The eastern Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are home to one of the largest peacekeeping forces in the world.
The UN's MONUSCO, now 20,000 strong, has been in the area for over a decade and has been regarded as ineffectual. Even as central government and rebel splinter group, M23, are signing an 'agenda of dialogue' which aims to return peace to the region, Ban Ki Moon is pushing for the deployment of surveillance drones in the area. Discussion about the ongoing conflict is high on the agenda at the 20th Summit of the African Union next week.
And, across the continent, Congo is not alone when it comes to the potent mix of weak central government, complex local (micro)conflicts and, regional and international intervention - the currently unravelling situation in Mali is a case in point.
Clearly a new approach is needed. Recently published research by the Institute of Development Studies looking at Congo, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Somalia highlights some of the successes and challenges of peacekeeping initiatives in these regions of protracted conflict.
Far too much attention in reconstruction efforts to-date has been focused on the national government, and a top-down approach to resolving the conflict. In the case of Eastern Congo, the UN has treated the ongoing conflict as a result of central government weakness, the presence of the Hutu army and militia (who crossed the border from Rwanda), and the predation of local militias. Although these factors were present at the start of the conflict in 1996, when Tutsi Rwanda intervened in Congo to track down and destroy the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, the problems now go well beyond them. As is common in civil wars, disruption works its way into the social fabric.
A return to human security in conflict states requires a reconstitution of the implicit contract between the state and its society. Traditionally, as argued by political philosophers such as Hobbes, Rousseau and Locke, this "social contract" was conceived as being directly between the central state and individual citizens. In Africa, however, it is more often a two level contract: firstly between citizens and their community governments, and then between those local authorities and the national government. Weaknesses in the local social contracts often sustain national conflicts and these cannot be by-passed if human security is to be regained, as our research in Sierra Leone and Somalia also demonstrates.
Conversely, our work in western Ivory Coast shows that when local government does perform effectively it is able to substantially mitigate local violence even when the central government breaks down.
Community authority structures are usually all the governance that has survived a serious conflict, but their weaknesses sometimes contributed to the violence and they will have been changed during the conflict. Authority therefore cannot simply be handed back to traditional leaders and community authorities without their rehabilitation and without addressing the issues that weakened them (particularly conflicts over land between ethnic groups and generations). Reforms of police and local courts and the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are important to this process but the structural disputes around land are likely to require more.
However, the UN and western donors are ill-equipped to mediate the complicated local conflicts that continually threaten to restart a civil war. The UN rotates its international civil servants and peacekeeping forces every six months in conflict zones, which means they rarely have the time to gain a good understanding of local issues before they leave again. In the case of the DRC, the UN needs to finance and lend its authority to locally grounded NGOs that can mediate the conflicts between the Rwanda-speaking groups living in the Congo (both Hutu and Tutsi) and the other ethnic groups that are aggrieved by their presence. Similarly MONUSCO must challenge control by the Rwandan and Ugandan armies and militias of the extraction of the valuable minerals in the eastern Congo. These two sets of issues are fuelling the on-going violence and preventing the Congolese state from reasserting its authority and control.
International peacekeeping will only be effective when it gives priority to continuity and engagement in detailed mediation between local protagonists (frequently together with their international sponsors).
Professor David Leonard is a Visiting Professorial Fellow of Governance at the Institute of Development Studies, and editor to the recently published Bulletin, "Piecing it together: post-conflict security in an Africa of Networked, Multilevel Governance".
This blog was originally published on Guardian Global Development.