Last month, International Alert published a report titled Participatory action research: A method to repair fractured social relations, which presents the lessons learned from a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the report was designed as a methodological tool to learn lessons from the participatory action research (PAR) project that Alert implemented between February 2013 and June 2015 on developing community capacity in conflict management and to promote peace in the North Kivu province of DRC.
The report also provides input for discussions on the planning of the ‘democratic dialogue’ strand within the framework of the International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy. In addition, it seeks the support of political and administrative actors in the province itself, in order to ensure that the results of the PAR completed in the Kamuronza groupement take root and deliver lasting benefits.
The report comprises of three parts. The first summarises the PAR process, which focussed on structuring and strengthening the capacity of the local peace committees. These committees then analysed the conflict and identified the most appropriate areas for PAR, collecting and analysing data on the specific cause of the conflict selected and convening community dialogues and forums. The second part of the report examines the results of the PAR completed in the villages of Malehe and Kingi, in the Kamuronza groupement (Masisi territory, North Kivu province), while examining the context and dynamics of the conflict. The third part focusses on the lessons learned by Alert and partner organisations in this process.
The report highlights the results of the dialogue process, placing particular emphasis on the action required to end conflicts linked to customary land lease payments, and to mitigate the risk of the results being undermined. The establishment of a platform for discussion is recommended, bringing together traditional chiefs, large landowners and smallholder farmers, in order to implement an official procedure for customary land lease payments. It is also proposed to introduce frameworks for inter-community discussion, as a tool with which to foster trust and social cohesion.
In a final evaluation of the project, the report concludes that the PAR approach has had a tangible impact on the reduction of both inter- and intra-community conflict in the area, and fostered a cultural shift towards the peaceful resolution of tension. It also had a role in the exchange of transferable skills from one village to the next, and the creation of countervailing powers limiting the negative impact of traditional leaders, limiting the socio-economic marginalisation of the most vulnerable sectors of the population, and increasing access to restorative and lasting justice.
Nevertheless, it will be vital to connect the provincial and national levels of governance, in order to foster greater accountability between leaders and their people beyond customary power, and to identify the agents of change along the governance chain.