Amani Itakuya #21: Tomorrow, maybe…

Tomorrow, maybe…

Mbuku Ngomanseke

“Every man hears only what he understands” (Goethe). Nowhere else, this is so true than in the Great Lakes region. For almost two decades, the Eastern part of DRC has been the epicentre of violence and seemingly never ending conflicts. While a lot of initiatives have been tried, numerous conferences took place for no avail either. People seem talking to but not understanding each other. A justified question is asking why peace seems so elusive that part of the country. The quick response will be that the conflict is complex.

In fact, there is no single conflict, no clear-cut front between good and evil. The reality is that there are multiple layers of contradictory interests that collude in a context of abject poverty and lawlessness. Several actors, willingly or not, help fuel the conflict while those who pay the brunt of this scramble for influence and money are left powerless. Who are be the main characters in this war of shadows?

The main actors are the different states of the region. Besides the government of DRC, which has interest to control his territory, all neighbouring countries are more or less, directly or not, implicated in the state of instability in the region. Access to resources has always been the principal cause of conflicts between states. Recent discoveries in the region just made this matter worse.

Apart from states, individuals or groups also benefit from the chaos. The porous nature of DRC’s borders and the inexistence of the state made it possible for smuggling networks, fuelled by greed, to have a firm footing in Eastern DRC. Those networks naturally finance different armed groups to protect their trade. Militias become therefore organised gangs and almost the only alternative for youth employment.

Another category to consider is what we shall call “ignorant sponsors”. That will include all those businesses or NGOs who pay ‘taxes’ to different militias in order to go ahead with their normal dealing. They are inadvertently financing the perpetuation of violence.

Last, but not least, are all those conflicts related to land, ethnicity, or simple neighbour quarrels that go out of proportion. That is where, in my view, the basis of all conflicts lays, the element that justifies the unthinkable. The conflict in the East, or more accurately, the conflicts, is seen as an ethnic struggle: saving the land from invaders or defending the oppressed minority from a homicidal majority. The reality though is far from such black and white view: Ethnic animosity is a product both of top-down manipulation, and of bottom-up tensions, fed by traumatic memories, resentments and embedded stereotypes (Stearns, 2013). So conflicts are fuelled by psychological and cultural factors, not necessary tangible facts. It’s most likely ‘perception’. How can we therefore help bring peace in the region?

First, it cannot be done through exclusively involving heads of states. Countries have interests not friends. Most of the time, those interests just serve an elite. Thus, peacebuilding should be done at the grassroot level.

Building peace in today’s conflicts calls for long-term commitment to establish an infrastructure across the levels of a society, an infrastructure that empowers the resources for reconciliation from within that society and maximizes the contribution from outside. In short, constructing the house of peace relies on a foundation of multiple actors and activities aimed at achieving and sustaining reconciliation (Lederach, 1997).

In our case, there is a need to rewire our perception of things. We need to redefine what our values are, to re-educate the mass about what is right and what is wrong. There cannot be any reconciliation without justice. There cannot be justice without reparation to the victim. Reparative justice is better than repressive justice. The former ills, the latter just focus on punishment or vengeance.

Another thing to consider is that the destruction of the social fabric that in many places creates this situation of unbalance, where everything is tolerated. It is important to re-establish those structures that were important to maintain order and justice in our traditional societies. While rituals play a role here; the system of ‘bami’ is an important aspect as well. Whatever it pertains, it is important to create or reinvent structures that will allow people to vent their grievances in a peacefully matter and be answer in a just way. Festivals, tournaments, fairs, etc. are ways our ancestors devised to maintain peace and create relationships.

Peacebuilding is a difficult exercise. It requires a lot of responsibility and a great dose of accountability. For the moment, a lot of our ‘elders’ and ‘bami’ seem to be corrupted and don’t fulfil their ancestral duty: protecting their people. I do not know if there is a structure in place to fill this vacuum currently. I heard there are a lot of local initiatives that yield good results but are not supported. Maybe it is time for those organisations to coordinate their actions in order to make a powerful impact. There are a lot of ideas that have been tossed around (cf. Borello, 2013) but so far not a lot of people are taking initiatives to implement a general plan that will bring people together and solve the big problem of youth unemployment.

It is important for local organisations to be relevant on the ground. As stated before, there is a need for coordination in order to maximise the impact in the region. Creating jobs for people will help reduce the attraction to enrol in militias. All this requires a coordinate effort of civil society in partnership with local businesses and maybe international organisations. There are a lot of options to explore. There are plenty of initiatives that need to be developing in a larger scale.

My father once told me that, “if you cannot see the sky anymore, you have to become the sky yourself”. Peace in the East of DRC is achievable but we need to figure out how to neutralise those networks that have been built to exploit the existing chaos. It is up to the locals to find common grounds in order to live in peace. Peacebuilding is a process. It takes everybody’s efforts and willingness for compromise to reach lasting harmony. Only by establishing structures that allow people to express their frustrations we will be able to live together. Only by creating opportunities for people to live a decent live we will break the cycle of violence.

Mbuku Ngomanseke is a logistician and computer information specialist living in the diaspora. He tweets at www.twitter.com/blaisengo

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