Thursday, April 7, 2016

Democratic Republic of Congo: A case for micro-peacebuilding

Last week the United Nations Security Council extended MONUSCO’s peacekeeping mission for another year in the Democratic Public of Congo (DRC), ushering the mission into its 17th year. The Security Council is hoping that in this year MONUSCO can address the ongoing humanitarian concerns and support upcoming federal elections.

The DRC remains one of the poorest countries in the world – despite its wealth of resources. After two decades of peacebuilding in the DRC, primarily in eastern Kivu regions, if success is measured in Human Development Index (HDI) rankings, we can categorize this intervention as a tremendous failure.

Though MONUSCO has tried revising strategy several times, attempting to cater the mission to regional needs, little progress is evident. Perhaps this is due to the fundamental flaws of the UN approach itself. When the UN rolled out their modern peacekeeping missions after the fall of the Iron Curtain, they employed then-UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s strategy, as outlined in his An Agenda For Peace. This is based on top-down liberal internationalism – a framework Roland Paris critiqued as the crux of UN failures.

What is Liberal International Peacebuilding?
The conceptual framework is: democracy, societal institutions, justice, human rights and a free market are the foundation for a peaceful society. Therefore, importing these components of western society to war torn regions of the world, seems a reasonable way to build positive, lasting peace.

The strategy in the DRC has been very responsive to the situation on the ground. However, it has not strayed from the classic peacekeeping mission mandate of MONUSCO, and when it refocused in the 2013 A Framework for Hope, the distilled emphasis is clearly based on the Bourtos-Ghali framework:
       To deepen security sector reform
       To consolidate State Authority, particularly in eastern DRC
       To make progress in decentralization
       To further economic development
       To further structural reform of public institutions
       To further reconciliation

A workable framework?
The problem with liberal peacebuilding is not the concept of creating like societies. It is the top-down, peace-first approach. UN engagement requires the national government to work with the international community, in order to give national ownership to the intervention. The issue with working directly with government is that they are able to influence the mission for their own benefit. Based from Michael Barnett and Christoph Zürchers peacebuilder’s contract, Michael Lawrence outlines the heart of the issue in his article Two Modes of UN Peacebuilding:

State elites have their own interests in maintaining power and survival but desire the resources and legitimization provided by international peacebuilding programs. The ensuing negotiation between the two produces ‘compromised peacebuildingin which national elites accede to international peacebuilding in exchange for resources, but their commitment to liberalization remains largely symbolic.

This issue occurs at top levels, and bleeds down through the mission, regardless of how responsive the peacekeepers on the ground try to be. And it really seems to be an identity crisis of the UN – as Paris has identified, they are required to have both a “heavy footprint by which they can critically influence the nation, and a ‘light footprint that allows local actors to participate in pursuit of their own peacebuilding direction.
In the DRC, matters are further complicated by how many rebel groups there are. The Congo Research Group reports there are currently over 70 rebel groups in the eastern region. While most are small, less than 200 people, this often makes security the top priority over other society building exercises. For these reasons, I propose the DRC needs to have a specifically focused, community-based strategy. This strategy would build on the work of Paris, Barnett and Zürcher, and Lawrence. Lawrence has offered a peace-second, integrated peacebuilding strategy, that elevates civil society to the level of national government, and encourages communication between the three actors. This can be made more robust through training opportunities at the community level for the purpose of integrating community leaders into the domestic governments of all levels and the UN writ large. In addition, the UN could focus on micro-peace-building projects that are long term and united with community leaders. The project direction and strategy would come from the local community, who would determine what peace means to them.

By Jessica Baran
MA Candidate in International Affairs
Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University

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