Séverine Autesserre did a great job explaining the unintended consequences of three dominant narratives that were used to explain the war in Congo (Zaire). I believe that international actors should be extremely cautious before intervening in dire situations such as the conflict in Congo. As much as external help is needed, international actors should first try to seek adequate knowledge about the crisis at hand, and they should also be cautious not to propagate pre-existing and potentially harmful ideas about a people or a country or a culture. I argue that the crisis in Congo would have probably ended in less than five years if the international community had not focused on telling a single story about Congo.
The first dominant narrative Autesserre focused on was the acclaimed cause of war in Congo, which foreign agencies claimed to be the illegal exploitation of minerals. She explains that European advocacy NGOs were the first to publicize this narrative. Some people believed that minerals in Congo generated the involvement of Rwanda. Some have also attributed minerals to be the source of funding for armed groups. Due to these reasons, international organizations amongst other actors alluded that the availability and illegal mining of minerals in Congo caused the war. They have also continued to spread this dominant narrative, which was attractive to many people since it played into the notion of the ‘resource curse’. Isolating one factor and identifying it to be the sole cause of such a large scale war (as it is comparable to World War 2) is problematic and also a short cut to identifying and solving problems. This shows a lack of initiative by the international agencies to dig deep and unearth the root causes of problems before committing to them. It also negates other factors which could be crucial in lessening the development of a war. For example, grassroots antagonisms, corruption, and the state of the government. Maybe trying to solve grassroots antagonisms would have prevented the multiplication of armed groups and hence slow down the intensification of the war.
The second dominant narrative explained is sexual violence as a consequence of the war. This narrative not only placed women, girls, and young boys at risk of being used as bargaining tools and hence worsening the situation instead of preventing it, it also ignored other forms of violence such as non-sexual torture and killings. In addition, donors and aid workers began using this narrative as a catch phrase when requesting funds. The latter result led to misuse of funds as some people victimized others i.e. by lying about rape in order to get a lot of funding for projects, while some Congolese women realized that they had to lie about being raped in order to get medical attention, which is just undignified. Margot Wallstrom termed Eastern Congo as “the rape capital of the world.” These narrative is dangerous because it did not prevent sexual violence but instead escalated it. Furthermore, it reinforced the idea that Congolese people are barbaric. If this narrative had been deconstructed, soldiers would not use it to negotiate terms, and hence they would have less bargaining power thus making them lose relevance.
The third dominant narrative saw state building as the solution to this wreck. I disagree with this solution one cannot mend something with a broken foundation. Maybe Congo cannot work with a democracy, can we find a new or different form of government in which its people will still be governed. We live in a world full of options and new ideas, thus it is lazy to claim that there is no other solution for Congo without dedicating studies, research, experiments to the cause.
- Autesserre, Séverine. African Affairs; Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and Their Unintended Consequences. (2012)