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, November 4, 2012

What is the Usalama Project?

As you may have seen (see previous post), the Rift Valley Institute just launched the Usalama Project, which will publish a dozen reports on armed factions in the eastern Congo over the next year.

So what's this project about?

There are plenty of opinions about the conflict in the Congo, and some excellent policy research on human rights, security sector reform, and governance. However, despite the grinding violence, there is relatively little information out there on the main belligerents. Who are the M23, Raia Mutomboki and Mai-Mai Yakutumba? Why are they fighting and who supports them? Perhaps most importantly, why has conflict died down in some areas of the Congo, such as Ituri and northern Katanga, while it has escalated again in the Kivus?

There have been some answers to these questions, most notably in the reports by the United Nations Group of Experts. But their mandate is limited to reporting on material support networks - taxes, cash contributions, recruitment and military backing. They do not seek to understand the social or historical forces that drive these groups, or - more importantly - their interests and motivations. Other organizations - such as diplomatic missions or the UN peacekeeping mission - compile extensive profiles of armed groups, but do not publish any of their information.

The Usalama Project tries to step into this gap. We are a group of local and foreign researchers, compiling information largely via in-depth interviews with the actors involved in the conflict. For this report on the M23 and CNDP, for example, we interviewed over fifty military officers, politicians, businessmen and civil society leaders who had personal connections with these groups. Some of these interviews span days and take up to ten hours.

We understand these groups as arising out of particular social circumstances - some are driven by elite interest groups, others form as grassroots self-defense groups. All draw on, albeit in different ways, a long history of conflict in the region, in which state weakness, the manipulation of identity, and natural resources such as land and minerals have played key roles. Look out for our backgrounders on conflict - the first of which was released on Friday - that flesh out these histories.

In the coming weeks, we will have our own site within the RVI website, where we will post biographies of leaders, key documents on the conflict, and transcripts of some of the interviews. We also will be welcoming feedback on our reports, including constructive criticism. In line with the Rift Valley Institute's ethos, Usalama is not advocacy organization, but seeks rather to inform. In this line, we will put forward policy suggestions, but these are supposed to stimulate debate, not posture as end-all solutions.

2 comments:

blaise said...

Really fascinating read and interessant points.It's basically back to square one :" what pres Kabila and the government will do about the situation in the East of DRC". It's should not be what the Ic,or other will do for us but what can we do about it.
The overall feeling is that pres Kabila and his cronies let's the country down in several occasions.There was opportunities to break the circle of violence.There is venue to explore in order to break those relations. Obviously, quick bucks is still the overall strategy in place. that's sad. I don't foresee any positive outcome with the current leadership(or the lack of it) in power unless something major happen.

Zi Zi Searles said...

Jason, I hope your policy suggestions can speak to actions that can be taken in the vacuum of leadership which currently characterizes the DRC. I've seen
the last two years congressional committee hearings on the DRC and the policy solutions all suggest changes that can't be done under the current regime. I say can't in a way that my two year old who is capable of holding a pen and scribbling on paper can't write a 5 page research paper on the history of the Congo. I look forward to seeing the Usalama findings in the near future.

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