By Alex Whiting
Despite the billions of dollars spent on bringing about peace in Democratic Republic of Congo, violence still wracks the country’s east, where conflicts have displaced hundreds of thousands of people this year alone. So what’s the solution?
London-based peacebuilding organisation International Alert (IA) believes the answer lies in tackling the causes of the conflicts, supporting local attempts at keeping the peace, and bringing people together across ethnic and political divides.
This may seem obvious, but IA says international efforts to build peace in a country recovering from years of war have misdiagnosed the reasons for the east’s tensions. These include lack of access to land, and political and economic marginalisation.
"Standard post-conflict interventions are simply not working; what is needed is a truly context-specific response based on a frank analysis of the real causes and dynamics behind this prolonged and multi-faceted conflict,” IA secretary general Dan Smith said in a statement.
In a report, Ending the Deadlock: Towards a new vision of peace in eastern DRC, published Thursday, IA cites peace initiatives such as disarmament programmes, the reintegration of displaced people and curbs on the region’s mineral trade.
Attempts to stop rebels funding their operations through Congo’s mineral trade have had some success, but armed groups have simply diversified their sources of financing as a result. The curb on minerals has also hurt civilians who depend on the trade for a living, the report says.
Although tens of thousands of former militants have been disarmed, many have not found alternative work partly because they did not receive enough support to reintegrate into civilian life, IA says.
In addition, programmes helping refugees return to Congo tend to be run using “individualistic and technical approaches”, and don’t take enough account of local tensions and conflicts which can worsen when people come home.
‘NO PEACE TO KEEP’
The world’s largest U.N. peacekeeping force - comprising 17,000 soldiers - patrols the region, but “there has been no peace to keep,” IA’s report says. “Armed groups continue to control large areas of the Kivu provinces and Ituri district in Orientale province, creating insecurity and preying on the population, with women and girls continuing to suffer disproportionately.”
Meanwhile, some 1.8 million people are displaced in North and South Kivu and Orientale, and hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries, the report says.
The economy is not developing and young people have no work. Roads are dilapidated, and millions of people have no access to the most basic public services. Meanwhile, the government is reluctant to introduce political reforms.
“If peace is to be restored, the predatory, corrupt and clientelistic nature of power in (Congo) must be tackled, as well as the problem of intense, ethnically driven political competition,” Smith said.
A “new vision of peace” would give people fairer access to land, change the political culture and systems, reintegrate displaced people more effectively, improve security for Congolese, and enhance regional cooperation, the report says.