Intra-household vulnerability in eastern Congo

The household is the standard social unit used in planning humanitarian interventions, including cash transfers and the distribution of food and non-food items. Humanitarian assistance is often distributed to households based on the assumption that household members have uniform needs and preferences. However, households cannot simply be
characterized as places where individuals share the same priorities or even necessarily pool their resources. Households are more commonly places where competing claims, unequal power, diverse interests and access to resources are frequently negotiated and shaped by differences in age, gender and position within the household, among other factors. In this article we explore the concept of intra-household vulnerability in eastern Congo by exploring gender dynamics at play within the context of food assistance programming along with power dynamics between internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host families.

MCC has been working with partners in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 2008 to implement humanitarian programming in response to internal displacement. During pre-planning for food assistance projects, MCC’s program partner, the Ministry of the Church of Christ in Congo for Refugees and Emergencies (MERU)-North Kivu, conducts thorough assessments of target communities, including displaced families and their host communities. MERU’s analysis has brought to light the differing gender roles within households, particularly surrounding control over resources and the division of household labour, with women largely in charge of food storage and preparation as well as agricultural work.

Observation and monitoring by MERU staff showed that households where women were primarily responsible for managing food stocks were more often able to make food last longer and refrained from selling assets for the purchase of items considered to be non-essential. Households with male-controlled food stocks were more likely to sell food to buy items that they considered personally important, but were non-essential for the household. In response to this finding, MERU staff sought to raise awareness of social spending within the community and to encourage male participation in agricultural work as a way to share the burden and increase crop productivity. This critical understanding of intra-household dynamics allowed MERU staff to explain how placing women in key decision-making roles would be beneficial for the well-being of the entire family.

MERU staff worked with the community to define responsibilities for both
men and women in the implementation of the food assistance project. Men accepted responsibility for specific work in agricultural production, namely, clearing and preparing the soil for planting and ongoing field maintenance, including applying insecticide, transporting fertilizer and pruning. Knowing that these agricultural activities were taken care of, women were able to turn their energy to other activities, including planting, weeding and harvesting. Because of MERU’s ability to work closely with participants, understand the differing needs of different groups and make project adjustments accordingly, MERU successfully implemented its food assistance project and received strong affirmation from the communities participating in the project.

MERU’s food assistance programming also seeks to account for intra-household vulnerability due to the high number of IDPs in eastern Congo who do not take refuge in official IDP camps but rather live with host families. In combined host-IDP households, it becomes more difficult to assess the food security of IDPs, as the use of household targeting may prevent a clear understanding of additional vulnerability experienced by IDPs. Not only should more widely understood household dynamics related to gender or age differences be accounted for when designing food
assistance programing: the additional power dynamics within mixed host- IDP households must also be considered.

MERU has found that in the case of the host-IDP household, food assistance programs should determine and account for who has control over the household’s food resources and what that means for daily consumption among household members. Additionally, host families are more likely to have control over resources such as a plot of land for cultivation. In cases of combined host-IDP households, what is the impact of the IDP family on these resources? In some cases documented by MERU, host-IDP households harvested before crops matured, intensifying food insecurity. Seed stock was consumed in the immediate term, leaving families without adequate seeds for planting.

MERU’s analysis conducted at the end of each six month project phase
showed that while the average number of meals eaten per day increased
significantly for all participants over the course of the project, host family
food consumption saw a greater level of improvement than that of IDP families. Based on the intra-household dynamics observed by MERU staff, sensitization of the particular vulnerabilities of IDP families was prioritized and resulted over time in narrowing the gap of food consumption between IDPs and host families. By the fourth phase of the project, the average number of meals eaten per day was identical for both host and IDP families. A critical learning from the project is the need to assess the specific vulnerabilities experienced by the host-IDP households in order to reduce the burden on IDP and host families in negotiating how to share food, agricultural inputs and labour responsibilities.

Abandoning the household unit as a means of grouping and interacting with project participants is not likely to happen anytime soon. Thus, we at MCC must equip ourselves and our partners with tools and critical lenses through which to pay attention and respond to the complex dynamics within and between households.

Vanessa Hershberger is MCC program coordinator for the eastern provinces of the DRC, based in Bukavu, South Kivu. Annie Loewen is a humanitarian assistance coordinator for MCC, based in Winnipeg, MB.

Learn more:

Bolt, Vincent J. and Kate Bird. “The Intra-Household Disadvantages Framework: A Framework for the Analysis of Intra-Household Difference and Inequality.” Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper no. 32 (2003).

Chant, Sylvia. “Dangerous Equations? How Female headed Households Became the Poorest of the Poor: Causes, Consequences and Cautions.” IDS Bulletin 35/4 (2004): 19-26.

Understanding stories of trauma

In many cultures, including Congolese culture, storytelling functions as a means of preserving and transmitting historical memory while building community solidarity. Narrative also plays a therapeutic role in reducing the psychosocial impact of trauma by allowing individuals or groups to tell their stories and listen to the stories of others within safe spaces (Kiser, 51). However, in some cases traumatic events are so horrific that survivors choose to suffer in silence. Fear of retribution and rejection prevent those who have experienced the trauma of rape from acknowledging the event and seeking assistance. My research with Congolese women who have been raped has underscored the key role that narrative can play in assisting rape survivors and others in understanding the trauma of rape and in helping rape survivors heal from that trauma.

Sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) is rampant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A 2009 study found that 462,293 Congolese women, aged 15 to 49 years, reported having been raped within the past year (Peterman, Palermo and Bredenkamp, 2011). This stunning figure excluded girls under the age of 15 and women over the age of 49 who had also experienced this horror. Furthermore, for a number of reasons, many women choose not to report their attacks. Reporting rape too rarely ends in any form of justice for the victim and can often have negative effects, with raped women facing stigma, discrimination and retribution.

In February 2014, I collected stories from 14 women who had survived rape in the eastern DRC as part of dissertation research into trauma healing for SGBV survivors. I assessed interview data using narrative analysis techniques to identify themes that surfaced across all of the interviews, using that data to then compile one biographic narrative using the data and themes from all of the narratives. While I had planned for only ten interviews, many more women requested the opportunity to share their stories of rape and its aftermath. Nearly all of the women I interviewed expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share their stories and asked that I share their stories so that other women might find healing.

One of the primary goals of the narrative approach to trauma healing is to increase awareness of the dominant stories that shape the lives of storytellers (Bennet, 12-13). Becoming aware of these dominant narratives can assist rape survivors in identifying and developing responses that can bring healing and build resilience for individuals and communities. The narrative approach I employed in my research consisted of very loosely structured interviews. In responding to a limited set of interview questions, my informants focused on the key aspects of their own stories of rape as they experienced and remembered it. Rather than adopting a structured interview style focused on eliciting information about particular topics, I sought through more free-flowing interviews to allow my informants to identify the crucial dimensions of their experiences and memories.

The findings of my study resonated with a theory of social justice developed by Madison Powers and Ruth Faden, whose work in philosophy and bioethics has articulated how indicators of human well-being can serve as a measure of social justice. Powers and Faden have described six essential dimensions of human well-being: health (physical and mental); respect (self-respect and respect from one’s family and community); reasoning (ability to engage in coherent, rational thought); attachment (presence of intimate relationships); self-determination (ability to exercise agency); and personal security. While Faden and Powers grant that one can have a decent life without having a high threshold in all six of these dimensions, they do contend that human well-being can be negatively affected by a serious deficiency in one or more of these dimensions.

My research with Congolese rape survivors found that the traumatic experiences these women had undergone significantly affected their wellbeing in all six dimensions of human well-being identified by Powers and Faden. That said, the dimensions of well-being most adversely affected, I discovered, were attachment and respect. Though many of the women had suffered significant physical trauma, most only mentioned their physical injuries after I questioned them specifically about physical complications resulting from the attack. The majority of my interviewees, however, did highlight in their narratives the pain of rejection by their husbands and/or stigma they faced from other community members because they had been raped.

Stigma toward rape victims, particularly stigma from other women, often results from a need on the part of stigmatizers to distinguish themselves from persons who have been raped. This distinction acts as a pseudoprotective measure, cultivating the illusion that one is definitively safe from suffering the same fate as the victim (Grubb and Turner, 2012).

Trauma healing, awareness and resilience efforts aimed at addressing the particular needs of rape survivors must therefore pay particular attention to deficits in attachment and respect. My research found that narrative opportunities for rape survivors to share their stories can contribute to a reduction in the stigmatization and discrimination of rape survivors in at least two ways. First, by affirming and supporting rape survivors in exercising self-determination as they share their stories, thus building their resilience as individuals and in turn strengthening their confidence in fostering intimate attachments and building relationships. And second, by expanding and deepening family and community understandings of rape and the experiences of women who have faced it, in turn reducing the stigmatization of rape survivors. Storytelling by rape survivors thus becomes a key way of expressing and building individual and communal resilience.

Beth Good is MCC’s Health Coordinator and holds a Ph.D. in Nursing.

Governance-by-proxy in the DRC

Viewed from the inside, the twin projects of peacebuilding and development—and the efforts of those who devote their lives to them— appear as ways in which citizens of privileged nations can live morally in an increasingly globalized world. Global media, multinational commerce, a plethora of NGOs and aid organizations and easy travel mean that citizens of North America or Europe can quite easily have an impact on the lives of those living in the Global South. It follows logically, then, that the world’s privileged class (and especially, the Western, educated and comparatively wealthy individuals who make up the bulk of foreign aid workers) should do its best to make sure that that relationship is a healthy one. Given the enormous wealth disparity that exists between the haves and have-nots of the world, a “healthy relationship” can be simplistically and problematically construed to mean a relationship based on giving, in which the role of wealthy nations is to donate and the role of poor ones is to receive (and, presumably, to be grateful for the help). That is, at least, the attitude held by many citizens of the U.S., Canada and Europe. It is an attitude, moreover, that aid organizations—many of which are themselves dependent on donations for their continued existence—often do their best to foster and encourage.

The murky waters of development and security
In his 2001 book, Global Governance and the New Wars, veteran researcher Mark Duffield lays out a framework to challenge the “we give, you receive” narrative that has dominated perceptions of the humanitarian industry for so long. Duffield argues that since the end of the Cold War, Western governments have increasingly grown to conceptualize and portray “undeveloped” countries as sources of potential conflict and war. Development, then, has been increasingly reimagined—sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally—as governance-by-proxy, a means of encouraging or requiring aid recipients to adopt certain values or practices (often oriented towards “stability”) as a quid-pro-quo for any aid received (Duffield 8). Although these values or practices appear, at face value, constructive (taking the form of anti-corruption measures or governance reforms), the net effect, Duffield argues, is to nudge developing countries towards creating only those societies that are acceptable to donor governments. Non-governmental aid organizations often fall into the same trap.

Viewed from this angle, the humanitarian project becomes less about “healthy global relationships” than about a twenty-first-century continuation of the colonial project: the practice of wealthy countries reshaping poor ones according to their own wishes. The picture grows increasingly grim with the concerns voiced by a recent African Union study which estimated that, largely because of exploitation and tax evasion by foreign actors, African economies actually subsidize the rest of the world. The study’s authors estimated that the amount of money lost by Africa in this way was between three to ten times as high as the amount of development aid received in the same period (African Union 64). In this light, the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world is starkly exploitative: with one hand, the world economy extracts money from the African continent; with the other hand, it returns a portion of that money, while demanding societal reforms in return. Granted, donor governments may impose reforms and conditions on African governments receiving assistance with beneficial intentions. Yet these good intentions do not remove the objectionable nature of donor governments feeling entitled to impose internal change on African countries. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete recently stated that “It is unacceptable for our development partners to use their aid stick to pressure us to do certain things… We will reach a point where we will say this is too degrading… Keep your aid” (cited in Ng’wanakilala).

The Congo example
In the eastern provinces of the DRC, the dynamics described above are clearly visible. International actors—the United Nations, the European Union and dozens upon dozens of NGOs—are everywhere, involved in security and governance reform, infrastructure improvement, provision of social services and more. Many, if not most, of the functions of the public and nonprofit sectors have been assumed by international actors. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) assumes some of the duties normally filled by the police and army (including a “peace enforcement” division of peacekeepers called the Force Intervention Brigade, the first ever UN peacekeeping unit legally allowed to carry out offensive combat missions in support of UN goals). The European Union finances road and water pipeline construction. Schools and hospitals receive support from a raft of international NGOs.

Given the trend of humanitarian organizations towards working with local partners, the majority of Congolese civil society and nonprofit organizations receive at least some foreign assistance, meaning that local organizations are encouraged to align themselves with Western values in the hopes of receiving funding. Although some funding organizations take it as a priority to support the values and perspectives of local partners, such is not always the case. Many donors adopt a top-down perspective, with local “implementing partners” expected to follow the lead of the donors with which they work.

More troubling still, from an anti-imperialist perspective, were certain aspects of the United Nations’ actions following Congo’s civil war from 1998 to 2002. In the transitional period that followed the negotiated end of the war, UN delegates wrote portions of the constitution and threatened to withhold aid if the final document was not deemed “acceptable” (Autesserre 2010). Meanwhile, the DRC’s rich mineral deposits, combined with continued instability and the relative ease of smuggling goods and resources in and out of the country, make the country a prime target for private-sector exploitation. The majority of the profits from the sale of the DRC’s minerals wind up outside of the country. The African Union’s report named the DRC as one of the nations most vulnerable to revenue loss from illegal financial flows (African Union 16).
Moving forward Though many of the reforms and changes encouraged by international agencies and foreign governments are intended to be constructive, the system as a whole has the effect of removing agency and control from Congolese actors and placing them in the hands of decision-makers in Europe or North America. Are other forms of international engagement in the DRC possible that do not diminish Congolese agency? The humanitarian goal of living in a healthy relationship with the rest of the world is still a noble one, I would argue, so long as that goal is pursued in a constructive way. The systemic privilege of Western nations is an established, though unfortunate, reality—but the simplified relationship of “we give, you receive” espoused by many aid organizations does more to reinforce that privilege than to deconstruct it. What is needed, then, is the forging of truly mutual relationships between international actors and Congolese (and other African) governments and civil society organizations that increase the capacity for self-determination and local agency and decrease the pernicious presence of neo-colonial interventionism that still shapes much of the West’s engagement with Africa. Heeding the advice of the African Union and taking steps to limit illicit financial flows out of Africa would be a good start.

Patrick Maxwell is MCC’s Eastern Congo Peacebuilding Coordinator.

For more, check out the Summer issue of Intersections on Conflict, Reconciliation and Partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. 

The economy of armed groups in the eastern DRC

The phenomenon of “armed groups” (illegal militias, rebel groups and mafias) in eastern Congo contains two strands, dating to roughly 1996: the first, a string of foreign militias, who for various reasons have set up bases of operation in eastern Congo; the second, various youth movements who took up arms to protect themselves from these foreign forces.

Historically, the weakness of the DRC’s government has been the fundamental reason for the persistence and multiplicity of these groups. Although the presence of these armed groups has been a constant, the militias themselves have evolved with time, with new generations of leaders emerging. As a consequence, the actors of 1996 are no longer the actors of today. And these groups have proliferated: in 2008, the territory of Fizi in South Kivu province alone was home to seventeen different militias.

In addition to the visible effects of war, these militias have created a deeply-established war economy in eastern Congo in which civilian populations and local resources are diverted towards the funding of armed groups. However, this complex economy is little-understood outside of Congo. Aside from the funds that armed groups derive from the DRC’s vast mineral resources (“conflict minerals,” as they are often called internationally), minimal discussion of the economic forces behind the war occurs. Failure to address these economic forces means that outside nations often make policy decisions based on an unclear understanding of the conflict dynamics in Congo. We must understand the origins of the various weapons and resources that strengthen the armed groups in the eastern DRC in order to create smart responses both within the country and internationally.

Free and easy access to a military arsenal
Several studies conducted between 2012 and 2014 have shown that the supply chains of weapons and goods to armed groups are simultaneously extremely complex and loosely structured. Armed groups’ resources flow from many sources, among them pillage, contraband sales and informal taxes. Patrols by the Congolese national army often run across ambushes set by militia members seeking to pillage the army’s weapons or encounter militia-run roadblocks and barriers at which militias pillage or tax travelers. In the resulting skirmishes, militia members pillage weapons abandoned by fleeing or dead soldiers. Often, however, militia members simply buy arms from members of the army engaged in illicit arms sales.

Collaboration between local and foreign armed groups represents another source of arms. In the province of South Kivu, two foreign groups— the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and the Burundian Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL)—often exchange goods, supplies and munitions with local groups. The FNL, for example, often traverses the Burundi-Congo border with arms, munitions, cows and other goods. The border area between the two countries has become one of the key sites in eastern Congo for illegal arms trafficking. The trade in contraband arms constitutes a huge source of resources for armed groups in the area (Life and Peace 119).

A diversity of funding sources
For their survival, many armed groups pillage goods from civilian populations. So, for example, rarely do two weeks pass in South Kivu province without at least one case of a civilian community being pillaged by an armed group. In the course of these pillages, armed groups take nearly everything: money, livestock, clothing, cell phones and so on. Sometimes, armed groups go so far as to burn down entire villages as a means of intimidating their victims and to cover their own tracks.

Illegal taxation constitutes another funding source for militias, who habitually set up illegal barriers on roads between agricultural areas and markets or on commercial waterways. On one such road in the Fizi territory of South Kivu, militias erected four barriers on a 27-km stretch of road between two villages. Those passing through these barriers were obliged to pay according to the wishes of the groups controlling the territory. Militias often block waterways, with boats taxed at 1000 Congolese francs (roughly one US$) per person.

Another revenue-generating strategy deployed by militia groups is to collect goods and money household-by-household from different villages, calling this illicit tax a “war effort.” In these cases, militias levy taxes between 500 and 1000 francs (between US$0.50 and US$1) per week, although sometimes they take an equivalent amount of food or goods instead. Ordinarily, this “tax” is compulsory: refusing to pay the levy results in imprisonment or worse. In some cases, however, community leaders fund those armed groups with whom they perceive themselves to be strategically aligned or from whose existence they benefit. Many Congolese leaders are currently in power because of support from armed groups: these leaders range from those at the local level to members of the provincial and national parliaments.

Another extremely lucrative aspect of this war economy is the control of mining sites (a familiar part of the “conflict minerals” narrative popular outside of the DRC). A great number of armed groups can be found near mining sites. Up to fifteen such groups are active in the South Kivu territory of Shabunda. These groups typically do not exploit minerals themselves, but rather impose taxes on artisanal miners. Those miners who attempt to oppose this taxation system are often the subject of harsh retaliation in the form of torture, imprisonment or death.

This concentration of armed groups around mining sites contributes to the wealth of illegal warlords. Their presence is a cause of daily conflict, as these warlords do not hesitate to confront other groups seeking to impose taxes of their own. In all circumstances, the civilian population pays the greatest price, be it through the taxes armed groups extort from them or from the violent conflict that surrounds them.

Smarter responses needed
This informal economy, instituted by armed groups in eastern Congo, paralyses the economic life of the region. The reduced state of agricultural production (attributable in large measure to the local population’s fear of going to their relatively insecure fields) is one of the visible consequences. This armed group economy destabilizes the life of civilian populations by fostering a perpetual sense of insecurity.

What is needed, then, is a dose of determination from the political leaders of the country and the region to restore peace and the authority of the state in the DRC. Honest and open regional cooperation is needed as the foundation of that peace. The respect of the cardinal principles of democracy, coupled with strong community outreach and good governance, could establish peace and end the problem of armed groups.

Internationally, those nations and blocs who hope to establish incentives for “conflict-free” minerals must understand that armed groups are not the only beneficiaries of artisanal minerals. In fact, armed groups’ involvement in “conflict minerals” mining usually comes down to taxing the work of others. Thus, interventions that hinder the sale of hand-mined minerals harm civilian population, not only armed groups. For smarter action on the international level, a fuller understanding of the complexities of the eastern Congo war economy is necessary.

Laurent Mikalano Mulotwa is the director of the Council for Peace and Reconciliation, a network of civil society and church organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For more, check out the Summer issue of Intersections on Conflict, Reconciliation and Partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. 

The migration of Congolese workers to foreign organizations

In the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo a multitude of local organizations operate in the humanitarian arena. Local agencies across South Kivu work to improve education, health, agriculture and economic outcomes, advocate for human rights and child protection, promote governance reform and more. Alongside these local organizations operate numerous international organizations that do similar work in comparable fields. This similarity is not without consequence. In this article I examine the consequences of a “brain drain” from local, Congolese organizations to international organizations. The DRC, I would argue, offers a telling case study of the broader global phenomenon of the challenge local civil society organizations face in retaining qualified staff attracted by higher pay and perceived career opportunities with international organizations.

The Congolese nonprofit/voluntary sector is a world of cooperation, one in which local associations collaborate with international organizations in project implementation, training sessions, workshops and so on. However, aside from this “horizontal,” or collaborative, relationship, there exists what might be called a “vertical” relationship. In the vertical  relationship, one side (normally, the international side) has the most access to donors, while the other side (Congolese organizations) is generally the recipient of technical and financial support. This vertical partnership is difficult to navigate: both parties seek to further their respective missions through this vertical relationship and neither party wishes to harm the other, yet unintended consequences can and do result.

Through these vertical partnerships, and the interactions resulting from them, staff members from Congolese associations familiarize themselves with international organizations and vice versa. As familiarity develops, the staff members from each organization learn to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the other. At their best, these partnerships include mutual learning between Congolese and international organizations. However, in time, highly qualified and skilled staff of Congolese organizations become coveted by international organizations who can offer much more attractive employment contracts. This dynamic contributes to a noted “brain drain,” in which the most qualified workers from Congolese organizations migrate to international organizations to the detriment of local initiatives.

Because of legal restrictions, Congolese nonprofit associations do not receive state subsidies and are barred from engaging in for-profit activities. With local fundraising options within the DRC fairly limited, Congolese organizations must finance themselves through grants from external donors. Often, the funding they receive through these channels is insufficient for the activities that they wish to undertake. Local associations thus work with limited funds and, it follows, can only pay their staff according to the amount they obtain from donor organizations.

The structure of funding short-term projects can operate to the detriment of Congolese organizations. Often when a local association has finished executing a project, it must wait for further projects to be approved before more funding arrives. Between sending a project plan to a donor and the eventual receipt of funds for an approved project, associations can sometimes be forced to reduce the number of staff in their employ. Congolese organizations can and do seek to protect themselves against this danger by diversifying the number of grants they receive, yet funding core operational costs in order to provide employment continuity for key staff is a significant challenge for these organizations.

Beyond the international development agencies of particular countries (e.g. USAID from the U.S., DFID from the United Kingdom), one can identify two broad types of foreign organizations active in eastern Congo: first, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), or associations of states bound by treaty to fulfill certain functions of common interest, with permanent structures and legal personalities distinct from that of their member states; and second, international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), who receive funding from private and governmental donors. The best examples of IGOs are various United Nations agencies, such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Food Program (WFP). IGOs are created by states for the purpose of achieving specific goals and therefore benefit from ample budgets (at least in comparison to Congolese organizations). INGOs, meanwhile, have typically developed diverse, multifaceted funding streams (even as they also have to compete for funding from governmental and other donors) and so do not usually experience the lack of funding that local organizations regularly suffer.

Often IGOs and INGOs provide financial support to Congolese organizations. So, for example, the Human Rights section of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) provides grant support to the projects of several Congolese human rights associations.  In comparison to the staff of Congolese organizations whose projects they fund, IGO and INGO employees enjoy a raft of benefits, including (in some cases) diplomatic immunity, optimum living conditions and very high salaries. Not surprisingly, ambitious, qualified and motivated staff of Congolese organizations find it hard to resist the advantages offered by employment with IGOs and INGOs. But it is also no secret that INGOs and IGOs have limited mandates: their missions are not, at least in principle, open-ended.

This stands in stark contrast to Congolese organizations whose missions endure long after international organizations have pulled out. Unfortunately, though, these local organizations lack sufficient operating resources and so often lose their most skilled workers to the hefty salaries offered by international organizations. Congolese employed by foreign organizations are, for the most part, highly qualified and experienced.

Yet while these workers gained their extensive experience in Congolese agencies, international organizations rather than Congolese organizations benefit most from that experience.

To be sure, the “brain drain” effect is not limited to a shift of workers within a country. Often, skilled Congolese workers are transferred within international organizations to other countries, thus contributing to a flight of skilled workers from Congo.

In sum, the migration of workers from local organizations to international organizations is caused by:

• Lack of stable and sufficient funding for Congolese organizations, resulting in low salaries and job insecurity for the staff of those organizations.
• The constant search by international organizations for highly qualified and experienced Congolese staff.
• The various benefits of employment with an international organization, which cannot be matched by poorly-funded Congolese organizations.

The migration of skilled staff from Congolese organizations to international organizations has adverse consequences for the strength of Congolese civil society. The departure of qualified personnel can lead to reduced productivity. Irregularities in funding cycles often result in waves of workers leaving their organizations, and local agencies in turn often do not have the ability to hire new people. The reputations of local organizations also suffer, as waves of departures of qualified personnel discredit those organizations in the eyes of their donors.

How to address the negative impact of the migration of Congolese staff from local to international organizations? I would argue that the responsibility for this problem is shared among the IGOs and INGOs in Congo, with their policies related to funding for local, Congolese organizations bearing most of the blame. When the level of international donor funding does not allow for Congolese organizations to compensate their employees at a level that will convince them to stay with Congolese organizations, then IGOs and INGOs are, wittingly or unwittingly, contributing to brain drain. Given that Congolese organizations often do better work than their international counterparts (and have permanent mandates, instead of the limited mandates of many international organizations), donor governments and international agencies should search out opportunities to heighten their support for Congolese organizations in their missions.

Raphael Wakenge Ngimbi has worked in the field of human rights (where he specializes in transitional justice) for the past twenty years. He currently works at the Congolese Initiative for Justice and Peace.

For more, check out the Summer issue of Intersections on Conflict, Reconciliation and Partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. 

The church and peacebuilding in the African Great Lakes

In many corners of the globe, the church as a cultural and spiritual reality brings people together to love and respect the Lord. Many people, however, believe that the only valid societal role for the church is to preach the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ. But in Africa in general, and in the Great Lakes region in particular, the church’s mandate goes much farther than this spiritual proclamation, to include active commitment to foster peace in societies divided by violent conflict.

In places where people are torn apart by conflict or where people are divided by diverse interests, the church often remains one of the very few institutions still capable of unifying people, of connecting them, and of bringing them together to speak the same language, the language of peace. To be sure, the church is scarred by divisions among denominations and too often the church reflects rather than overcomes divisions within the
broader society. Yet at its best the church reminds people to forget the factors that divide them, since within the church we are reminded that we are in the presence of the One who created all, God Almighty.

In this article I explore the following questions: “Why does the church have this capacity to unify people and then bring them to forget that which divides them? What accounts for this capacity the church possesses of being able to work effectively for peace?” In trying to answer these questions, I attempt to show that in the Congolese context the church is capable of going farther and doing more to promote peace when compared to other actors.

The church constitutes a respected power in the Great Lakes region of Africa, a region in which the majority of the population is Christian. The church’s social status thus poises it to engage in the work of building unity and social cohesion. The church’s ability to unify people across political divides is clearly evident in the case of the Great Lakes region. Diplomatic relations among countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have been torn apart because of invasions and rebellions. For example, over the past several years political conflicts and mutual recriminations between the leaders of the DRC and Rwanda have jeopardized good relations between the populations of these two countries.

While tensions have flared among the countries of the Great Lakes region, sometimes erupting into violent conflict, the leaders of churches in the region have played a large role in laying the groundwork for the re-establishment of peace and peaceful cohabitation among the peoples of the region. Several ecumenical Christian organizations in the Great Lakes have assisted these efforts for peace, including the Great Lakes Ecumenical forum (GLEF), the Great Lakes Initiative (GLI), the Fellowship of Christian Councils of the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA) and the All Africa Council of Churches (AACC). These organizations frequently bring together church leaders from across political divides, despite the lack of understanding among their different governments, with the purpose of learning from one another and of searching together for peaceful ways to change how political leaders view the world and to help them speak the language of peace.

Matthew 5:9 tells us: “Happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Scripture passages like this one have helped the divided populations of the Great Lakes to no longer consider themselves as primarily or exclusively citizens of different states, with their identities tied up in the conflicts among those states, but instead to view themselves as men and women created in the image of God, persons having the same identity, namely, that of children of God.

What is it about the church that allows it to bring people together in this way, engaging in the uncertain field of peacebuilding, when the states they come from are in open war? As already noted above, church members compose a great majority of the population of the concerned Great Lakes countries. Persons in positions of authority and influence in the church, then, possess a power that regional political leaders cannot ignore. The political authorities of the Great Lakes are, in fact, forced to rely on the church if they want to keep their political power. When a crisis situation strikes a country, that country’s population often looks to the church for guidance. The word of the church in these situations, in my experience, is heeded by an overwhelming majority of the faithful, with many following the church’s guidance over their own political leanings, thus demonstrating the unifying power the church possesses.

The church receives this enviable power from the high regard in which it is held by the community and from the number of people who consider the church to be their last remedy, especially in moments of crisis and difficulty. The moral strength of the church comes from the word of God and the good news that the church preaches, but in moments of conflict the church’s moral power can be transformed into a benevolent political influence as well. Thus, at its best the church is considered neutral, a space where people can come to put down their burdens, even their political burdens, within a structure that brings people together.

The neutrality of the church is justified, not only by the behavior of its leaders, but above all by its prophetic mission, namely, the sharing of Christ’s gospel with the goal of transforming humanity. In their role as influential regional figures, church leaders distinguish themselves by their engagement for peace and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, to the point where even politicians must listen to them when the country goes through difficult times. At their best, church leaders work by the power of the Holy Spirit and fight for the well-being of the population in general. At this time in the Great Lakes region many church bodies are responding to the devastations wrought by human rights violations, among them sexual violence as an instrument of war. For example, the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC), through its Program for Peace and Reconciliation (PPR), is actively involved in the cause of peacebuilding. As part of the PPR, the ECC operates a biblically-based outreach program to disarm combatants in eastern Congo. This initiative has led to the voluntary disarmament and repatriation of more than 21,000 Rwandan refugees and 1,600 excombatants as part of efforts to promote peace in eastern Congo and in the Great Lakes region as a whole.The PPR shows the power of the church to intervene in a non-polarizing way in situations of intense conflict. Given the splits and divisions that characterize the African Great Lakes region, the unifying power of the church is needed more now than ever before.

Serge Lungele is Program Officer and Logistician for the Program for Peace and Reconciliation of the Church of Christ in Congo, an MCC partner organization that facilitates the voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees and combatants in the eastern DRC.

For more, check out the Summer issue of Intersections on Conflict, Reconciliation and Partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. 

Conflict, reconciliation and partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes region

The Great Lakes region of central Africa—the countries grouped around Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika—showcases both the very best and the very worst of humanity. The region has seen its fair share of war and conflict: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a twenty-year ongoing legacy of conflict and war in eastern Congo and a prolonged civil war in Burundi (a country where, just weeks ago, political tensions broke out again after ten years of peace) have all left their marks on the bodies and psyches of the peoples in the region. At the same time, the Great Lakes region is home to a vast and ever-growing community of peacebuilders, researchers, teachers, civil society actors and citizen activists who strive to re-establish and maintain peace.

The past and current conflicts of the region are nothing if not interconnected, both to each other and to the wider world. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda emerged from the same ethnic tensions (created and fostered by the colonial powers) that fueled the Burundian civil war. The conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi caused the displacement of refugees (and rebel groups) into Congo. International organizations and actors are omnipresent (although not with uniformly positive results). Through all of these events, the ugly specter of colonialism makes its enduring presence felt across the entire Great Lakes region.

Local dynamics often have regional and international causes: in eastern Congo, for example, a mine worker’s livelihood can be affected by the local military commander, by merchants in neighboring countries or by legislation enacted in the United States. In the Great Lakes, as elsewhere, following one single thread often leads to the discovery of a rich and varied tapestry of causes, effects, solutions and consequences, all tied into
one another, each one impossible to consider on its own.

True understanding is an act of compassion and the root of real peace. In this issue of Intersections, a team of authors from the Great Lakes region, along with MCC workers, present several windows into the dynamics that shape the region as a whole. While their articles do not present definitive solutions to the challenges facing the Great Lakes countries, the authors do highlight several key dimensions of the quest for durable peacebuilding and sustainable development in the region, including: the vital role played by
the church in durable peacebuilding efforts; the importance of supporting the efforts of local organizations; the pressing need to address the economic and human security devastation created by militias in the DRC; and the promise of grassroots peace initiatives in Burundi and Rwanda.

Patrick Maxwell is MCC’s Eastern Congo Peacebuilding Coordinator

Learn more by reading the summer edition of Intersections here.