Research in the Democratic Republic of Congo is directed by Professor Koen Vlassenroot from Ghent University. The research focuses mainly on the eastern part of the country bordering South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Prof Vlassenroot works closely with the Groupe d’Etudes sur les Conflits-Sécurité Humanitaire (GEC-SH), which is part of the Centre d'Études de Recherche Universitaire du Kivu (CERUKI) and is based in Bukavu. It also supports the ResCongo - a network of Congolese researchers with a common interest in issues of peace and security, and the active pursuit of policy outreach and engagement with international and national actors.
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: developing innovative approaches to better understand persistent violence and conflict; and building knowledge on what works in efforts to reduce 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. Particular attention is also going to research ethics through the support of the #BukavuSeries, a series of blogposts reflecting on the positionality of locally-based researchers and on critical ethical issues in doing fieldwork. 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 a daily occurrence and target civilian and military leaders, businessmen, as well as ordinary civilians in eastern Congo. Their prevalence points not only to a shift in military tactics, but also to worsening economic conditions, failed reintegration efforts and a further militarisation 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 Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration efforts (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 the guiding principle and logic 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. Drawing on this research we wish to propose ways to improve human security around roadblocks.
This research has two linked research objectives. First, it aims 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 around land issues 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.
- ‘Basket Fund’ and Public Authority in South-Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, October 2019.
- Why responsible sourcing of DRC minerals has major weak spots, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, September 2019.
- Mapping artisanal mining areas and mineral supply chains in Eastern DRC, International Peace Information Service Research, April 2019.
- Constructed Anarchy: Governance, Conflict, and Precarious Property Rights in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, LSE Conflict Research Programme, March 2019.
- Beyond Anarchy: Property, Precarity and Land Governance in Urban Congo, LSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, June 2019.
Under this work stream, we focus on identity politics in the DRC. Ethnicity is an important political currency, which various actors deploy in struggles over resources, territory and populations. Ethnicity is inscribed in power structures in the Congo to a point where it 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 case studies across the country including Mobutu’s effort at de-ethnicization, the movements towards territorialisation in the Kivus, and customary succession conflicts.
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 assisting communities in building their capacity for conflict resolution. This forms part of our research on armed mobilisation.
This research stream examines the efficacy of local agreements in reducing violence and forging peace. We will look in particular, but not exclusively, into local agreements and mediation efforts, which deal with land related and customary conflict and violence.
This project examines local perceptions of the humanitarian response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, with a particular focus on the cities of Beni, Goma, and Bukavu. The research traces local suspicions and mistrust of Ebola control measures and seeks to posit how future interventions could be designed to more effectively engage with local populations.
Meet the Team
Prof Koen Vlassenroot is the Director of the Conflict Research Group at Ghent University. In helming the CRP’s DRC research, Koen coordinates with Prof Godefroid Muzalia Kihangu in Bukavu to lead a team of local Congolese researchers based in the east of the country and associated with ResCongo.
Kasper is a post-doc researcher at Ghent University and an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen. His research focuses on the intersection between the formation of ethnic identities and processes of territorialisation and on emerging forms of rebel and land governance.
Godefroid Muzalia Kihangu
Godefroid is professor at the department of History and Social Science at the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique de Bukavu and head of the Research Group for Conflict and Human Security (GEC-SH) at the University Research Center of Kivu (CERUKI). He is the Southern coordinator for the CRP’s research in the DRC, and principal investigator for a current study on territorial aspirations.
Josaphat is researcher at the Groupe d’Etudes sur les Conflits-Sécurité Humanitaire (GEC-SH) within the Centre d'Études de Recherche Universitaire du Kivu (CERUKI), and a PhD Student at Ghent University. He works on issues of conflict dynamics, security, and development in central Africa. Currently, he is the lead researcher for the CRP’s project examining the efficacy of DDR in South Kivu.
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 before joining the CRG team a post-doctoral researcher 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.