post-independence conflicts of the 1960s are crucial entry-points to study both Congolese state formation and the violence accompanying this process. I assert that state-formation can only be understood when looked at in a long-term perspective with sufficient attention to local interests and dynamics.