Tag Archives: DRC

What We Mean When We Say “Security Sector Reform”

20 Dec

I’ve always been suspicious of security sector reform (SSR).  This partially comes from a lack of clarity regarding how it would be implemented in the DRC, and what the term even means.  Is it human rights classes, military advisers, or a goal that other governments ask Congo to move toward?  These competing definitions cloud the real meaning, and in my experience, security sector reform is a vague term that is not afforded the appropriate scrutiny.  I wish I were able to create better policy proposals regarding SSR than I am, but even without that expert knowledge, there are several problems with SSR proposals that I see.

Firstly, the term “reform” is misleading.  When we talk about SSR we really mean “security sector enhancement”.  Surely, there are parts of SSR, such as increasing civilian levels of control over the military, that fall under the reform category, but the meat of the proposed measures, such as increasing pay and professional behavior, are enhancements.  Therefore, I think it is important to acknowledge that security sector reform isn’t just an effort to create a more humane army; it intends to mold the FARDC into a more effective killing machine.  A more efficient military can strengthen security, but recognizing that SSR intends to better arm an armed force with a terrible record of human rights is vital.  Secondly, speaking about SSR without acknowledging the way it shapes our discourse on solutions is detrimental to advocacy and analysis.   Any military conclusion in eastern Congo will have to be accompanied by a robust political solution (and perhaps even talk of a solution is misguided).  SSR is a likely component of any civilian protection strategies in eastern Congo, but it is only one component.  The roots of the violence are localized conflicts, poor governance, and foreign meddling, and creating a more professional army won’t solve any of the three.

For me, SSR is problematic for the reasons listed above.  More broadly, however, I fear what will happen in a country with a strong military and weak institutions.   Human rights classes and increased civilian control are fine, but giving an abusive army more guns and training on how to make them more deadly?  As we saw during the Congolese elections, increasing military capacity in a country with weak democratic institutions is just as likely to lead to an increase in repression as security.  Significant caution, which I have not seen, is necessary before preceding with SSR.  I, of course, can not speak for anyone else (much less high-level policy makers who I have very little contact with), but I worry that this caution is not present in many individuals I’ve interacted with.  There are so few policy options regarding Congo, and so advocates and policy makers are much more likely to cling to the few options they have, even if they’re bad options.

Should MONUSCO’s Mandate Be Expanded?

14 Dec

Following M23’s taking of Goma, some questions were raised (I use the passive voice because I now can’t find the article) about whether MONUSCO’s mandate should be extended.  An expansion of MONUSCO’s mandate, however, would decrease its ability to protect civilians and jeopardize the legitimacy of the mission.

While it is true that an expanded mandate may have prevented M23 from taking Goma, turning MONUSCO from a peacekeeping and standardization force into the FARDC’s foreign legion is problematic.  There are two issues here.  Firstly, it would take personnel and resources away from protecting civilians, which is the reason MONUSCO exists.  Secondly, the term ‘stabilization’ in MONUSCO’s name implies that it is simply there to provide space for a Congolese political solution.  M23 is a symptom, not a cause of Congo’s problems.  Eliminating M23 will only further divides in eastern Congo, and so while MONUSCO’s ability to protect civilians is limited, it should stick to that task rather than trying to solve Congo’s problems on its own.

While there is plenty of evidence that M23 has committed atrocities against civilians, halting their military advance is not the best way to protect civilians.  A M23-free eastern Congo would then mean greater territory under the command of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC).  The FARDC also has a pretty bad record of mass rapes and atrocities against civilians, and so while they might look good in comparison with M23, this only speaks to the distorted frame of reference we see in eastern Congo.  Actively working with the FARDC (it’s happened before) would only further legitimate a force that consistently violates the basic human rights of the people it is supposed to protect.  Unfortunately for MONUSCO, it has to walk a tight rope.  If it were to attack the FARDC for committing violence against civilians, it would invoke a strong reaction for Kinshasa.  Non-consensual peacekeeping missions have lower success rates, and though I don’t know the statistics, I imagine the effectiveness goes way down when neither sides supports peacekeepers’ presence.  This dilemma speaks to the inherent contradictions of a peacekeeping mission, and demonstrates why the international community needs to do more  in the Kivus than half-heartedly supply a few thousand peacekeepers.

Why We Need Dissension in the Anti-Genocide Movement

29 Oct

The people that make up the anti-genocide constituency are a diverse group with a wide array of opinions on the best ways to prevent mass atrocities.  While this amazing wealth of knowledge could be used to create new, innovative strategies, dogmatic, top-down policy making blunts its potential.  While approaches differ from organization to organization, the anti-genocide movement as a whole generally doesn’t value dissent as a form of self-improvement and it is both a huge loss for the movement and for those that stand to benefit from robust anti-genocide policies.  As a member of STAND that has always been outside of the official leadership structure but still interested in policy, I have been frustrated with the lack of formal opportunities to engage with policy, and hope that we can do better together in the future.

While top-down policy making models are more efficient in quickly developing a coherent policy, it leaves the organizations members uninvolved and uniformed.  Especially for student groups, the opportunity to participate in policy making is crucial.  As it stands, however, non-MC members (I can’t speak for the MC) spend very little time at conferences actually discussing policy options, and it even feels awkward to bring up certain topics.  STAND has the smartest and most dedicated members I know, and they need a space to critically engage with the issues.  (However, STAND is still better at including members in policy discussions than many other similar organizations.)  If STAND, or anti-genocide groups as a whole, does not provide members with this space, members lose interest in policy and approach the issues from a more uninformed perspective.

I have a personal example of the problems that result from a lack of policy discussions.  I’m quite skeptical that CFCI is the right way to approach the DRC because I see the country’s problems as having their roots in poor governance, weak civil society, and a lack of institutions.  Resource exploitation is certainly a part of the conflict, but from my understanding, illegal extraction and exportation is a symptom, not a cause.  However, in the two years I have been in STAND, I have not had the opportunity to participate in a formal, honest discussion on CFCI’s pros and cons, nor have I heard a single voice promoted by STAND that is critical of the approach.  This deficiency of debate has prevented me from gaining a better understanding of CFCI, and it is an issue I still do not fully understand.

Dissent is a critical part of any decision making process.  Without opposing opinions, individuals and groups are not forced to improve their ideas to overcome conflicting arguments.  Advocacy organization, unfortunately, often forget this.  Human rights organization in particular are fond of advocacy toolkits, in which a small set of items supposedly provides individuals with everything they need to help a certain region of the world.  This top-down model, in which regular members have no chance to participate, fails to take advantage of the array of knowledge of the group’s constituency.  This, inevitably, leads to bad policy.  Anti-genocide organizations have a history of short-sighted, bad policy, partially due to the relative youth of the movement.  Containing policy decisions to a small group of experts or leaders, no matter their ability, will not create good policy.  We need to put our trust in our bright and numerous members, who have the ability to engage and debate these issues if they are given the chance.  Undoubtedly more debate will lead to a smaller capacity to react quickly to changes on the ground, but since working toward mass atrocities prevention is a long-term struggle, we have to adopt a model that expands and improves our organizations.

The top-down policy making that both STAND and other anti-genocide organizations are guilty of leads to a destructive cycle.  Members have no space to engage, lose interest in policy, bad policy is created, and members have no way to change the policy, bringing it full circle.  For the health of anti-genocide advocacy as a movement, we must improve our inclusion of members in policy making decisions.  Otherwise, we will keep making the same mistakes and create a smaller pool of future leaders.

Link

Gang Violence and Civilian Protection: Observations on Their Relation (Part I)

29 Sep

*This post is the first in a two part series that will examine how we can conceptualize gang violence in the United States through the framework of civilian protection, mass atrocities, and political violence.  This post will focus on the actual functioning of gangs and militaries that perpetrate violence against civilians, while the second will focus on conflict resolution strategies.

                                                                                                                                                            

“Little Terry got a gun, he got from the store,
He bought it with the money he got from his chores,
He robbed candy shop told her lay down on the floor,
Put the cookies in his bag took the pennies out the drawer.

Little Kalil got a gun he got from the rebels,
To kill the infidels and American devils,
A bomb on his waist,
A mask on his face,
Prays five times a day,
And listens to Heavy Metal.

Little Alex got a gun he took from his dad,
That he snuck into school in his black book bag,
His black nail polish, black boots and black hair,
He’s gonna blow away the bully that just pushed his ass…” 

These are the first few lines from Lupe Fiasco’s “Little Weapon“.  In the song, he makes an explicit link between the culture of youth violence in the United States and violence in foreign countries.  This connection merits further examination.  I spent this summer working in a small city on the east coast where I was exposed to gang violence (I will refrain from naming the city to protect the privacy of the people and organizations I mention).  This city, which I will call Joplin, has a population between thirty and fifty thousands, but all in an urban setting.  It is very economically depressed and majority African-American.  My experiences working with issues of civilian protection prodded me to constantly make connection between the two seemingly very different scenarios.  Though there are certainly very concrete differences from, for example, rebel groups in eastern Congo and gangs on Joplin’s east side, I think it is important to note the similarities while acknowledging the differences.  I will focus on the issues that allow on the structural factors that allow gangs and militant groups to exist and then move to examine the impact of these groups on non-combatants.

In Joplin, gangs are a product of a terrible educational system, a non-existent job market, and a simple lack of activities for youth.  Joplin is not the only the victim of a federal government that feels no need to help low-income communities  but also a terribly inefficient and corrupt local government that wastes most of the funding it does receive.  From my experience, Joplin youth, in general, don’t believe that there is a productive future ahead of them.  Dealing drugs and joining gangs is one way of the few ways to make money.  These structural factors are shared by militant groups.  The military or rebel groups can offer a path for advancement for low-status individuals, and are often made up of disaffected populations.  Similarly, rebel groups, think the Democratic Republic of the Congo, often compete with both the government and rival rebels to control material resources.

Gangs in Joplin, like many rebel groups, do not exist entirely separately from the communities in which they operate.  Individuals move in and out of gangs, and social circles are not divided solely by conditional gang membership.  Several programs in Joplin facilitate mentoring from current/potential gang members and former gangsters.  Franck van Acker notes this same phenomenon in the link above.  In LRA-affected Uganda, individuals routinely experienced the conflict as a civilian, a rebel, and a soldier over the course of their lifetime.

The victims of militant groups and gangs are both disproportionately civilians.  Many more civilians die in armed conflicts than militants, and while I don’t know the statistics for Joplin (and they’d be practically useless anyway, because the line between gangster and civilian is so blurry), civilians are routinely caught in gang crossfire.  Civilians are affected in both cases, but the targets of violence differs significantly.  Militant groups have political objectives, though some of their actions can seem purely designed to inflict terror and suffering on civilians.  Gangs do not share this characteristic.  Therefore, gang violence is committed for personal and business reasons against other community members, while militant violence is committed either against opposing armed forces or civilian populations that are either in support, or imagined to be in support of those forces.

While gang violence is explicitly aimed at individuals for apolitical reasons, government response to gang violence adds a political element.  In “Little Weapon”, Lupe raps, “Government want me dead so I wear my gun.  This is not an unrealistic portrait of gangs in Joplin.  Young black men are suspicious of the police, who are more likely to be white than the rest of Joplin’s population, and have a record of harassment.  Joining a gang is a way to find protection from the police.  Rebel groups comprised of  marginalized and persecuted populations serve this same purpose.  While gangs are an avenue for social and economic advancement, they are also a way for disempowered individuals to protect themselves from an oppressive government.

Stay tuned for Part II.