read this: The Trouble with the Congo
"In the Congo, the violent transition to peace caused, directly and indirectly, 2 million deaths in addition to the 3 million victims of the generalized conflicts, and war resumption in 2008 produced tens of thousands more casualties. International interventions can help prevent such disruptions, but they often fail to do so. The dominant international peacebuilding culture often orients intervention strategies away from local conflict resolution and toward popular, but harmful, tactics such as the rapid organization of elections."That's from Séverine Autesserre's brilliant new book, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding, out now from Cambridge University Press.
I get a lot of emails from blog readers who are looking for suggestions on essential readings on the DRC situation. While I think it's important to read a wide range of sources on the topic, I can't think of another book that better situates the current state of affairs in the eastern Congo than Autesserre's outstanding book. Based on more than 330 interviews with just about everyone involved in the DRC peace process that was supposed to stabilize the country once and for all, Autesserre examines the question as to why violence continues in the region. She argues that violence has continued to proliferate in the east due to the international community's failure to address peace building at the local level in addition to the national and international levels.
That focus will be of most interest to those who want to learn more about the Congo, but Autesserre is also interested in the question of why the international community failed to address local-level conflicts in the Kivus and other areas when negotiating peace. Her conclusion is that the culture of international peace building doesn't allow for consideration of local conflict. In other words, it never even occurred to most of the myriad of diplomats, politicians, and other international actors involved in the process that they needed to worry about it. This was true despite solid evidence that many of the conflicts in the Kivus predated not only the civil and international wars that rocked Congo from 1996-2003, but also the Rwandan genocide, which prompted much of that violence.
In this sense, Autesserre's book is a valuable read for anyone involved or interested in international peace processes. As Autesserre notes in a study of cases from around the world in the book's conclusion, effective peace building in today's conflict situations only works when actors at all levels are involved. She notes that there is a need for both an internationally-driven, top-down effort alongside a grassroots-driven, bottom-up effort if other regions are to be spared the destruction and devastation that the citizens of the eastern Congo have endured for so long. The international community's post-Cold War obsession with writing a constitution, organizing and holding elections, and certifying the country as democratic - despite the fact that violence continued in the east - was incredibly harmful for the people of the DRC in many ways, and it's obvious that the same path didn't work in Iraq, won't work in Afghanistan, and seems highly unlikely to help in Sudan.
Whether you're a humanitarian actor working on community initiatives, a budding scholar of the Great Lakes region, or just interested in effective responses to conflict and violence, Autesserre's book is a must-read. Unlike most academic books, it's also quite accessible to non-scholars and non-specialists, who will appreciate the clear presentation of a well-researched argument in readable language.
I am pleased to be able to pass along a 20% discount code on the book if you buy it through Cambridge University Press (which makes it cost even less than Amazon's 10% discount off the list price). Enter the promo code E10CONGO at checkout.
(Full disclosure: Séverine is a good friend; we were in the field at the same time and often compare notes on the situation in the eastern DRC. That said, I'm not being compensated for this post in any way; I bought my copy just like everyone else. I just really think you should read this book.)
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