In 2021, armed conflict had been raging in the eastern DRC (Congo) for over a quarter century. A small group of former child soldiers in South Kivu Province had left their armed groups to form the “Association of Youths for Community Development” (called AJDC in French), hoping to find ways to bring peace to the region. About 6 years ago, Dr. Charles Davidson, of the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University and Innovations in Peacebuilding International (IPI), a small NGO, began working with them. In the summer of 2021, Milt Lauenstein offered to provide the funding needed to initiate a formal peace process.
In November, AJDC arranged for a large meeting of local leaders to get the peace process started. Representatives of over 20 armed groups, 6 government officials, and leaders of civil society, a total of 88 persons, all Africans, met in the city of Uvira for 4 days. On the last day, they drafted a peace agreement, which all signed. That ended the fighting!
Since then, AJDC and local leaders have been working hard to make a successful transition to a peaceful society. They are now planning the difficult transition from a war-torn society to a more peaceful, productive one. They have begun a series of dialogues for female community leaders, including wives of militia leaders, religious and youth leaders, and combatants to envision how the peace can be sustained. Temporary camps are being built for demobilized soldiers Plans are being made for the economic reintegration of demobilized fighters.
In March, a second large meeting was held, attended this time by the chiefs of the belligerents, 10 representatives of the central government and civil society leaders. Both the armed groups and the government signed a second peace agreement in which they commit to specific actions to sustain the peace.
Throughout the peace process, Dr. Davidson has engaged outsiders with experience with peace processes elsewhere to provide information about what has contributed to their successes and failures. Thus, the process in South Kivu represents a hybrid approach: locally-led actions combined with experienced outside advice.
The local leaders understand the conflicts, the people, and the culture within which they exist. Outsiders can draw on their experiences in other places. The success in South Kivu demonstrated that, given some assistance, local leaders can restore peace to even the most recalcitrant of situations.
INVOLVING OF LOCALS AFFECTED BY CONFLICT
Local leaders know and understand local situations, local cultures, and the local people involved in conflicts. Without deep understanding of local conflicts, foreigners are handicapped in their efforts to end them. Many have addressed the problems in the eastern Congo, but have failed to stop the fighting there. The small group of former fighters in South Kivu have demonstrated the value of the knowledge that comes from having lived for so long in a place.