North Kivu – another tragedy unfolds

Published: 18 Jun 2012
By: Lucy Hovil

With somewhat predictable familiarity, we witness another round of violence and another round of displacement in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province.

Make no mistake: what is happening in North Kivu has nothing to do with “tribalism”, or the idea that somehow Congo and the Congolese people are intrinsically violent – a racist narrative that still continues to be peddled by some of the media. Yes, there are high levels of sexual violence. And yes, the presence of natural resources and their international corporate scavengers play a key part. But as our research among those impacted by the conflict shows, these are symptoms of a much deeper problem of ongoing irresponsible governance at a local, national, regional and international level. Until these issues are resolved, violence will continue.

Locally, we need to better understand the issues that have fuelled this conflict (in particular access to land and exclusive understandings of belonging) that have never been comprehensively tackled within a national framework, creating local power blocks that are dangerously partisan.

Nationally, the Congolese state has failed to protect its people in more ways than can be mentioned. In addition to the obvious fact of having failed to professionalise its army and de-militarise the country, the government has not put in place policies that allow for its latest nationality law – which is far more inclusive than its predecessor – to be meaningfully implemented in the east. In short, it has continued to see its eastern region as a restive province to be pacified with violence rather than share in the broader development of the country. As a result, disputes over who has the legitimacy to belong continue to simmer, with disastrous effect.

Regionally, the fact that governments bordering DRC have not been held accountable for past and ongoing involvement in, and pillage of, the Kivus – whether directly or indirectly – continues to lie at the root of what is going on. Until they are held to account, the potential for renewed violence will remain.

And internationally the so-called international community has fundamentally failed to address the structural problems that lie at the heart of the violence by focusing, instead, on the dominant narrative of sexual violence and natural resources as cause rather than consequence of deeper structural problems. It also continues to keep its collective head firmly planted in the sand with regards to the need to tackle the implications of the involvement of Rwanda and Uganda in what is going on, and continues to support a military solution to the conflict under the misconception that eastern DRC’s problems are something that can be pacified with violence.

As things stand right now, North Kivu has all the ingredients for maintaining cycles of violence and displacement indefinitely. Unless a far more robust and responsible approach to addressing DRC’s deeply-embedded structural and governance deficiencies is sought, we are going to stand by and watch a lot more human suffering.

Programmes: Causes of Displacement
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Democratic Republic of Congo
Type: IRRI Blog