Foreign Policy Blogs

Reflecting on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Source: Getty Images/The Telegraph

Contrary to the generally considered “successful” mission in Libya, the ongoing international intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the antithesis of a model for humanitarian missions. Though the transition to peace and democracy officially “ended” in 2006, the situation in the eastern part of the central African country continues to deteriorate. Why, despite hosting the largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission in the world, does violence persist in the Congo? This is the central question for Séverine Autesserre, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University, and expert on the Congo. Her new article is published in the most recent issue of African Affairs, and features ethnographic data from a recently completed year-long research trip to the troubled eastern Congo.

Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and Their Unintended Consequences takes a unique look at how well-intentioned international policies can actually fuel existing conflict and facilitate new, unintended results. Policy makers, journalists, and advocacy groups benefit from simple narratives used to describe a conflict, yet focusing exclusively on these narrow descriptions produces policies and actions that are detrimental to the over-arching goals: peace and an end to human rights violations. Autesserre uses the example of rape and violence against women to elucidate her argument. Unquestionably, the issue of sexual violence in the eastern Congo requires international attention and action. However, the intense focus on this human rights issue alone not only devalues other pressing concerns, but paradoxically, increases instances of rape. Autesserre explains that the intentional community’s focus on sexual violence has effectively made it a bargaining tool for armed groups wishing to garner attention. If they employ rape in their pillaging, militias can ensure they will receive media coverage and be taken seriously as a contender in the ongoing conflict.

Autesserre’s article is well worth reading for a reminder of the dangers that derive from oversimplifying conflicts. As the international community wrestles with the Responsibility to Protect in Syria, and reflects on advising government rebuilding in Libya and Egypt, they would be wise to examine the Congolese case. Even the most well-intentioned actions can produce unintended consequences.

  • Kathleen Millar

    Yes, it makes perfect sense…the unintended consequences of selective reporting by the media and the ways protagonists seize upon these angled narratives to spin their own stories! Well done and much appreciated.


Sarah Marion Shore
Sarah Marion Shore

Sarah Marion Shore works as an online editorial assistant at the Foreign Policy Association. Previously, she conducted research for Action Against Hunger (ACF), a global humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger. Sarah graduated with honors from Barnard College, Columbia University, where she studied Middle East and African History. While a student, Sarah served as the primary editor and fact checker for the book "The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding", written by Political Scientist Séverine Autesserre. Sarah also spent a year in Paris studying French and International Relations at the Université Paris-Sorbonne. She currently lives in New York.
Twitter: @sarahmshore