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Between War and Peace: Why Some Congo Narratives Evolve and Others Remain Entrenched

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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

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.

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  • 2016-05

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Mobilizing Narratives: Comparing Afghan Hazaras in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Bangladeshis in Islamist Groups

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While recruitment of middle and upper-class Bangladeshis by Islamic jihadist terror groups and Iranian mobilization of Afghan Hazaras to fight in the Syrian civil war present two extremely different regional

While recruitment of middle and upper-class Bangladeshis by Islamic jihadist terror groups and Iranian mobilization of Afghan Hazaras to fight in the Syrian civil war present two extremely different regional challenges, this study shows how these movements are linked in the ways in which state and non-state actors deploy similar narrative strategies to mobilize support. I argue that narratives that capitalize upon the failure of upward social mobility and governance failures are highly useful for recruiting individuals to join either state or non-state organizations when appropriately and specifically linked to the particular historical, cultural, and political environment. I will demonstrate this by comparing and contrasting the use of recruitment narratives playing off of grievances for Iran's IRGC recruitment of poor Afghan Hazaras with low-levels of formal educational achievement and Islamist terrorist groups’ recruitment of middle- and upper-class Bangladeshis. The study argues that while the contexts and life experiences between IRGC Hazara and Bangladeshi terror group recruits are quite distinct, they are similarly motivated by narratives that emphasize the creation of a strong ideological and religious community based on alienation defined by a lack of desired and expected upward social mobility and profound failures of basic governance.

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  • 2020-05