Key Findings: Democratic Republic of Congo

On the national level in DRC, in moments when elections had consolidated presidential power and patronage, there were reduced efforts to liaise with armed groups (Verweijen, 2016a; Verweijen, 2016b).

However, the general national level stability did not translate into stability in the east, and on a provincial and local level armed groups have become an integral feature of eastern Congo’s social-political order (Verweijen, 2016a; Verweijen, 2016b; Stys 2019).

Due to the proliferation of smaller armed groups and the disappearance and scattering of larger rebel movements, the armed group landscape of the eastern Congo has become increasingly fragmented (Verweijen and Wakenge, 2015).

This fragmentation results from the interplay between the growing engagement of lower -level political actors in militarized politics, the volatility of local conflict dynamics, and counterproductive military policies, including military operations which has become the main strategy of stabilization in the country (Verweijen and Wakenge, 2015; Verweijen, 2016a; Verweijen, 2016b).

There is a close relationship between armed groups, the continued volatility of a multitude of local conflicts and local governance which contributes to militarization; the presence of armed groups aggregates local conflicts and make them violent and increase the incentive for local authorities to resort to coercion. The resulting bad governance is a key source of local conflict (Verweijen, 2016a; Verweijen and Wakenge, 2015).

Focusing on the territories of Kalehe (South Kivu) and Walikale (Noth Kivu), Vlassenroot, Mudinga and Hoffman (2016) find that, whilst the proliferation of armed groups relates to a wide spectrum of sources of contestation, they all seemingly revolve around issue of who has the right to rule where, over whom and what.

Struggles over land, customary rule, territory, identity and claims to self-rule are key drivers of local conflict (Vlassenroot, Mudinga and Hoffman, 2016). More detail on land conflict is set out below.

Additionally, the high level of militarization of DRC has led to and been reinforced by local security dilemmas; the armed mobilization of one group has often stimulated the mobilization of others (Verweijen and Wakenge, 2015; Verweijen, 2016).

The militarization is also driven by the practice of civilians who liaise with armed forces for a number of reasons, such as political and economic gain, prevailing in local conflicts and protection in case of threat and insecurity (Verweijen, 2016a; Verweijen, 2016b).

The exclusive and repressive nature of the national political settlement has increased civilians’ incentive to solicit protection or other interventions from local armed groups (Verweijen, 2016b).  Collaborating with armed forces has also become normalized through the Congo’s long history of militarization (Verweijen, 2016b).

The lower-level armed mobilization in eastern Congo continues to have clear political dimensions, those sustaining armed mobilization in part being inspired by discontent with the current political settlement (Verweijen, 2016b).

While many armed groups are dissatisfied with the current social-political order, as well as the performance of the state in that order, their own practices often strongly mimic those of state actors, in particular the armed forces but also tax collectors and the providers of justice (Verweijen, 2016b).

Armed groups have evolved into dominant power brokers which are deeply involved with ruling territory, people and resources (Vlassenroot, Mudinga and Hoffman, 2016).

Understanding the ways in which armed groups in eastern Congo are embedded in the social networks and are at the heart of how power is exercised and experienced, necessitates a break from dichotomies between state versus civilian spheres and civilian versus military agents (Verweijen, 2016b).

In sum, addressing armed group proliferation in the eastern Congo is challenging, and will be a long-term process which will need to deploy a variety of initiatives – both carrots and sticks, bottom-up and top-down approaches – to create lasting change (Verweijen, 2016b).

PSRP research finds that, amongst other measures, there is a need to devise policies that focus primarily on armed groups themselves and the political-economic structures that nourish armed mobilization in order address armed group profileration in eastern Congo (Verweijen and Wakenge, 2015; Vogel and Musambi, 2015).

To create lasting stability, it is also necessary  to build a more inclusive political settlement on the national level (Verweijen, 2016b).

Peacekeeping efforts in DRC have largely been criticized for failing to target local tensions and instead deploying a one-size fits all strategy focused on bolstering the state, though recent years has seen an increasing focus on locally relevant drivers of conflict (de Vries, 2016; O’Rourke, 2020)

Land conflict

Land in the eastern Congo is at once a source of power and identity, a condition for survival and a driver of (violent) conflict and proliferation of armed groups in eastern Congo (Mathys and Vlassenroot, 2016; Vlassenroot, Mudinga and Hoffman, 2016).

O’Rourke highlights the way in which Congolese law limits women’s ability to own and access land as a key driver for the continued marginalization of women in DRC.

PSRP research focused on land disputes in DRC find that land governance should be more inclusive and that there is a need for land reform embedded in wider policies of rural development to move from conflict to resolution (Mathys and Vlassenroot, 2016; Vlassenroot, Mudinga and Hoffma, 2016).


Since the Second Congolese War, DDR of combatants has been a key strategy in DRC amidst other peace effort (Vogel and Musambi, 2016).

PSRP research finds that the initial policies of wholesale integration of rebel groups into the Congolese national army, stimulated rather than stemmed armed group proliferation as it created skewed incentive structures (Verweijen and Wakenge, 2015; Verweijen, 2016b).

In addition, Vogel and Musambi (2016) find that the DDR programs in DRC has faced a range of other challenges:
– Local security dilemmas have meant that an armed group were often only willing to lay down arms if its opponents do the same.
– Resistance by political elites in eastern Congo has discouraged combatants trust in DDR.
– As programs have moved away from wholesale integration of rebel groups into the national army, many high- and mid-level commanders refuse or covertly obstruct DDR programs for the lack of benefits.
– There has been a lack of engagement with the need to support combatants’ efforts to redefine their social role in a civilian environment.
– Overall, the programs have also reflected a lack of research into the local contexts.

O’Rourke (2020) highlights how, in a conflict that has seen one of the highest rates in the world of  child soldiers, DDR programmes aimed at child soldiers have left out girl soldiers largely due to the different gendered roles they preform, the continued blindness of international norms  and law to girl soldiers, and the lack of priority by international bodies on the issue of girl soldiers.

Eastern Congolese society continues to be characterized by (former) combatants having few ties with civilian society s in terms of social and relational networks (Marks, 2019).

Women and the peace process

Throughout the long-lasting and complex conflict in the DRC, violence against women and gender inequality has persisted (O’Rourke, 2020).

In particular, sexual violence by state and non-state actors has been wide-spread and in many cases systematic and structured throughout the conflict (O’Rourke, 2020; Marks, 2019).

Whilst the wide-spread use of rape as weapon of war in DRC has significantly increased international attention to and understanding of the issue, O’Rourke 2020 argues international law only enforces with a very narrow and limiting understanding sexual violence and rape.

Whilst DRC has a generally bad reputation when it comes to women’s right and women are marginalised in formal political life, women are not completely absent (O’Rourke, 2020; Cuvelier and Bashwira, 2016).

Congolese women are involved in the exercise of local public authority in a variety of different ways, though their roles and influence often take place behind the scenes. Women have also been involved in various forms of rebel governance during the Congo Wars, have served as officers in the government forces, and have been at a part of different types of social conflict (Cuvelier and Bashwira, 2016).

That said, Marks (2019) find that despite women’s increased engagement in security sector forces, power continues to be concentrated in the hands of men.

PSRP research finds that women’s inclusion in the political domain should be based in a rights-based approach, according to which women have an inherent right to partake in governance, regardless of their contribution to good governance objectives (Cuvelier and Bashwira, 2016).