Quaker Network for the Prevention of Violent Conflict
Le Réseau de quaker pour l'Empêchment de Conflit Violent

Feasibility of doing peace work in situations of violent conflict in the context of the current situation in the DRC

by Bridget Butt

Bridget Butt works for Quaker Service Norway as regional consultant for the Change Agent Peace Programme in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. She wrote the following comments in June, 2004  in response to a question from the Norwegian government about the feasibility of doing peace work in situations of violent conflict in the context of the current situation in the DRC:

After my visit to South Kivu, DRC, in June, I, like many others, am extremely concerned about the current situation in Bukavu, in particular, and the DRC in general.  There are strong indications that Lenge’s recent coup attempt is linked to the Nkunda rebellion by Banyamulenge elements of the RCD, in the east, all of which does not bode well for the transitional government and the peace process, in general.

This is not, however, a new development in the DRC, but an unfortunate continuation of the status quo of the past eight years or more, and tensions that have been resurfacing over the past few months between some of the Banyamulenge population and other Congolese.  This is the context is which CAPP has been working, since its inception, five years ago.  Indeed, it is only during the past six months that our principle partners from South Kivu have begun to return to their burnt-out homes, and offices in Fizi.

And yet, despite this, significant local peace building work has been accomplished.  In early June, I spoke to a support group of more than forty women, who have come together to help each other through the common experience of having been raped by militia groups in their small Fizi village of Abeka.  With help from local CAPP committees, they continue to try and mitigate the consequences of these years of fighting for themselves and their families. The report of the recent external evaluation of CAPP describes the 60+ ("CAPP") peace committees of South Kivu as “dynamic and articulate….clear in [their] goals and methodology….proud of their achievements towards peace-building in the communities….anxious that the programme should continue and expand…even prepared to take on the army in a peaceful way.”

With the exception of some clashes between Mutumbuzi's forces (now based in Bugarama, Rwanda) and the regular Congolese army, around Kamanyola, near the Rwandese border, the situation now appears to have stabilized somewhat.  If, however, the situation does deteriorate further, the CAPP programs will simply go back to the mode of functioning which has sadly been their norm---working in a context in which even personal security is jeopardizes in their work to facilitate contact and dialogue across divides (ethnic, regional, socio-economic, religious, gender etc.), and raising awareness around the crucial questions of peace building, human rights, and democratization in the DRC.

Indeed, it would seem that these activities should be considered as particularly relevant in the context of the current situation.   I have been struck by the relevance of Mary Anderson and Lara Olson’s reflections on peace practice to CAPP efforts in DRC.  The booklet “Confronting War:  Critical Lessons for Peace Practitioners”, identifies a bias toward “doing good versus stopping bad” in most peace practice. Anderson and Olson feel that this bias needs to be corrected.  More efforts need to be directed towards intervening directly in situations and systems of violence in those places where "bad" things are happening, whether through inter-positioning or advocacy.  Supporting those systems/structures within society that can enable people to live together and solve problems without violence (local capacities for peace!) is one of the most effective ways of breaking into the systems that keep war and injustice going.

Anderson and Olson warn that those who have an interest in perpetuating conflict will undertake extreme, often violent, acts to spoil the peace process.  Such is certainly the case in present-day DRCongo.  “Analyzing where such resistance may arise and planning how to respond to such events are important if momentum toward peace…is to be maintained.”  (p. 62).  Now, when the peace is threatened, is the time that peace programs should be their most active and receiving the most well-placed moral, analytical and material support in the DRC.

A recent video taken of CAPP project participants in South Kivu shows footage of young Mai Mai militia describing their contact with CAPP South Kivu peace committees and training programs, and how they were persuaded to put their guns down and come out of the forest.  In the video, they ask, “Why should I fight when I can sit around a table and find a solution?” On the day of the fall of Bukavu to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda’s troops in June, I was a spectator at a football match between Mai Mai ex-rebels and the civilian youth of Fizi.  It was a remarkable community-building event, which went a long way to welcoming these perceived "cannibalistic forest-dwellers" back into the local community as participating members, and building cross-cutting relationships.

Fizi is sometimes referred to as the birthplace of the current Congolese conflict.  It is the home of the Banyamulenge, and has been among the areas most seriously affected by the wars and ongoing insecurity. Remarkably, however, (and not reflected in the media coverage), the Banyamulenge of Fizi are, for the most part, not supportive of the leaders of the recent rebellions in Bukavu perpetrated in the name of the Banyamulenge.  With a timid voice, they are condemning the violence and calling for a political solution to the crisis.  (Sentiments also expressed recently by several North Kivu RCD politicians in Goma.)
Local peace activities in Fizi continue to empower and amplify these alternative voices, thereby avoiding the escalation of ethnic violence towards members of this community and a general escalation of the prejudice and fear that threatens to lead to an international conflict between the DRC and Rwanda.

A declaration, jointly drafted by Banyamulenge churches and the National Council of Churches in South Kivu, lauds the actions of the majority of citizens of Bukavu to shelter and protect Banyamulenge during the recent violence in Bukavu, with specific references to individuals and churches throughout the town.  Declarations of this sort are being disseminated as quickly as possible through networks such as that of RIAPP, the Inter-congolese Network for Support of the Peace Process, recently set up during a CAPP-sponsored national meeting of Congolese churches from most provinces of the country, with the support of Norwegian Church Aid.

These are just a few of many examples coming out of CAPP experiences of participating in local peace-building in the Kivus.    Peace and democracy-building training and awareness-raising activities will assume an even greater importance as the 2005 National Elections grow ever nearer!

In conclusion, we find the CAPP program is at its most relevant in situations such as that which currently prevails in the DRC.  We should do everything possible to ensure the continuity of support for our colleagues there over the coming critical months and the important year ahead.

Quaker Service Norway, 2004


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