While Others Flee Outbreaks of Violence, We’re Rolling up Our Sleeves
by Gus Peters
This holiday season, it’s likely that various non-profits and NGOs will not only wish you happy holidays but ask for your support. They do need it; the work done is not without cost even if the results are priceless. Peace, unfortunately, does not come free of charge.
It’s likely you’ll hear from our organization too because we need your help making violence unthinkable. We understand that conflict is natural. Everyone deals with conflict on a daily basis and handles it in ways they deem appropriate. Unfortunately, some people consider violence an effective way to resolve conflict, preferring warfare to collaboration.
The current unrest in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is no different. The March 23 Movement (M23), a rebel group comprised of former Congolese Army soldiers, marched on Goma, the largest city in the Kivu provinces that border the Great Lakes region of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. Riots erupted in Kinshasa, the nation’s capital, and the country teetered on the brink of war. Recently, M23 forces retreated from Goma and a semblance of tranquility has settled over the region.
But negotiations between the two sides have stalled and, unless urgency is shown, the rebels have threatened to retake Goma. The situation could spiral into a regional war punctuated by acts of indiscriminate violence against civilians and the mass flight of refugees into neighboring countries.
Some people have taken advantage of the tense situation to settle scores, provoking acts of intertribal violence that worsen the existing situation. Some North Congolese Tutsis were lynched and Rwandans who attend school in Goma were dragged off buses and attacked. Assassinations and targeted pillaging illustrate how things are getting personal. M23 is capitalizing on this violence to strengthen their own position in the region. By inciting communal acts of violence, they are able to portray themselves as protectors, rationalizing revenge attacks and protection rackets.
SFCG is unfazed. Tony Kasuza N’Kolo, a 31-year-old program manager in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was in our Washington, D.C. office recently and discussed what we’re doing to address the dynamics driving the current conflict. N’Kolo embodies the passion and drive needed to be a peacebuilder. “The idea that we are different people living in society but that we can find a moment where we are seeing something together is a vision that I share,” he said. “I feel when I go into communities that the people can also manage to live together based on that vision.”
Before joining SFCG in 2010, N’Kolo learned about us through the groundbreaking Great Lakes Generation radio program and our youth outreach in the region. Impressed by previous encounters with our employees there and our dedication, N’Kolo applied and was quickly hired. “When things get hot, we don’t flee,” N’Kolo said.
Our strong presence in the area makes it easier for us to work directly with both sides. Our radio programs are well known and multiple stations play songs produced by SFCG extolling the values of peace and collaboration while condemning violence. Another distinctive tool of ours, participatory theater, allows for people to reflect on what happened and to express their own opinions. “It starts and ends with the theater,” N’Kolo said. These performances allow for people to not just vent frustration but they also encourage them to rethink their own perceptions of conflict. Attacking individuals for decisions out of their control does not solve anything.
A recent incident showed how important it is to teach people different ways to approach conflict. While holding trainings on women’s leadership, a motorcycle driver was killed by someone from a different tribe. Tensions reached a boiling point as both sides threatened to attack the other community. Instead of leaving the area though, SFCG remained on the frontlines and brought together leaders from both sides to enable dialogue. “These two leaders eventually went back to their communities with the message that: what happened happened, and it’s not the fault of the entire community, the entire tribe,” N’Kolo explained. “They were able to lower the tension. There wasn’t a massive intertribal war because someone killed a motorcycle driver.”
Key efforts that enable us to more effectively target these interventions are our innovative “conflict scans.” Not only do they help us identify the dynamics and potential volatility of these situations, they also give us an opportunity to intercede before they happen. Focus groups incorporating diverse segments of the population participate in the scan process. Participants are asked about the conflicts in their communities and whether the situation is getting better or worse. Rather than simply recognizing a specific conflict, the scans allow us to determine what the root causes of the problem are and address them directly.
This approach is yielding positive results. In Ituri, north of Goma, international organizations were being run out of town. Workers were evacuated from the area and operations ground to a halt. A conflict scan revealed that the mistrust of international organizations arose because they were not employing local people on staff.
“They found that the reason why they were so angry,” N’Kolo said, “was because they didn’t see what they were gaining. They didn’t see any of their friends and neighbors and family members employed by these organizations.” A series of meetings with civil society organizations and community groups explained the hiring criteria and why non-Ituri were hired. There was also a commitment made to hire local staff when possible. Soon after, international groups were able to resume work in the region.
The recent turbulence in eastern DRC only emphasizes the importance of our work. We help ordinary people confront and overcome the issues that divide them. We are working to make sure accurate, unbiased information is available so people can form positive solutions to the challenges they face. In essence, while some organizations build wells, we strive to make sure everyone can drink from them.
We can’t do this alone.
With your help, we can transform the way people approach conflict not only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but around the world. You can make an impact; you can help determine the future. So this holiday season, don’t just give gifts; give peace.
Gus Peters is a well-traveled, 22-year-old graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. An avid blogger, he currently serves as SFCG’s Communications Intern.