Civil Society and Peace Processes in Kivu

By Santoso, Arnila | Forced Migration Review, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Civil Society and Peace Processes in Kivu


Santoso, Arnila, Forced Migration Review


Misunderstanding of the nature of civil society in the Kivus and exclusion of grassroots representatives are implicated in the failure of the peace processes in DRC.

Recent research into the role of civil society in DRC suggests that international organisations involved in the Congolese peace process have tended to assume that civil society in the Kivus mirrors its Western counterpart, in which 'civil society' represents the needs of the people to the state and keeps the state accountable to the people. Civil society in the Kivus, however, developed quite differently, with today's distinctive social and bureaucratic structures having been shaped by the colonial administration of earlier years.

One tier of these structures, carrying the official title 'Civil Society', comprises a network of national, regional and provincial entities which are little more than one of many branches of patron -client networks throughout the country. With the influx of international aid and humanitarian intervention throughout the conflict, a second tier developed: local NGOs and associations which are in practice run by international actors and which at times do not necessarily take into account the needs of the local population. However, there are also grassroots local NGOs which do address local needs and are primarily funded by their own members from income generated by second or third jobs.

Building peace

The primary goal of including civil society in any peace process is to ensure that the peace process addresses the roots of the conflict and the needs of those most affected by the conflict. However, building such a peace process requires a nuanced approach to the inclusion of civil society. It involves distinguishing whether or not civil society representatives are truly connected to the population or are simply the puppets of political élites or international organisations.

This is evident in the Congolese case where more recent forms of the peace process tried to create mechanisms for inclusion of civil society. Before 2008 the peace process focused primarily on brokering agreements with militia leaders and senior political leaders. The Goma Agreement in 2008 was the first to include civil society leaders, and to directly request their input. Hundreds of civil society leaders attended a conference to present their concerns for consideration at the table. There was a failure, however, to include grassroots civil society groups; the peace process catered primarily to the élites in the country and had little effect on realities on the ground. Peace processes need to occur both from the top down and from the bottom up.

Grassroots leaders tend to use bottom-up approaches to resolve conflict at the local level - and in implementing pragmatic responses to the enormous physical and psychological trauma that war has produced. However, they had no access to the peace process. Primarily, members of officially sanctioned tiers connected to patrimonial-style networks had access to élite circles. Internationally connected NGOs have some links into power because of their international linkages but they are also linked to the general populace. …

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