Democratic Republic of Congo

Resources updated regularly.


Sexual and Gender Based Violence in DRC

CHANGING OUR APPROACH TO PEACE-BUILDING IN DRC, COMMITTING TO UNRAVELING THE ROOTS OF SGBV AND THE CONFLICT. Dominique Vidale-Plaza

This essay has previously been published in the Amani Itakuya essay series on www.suluhu.org. It was revised in May 2017. 

Once we have established that perpetrators themselves and the perpetration of sexual violence are far more complex than the typical understanding of rape by morally defunct militia in the bush that has been historically touted as a prevailing narrative about sexual violence in DRC, we can see how SGBV programming to date continues to miss the mark on addressing the phenomenon. A successful SGBV response model should include proactive components that target the roots of sexual violence and the social constructs that have allowed it to continue existing and entrenching connected issues in the DRC.


Clinique Afya Bora, Kavumu, South Kivu, DRC. 

Clinique Afya Bora, Kavumu, South Kivu, DRC. 

One of many stumbling blocks on the road to peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), since the first days of the conflict, has been the failure of key peace actors to fully comprehend, acknowledge and incorporate in the peace-building process, the multitude of social dynamics that contribute to and are derived from this multilayer, protracted conflict.

IPS News Agency published an essay in 2013 attesting that peace-building in the DRC has historically largely ignored existing local solutions, and that in order for it to be effective, ‘peace building requires intertwined processes and structures that run from the grassroots to the national level.’ This integration of grassroots approaches, however, must go beyond simply inviting the participation of civil society leaders at closing stages of program planning processes and in pleniere sessions for peace initiatives. It requires a commitment from all implicated actors to understanding and comprehensively addressing the complex interplay among the range of social issues that comprise the conflict. Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in particular, is one such social issue that has been largely viewed as primarily a result of the conflict and thus, improperly treated in the peace-building and development processes in the DRC. The phenomenon of SGBV continues to be oversimplified and as a result, the many SGBV and peace building programs and actors that now proliferate in the DRC have failed to recognize how it is uniquely positioned within the continuum of factors contributing to and emerging from the Congolese conflict.

The basic and over simplified understanding of SGBV that many aid agencies and other actors continue to draw from, centered upon archetypal concepts of ‘war-rape’ and narratives, serve fund-raising and advocacy purposes well, but are fast becoming obsolete. In fact, in recent years, donor fatigue has set in when it comes to SGBV in the DRC, with many institutional and State donors encouraging actors to focus on systems- building rather than project-focused initiatives that have yet to yield results that are coherent with the investments that have been made. The programs that choose to operate using these aging definitions and anecdotes, focus on the immediate and obvious implications of sexual violence, in predominantly reactionary ways. A more thorough understanding of the SGBV phenomenon in the DRC would demonstrate however, that it is not static and that the prevailing definition we have is largely insufficient. A successful approach to analyzing SGBV in the DRC, would have to consider its interconnectivity and relationships with, various factors including: the proliferation of armed groups; the illicit trade of small arms that contributes to changing the dynamics of local armed conflicts; population displacement; the militarization of civilians, particularly adolescent youth; continued perpetration of sexual violence and other grave human rights violations by State armed forces; the inherent challenges involved in protection and response to sexual violence, related to terrain, infrastructure and available resources; and many more. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these elements and myriad others, unnamed in this article, are still missing from the prevailing narratives and discourse surrounding SGBV in the context of the DRC. One particular element that has historically been missing from narratives and programming to prevent and respond to SGBV in communities, is a consideration of the perpetrator and the roots and motivations of various categories of perpetrators. Efforts to date, have focused almost exclusively on providing a variety of important, holistic services to survivors, but with little emphasis placed on the perpetrators and the complex roots of sexual violence and its relationship to the conflict in Eastern DRC. By analyzing the perpetrator, the social contexts and circumstances that have permitted him or her to evolve into a rapist, we will begin to deepen our understanding of how inextricably connected SGBV is to many of the other ‘stumbling blocks’ to peace in the DRC, including flawed DDR processes, State endorsed and perpetrated corruption, the proliferation of small arms, impunity and poverty, all of which contribute to the proliferation of varying perpetrators, whether they be military or civilian.

Once we have established that perpetrators themselves and the perpetration of sexual violence are far more complex than the typical understanding of rape by morally defunct militia in the bush that has been historically touted as a prevailing narrative about sexual violence in DRC, we can see how SGBV programming to date continues to miss the mark on addressing the phenomenon. A successful SGBV response model should include proactive components that target the roots of sexual violence and the social constructs that have allowed it to continue existing and entrenching connected issues in the DRC.

Ultimately however, the argument of this essay is not to posit that simply an intuitive and revised approach to solving the ‘SGBV crisis’ is what will eventually secure peace in the DRC. It is rather, that taking the time to uncover the dynamics behind sexual violence and other key elements of the conflict, would reveal that, the conflict in the DRC is in fact not as clear cut as it would seem in the media and other popular information sources. It is not linear nor made up of distinct social woes, contentions and constructs operating independently of each other. These issues, whether they be security sector reform, or SGBV, should not be singularly addressed as they currently are - evidenced by the aging systems for implementation and coordination that continue to persist in the DRC.

Perhaps it is because the peace process has been externally led and influenced in so many ways, that so many of these intricacies that rest heavily in historical and social identity dynamics, have gone under-recognized and under-considered in peace building and peace keeping.

What could then be part of a stronger and more viable solution to building durable peace, particularly in this period of electoral and political uncertainties and fresh outbursts of violence in different parts of the country, would be to not only see more community-level stakeholders implicated in peace-building processes and programs, with equitable representation of different social groups, but also support the

implementation of more sophisticated, holistic, and coordinated approaches that respond to sexual violence – which may in turn complement and contribute to driving more organic and responsive peace-building processes 


Displacement in the Kivus region

 

2.6 million displaced people

The potential for renewed fighting and new displacements is not the only humanitarian concern on the table. A lack of vision and funding for the kinds of activities best suited to assist people in a situation of protracted displacement are also preoccupying.
Although there is a growing dialogue among humanitarians about stepping up activities both to support the voluntary return of certain IDPs and to reinforce the indigenous coping strategies of people who cannot return, there is little agreement about what these return and resilience-boosting activities might look like, who would lead them, and how they would be funded.
The international community finds itself in an increasingly trying situation, neither operating in a traditional emergency context nor moving towards a more transitional setting wherein development actors could take over. Donors would seem increasingly weary of the longstanding international approach of simply “treading water,” but at the same time, too risk-averse to try something new.
Tighter and tighter budgets are also affecting ideas about what best to do to address the protracted crisis. Funding in DRC has fallen consistently since 2009 and has taken a particularly sharp dip in 2014.
— Stacey White, Now What? The International Response to Internal Displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brookings Institution, 2014.
 

Work we Love

Geneva Call - Protecting civilians in armed conflict.

-- Retrieved from Geneva Call YouTube account, May 2017.

Geneva Call is a neutral and impartial non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting respect by armed non-State actors (ANSAs) for international humanitarian norms in armed conflict and other situations of violence, in particular those related to the protection of civilians. Geneva Call is currently focusing its efforts on banning the use of anti-personnel mines, protecting children from the effects of armed conflict, prohibiting sexual violence in armed conflict and working towards the elimination of gender discrimination. 

Why do we love them? Their work directly engaging with armed groups, is contrary to the typical approach to sensitizing armed groups. Whereas other actors drop DDR flyers from helicopters, Geneva Call has people on the ground directly talking with and listening to armed group leaders and members. They take time to build relationships and bridges and see results because of this.


Books We Love

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
Jason Stearns

 

The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila: A People's History
Architect

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja

 

The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver

 

 

Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa's Deadliest War
Ben Rawlence

 

The Catastrophist
Ronan Bennett

 



A Bend in the River
VS Naipaul

 

Before the Birth of the Moon
Valentin Y Mudimbe

 



The Mission Song
John Le Carré