Despite regional peace agreements, billions of dollars in aid, and the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping mission in the world, conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo persists. This paper explores criticisms made by political scientist Séverine Autesserre, who argues that three simplistic narratives revolving around conflict minerals as a cause, sexual abuse against women and girls as an outcome, and rebuilding central state control as the solution dominate how international interveners view the Congolese conflict. Autesserre further posits that conflict continues because peacebuilding efforts fail to address local dynamics. Using monitoring and evaluation reports of peacebuilding projects in the eastern Congo, primarily from the U.S. Agency for International Development, this paper examines three questions: Do aid agencies have any local peacebuilding projects? If so, do these projects reinforce the dominant narratives? And lastly, do these projects view conflict as a continuum that must be managed through process-oriented objectives, or as a binary phenomenon requiring events-oriented objectives, such as elections? The analysis is based on 10 total reports gathered online, the majority of which are from USAID. Due to a lack of publicly available data and M&E reports on Congo peacebuilding, this collection does not represent a random sample and is not being used to make statistically significant conclusions. Nevertheless, the M&E reports provide a window into how the “rubber meets the road,” so to speak, in terms of how USAID and others view the role of their peacebuilding programs and how to assess programmatic success.
These reports reveal there are certainly some local peacebuilding programs and they do appear to view conflict as a continuum requiring process-oriented goals, such as creating local community mediation organizations. In terms of Autesserre’s three dominant narratives, the results are more mixed. This assortment of seemingly contradictory findings does not mean Autesserre’s arguments are invalid. The USAID Congo Country Strategy document unlocks this apparent contradiction as it explicitly acknowledges Autesserre’s criticisms and appears to move toward finding more nuanced approaches to the conflict. However, at times it still emphasizes the same dominant narratives and state-to-state level approaches. This paper, therefore, concludes that USAID, and potentially others, are in a state of transition between entrenched and evolving narratives. The discord in these evaluations highlights the internal crisis peacebuilders in the Congo are currently facing as they reassess their narratives. In keeping with the self-improving nature of M&E, hopefully these international interveners can move through their narrative transition in an efficient manner, so that they can remain a supportive peacebuilding partner to the Congolese people.