Research in the eastern part of the country bordering South Sudan and Uganda is directed by Professor Koen Vlassenroot from the University of Ghent. Prof Vlassenroot will work closely with Congolese research teams from ResCongo - a network of Congolese researchers with a common interest in issues of peace and security, and actively pursuing policy outreach and engagement with international and national actors.
The Conflict Research Group at Ghent University leads the research in eastern DRC. Our local partner is Groupe d’Etudes sur les Conflits-Sécurité Humanitaire (GEC-SH), which is part of the Ceruki and is based in Bukavu.
Our point of departure is that drivers of conflict are manifold, complex and contextual. Hence, in order to understand the onset of violent conflict a set of historical, social, economic and political factors must be accounted for. Despite the fact that Congo’s crisis started more than 25 years ago, there are still significant gaps in knowledge about its causes.
The CRP-DRC research agenda centres around two major issues: develop innovative approaches to better understand persistent violence and conflict; and build knowledge on what works in trying to reduce the levels of violence and reverse dynamics of conflict. It investigates how different power networks alternately compete and collaborate with each other over public authority, people, territory and resources. We look into a number of arenas of competition between power networks, emerging forms of governance, the conditions defining people’s access and rights to resources and the effects of existing interventions. It is also our ambition to promote and empower Congolese scholarship on peace and security issues through our support of the ResCongo.
Research Projects: Understanding Conflict in the DRC
Kidnappings are reported daily and target civilian and military leaders, businessmen as well as ordinary civilians in eastern Congo. Its widespread incidence points at a shift in military tactics but also at worsening economic conditions, failed reintegration efforts and a further militarization of social and economic life. This project documents the prevalence of kidnappings and provides a number of explanations linked to increased levels of insecurity and political competition, as well as failures of DDR.
DRC held national elections in December 2018. This research project analyses the effects of these elections on the existing democratic space in the DRC. The first targeted case study (written by Koen Vlassenroot, Godefroid Muzalia, Emery Mudinga and Aymar Nyenyezi) examines the shift that took place in South Kivu and suggests that critical citizenship is gradually replacing ethnic affiliation or patronage as guiding principles and logics of electoral dynamics.
The project focuses on how the widespread phenomenon of roadblocks shapes the everyday life of Congolese citizens and how it affects the existing social, economic and political landscape. Our research also wants to propose ways to improve human security around roadblocks based on the result of the research.
This research has two linked research objectives. First, it wishes to understand how land is actually governed on an everyday basis in eastern Congo, and the effects of this on property rights and land conflicts. Second, it analyses the different interventions and approaches developed by local, national and international institutions and organisations. The research focuses on documenting and understanding state and non-state actors’ different perspectives on land tenure security and the different ways in which they seek to promote it.
Under this work stream, we focus on the salience of ethnic identity in the political economy of the DRC. Ethnicity is an important resource, which various actors deploy in struggles over resources, territory and populations. We show that ethnicity has been inscribed in power structures in the Congo through dual historical processes of categorisation and self-identification, to a point where ethnicity has become a key principle of legitimation and division that conditions many people’s perceptions and practices of politics and conflict. This research draws on a number cases studies across the country including Mobutu’s effort of de-ethnicization, the movements towards territorialisation in the Kivus, and customary succession conflicts.
Exploring how the concept of citoyenneté has been understood, framed, and exercised from the Mobutu era to today, its institutionalisation in national Ministries of Civicness, and its use in current forms of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience in various urban and rural contexts in DRC. This research stream explores a number of questions including: What does "citoyenneté" mean for the common Congolese and in the Congolese context? How does this citoyenneté unfold in their daily activities? What links exist between citoyenneté and the legitimacy of "public authority"? Is Congolese citizenship perceived in the same way by the people as by its leaders?
Research Projects: What Works in the DRC?
The aim of this research is to map and identify ‘what works’ in security interventions in the DRC. The basic assumptions of SSR (Security Sector Reform) interventions is that a security sector (composed of the army, security and law enforcement agencies) exists, but that the sector is dysfunctional and unaccountable, and thus in need of reform so that it can contribute to a more democratic system of governance.
So far DDR has had limited effect on the proliferation of armed groups in DRC. We look into different approaches and explore new ways of demobilisation and reintegration through an analysis of a prevention and mediation effort that relies on establishing platforms for dialogue between all the actors involved, and assist communities in building their capacity for conflict resolution. This forms part of our research on armed mobilisation.
Under this stream we will be surveying ex-combatants in the western provincial capitals of Gemena and Mbandaka, the locations of thousands of former fighters from the Congo wars. The survey will explore the longer-term impact of DDR (Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) interventions on the reintegration of ex-combatants and the likelihood of re-mobilisation.
This research looks into local agreements to reduce violence and forge peace, as part of the CRP research theme for Year Two. We will look in particular but not exclusively into local agreements and mediation efforts, which deal with land related and customary conflict and violence.
Meet the Team - at Ghent University
Prof Koen Vlassenroot is the Director of the Conflict Research Group at the University of Ghent. Koen leads a team of local Congolese researchers based in the east of the country and associated with ResCongo.
Kasper is a post-doc researcher based at Ghent University.
Conflict Research Fellows
Peer is a 2018 Conflict Research Fellow. His research project is titled 'From Mines to Roads: Displacement of the Conflict Economy in Congo'.
Claude is a 2018 Conflict Research Fellow. His research project is titled 'Disentangling Public Authority and Resource Management in (post)conflict DR Congo'.
Ann is a 2018 Conflict Research Fellow. Her research project is titled 'Accumulating (In) Securities in Eastern DRC: Advancing a revised framework for understanding Congo’s resource wars.'
Small Grants Researchers
Michel is a recipient of a small grant from the Conflict Research Programme. His research looks into recent police reform initiatives in DRC. The research aims to show that windows of opportunity for donors arise precisely because of the fluid and decentralised nature of police training. Its practices are influenced by multiple actors and interests and are negotiated on an everyday basis. While this uncertain, yet constant process turns police training into patchwork, it provides donors room for maneuverability.
Zoe is a recipient of a small grant from the Conflict Research Programme, and the Riggio Professor of Africa Art at Columbia University. Her research explores how new communities and loyalties are being forged, and also investigates ethnic cooperation and rivalries in Tshikapa of Kasai Province.
Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka
Aymar is a recipient of a small grant from the Conflict Research Programme, and Professor at Université catholique de Louvain and the Institut Supérieur de Développement Rurale. His research focuses on the cohabitation of agricultural workers and armed groups in the DRC and the premise that these relationships often produce new forms of authority and legitimacy at the community level in relation to access to land.
ResCongo is a recipient of a small grant from the Conflict Research Programme to help institutionalise the growth of the network. ResCongo, the first national Congolese network of researchers working on peace and security issues, is a virtual platform that promotes and facilitates exchanges among Congolese scholars, connecting and enhancing the participation of these researchers in international academic and policy discussions.
Header image credit: Truck with motorcycle. Source Greg from Flickr.