Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Guest Post: So how do we help the Congo? (Part III)

This is a response by Séverine Autesserre to my previous reaction to her Op-Ed in The New York Times.

 Jason, thanks for offering me a right of response. You and I have already had this debate at least a dozen times, in public and in private. But, as you have told me, it might be informative for the broader public to hear about it. So here is a brief answer.
The way you present my analysis in your post ‘So How Do we Help the Eastern Congo’ is oversimplified. My arguments are distorted, and your presentation misleads the readers. Since you respond to an argument that I did not make, your post is flawed.
For the sake of time, I will refer you and the readers to the intro to my 2010 book The Trouble with the Congo – on which, as you rightly state, the Op-Ed is based:
“The book does not argue that international interveners should have adopted a bottom-up approach to peacebuilding instead of their top-down strategy. Rather, it demonstrates that international actors should have used a bottom-up approach in addition to their top-down strategy. Just as a purely top-down intervention leads to unsustainable peace, […] an exclusively bottom-up strategy would only produce a very fragile and temporary settlement. […] My emphasis on micro-level tensions, and on the absolute need for bottom-up peacebuilding, should not be misunderstood as a dismissal of top-down causes of peace and violence. “ (p. 14)

So yes, explanations for the ongoing violence focused on the role of Rwanda and of elite leaders (such as in your analysis) are valid and they are well supported by events on the ground. I agree that top-down interventions can help assuage some of the ongoing sources of violence. However, the reverse is also true. You cannot sustainably resolve the national and international conflicts unless you resolve the underlying disputes at the local level. Just as top-down manipulation can jeopardize peace achieved at the local level, bottom-up conflicts, if left unresolved, will annihilate successes achieved at the macro level, as has happened multiple times in the past ten years.

Contrary to what you imply when you state that “hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into precisely the kinds of programs [I am] pushing for,” local conflict resolution is hardly a priority for international actors involved in Congo today. The international NGOs that used to support local conflict resolution in the past continue to do so, but in the Kivus they still number no more than a handful. The peacekeeping operation continues to focus on top-down causes of violence, and so do the diplomatic missions and most of the donors. Virtually all of these interveners still consider local violence, including land issues, only when it is related to top-down causes, notably the return of refugees from Rwanda – and, in my opinion, this is one of the central flaws of the STAREC program. In the past few years, there have been a few new bottom-up peacebuilding efforts, such as those of UN Habitat, but the scopes of these are so limited that they could hardly be said to represent a shift in the overall strategy.

All in all, your position and mine are not as opposed as you picture it in your post, and my arguments are crucial if we want to go beyond the surface in our analyses. While you focus on macro-level events – and, again, I have always emphasized that they too matter – I focus on the importance of grassroots causes of violence because policy and scholarly writings have so far largely ignored them. Thus, your criticism of my work seems to be quite off-target. I can think of many interesting debates related to my work, but your objections are not relevant.


Anonymous said...

Dear Séverine, Jason, Pieter, Deo,

thank you for sharing in public this crucial debate on peace and peacebuilding in DRC. Taking the opportunity of this newest contribution, I have just gone through all the parts of the discussion (the NYT op-ed and its three replies on this blog) and without going into details, I wish to express that all writings clearly point at accurate and important observations. So just one formal comments: Indeed, the positions of Jason and Séverine seem to me more a questions of perspective than deliberate disagreement (I was lucky to read both of your recent monographs and I have had the same feeling while doing so...). Looking forward to the continuation of these debates!
Kind regards,

Anand said...

Thanks for posting this response, Jason. I am not that familiar with Miss Autesserre’s work, so I appreciate hearing a little more about her perspective. I am glad that she clarifies her position on top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to solving DRC conflict. If I am understanding correctly, she is trying to shed more light on an otherwise under-represented reality in Kivu conflicts. I do agree that international programs are often short sighted, and land conflicts/local dynamics are not things I find a lot of discussion about. In my far from expert opinion, I do lean more towards international/regional factors as primary drivers, especially when considering the scope of conflicts since 1994. But I am glad that Miss Autesserre is advancing the conversation on local issues driving conflict. This is an area I would like to learn more about. I do find a slight dichotomy in her response here and the original piece, though. The exact line that Jason emphasized (Most violence in the Congo is not coordinated on a large scale. It is the product of conflicts among fragmented local militia, each trying to advance its own agenda at the village or district level) is what I have the most trouble with. The language here does indeed seem to de-emphasize the importance of international/regional dynamics in driving DRC conflict. If I were to read the Op-Ed piece alone, I would take away that point of view, which seems to contradict the more balanced response Miss Autesserre has posted here. I wonder if sometimes the language used in advocating under-represented positions makes it seem that other positions are being discounted. It must be difficult for advocates to continually restate their positions. But for a less familiar reader like myself, perhaps it is needed, otherwise the takeaway may not be what was intended. Thank you both for the perspectives and for continuing to work on and report on the DRC.

Unknown said...

Cardinal Monsengwo in 1991-1992 coined the expression "convergences parallèles"i.e.parallel converges to describe reconcilable disagreements amongst various strands of the then DRC political class. I think Séverine's micro-scopic and grassroots approach and Jason's macro-scopic approach are the best parallel convergences towards resolving the crisis in eastern DRC.

Anonymous said...

Scholarly work has ignored the grassroots causes of violence? I think this is a blatant insult to scholars like professor Koen Vlassenroot (and many others like, Franck van Acker, Timothy Raeymaekers Stanislas Bucyalimwe Mararo, etc ) who have focused for years on precisely the local level dynamics that Autesserre herself does not appear to master too well.

What Autesserre does is novitism, trying to sell herself by creating a niche for herself in the academic market, while there is not much new to her argument (which, unfortunately, she keeps on repeating ad nauseam and is also based on a misreading of Kalyvas). Too bad so many folks buy it.

congo man said...

We are tired of the so called Congo experts,African scholars ....who have been wasting time debating and doing nothing to change the situation. Mr JASON STERN is one of the handful non local expert who has spent years in the Region and who sims to realy understand the situation .the UN expert ,Human right wach, the enough projects have all concluded that Rwanda needs to stop its criminal activities in Eastern Congo. BOSCO Ntaganda and any ether war criminal that president KAGAME is harboring has to be delivered to the ICC to face justice for their war crimes and crimes against humanity that they have perpetrated on innocent Congolese people.5 million people have perished and all we are asking for is justice for the vitimes and survivors of the Congo's holocaust. Kagame and his mafia have spent billions of their blood Coltan money recruiting many of the so called experts who helped him mislead the international Community and get away with the most war crimes and crimes against humanity that can only be compared to the crimes of the German NAZIS.after 15 years,5 million dead,3 millions displaced...the last thing we need is more debates,analysis....from people like SEVERENE AUTESSERRE ...the so called m23 ,the FDLR and ether terrorist groups in the Region have to be crashed and pressure had to continue on KAGAME to stop arming and Supporting terrorist activities in Congo. and the final solution has to be real reconciliation in Rwanda .

blaise said...

It's sounds like a discussion between purists:which one comes first,the egg or the hen?
i believe all actions that will help to bring a lasting peace is welcome.They are all complementary:solve the land issues,solve the unemployment(no1 will try to die to be in a militia),solve the international mafia,etc.
A complex problem has several solutions.

In other news,I'm curious to see what is the game plan now.Since a "neutral" force will monitor frontiers. Uganda is pushing hard to pursue some resurgent ADF(real or fictitious).
I wonder why everybody is so eager to set foot in the far far East.Looks suspicious to me.

Ross Geredien said...

It is clear to me that both perspectives are critical toward a long-term resolution in the eastern DRC, and I would like to see more of a spirit of cooperation on these issues among the scholars and experts.
First, the PSYCHO-SOCIAL effects of multiple years of trauma caused by armed conflict brutality, sexual violence, and loss of life, cannot be underestimated. This fundamental issue has the potential for all groups affected to take on a "victim" mentality, with the added potential for committing violence against "others". Grassroots groups are best suited to address these issues at the community level. Education and education infrastructure are the most important institutions toward addressing this problem, second only to ensuring the essentials of food, water, shelter, etc. At the same time, however, the healing and growth required at the community level cannot be achieved without an end to the macro-level military and political power struggles, which can only be achieved through high-level political negotiations or top-down military presence. The current jurisdiction of the area belongs to Kinshasa, and so this ultimately falls under the DRC's responsibility. However, given the lack of DRC's capability or willingness to effectively end the regional conflicts, it may be necessary for an outside force to stabilize the region. Political interference from outside nations must also be stopped through good-faith negotiations. Once stabilized, large amounts of resources in the form of infrastructure, i.e. roads, schools, hospitals, government services, will be needed to improve the quality of life beyond mere survival. These resources will be needed at both the government (both Kinshasa and provincial) as well as the grassroots levels, the latter of which are often most effective at making real change happen on the ground. The two are each vital to success in the region. All of this must also take place in the absence of widespread government corruption, and so the challenge is undoubtedly huge.

Anonymous said...

@ Blaise.
Your suspicions are well founded. After Coltan, I am afraid OIL "Black Gold" as some like to call it may become another drive for International Interests in the Region. And It will also become a big issue in the region if we do not deal with it well.
It appears that there is a potential big reserve of on-shore oil Starting from Lake Albert Area going down toward Virunga Park Area.
Just search online for the conflict of Oil Exploration Licenses in the Lake Albert. Companies who could not close the deal with KIN went on the other side of the lake and closed a deal with Kampala.
As some say, DRC Mineral Resources are becoming a curse instead of being a blessing. To my humble opinion, it is up to us, the DRC people to turn those Resources to a blessing. Botswana has done it very well. We can do it too (Yes we can!!). It will require some strong strategies to make that happen. I know people who are working hard behind the scenes to change things around. It will happen. It may take time, but I am confident it will happen. There is a big hope and a great future for DRC! Stay tuned...

Liz said...

Both sides are valid, and have strengths and weakness to the approach. It is my feeling that until the local conflicts over land, citizenship, and political participation are addressed, regional actors will be able to support or manipulate the many militias. There are several long standing points of contention between the various groups that occupy the East, and until these situations have been resolved, violence will continue, especially if regional actors (Rwanda) are willing to support it.

Anonymous said...

Re: Healing and Trauma-Digesting. What did we do in Europe immediately after WWII? Not much actually, except for Nuremberg. We were busy rebuilding most of the 50s. It was only later that digestion started. Same applies to many other contexts. It took decades before the Spanish Civil War could become discussed, memorized, digested. So why force upon the Congolese any psycho-social healing? I think a society mourns when it is ready for it, apart from any external funding inputs.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this debate, giving each one it's right of response. However, i find the content very repetitive and unfortunately the reflexion on "how helping the congo" does not move further.
I am not willing to come back on each positions, because of course both are right. I believe Séverine Autesserre has just been faltering in her Op-Ed in the NYT by oversimplifying her own work. Synthesizing is not an easy work especially when the author focusses on making catch phrases (see what N. Chomsky says about conciseness). The title of the article: ''The ONLY way to help Congo" and other assertions such as: "Scholarly work has ignored the grassroots causes of violence" are flagrantly unbalanced.

To go on with the interesting bringing-in of this debate, i think it would be relevant (as Jason proposed) to analyze in-depth why the few initiatives, launched by UN agencies, aiming at addressing the local source of violence predominantely failed or had almost no impact. I do believe a part of the answer stands in the strategies used reflecting a well-shared approach to peace building among international interveners which is a natural repulsion to make the need assesment and designing the actions to be led within a serious collaboration with the local skilled civil stakeholders. The work of APC and even more its limits raise the issue of the consideration of local expertise by international interveners. Top-down or bottom-up approach are both inadequate if they don't include the local know and knowledge. Most of INGO and UN agencies pretend to have a grassroots based approach just because they work with the local populations but almost none design their project jointly with local experts. The work of UNHABITAT in North Kivu is an obvious example of a well intentioned initiative poorly implemented bringing more conflict to local land related conflict. Indeed instead of understanding that people needed common agreement throughout a mediation process, they set up a very legal procedure (even if they wrongly used the term "mediation"). As a consequence, people affected with land conflict considered that as the national courts and traditional arbitration weren't able to solve their problem the UN court would do so with a new sentence. UNHABITAT's methodology thus fostered the revival of many old restrained land conflict without credible mechanism to address them taking into account the weakness in securing the "UN court"'s decision.
Another example is the botched methodology set up for the intercommunitarian dialogue organized in Baraka in March2010 by the MONUSCO.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest Ms Autesserre have her pieces proofread by native English speakers. "...but your objections are not relevant" is a very clumsy and unnecessarily agressive way of saying the exact same thing in French. Only in English no one would ever use those terms.

George said...

Jason, I understand your interest for Congo, but I'm desapointed that your knowledge is "journalistic".

Anonymous said...

Learner should take into consideration when choosing the right accelerated online degree program. Students will have better opportunities if they decide to take a course online. For further details visit

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot for great sharing!!

loui vuitton outlet

louis vuitton handbags

Louis Vuitton Scarves

Anonymous said...

‘So How Do we Help the Eastern Congo’ he 1st working day established a poor. A few connected with men tried using their own chance linkdelight offshore fishing whilst the remainder of your older people desired aid from your 95-degree-plus Diving Flashlight warmth and also the LED Torch young children horsed close Diving Flashlights to in the water's advantage.Torch Flashlight
Diving FlashlightDiving Flashlight specifics tend to be interesting, and it also was not prolonged just after our starting that he or she acquired excursion chief Dow jones
Flashlight Kit

Post a Comment