Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and their
African Affairs, 111 (442), Spring 2012
Explanations for the persistence of violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo blame the incendiary actions of domestic and regional leaders, as well as the inefficacy of international peace-building efforts. Based on several years of ethnographic research, this article adds another piece to the puzzle, emphasizing the perverse consequences of well-meaning international efforts. I argue that three narratives dominate the public discourse on Congo and eclipse the numerous alternative framings of the situation. These narratives focus on a primary cause of violence, illegal exploitation of mineral resources; a main consequence, sexual abuse of women and girls; and a central solution, extending state authority. I elucidate why simple narratives are necessary for policy makers, journalists, advocacy groups, and practitioners on the ground, especially those involved in the Congo. I then consider each narrative in turn and explain how they achieved prominence: they provided straightforward explanations for the violence, suggested feasible solutions to it, and resonated with foreign audiences. I demonstrate that the focus on these narratives and on the solutions they recommended has led to results that clash with their intended purposes, notably an increase in human rights violations.
The Trouble with
the Congo: A Precis
Seven Commentaries, Three Debates and One Book: the Author's Response
Symposium on book “The Trouble With the Congo,” African Security Review, 2011
Abstract for the book précis: The trouble with the Congo suggests a new explanation for international peacebuilding failures in civil wars. Drawing from more than 330 interviews and a year and a half of field research, it develops a case study of the international intervention during the Democratic Republic of Congo's unsuccessful transition from war to peace and democracy (2003–2006). Grassroots rivalries over land, resources, and political power motivated widespread violence. However, a dominant peacebuilding culture shaped the intervention strategy in a way that precluded action on local conflicts, ultimately dooming the international efforts to end the deadliest conflict since World War II. Most international actors interpreted continued fighting as the consequence of national and regional tensions alone, and diplomats and United Nations staff viewed intervention at the macro level as their only legitimate responsibility. The dominant culture constructed local peacebuilding as such an unimportant, unfamiliar, and unmanageable task that neither shocking events nor resistance from certain individuals could convince international actors to reevaluate their understanding of violence and intervention. Through this in-depth analysis, The trouble with the Congo proposes innovative ways to address civil wars in Africa and beyond.
Abstract for the response: This symposium has been tremendously rewarding. Not only do the commentators generally agree with the central claims of the book, but my argument has also generated a great deal of debate. The reactions focus on three main questions. First, do top-down or bottom-up causes drive the violence in the Congo? Second, should the international response to continuing violence be top down or bottom up? Finally, do constraints, vested interests or cultural frames best explain why international interveners have thus far neglected to support local peacebuilding? My response addresses each of these questions in turn. First, I use the data presented in the commentaries to buttress the central claim of the book: that local conflicts were significant causes of violence during the transition to peace. Second, I elaborate on my policy recommendations. I demonstrate that a bottom-up approach would have been an essential complement to the top-down strategy, and I clarify the role that international interveners could have played in the bottom-up process. Third, I explain how the dominant international peacebuilding culture constituted the constraints and interests that prevented international action on local conflict. I conclude by briefly discussing the suggestions for further research present in the commentaries.
Construire la Paix : Conceptions Collectives de son Etablissement,
de son Maintien et de sa Consolidation
Constructing Peace: Collective Understandings of Peace, Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding
Critique Internationale, vol. 51, pp. 153-167
No abstract available, but here is the outline of the paper : "This review examines the anthropological and international relations literature on collective understandings and peace interventions to identify their contributions, elucidate the current debates, emphasize the literatures’ complementary and conflicting aspects, and shed light on their respective shortcomings. I first look at the top-down research, which focuses on two main topics: national negotiation styles and diplomatic culture, and the liberal peace paradigm. After highlighting the deficiencies of this top-down approach, I move to two central debates in the bottom-up research on peace interventions: the divergence between cultures of interveners and those of local populations, and the significance of the interveners’ organizational and professional frames. To conclude, I emphasize areas that remain under-researched."
Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International
International Organization, Vol. 63, pp. 249-280, 2009
Why do international peacebuilders fail to address the local causes of peace process failures? The existing explanations of peacebuilding failures, which focus on constraints and vested interests, do not explain the international neglect of local conflict. In this article, I show how discursive frames shape international intervention and preclude international action on local violence. Drawing on more than 330 interviews, multi-sited ethnography, and document analysis, I develop a case study of the Democratic Republic of Congo's transition from war to peace and democracy (2003–2006). I demonstrate that local agendas played a decisive role in sustaining local, national, and regional violence. However, a postconflict peacebuilding frame shaped the international understanding of violence and intervention in such a way that local conflict resolution appeared irrelevant and illegitimate. This frame included four key elements: international actors labeled the Congo a “postconflict” situation; they believed that violence there was innate and therefore acceptable even in peacetime; they conceptualized international intervention as exclusively concerned with the national and international realms; and they saw holding elections, as opposed to local conflict resolution, as a workable, appropriate, and effective tool for state- and peacebuilding. This frame authorized and justified specific practices and policies while precluding others, notably local conflict resolution, ultimately dooming the peacebuilding efforts. In conclusion, I contend that analyzing discursive frames is a fruitful approach to the puzzle of international peacebuilding failures beyond the Congo.
translation: Hobbes y el congo: marcos, violencia local e
Revista de Relaciones Internationales, No. 16, pp. 97-134 , 2011
les Conflits Locaux: L'Echec de l'Intervention Internationale
L’Afrique des Grands Lacs : Annuaire 2007-2008, Paris: L'Harmattan, pp. 179 – 196, 2008
This chapter takes stock of the international intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to explain why it failed to end violence in the eastern provinces. Based on field observations in the Congo, document analysis, and over 330 interviews, it demonstrates that massive violence continued between 2003 and 2008 in part because of the presence of local conflict. The international actors left these local tensions to fester because they perceived them as a consequence of broader problems and as a humanitarian issue. International actors thus focused on national and regional reconciliation, especially through the organization of “free and fair elections,” and they passed onto each other the responsibility of working on violence at the local level. They paid attention to local issues only in case of shocking events or when they realized that micro and macro tensions were linked. As a result, they neglected many critical local conflicts, which regularly erupted into major crises.
D.R. Congo: Explaining Peace Building Failures, 2003 - 2006
Review of African Political Economy, 113 (34), pp. 423-442, 2007
As a corrective to the emphasis on national and international reconciliation during peace-building processes, I develop here a conceptual analysis of the dynamics of violence during the transition from war to peace and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2003 and 2006. I locate the sources, at the local, national, and regional levels, of continued local violence during this transition. Through an analysis of the situation in the provinces of North Kivu and North Katanga, I illustrate how local dynamics interacted with the national and regional dimensions of the conflict. I demonstrate that, after a national and regional settlement was reached, some local conflicts over land and political power increasingly became self-sustaining, autonomous, and disconnected from the national and regional tracks. Thus, peace building action was required not only at the national and regional levels but also locally.
Local Violence, National Peace? Postwar "Settlement" in the Eastern D.R. Congo (2003 - 2006)
African Studies Review, 49 (3), pp. 1-29, 2006
This article develops a conceptual analysis of the dynamics of violence during the transition from war to peace and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2003 and 2006. I locate the sources, at the local, national, and regional levels, of continued local violence during this transition. Through an analysis of the situation in the Kivus, I illustrate how local dynamics interacted with the national and regional dimensions of the conflict. I demonstrate that, after a national and regional settlement was reached, some local conflicts over land and political power increasingly became self-sustaining and autonomous from the national and regional tracks.
The United States'
'Humanitarian Diplomacy' in South Sudan
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, January 2002
This essay studies the manipulation of food aid to South Sudan, and its interplay with US politics: the US is the major donor of relief aid to Sudan, and at the same time it appears as one of Khartoum's major opponents on the international scene. This essay argues that humanitarian aid, and especially food aid, is not a substitute for political action, but that it has become the main channel of the US's Sudan policy for the past ten years.
Torn between its conflicting economic, political, geo-strategic, and moral imperatives, the US has had to adopt a difficult strategy: supporting the rebels, but not openly, and not enough to enable them to win the war. In this situation, humanitarian aid, with its reputation of neutrality and its moral appeal concealing a fundamental vulnerability to all sorts of manipulation, is a very efficient tool. Food aid is especially useful: it directly counteracts Khartoum's strategy (starving the South into submission) and directly helps the rebel movement and army in a number of ways (bringing them resources as well as domestic and international legitimacy). Food aid also has the crucial advantage of fitting perfectly into western prejudices about Africa -- a starving continent dependent on the West -- so that no one thinks about questioning the underlying motives of US relief aid to Sudan.
Les Intervenants Internationaux
Paper in Titouan Lamazou, Ténèbres au Paradis - Africaines des Grands Lacs, Gallimard, 2011
Paper only available as a hard copy.
Peacetime Violence - Post-Conflict Violence and Peace-Building
Program on States and Security
This synthesis provides an overview of the academic findings on the sources of violence in post-war environments and on the strategies to address them. It distinguishes between unaddressed pre-war tensions, war-induced cleavages, and peace-generated conflict. It argues that current peace-building strategies have two major weaknesses, which explain their frequent failures. First, they neglect the micro-level causes of violence. Second, they do not devote enough attention and resources to state reconstruction (which is distinct from merely holding elections).
Trouble with Congo - How Local Disputes Fuel Regional Conflict
Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008
Although the war in Congo officially ended in 2003, two million people have died since. One of the reasons is that the international community's peacekeeping efforts there have not focused on the local grievances in eastern Congo, especially those over land, that are fueling much of the broader tensions. Until they do, the nation's security and that of the wider Great Lakes region will remain uncertain.
Kongo'da siddet ve
ölüm kültürü (Violence and the Culture of
Death in the Congo)
Birikim, Volume 174, October 2003, 88 - 96, translated by Koray Caliskan
Only available as a paper copy... sorry! Don't be too disappointed, you would need to understand Turkish :-) For those who do and would like to order the paper copy, here is the link to Birikim.
The Responsibility to Protect
in the Congo: The Failure of Prevention
Chapter in O’Bannon, Brett; Roth, John; and Bellamy, Alex (eds.) The Evolution of the Responsibility to Protect: Imperfect Duties?, Global Politics and the Responsibility to Protect series, Routledge, accepted for publication, forthcoming 2013
Peacebuilding in Practice: An Ethnography of International
Paper presented at various research seminars, to be revised and submitted for outside review in Spring 2013
When the West
Meets the Rest: What Ethnography Can Contribute to the Research on International
Paper presented at various research seminars, to be revised and submitted for outside review