In July 2010, Insight on Conflict organised an event to bring together a selection of peacebuilding organisations in DR Congo that we feature on the site. The event was planned by Flory Kazingufu, who is both our Local Correspondent for Insight on Conflict and a member of the Chirezi Foundation. He was very keen to bring together the groups in from our DRC section, arguing that such an event would be an opportunity that groups in this area would not normally receive. The minimal aim of the event was to give the groups an opportunity to share their knowledge and experiences, whilst we also felt that there may be opportunities for collaboration amongst the groups. The Peace Exchange took place from July 19-21 in Goma, DRC and turned out to be extremely successful on both counts.

The 20 groups that participated in the event came from 4 different provinces –North Kivu, South Kivu, Orientale (the Ituri region) and Maniema. The peacebuilders reported that the wide geographic range of groups included was one of the most valuable aspects of the event. The event was facilitated by Irene Safi, a Congolese peacebuilder who is currently writing her PhD on conflict analyses in DRC. A couple of better known organisations, such as HEAL Africa and Women for Women International participated, though most groups were grass-roots organisations whose work is seldom recognised or even known of outside of their own communities.

We were determined that the event would focus on what was important to the peacebuilders themselves, so chose to use to use ‘Open Space Technology’ to facilitate the event, a method that allows the participants themselves to decide the agenda. It was a decision not without risk, as it meant we were reliant on the participants to lead. In the opening session, when Irene pointed to the empty board and told participants – there is your agenda – there was a definite air of confusion in the room, and I have to admit to feeling rather nervous. And yet within an hour we had a board full of issues and much lively debate as the participants spontaneously organised themselves into sub-groups and prioritized what to discuss. The 11 issues that the peacebuilders chose to discuss were: land conflicts; the promotion of justice; ex-combatants; poverty reduction; HIV and AIDS; the consolidation of peace; children’s issues; leadership and good governance; non-violence; women and gender issues; and identity and discrimination. Each individual then went to which group seemed most relevant to them, always using the Open Space ‘Law of Two Feet’: they should stay at each group for only as long as they feel useful, and take responsibility for decided where they should best go. Although for the second and third days, we brought in a little more structure and broke groups down by province, the use of Open Space Technology was extremely useful for two reasons: firstly, it meant at the end we could get a good idea of what was really important to the groups; and secondly, it put the onus on the peacebuilders to throw themselves into the event, which they did full-heartedly. (As an aside, one of the participants later asked another when the 2 white guys from Peace Direct were going to start lecturing them. It soon became clear that this was not that sort of event).

Discussions of the issues were lively throughout, and many went on long after the days’ sessions had finished. By the third morning, the peacebuilders were focusing on practical next steps, as it became very clear that for them this event should be only the beginning of their links – they were already keen to work out if a network could be formed, formally or informally. Since the event, discussions have continued online and in person, and groups in South Kivu have already collaborating on a seminar in Makobola, a town in South Kivu that suffered some of the worst atrocities in the Congolese war.

Nobody at that event could leave in any doubt that these peacebuilding groups should be taken seriously, and with more support they will be able to make a much greater contribution to ending the conflict. We hope the event will stimulate collaboration amongst the groups so that they can increase their visibility and also ‘scale-up’ their work to have an impact across the east of DRC.

For more information on the groups that participated and others in DR Congo, please visit the Peacebuilding Organisations page.