DR Congo's civil war officially ended in 2003 yet eight years on violence continues to be a daily occurrence. A high-level but partial peace agreement has not brought peace on the ground. Severine Autessere in her book 'The Trouble with the Congo', argues that the construction of the 'post-conflict' label by the international community has made it hard to acknowledge and address the drivers of continuing violence. The realities are far from 'post-' anything, as the mass rape of 121 villagers by soldiers of the Congolese national army in South Kivu on 11 June 2011 attests.
The history of state predation and neglect in the Congo led to the development of a strong and professionalised civil society in the 1980s. Since 2003 there has been a proliferation of international NGOs working in the eastern region, and a concomitant proliferation of ‘local partners’, oriented towards the international donor regime, leading some to speak of two civil societies. In June 2011 I visited DR Congo to gain more insight into the role of internationals and locals in the DR Congo conflict.
A senior employee of the UN mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO), described the current situation as three separate areas of activity, areas which are intimately related, but which do not actually touch. The security and stabilisation agenda is not affected by the development programming of NGOs, the governance agenda doesn't take into account the effect of the NGO regime on the state, and the state has neither the capacity, nor the will at all levels, to improve security and stability.
The coordinator of Tuungane - a DfID funded Community Driven Reconstruction programme designed and implemented by the International Rescue Committee - in South Kivu was clear that they could not 'bring peace by committees', that participatory development was not a solution for the immediate problem of 'the rebels in the forest'. At a more fundamental level no 'development', political or economic, will succeed unless it takes into account the rebels in the forest as actors in the political economy.
The academic Alex de Waal articulates this as the need for an "inclusive political buy-in", financed by the biggest buyers in what he terms the "political marketplace" for allegiance, someone who can afford to put enough on the negotiating table in the form of incentives for all those wielding violence as a bargaining chip to get a share.
In DR Congo it is not clear who has the clout to create a stable elite bargain. Each successive agreement since the nominal end of the war in 2002 has excluded key groups, and ignored the hardest to reach. The UN mission is extended year on year, with no exit strategy in sight. International aid organisations may even be the biggest bidders in some localised contexts: the magnet in the job market who no one wants to see leave, providing basic services in the absence of the state. It is this that has led de Waal to decry the tendency for peacebuilding missions to become embroiled in more and more localised manifestations of the conflict, becoming bidders in the marketplace and so distorting the price for allegiance, and making it ever harder for a stable political market to be reached.
On a research trip to South Kivu in June 2011, I visited two Congolese organisations who work on conflict resolution at a local level. Fondation Chirezi (FOCHI) is based in Uvira, while Association de Soutain des Opprimes (ASO) is a partner of Search for Common Ground, both of whom are based in Bukavu. Jason Stearns, in recent interview for Insight on Conflict, spoke of the importance of Congolese civil society for building institutional capacity, transparency and responsiveness in the long term. In very different ways, both FOCHI and ASO are centrally concerned with this relationship between the state and their constituencies.
FOCHI has innovated a system of peace courts, or 'barazas'. These courts enable conflicts to be resolved within communities rather than taken to the formal justice system which is prohibitively expensive and widely distrusted. With patience and persistence, members of the barazas have dealt with cases that, if not addressed, had the potential to store up resentment and feed into the dynamics of future violence. For example the theft of land from a local woman by an ex-combatant whom the police were afraid to approach. Rather than building a parallel structure, the barazas are in contact with local justices, both to demonstrate an alternative conception of justice as conflict resolution, and to ensure that the baraza system is streamlined with the state system on which it still relies as an ultimate threat point.
FOCHI is also engaged in work related to international organisations working in the area and their constituencies: the people engaged in their projects and the recipients of the basic services they provide. FOCHI follow up on projects that have been completed unsatisfactorily, or require further consideration; in effect building accountability downstream to beneficiaries rather than upstream to donors.
ASO uses forum theatre techniques to address issues of concern in the area, touring plays to villages around Bukavu. Forum theatre, also known as 'Theatre of the Oppressed', was developed by Augusto Boal in Brazil. Actors depict instances of injustice, which the audience are then invited to intervene to resolve, either by suggesting how the outcome could be changed or by replacing one of the actors to attempt to do so.
Juvenal Muderhwa, the director, spoke of one case where the clarity given by seeing their own situation played out in front of them led a community to turn to the chief of the locality, who was also in the audience, and demand an end to his economic exploitation of their water and sanitation needs. A week later, Juvenal said, he was called and informed that the chief had stopped levying exorbitant charges on water, and work had begun on three additional wells. Perhaps it is rare that such direct outcomes are observable, yet via the theatrical 'Forum', the opportunity for a political forum is created.
All three activities described above work at the interstices of different systems of governance: the practices introduced through participatory development projects - which have international aid organisations as their sovereign powers - the at best paternalistic and at worst predatory state structures, and the forms of violent coercion embodied both by unofficial armed groups and the security sector itself.
While not sufficient on its own to solve the problem of 'the rebels in the forest', which remain a regional issue requiring a political solution across borders, it is in building resilient relationships of accountability and responsiveness into these governance mechanisms that a change to the wider political economy may be brought about.
This is a job for the organisations embedded in those local political marketplaces, able to insist upon a stabilisation of the networks of allegiance and sovereignty, with patience and persistence. They do not constitute a distortion of the market, rather they challenge the very manner of its functioning.