Reorganization of the society within the enduring conflict in the Kivu regions (D.R. Congo)
Start of the project: 2008
External partners: Church Development Service (EED)
Since 1993, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a series of armed conflicts and wars that weakened the economy and destabilised the country. The DRC is frequently described as a ‘failing state’, characterised by corruption, lack of functioning and adequate social services and impunity. In the East, armed rebel groups and government troops continue to battle over territory, access to resources and political recognition. Local communities are disrupted by frequent land conflicts, while political entrepreneurs seize economic opportunities by manipulating ethnic tensions and mobilising armed groups. Especially in rural areas, the population faces a high level of insecurity, marking personal biographies with experiences of displacement and violence; but also, with strategies for survival and adaptation.
At the same time, the democratisation process, proliferation of international aid organisations and growing numbers of university graduates contribute to a process of rapid social and political transformation at the local level, as communities restructure and adapt according to changing circumstances. As different state and non-state actors struggle over legitimacy and access to resources, decision-making power becomes a shifting and highly contested commodity. Yet the restructuring of society also means that a window of opportunity opens for groups that were formerly barred from direct and institutionalised access to decision-making power, such as youth, migrants and women.
The study’s exploratory focus is on the impact of transformation processes on women’s access to socio-political participation at the local level. Though the research deals with gendered hierarchies, its main concern is with women’s perceptions and positioning with regard to state and non-state decision-making bodies and their synergistic interactions.
More specifically, the study examines the strategies different stakeholders employ in order to define and legitimise decision-making power as well as their perceptions of themselves and their motivations. It takes a critical stand towards humanitarian interventions in Eastern DRC that prescribe political parity as a panacea to a broad range of problems (such as conflicts, underdevelopment or inequalities) without taking into account precarious gender relations or the hybrid nature of the Congolese state.
The theoretical framework is informed by Weber’s Economy and Society, works concerned with the relationship between state and non-state actors in African (conflict) settings and studies that deal with gender and women’s empowerment in the context of development studies. Using field research, the study combines different qualitative methods, namely focus group interviews, in-depth personal interviews and continuous observation. The sample consists of decision-makers and other community members of both sexes in rural communities across Maniema and Nord Kivu provinces as well as in the city of Goma.