For the past year, in partnership with eight local partners, International Alert (Alert) has been implementing a two-year project aimed at building trust between citizens and the state in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and described as a 'godsend' by locals, the Tujenge Pamoja project was designed to directly respond to four key areas identified in a UN security strategy for stabilising eastern DRC (International Security and Stabilisation Support Strategy), as key to transforming the conflict in eastern DRC. They included: improving security, supporting political processes, restoring state authority, facilitating the return, recovery and reintegration of internally displaced persons as well as refugees, and lastly, fighting sexual violence.
The project employs an integrated holistic approach, enabling the state and society to build mutual accountability and capacity to address and mitigate drivers of conflict, thus creating necessary conditions for improved governance and longer-term development.
"Recent field evaluations show that the project is making a difference. Dialogue, especially around issues such as land conflicts, security and gender has changed the way people perceive each other. It is influencing the way people handle disagreements. But perhaps more important is the fact that we are seeing a reduction in the number of people joining armed groups," said Veit Vogel, Project Manager, Tujenge Pamoja.
Alert and our partners have been reluctant to claim sole responsibility for the reduction in the number of people joining armed groups, there is however evidence that some of the project’s activities have contributed to stability in certain areas.
For example, In Lemera, South Kivu, 300 displaced families have returned to their villages and homes, thanks to improvements in collaboration between authorities, the civil society and government forces. According to the locals, this collaboration and trust "is a result of increased dialogue between parties, and it is responsible for the ongoing reduction in crime and killings."
One resident told us:
As far as we are concerned, the project has been a godsend. Dialogue sessions have really been helpful. They have brought the community and authorities closer and promoted understanding between us. The situation is definitely better today than it was a year ago.
By focusing on democratic dialogue, the project has enabled communities and authorities to openly and genuinely discuss issues such as rape, land governance, and the reintegration of former combatants – issues which were previously ignored or considered too difficult to address.
Addressing these issues has helped reinforce a sense of security, the legitimacy of the Congolese state, as well as the socio-economic resilience of communities living in areas where the project is being implemented.
Using a combination of radio programmes and workshops, Alert has also been able to broadcast messages of peace, reconciliation and peaceful cohabitation. The messages are broadcast in the various local languages including Kiviira, Kifuliru, Kinyindu, Kibembe, Kinyamulenge and Kiswahili to reach more communities and mitigate conflicts. Alert has also provided training to various members of the community on community roles, gender and land law – all aimed at raising awareness and preventing disagreements.
Additionally, the project is training young people, especially those at risk of recruitment into rebel ranks, to learn how to read and write. About 240 youths have been offered psycho-social support and several others have been trained on how to start a business. Some of these young men and women are being supported to access micro-finance so they can be able to start income-generating activities such as petty trading, livestock farming and agriculture.
The project has already registered a number of successes including: increased acceptance and peaceful co-habitation between communities particularly those living in the highlands, increased mutual collaboration between the police and the population, and the development of joint security action between security services and members of the community.
“We realised early on that most of the conflict causes in DRC are multiple and interrelated. As such, we realised that solutions had to be holistic and multisectoral. With regards to gender for example, our actions are aimed at combating socio-cultural norms that promote domineering masculinity and place men in a position of dominance over women. We are glad that it is working,” said Christine Buesser, Country Manager, International Alert DRC.