DR Congo: Country overview
The devastating civil war that left 5.4 million dead in DR Congo lingers in its eastern provinces. North Kivu suffers from multiple armed militias which destabilises a fragile situation.
Poverty and a lack of formal justice mechanisms complicate a difficult situation, along with devastating attacks by armed groups on villages.
In war-torn South Kivu, village disputes can quickly escalate to wider violence that feeds into complex local conflicts. Official channels for resolving disputes are slow, expensive and corrupt, leaving many to take justice into their own hands.
Rescuing and resettling ex-combatants and child soldiers
In North Kivu we support local organisation Centre Résolution Conflits to trek into the bush and negotiate with militia leaders to rescue soldiers. On return to their communities, CRC provides individualised skills training and counselling to help ex-combatants resettle into civilian life so they don’t return to the militia. This pioneering community-centred approach has won widespread recognition.
Many attempts at rescuing and resettling soldiers (known as Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) ) of fighters have failed because not enough is done to give ex-combatants a viable future in civilian life, leaving them adrift and likely to return to war.
CRC’s solution is ‘community-based reintegration’, a long-term approach that includes the entire community and recognises that ex-combatants are just one vulnerable group among many. This approach bridges an important gap between peacebuilding and development.
Initially, CRC sends teams into the forest to negotiate the surrender of militia members, including child soldiers. Disarmed fighters are brought back to towns and villages for trauma counselling, job training and livelihood opportunities. Children are placed with families and returned to school or trained in a livelihood like mechanics, woodwork or tailoring. Special effort is made to prepare communities for the return of ex-fighters, so they are not rejected.
CRC’s community-based approach has been recognised by international organisations in the region as a model for best practice. It is an important part of our advocacy in DR Congo, something we are determined to increase.
A 2014 external evaluation of CRC’s work reported: ‘Ex-combatants said they were better able to take control of their lives and cited being able to educate their children and feed their families.
Through better communication and cohabitation with villagers, they also felt more integrated; in particular they mentioned their ability to facilitate relationships between the community and soldiers, as the soldiers are more likely to listen to them [as ex-combatants].’
Supporting women affected by conflict
In DR Congo, women are often the worst affected by violence. But they are crucial to holding communities and families together in the aftermath.
We work with local organisations FOCHI and Centre Résolution Conflits to support women affected by war – female ex-combatants, wives of ex-combatants and women who experienced trauma at the hands of militia groups.
In the unstable DR Congo, livelihoods are hard to establish and unemployment is high. In a place where conflict and poverty go hand in hand, providing small loans and business training for women breaks this cycle, and builds a stable future.
In DR Congo women are often the head of their household. Where husbands have joined militias, or have died during the war, women become responsible for their families. But surrounded by war and violence, often forced to flee from home, this is no easy task.
We work with local organisations FOCHI and CRC to provide small loans and business training, allowing women to earn a steady income. Personalised counselling sessions in safe spaces aids recovery from trauma. For some this means building current small businesses selling local food products. For others it means being able to transport their goods to sell in markets in neighbouring villages.
For many it means being able to build a house, send children to school, and own more than one pair of shoes – a common indicator of poverty in DR Congo. It is the chance for stability, in an environment of uncertainty, armed militia and machete attacks.
‘Before the war in the DRC, I lived very economically thanks to the salary of my husband who worked at the CANDY Kiliba-Uvira (in Eastern DR Congo).
Aged 35, widowed, and a mother to 6 children who became fatherless following the shooting of my husband, my life had become extremely difficult. It was full of misery. I could not pay for my children to attend school, I had no taste to live.
It was then that I took note of the existence of a local organisation in my town, and I joined it. The funds that I receive thanks to my meager savings have allowed my socio-economic reintegration in our village through my own income generating activities.
It is thanks to this that I manage to feed my children and send them back to school.’
-Chantale, DR Congo
Community radio clubs
We work with local organisation Centre Résolution Conflits to support and develop community radio clubs that educate, train and communicate with local populations. Trained community leaders broadcast radio programmes on agricultural techniques, discuss topics of violence and instability, and speak about how to respond to local conflict non-violently.
To set up a radio club, Centre Resolution Conflits train proactive community members in community leadership techniques. Once formed and trained, the groups support the communities they live and work in. Together, they have created microfinance systems, small businesses and cooperatives for local people, relying less on CRC’s support as they gain confidence and momentum. Established radio clubs then go out and use their knowledge to create other clubs, demonstrating effective locally led leadership and sustainability.
Each group is given a radio and members participate in weekly interactive radio broadcasts. In these they provide livelihood training, teach local people about agricultural techniques and organise local conflict resolution workshops. In rural areas where roads are poor and internet access is limited, the radio is a key way of reaching and engaging with local communities.
In two years, the radio clubs have brought together 1230 members through over 20 local radio clubs. They are a powerful example of the impact and importance of locally led approaches in building peace and stability.
Access to justice through local peace courts
In an area where access to justice is virtually non-existent, or too expensive, we work with local partner FOCHI to build justice courts and train local people to run them. This stops local disputes spiralling out of control and feeding into bigger conflicts. A network of 20 village level peace courts provides free access to justice for a population of 70,000 people, ensuring the roots of local conflicts are quickly addressed and defused.
Staffed by trained local volunteers, the peace courts are modelled on traditional village gatherings or ‘barazas’.
Each of the 20 peace courts has a special all-female section, where cases such as rape and sexual violence can be discussed more openly. Members come together to discuss strategies to stop gender based violence, and run awareness campaigns on issues like child marriage.
In an area with a large gender divide, the courts have increased female inclusion. FOCHI report a 40% increase in female participation, with women being elected to positions of leadership by local communities.
An external evaluation of our work with FOCHI showed the courts have a very high rate of solving cases – 90% through the main barazas and 83% through the female barazas. 86% of people surveyed also felt that the work of the barazas has reduced the likelihood of violence in their community.
FOCHI’s peace courts show the importance of inclusive, locally-led leadership where communities come together to resolve disputes and stop violence at the root.
From July – September 2016, the peace courts resolved 95 conflicts, led by 200 trained mediators, stopping conflict at the root.
Half of these mediators were women, highlighting the court’s role in increasing female participation and respect within communities.
In their words: Neema's Story
‘I am very glad to be part of the baraza. I was working around the village when I met Joseph [the president of the baraza] who was supporting the community. I wanted to be involved and asked him, what is the baraza? He said the baraza was there to solve community conflict for free. I asked, what kind of conflicts? He replied, conflicts of land, family, tribes, lots of things. I joined and have been working with the baraza for three years.
We see around four to five cases per month. The baraza has had a big impact on Kitona. We hear many many testimonies from people who had conflict troubles. They came to the baraza, found solutions and now people live peacefully.
One example is about two members of the baraza, Maimuna and her husband Kibukila. Her husband would get drunk and hit her and she lost a tooth because of this. She came to the baraza and they worked together to resolve their conflict. As a result they both became members of the baraza. If you support the baraza, you can carry on helping others with your expereince.’
-Neema, 25, local peace court treasurer