Since 1996, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in particular the provinces of North and South Kivu, have been the scene of internal and international armed conflict. This violence has its roots in the country’s political history and is fuelled by a particularly unstable regional context.
The human cost of years of conflict translates into millions of deaths, displaced persons, and acts of brutality. It also translates into chronic political instability and insecurity, which continue to threaten the progress made in recent years in terms of diplomacy and security.
It was in this context that the European Commission asked International Alert for support in its programme for peace and stabilisation in Eastern DRC. The objective of this 18-month endeavour, entitled “Enhancing Dialogue in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo”, was to offer support for the peacebuilding process, monitor the security situation, and promote peace initiatives and inter-community dialogue.
This study focuses on local peace initiatives, examining to what extent and how they contribute to peace. The report outlines the results of the research, which is structured around two activities:
- Mapping the local peace structures that operate in North and South Kivu (Section 1)
- Documenting the local peace initiatives in detail (Section 2)
The three chapters that present the results of the documentation of local peace initiatives in Section 2 focus on the intervention strategies employed: non-judicial conflict-management mechanisms, action-research and advocacy. The choice of structuring the research around such strategies allows us to provide a concrete operational perspective of these local peace initiatives.
171 civil society organisations were identified in North and South Kivu as operating in the peacebuilding, governance and human rights sectors. 43.9% of the organisations have an exclusive mandate in one or more of these three sectors.
These organisations are primarily involved in the management of local conflicts. The map shows three zones with a concentrated presence: the Beni-Lubero, Fizi-Uvira and Kalehe territories. The
apparent reasons for this concentration are conflict and associative dynamics. Despite the fact that the violence in Eastern DRC is widely analysed as the result of regional conflict dynamics, less than 10% of organisations work at a regional level (Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda).
In order to respond to the crisis of the judicial system and the escalation of the conflict, actors from civil society have put in place extra-judicial conflict-management mechanisms. These mechanisms mostly deal with land-related conflict and family feuds, and are based on a customary logic of conciliation that corresponds to the legal outlook shared by the population. However, the multiplicity of these structures provokes clientelistic practices.
By intervening in a preventive manner, the local conflict mechanisms can counter the risk of political cooptation. However, they have a limited impact on the management of conflicts with
a political and/or ethnic dimension, mainly because the people involved and the issues at stake extend beyond the local level.Partisan positions, prejudices and rumours limit people’s capacity in the DRC to work together and make coherent proposals. By producing in-depth analysis, research projects shed some light on the different issues and actors involved in the country’s conflicts. When people involved in conflicts participate in the research process, it opens spaces for dialogue that go beyond fixed positions and clichés and actually come up with appropriate solutions.
However, the extent to which the authorities and decision-makers take on board research findings depends on the urgency of the need for action; this in turn limits the extent to which the structural causes of violence are properly considered.
The Congolese political model is characterised by informal power networks that block the development and implementation of public policy. Although many actors say they carry out advocacy work (72.5% of organisations questioned), this rarely targets the national authorities.
While the chapter on advocacy focuses on the experiences of a single organisation, the lessons learned are of a much wider application. The success of the advocacy work carried out by FAT (Forum des Amis de la Terre) is the result of a constant shuttling back and forth between the authorities and the population; its grassroots support gave the organisation the legitimacy to bring proposals to decision-makers, and the decisions-makers accorded them the institutional space to have these proposals adopted.
Nonetheless, this work remains subject to the uncertainty of legal provisions and political agendas: both laws and policies serve the interests of the dominant forces at any given moment.
The recommendations are aimed at the structures and actors responsible for implementing them. However, for each one, even where this is not made explicit, the organisations that finance and
define policies must be informed and involved.
- In order to reduce opportunistic practices and sub-contracting tendencies, international NGOs must favour a long-term approach to partnership that includes the concerted development of policies and strategies. Furthermore, conflict analysis, project development and the selection of partners must take into account the different groupings within Congolese society, in particular different ethnic groups.
- In recognition of the complexity and diversity of conflicts in the DRC, local civil society organisations must come up with flexible solutions that combine conflict-management mechanisms with conflict monitoring. In particular, these mechanisms should be structured in a manner that makes it possible to choose the methods and the persons who will intervene according to the type of conflict and the relations between the parties concerned.
- Women’s participation in conflict management remains limited and requires local civil society organisations to set strict measures and develop mechanisms to accompany women in the effort to improve their levels of participation.
- The multiplicity of rules and practices in the different provinces and territories of the DRC requires the involvement of Congolese civil society to ensure that decision-makers are sufficiently informed of these realities. As the same time, civil society organisations should develop national and provincial networks to facilitate dialogue and concerted reflection and also to reinforce their ability to put pressure on national decision-makers.
- Decisions made by civil society groups can only be sustainable if their actions are accompanied by the will of the administrative and political authorities. This political will can be expressed by official/legal recognition of the decisions made or the structures put in place, by institutionalising a form of cooperation between these structures and State structures, or by building on the experiences of civil society in order to develop more democratic State structures.