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Peacebuilding in Eastern Congo Need for Reconciliation Bridge-Builders
by Rene Wadlow
2010-05-29 09:39:03
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29 May has been set by the United Nations General Assembly as the day to honour UN Peacekeeping Forces. And honour them we do, as many serve in dangerous and hostile settings.  However, we must also be aware of the limitations that peacekeepers face when there is no peace to keep.  Thus we also need to discuss if there are not other types of peacebuilders who need to be recruited and trained for the types of conflicts which increasingly we face. A good example is the case of the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The United Nations has some 17,000 UN forces (MONUC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo mostly in the administrative provinces of North and South Kivu.  MONUC is the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, but their capacity is stretched to the limit.  Their mission is to protect civilians, some 250,000 of which have been driven from their homes since the fighting intensified in late August 2008.  Despite the MONUC troops, there are large-scale occurrences of wilful violations of human rights and humanitarian law by all parties in the conflict, with massive displacement of populations, plundering of villages, systematic rape of women, increasingly rape of men as well, summary executions and the use of child soldiers.

On paper, the UN mandate is clear and comprehensive — to build the political, military, institutional, social, and economic structures needed to create a secure environment.  However, there is no effective Congolese administration. The eastern area of the Congo has been the scene of fighting at least since 1998 — in part as a result of the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994.  Efforts at reconciliation, reform, and reconstruction have not been carried out in the eastern provinces. The illicit exploitation of natural resources, the inability to deal with land tenure and land use issues, the lack of social services and of socio-economic development have created the conditions which led to the current violence. The UN troops are not trained to deal with cultural and development issues — especially land tenure and land use issues which are the chief causes of the conflicts.
The people in eastern Congo have lived together for many centuries and had developed techniques of conflict resolution, especially between the two chief agricultural lifestyles: that of agriculture and cattle herding.  However, recent economic and political factors have overburdened the local techniques of conflict resolution and have opened the door to new, negative forces interested only in making money and gaining political power. (1)

UN peace-keeping troops are effective when there is peace to keep.  However, what is required today in eastern Congo is not so much more soldiers under UN command, than reconciliation bridge-builders, persons who are able to restore relations among the ethnic groups of the area.  The United Nations, national governments, and non-governmental organizations need to develop bridge-building teams which can help to strengthen local efforts at conflict resolution and re-establishing community relations.
World Citizens were among those in the early 1950s who stressed the need to create UN peace-keeping forces with soldiers especially trained for their task.  Today, a new type of world civil servant is needed — those who in areas of tension and conflict can undertake the slow but important task of restoring confidence among peoples in conflict, establishing contacts and looking for ways to build upon common interests.

(1)   See Michael Nest, Francois Grignon, and Emizet Kisangani. The Democratic Republic of Congo: Economic Dimensions of War and Peace (Boulder; CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006, 165pp.)


Rene Wadlow
, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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