Book review: Thomas Turner (2013) “Congo”

I have just finished a review of Thomas Turner’s book ‘Congo’ that will be published as a slightly different and edited version. Turner is an American academic who works as a DRC country specialist for Amnesty International. He has taught in Congolese, Rwandan and Kenyan Universities and is married to a Congolese. It is probably this mix of academic background, relevant research experience and special ties to the region that enabled him to write this comprehensive yet compact and accessible book. Excellently researched and well-written, the text comes with many advantages, but none of the disadvantages of its academic peers. I recommend it as a substantial but digestible introduction for everyone working in and on the country that also offers a large number of facts and interesting reflections to those that are more familiar with it.

The chapters are organized along the lines of the most pressing issues – resources, identity, sexual violence and external involvement – yet their analysis is far from simplistic and goes beyond the usual headlines. The author skilfully draws from a substantial knowledge of the country’s different historical periods, from pre-colonial times to the Congo Free State and Zaire, to ask the right questions. He wonders, for instance, how the exploitive Belgian regime relates to Mobutu’s dictatorship and the status quo. But Turner also convinces with the way he makes his arguments: Instead of giving simple answers, he carefully balances the work of other scholars to make sense of complex realities. So when responding to the above question, Turner refrains from establishing direct causal links and instead summarizes psychological, structural, traditional and economic explanations for the persistence of structural and physical violence in the country. The particularly captivating concept of a ‘chosen trauma’ by psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan is, for instance, introduced to explain the trans-generational transmission of memory and behaviour. According to Volkan “trauma tends to generate or reinforce a political ideology of entitlement to violence” (p.135), which leads subsequent generations to respond to the pain and humiliations of the past. Through oversimplifications of the violent events, each side denies the chosen trauma of the other and instead focuses on their own victimhood, as it is tragically the case with Hutu and Tutsi.

The idea of Congo as “a playing field” for powerful Western states as well as its African neighbours, particularly during the ‘Congo Wars’, is developed over two chapters. While the analysis of western hegemony in Congo is painted in classical realist terms, the games of pawns and proxies are presented more complex in the intra-African context as “central African states are dependent on the more powerful” to advance their interests (p.72). When reflecting on the violence of the two Congo wars, Turner highlights “the number game” stating that “the topics of “mass deaths and mass rapes have generated international controversies, pitting researchers and humanitarian activists against each other” (p.212). Many readers will be familiar with the contested estimation by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) of five million war related deaths in Congo between 1998 and 2008. In a similar vein, a 2011 article published in the American Journal of Public Health estimated the number of rapes at 48 per hour. Turner holds that it is undisputed that too many people have died from hunger or disease and that the number and style of rapes have taken horrendous forms. But he also clarifies that these numbers have severe flaws given the absence of population statistics, the generalization of limited data and the interests of beneficiaries and aid agencies.

In another chapter, Turner explains how identity factors such as ethnicity, language and religion have been developed and reinforced through colonial favouritism and subsequently used by Congolese politicians to play different groups against each other (e.g. Mobutu) and gain electoral advantages (e.g. Bemba). After describing the dynamics between autochtones and allochtones in Katanga and the Kivus, Turner highlights the striking absence of class in Congolese analysis and policy-making despite the Marxist background of many Congolese intellectuals. He suggests that Congo’s Ethno-nationalism obscures questions of landownership and control over the means of production. This remark is typical for the book in so far as it demonstrates great understanding of the Congolese context, while also bringing in new perspectives. It is thus unsurprising that Turner ends on the important question of who will be protecting Congolese civilians. In the last chapter he examines the interaction between protection norms and practices, and draws a grim picture of the future. While clearly outlining the failure of the international community to bring change to Congo, the author also highlights the responsibility of the Congolese. Going beyond the standard and somewhat empty wisdom that the protection of civilians primarily is the responsibility of the Congolese state, Turner writes that “they will have to stop promoting the “myth of the yoke”, according to which all their problems come from outside, even though this myth is partly valid” (p.204). Having heard many similar stories about how the Rwandans are responsible for the current economic, political and social situation, and/or how peacekeepers are not doing there job, I full agree to this. To be sure, it is not a question of blaming my Congolese friends into being passive. Taking action in this context is easy said from the outside but difficult to implement from within. Rather, the idea is to nuance discourses on responsibility so that claiming protection or accountability from officials becomes conceivable for ordinary people.


Review of Séverine Autesserre’s new book ‘Peaceland’ – an ethnography of peacebuilding

International peacebuilding efforts regularly fail to be effective for a variety of reasons such as lack of political will and resources, complex dynamics of conflict, and vested interests. Instead of following these more established pathways of peacebuilding research, Séverine Autesserre has opted for investigating the way international peacebuilding interventions function on the ground. Her new book – Peaceland – is an ethnography of international interveners, explaining how their everyday impacts peacebuilding outcomes. The book draws on the author’s extensive, almost fifteen-year experience as a researcher and practitioner in various peacebuilding contexts. While most of the ethnographic research was conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Autesserre tested her global argument and its underlying observations in six other theaters of intervention.

Building on Raymond Apthorpe and the recent Anthropology of aid, Autesserre defines ‘Peaceland’ as a separate world with its own time, space and economics, and as she insists, its own “system of meaning”. The author explains that practices, habits and narratives shape interveners’ understanding of the world as well as their perception of appropriate, legitimate and effective actions. In return, these actions reproduce and reinforce existing practices, habits and narratives. Based on the notion that outsiders are needed to solve the complicated problems of conflict-ridden states, interveners, for instance, assume the superiority of thematic expertise over local knowledge. This attitude leads to, and is reinforced by, a number of practices. Autesserre argues that it results in the depreciation of local voices and input, and that it inherently gives interveners the moral high ground, sometimes leading to condescending behavior. She also states that within international circles, the acquirement of local expertise is disincentivized: It is not a required qualification for recruitment and the quick turnover rate does not make it worthwhile. The head of recruitment in a peacebuilding institution once told me that country expertise is generally not helpful as it makes implementation much more difficult. In practice this means that many of my colleagues in the DRC did not master French and almost no one spoke Swahili or Lingala. They largely remained unaware about the country’s history, the political dynamics in Kinshasa or background of armed groups. Most of them, however, had served in other conflict areas and knew a thing or two about international organizations, their terminologies and activities.

The inhabitants of Peaceland normally do not see themselves as a homogeneous group. They are recruited globally and represent various organizations with different values and positions. Autesserre, however, points out that these people form a “transnational community of expatriates” which has much more in common with each other than with host populations. This expat bubble is constructed and maintained through dinner parties, coordination meetings and tight security regulations. In many places, interveners are discouraged or even forbidden to interact with locals. From my own experience, I remember that one of my friends from MONUSCO thought that the West African music that we usually danced to was from Congo. Living and working in a fenced-off parallel world, he had no clue what Congolese music was despite its huuuuge importance for the country and the continent. Ironically his name is featured in a song known practically by every Congolese as the term for a man that does not own anything and depends on a sugar-mama. Being aware of this image would probably be important when introducing himself to a bunch of locals and actually be a great ice breaker.

This is not to say that the interaction with locals is easy. Quite to the contrary, differences in education, culture and income in a post-violence context make it often challenging. Most expats have made disappointing experiences and value their time after a long and stressful day. But depending on the culture of the place activities like dancing, soccer or religion would offer the opportunity for positive interaction. It is for similar reasons that I argue against R&R (Rest and Recuperation) – the custom that internationals in conflict areas take enforced vacations after six to ten weeks of service. Of course these environments are stressful but working even more intensely to then fly to some distant and totally unrelated place like Zanzibar does not change the stress factors. Would it not make sense for interveners to regularly take more time and pick up a habit that supports you in being less stressed and better integrated?

It follows that most interveners are not exactly country experts, which is why they generally adhere to simplified understandings and often depend on biased informants. Autesserre builds this part of the book on her excellent work on narratives (2009, 2010, 2012) : In the DRC, mineral resources have for the longest time been understood as the course of conflict, sexual violence as its worst effect and statebuilding as its solution. Although minerals, sexual violence and a weak state are all important factors in the country’s tragedy, reducing the focus on them has not been helpful for addressing them. The legislation that meant to impede the traffic of blood minerals has made things worse. The extreme attention to sexual violence has lead war lords to increase the number of rapes in order to increase their bargaining position. Finally, reinforcing the oppressive and exploitative state also had a variety of negative consequences that Autesserre does not fall short to give examples for.

Autesserre’s argument that minimal local input, ignorance and being perceived as arrogant do not contribute to successful interventions seems plausible. If interveners are insufficiently aware of the realities in the field and how they should be addressed appropriately, they can’t implement or even manage others to do so successfully. Autesserre gives numerous examples of practices that reduce to effectiveness of international interventions. The obsession on quantifiable results, for instance, leads interveners to focus on outputs instead of impact. The need to be visible, runs contrary to local ownership and also ensures that most interveners are present in the same areas (where they can be seen). And neutrality is not necessarily something that comes intuitive to people emerging from violent conflict. Naturally host populations react with resistance, contestation and adaption to programs that they do not perceive to be in their interest. Autesserre describes how some overlook problems to benefit from the resources that interveners might provide. In fact the buy-in for international programs can be so low that “local stakeholders will care mostly about the material benefits that they can get for themselves – the funds hey can gain or steal, the bribes they can extract, the jobs they can provide to friends and relatives – and little about the actual impact of the program for the broader population”. Autesserre found the majority to “drag their feet” by cancelling meetings, forgetting to attend them or creating structures for the sole purpose of pleasing international donors without the intent of using them. From my own experience, the latter form of passive resistance is probably one of the most frustrating experiences in Peaceland and interveners are often pissed off without understanding why these people are not cooperating.

According to Autesserre the dominant modes of operation in Peaceland prevail even when they are counter-productive, because they are part of the culture of intervention. Very rarely are the habits and underlying assumptions acknowledged or questioned, and thus continue “leading well-meaning and intelligent people to contribute to less than optimal outcomes”. Of course, exceptions do happen – people that hang out with locals, learn languages or stay in one country over prolonged time periods. Autesserre states that those at the margins of the interveners club, such as newcomers or people with strong ties to the region are most likely to contest Peaceland. But she also states that by their nature, these people are also the easiest to be brushed aside as unreasonable or broken socially and professionally.

Autesserre believes that change in Peaceland is possible, if individuals discover the detrimental effects of their habits. The difficulty is, of course, that they take their habits for granted and see them as “natural and the only conceivable modes of thinking and acting.” To break with this circular causality between individual and system, Autesserre proposes several steps: First, we are to raise awareness of the existence of these problems and their possible solutions. I like to think that I did my part by summarizing the argument of the book in great detail and sharing this with you. Second, these phenomena should be studied further and collaborative research projects should be established to develop alternative approaches. In this regard, I hope to do my part by possible contributions of the next years. Thirdly, combined top-down and bottom-up reform strategies have to be applied that tackle the ideas front and the practical front.
While waiting for the more elaborate results of future research, Autesserre outlines some tentative policy recommendations that were derived from her observations: recruitment and promotion practices should be changed, local stakeholders should receive more responsibilities, the reporting burden for expats should be reduced so that they can spend more time in the field, social interaction with the host country’s population should be fostered, etc.. While these practical steps are logical conclusions of the argument and probably doable, I would object that they are also to a large degree already part of the discourses in Peaceland. Nobody would argue against reducing reporting, spending more time in the field or the advantage of speaking local languages. Yet it rarely happens.

Here I would argue for a more critical perspective on the systematic reasons for these unhelpful practices. Autesserre seems to suggest that they are merely coincidental. But what if the negative parts of interventions are substantial parts and can thus not easily be changed? It seems essential to take a closer look at their purpose. As Autesserre highlights, these practices in fact enable interveners to function in very difficult contexts. Their negative outcomes thus need to be balanced against the advantages they bring – a professional class of impartial interveners that are able to work under the most difficult conditions. That would suggest that by trial and error we could find alternative practices with less negative impact. However, the persistence of these practices urges us to dig a little deeper. Michel Foucault’s work is thought-provoking in this context as he highlighted that the prison system is maintained although it has long become obvious that it does not reform prisoners. What then is that purpose of the current way interventions are run? Or put differently – what would happen if all interveners were motivated, well-qualified country experts?

These considerations are by no means an argument against the book or the practical changes that Autesserre proposes. It will come to no surprise for the reader that I concur with Autesserre and I assume that most practitioners would. As in her previous book, she uses simple concepts to build a powerful argument which she delivers well and supports with rich empirical evidence. Her contribution is to peacebuilding practice and academia alike by explaining not only why counter-productive habits prevail, but also how they shape the overall intervention from the bottom up. This is a novel perspective for political scientist and worthwhile as it plays an important part in understanding how policies, institutions and discourses are enabled and maintained.

16th Humanitarian Congress Berlin

This weekend I participated in the Humanitarian Congress in Berlin. The two-day event is the biggest of its kind, this year’s theme being ‘Protection: A Broken Promise’. The keynote speech was held by Roméo Dallaire, commander of the UN Peacekeeping troops in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Unsurprisingly he critiqued “the problem of prioritization” during humanitarian interventions, stating that geostrategic interests of powerful states count more than human lives. According to Dallaire, 450 peacekeepers had been deployed during the on-going Rwandan genocide, while around the same time 67.000 troops were deployed in the former Yugoslavia, although more people were killed in 100 days in Rwanda than in 5 years of Yugoslavia. Hence the need for objective criteria, as formulated in R2P concept, that give clear guidelines when the international community needs to intervene. Dallaire proposed to include the use of child soldiers as one such criterion, as it generally indicates that “these guys” are going to commit a lot of human rights violations.

The rest of the two days meant difficult choices between 24 sessions that were partly organized parallel in four different venues. It was quiet crowded, a lot of the participants being humanitarian practitioners (mainly MSF and ICRC) and many students interested to know more about the issue-area and its job opportunities. In a friendly and open atmosphere a wide array of important protection issues were discussed, from medical protection to the use of force to protect and possibilities of evaluating protection efforts. Personally, I appreciated the case studies of Syria and Central African Republic, although they would have benefitted from more a more analytical approach. The question of perceptions and expectations towards protectors was also treated, and it was concluded that although nobody seems to actively promise protection anymore, interveners should become a lot more modest for themselves and towards populations (an interesting issue, which I will formulate some thoughts on during the next days).

case study car Dallaire

CLA Best Practice Review

So finally one product of many months of hard work with MONUSCO is out – the CLA Best Practice Review. In September 2013, I was recruited to conduct such a study on this protection instrument developed by the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo. It was a great experience including travelling all of the Eastern provinces with helicopters, military escorts and the like. In the process, I learned a lot about peacekeeping and the UN, which if known before, would have spared me a lot of the difficulties. Hopefully, I will be able to produce something out of these observations in the upcoming (busy) months. For now, I would like to share this CLA review.

Note that this is not an independent review as my bosses were involved in the making. On top of that, final rounds of editing were done without me. Although I wish they had given it to a graphic designer instead of keeping my phony text boxes and word picture add-ins, I am pretty comfortable with the content. Thanks are due to my colleagues from Civil Affairs and MONUSCO’s Strategic Planing Cell for the editing, Daniel for being a great friend and to Victry for giving invaluable support.

Here is the link to the file for people within the UN system.
Here is the PDF for everybody else.

do not hesitate to contact me for information and expertise on the instrument or its implementation.

Congolese Local Elections Calendar

Although Severine Autesserre (2010) and Zoe Marriage (2013) have, amongst others, heavily criticized the focus of international donors on organizing Congolese elections in 2006, the upcoming one are widely seen as tremendously important not just for the legitimacy of the government and Congolese politics, but also for their interconnected role in mitigating conflict across the East.
While the State’s monopole on violence is undoubtedly an issue in DRC, legitimacy does not just derive from being in control. Particularly in a country as big as Western Europe representation is important, as many conflict hotspots in the East are more than 1500 km away from the capital. The issue of elections in DRC is two-fold:

1) National elections: The last national elections in 2011 have been criticized by the international community, the main concern being that a delegitimized president Kabila might not be able to effectively govern the country. Although there have been outbreaks of violence mainly in Kinshasa, it seems that the degree of manipulation was small and within the acceptable limits for Congolese populations and elites. The opposition was divided and Kabila would have probably won anyway. After this experience and with five more years of relatively unsuccessful Kabila reign, tolerance for manipulation both from the Congolese and the International Community would probably be less this time around. However, the Congolese constitution only permits two terms for the president and Kabila would have to step down. He seems unwilling to do so and has tried to change the constitution, which has met quite a lot of resistance. The issue of national elections is thus quite a thriller.

2) Local elections: I personally think that these are even more important precisely because national Congolese politics are likely to remain flawed. In addition, local elections have not taken place before and will mark the beginning of the country’s decentralization, something that is utterly necessary. This is critical because of an assumed high correlation between representation and violence. Put simply, people that do not feel represented and do not see any chance to influence politics, government and administration are more likely to take up arms. The inverse is probably also true, if you have elected your representatives, you are less likely to take violent measures against him/ her even if that person is incompetent. Currently, there is no such thing as local elections and given that illegitimate national-level politics, it is no wonder that local communities feel totally disconnected from the government whose military and police representatives also happen to commit most human right violations. Local elections can give the state that people actually interact with more legitimacy and also make it more accountable. Below the schedule of the urban, municipal and local elections (Communique de presse N°024/CENI/14):
• Du 10 juin au 09 juillet 2014 : Accréditation des observateurs à long terme;
• Du 01 octobre au 20 octobre 2014 : Audit externe du fichier électoral;
• Du 03 au 20 novembre 2014: Examen de l’annexe à la loi électorale portant répartition des sièges ;
• Du 10 décembre 2014 au 18 janvier 2015: Convocation de l’électorat et dépôt des candidatures au niveau des bureaux de réception et traitement des candidatures ;
• Du 19 au 23 janvier 2015 : Retrait, ajout ou substitution des candidatures ;
• Le 13 février 2015: Publication de la liste provisoire des candidatures aux élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies ;
• Du 14 au 24 février 2015 : Dépôt des recours en contestation des listes des candidatures et leur traitement auprès et par les tribunaux administratifs ;
• Le 25 février 2015: Publication des listes définitives des candidats aux élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies ;
• Du 30 avril au 29 mai 2015 : Accréditation des témoins, des observateurs et des journalistes;
• Du 15 mai au 14 juin 2015 : Affichage des listes des électeurs par site de vote et bureau de vote ;
• Du 29 mai au 12 juin 2015 : Campagne électorale pour les élections des Conseillers des communes des et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Le 14 juin 2015: Jour du scrutin municipal et local; ouverture des bureaux de vote et de dépouillement pour les municipales et locales;
• Le 30 juin 2015 : Annonce des résultats pour les élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 01 au 08 juillet 2015: Dépôt des recours relatifs au contentieux des élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 09 juillet au 06 septembre 2015: Traitement des contentieux des élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 15 juillet au 18 août 2015: Installation des Conseils municipaux et locaux ;
• Le 07 septembre 2015 : Publication des résultats définitifs des élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 05 au 18 juillet 2015: Réception et traitement des candidatures des Conseillers urbains, des Maires, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur;
• Le 3 août 2015 : Publication des listes provisoires des candidats Conseillers urbains, Maires, Bourgmestres et Chefs de secteur
• Du 04 au 12 août 2015: Contentieux des candidatures des Conseillers urbains, des Maires, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur (dépôt et traitement) ;
• Le 14 août 2015 : Publication de la liste définitive des candidats Conseillers urbains, Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints, Chefs de secteur et Chefs de secteur adjoints;
• Du 25 au 27 août 2015 : Campagne électorale des Conseillers urbains, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur;
• Le 29 août 2015 : Jour du vote des Conseillers urbains, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur;
• Du 29 au 30 août 2015 : Agrégation et annonce des résultats provisoires des Conseillers urbains, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur ;
• Du 31 août au 14 septembre 2015 : Recours et contentieux des résultats relatifs à l’élection des Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints, des Chefs de secteur et leurs adjoints;
• Le 15 septembre 2015 : Proclamation des résultats définitifs des Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints, des Chefs de secteur et leurs adjoints;
• Le 20 septembre 2015: Investiture des Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints et des Chefs de secteur et leurs adjoints;
• Du 31 août au 06 novembre 2015 : Recours et contentieux des résultats des élections des Conseillers urbains ;
• Du 14 septembre au 08 octobre 2015 : Installation des Conseils urbains;
• Du 11 au 13 octobre 2015 : Campagne électorale des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Le 15 octobre 2015 : Jour de scrutin des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Le 15 octobre 2015: Agrégation et annonce des résultats provisoires des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Du 16 au 30 octobre 2015 : Recours et contentieux relatifs à l’élection des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Le 31 octobre 2015 : Proclamation des résultats définitifs des Maires et Maires adjoints ;
• Le 05 novembre 2015: Investiture des Maires et Maires adjoints.

Perception surveys – a quiet revolution in peacekeeping?

The UN stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO), in cooperation with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), has recently started a polling project on how Congolese perceive the security situation in the volatile East of the country. Amongst other things, participants are asked how secure they feel in different situations, who provides security to them and what could be done to improve this. MONUSCO plans to use this data to measure and improve its interventions particularly in regard to its mandate priority – the Protection of Civilians (PoC). This approach has the potential to be a revolution, representing a breakthrough in current practice and challenging established structures of power and decision-making within UN peacekeeping.

Generally, measuring protection is quite difficult because of the term’s broad definition, incorporating a whole range of overlapping issue-areas and activities. In Peacekeeping alone, PoC is conceptualized in three pillars: protection through political processes, physical protection, and creating a protective environment. Concentrating on one of these areas, such as physical protection, would make measurement possible, but would not live up to the holistic nature of the protection concept and it would also remain difficult to attribute impact as the other pillars also contribute to protection-related outcomes. Furthermore, spanning over the fault lines of security actors, humanitarians, human rights organizations, etc., there exists a lack of coordination between organizations result in unclear responsibilities and low accountability which in return increase difficulties with measurement.

Thus, asking the population about how protected they feel seems to be a practical way of dealing with these challenges and holds a lot of promise for improving peacekeeping interventions: First, measuring its protection activities would allow MONUSCO to see what works and adjust its approaches accordingly. Second, survey results would hold the mission accountable, increasing the pressure on strategic decision-making as well as staff performance. The results would also allow for more specific advocacy to those peacekeeping contingents and Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) that are reluctant to effectively patrol and engage with armed groups. Finally, a better understanding of the threats that populations face and how they cope with them could be the basis for developing more appropriate strategies, mechanisms and activities.

There is, however, a problem related to the priorities of peacekeeping and the particular discrepancy between headquarters and the field. Critical voices state that neither in their assessment of needs, nor in their activities have Peacekeeping-missions been particularly oriented towards populations. Their top-down, macro-level interventions often seem like prescribed, blue-print like approaches that are unconnected to the local context (Autesserre 2010). In the case of Congo, the choices made seem to reflect other priorities than the security of local communities. MONUC’s strong support for the 2006 elections has, for example, provided a legitimate partner with whom the international community can work, but who has shown little inclination to improve the security and well-being of the Congolese population. In her recent book “Formal Peace and Informal War”, Zoe Marriage emphasizes that stabilizing the Congo has allowed the liberalization of the Congolese mining sector, whilst allowing patterns of exploitation, violent domination and abuse to continue. This stands in full contradiction to the primacy of PoC in MONUSCO’s mandate and its underlying rhetoric of human security, as well as to the many dedicated MONUSCO staff in DRC, who work countless hours to improve the lives of Congolese.

To explain these contradictions, it is helpful to emphasize that the decision-making processes in New York do not only take place far away from the realities on the ground, but play out according to unique contextual dynamics as well as varying political and organizational interests. Negotiations on peacekeeping mandates in the UN Security Council are, for example, fed by the information from reports, but are centered around political dynamics and priorities of member states. It is no secret that these strive for symbolic and political capital, thus sometimes agreeing to a resolution for reasons that are entirely unrelated to the case under discussion. Schlichte and Veit (2007) have compared similar donor processes to the potlatch ritual of Native Americans, where gifts are distributed because of social dynamics and status. Likewise, research by Stensland and Sending (2011, 2013) suggests that organizations such as OCHA, DPKO and UNHCR frame PoC in a way that reflects their organizational interests rather than the necessities the field.

It can thus be concluded that the inclusion of local realities and the increased pressure to react to them, as to be expected from successful surveys, goes against the established (power) structures of peacekeeping. This challenge is neither open nor widely acknowledged, but reacting appropriately to the survey results would mean that decision-making and priority-setting at headquarters would be curtailed by the realities and needs of the field. Those pushing the survey within MONUSCO should thus assure that the data is methodologically correct and relevant. In a second step, they need to publicize it widely, ideally also organizing events at Kinshasa and New York, in order to increase the pressure to react to it. However, for MONUSCO to engage in spreading the survey results might be somewhat counter-intuitive, as they seem to provide a pretty grim assessment of the mission’s protection activities.

The Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping

book cover
Last week, I finally had the time to finish de Carvolho and Sending’s book on the Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping. On top of a foreword by former Emergency Relief Coordinator (aka head of OCHA) Jan Egeland, an introduction and an outro by the two editors, the book provides input in nine different chapters. The starting point is PoC’s persistent paradox: while protecting civilians in peacekeeping situations requires a comprehensive approach that combines humanitarian, human rights, security and political processes, the broad understanding results in confusion and makes PoC mandates difficult to implement in practice.

Accordingly, the book begins with four chapters on conceptual developments and the evolution on PoC mandates. Noteworthy is chapter three, which differentiates PoC from its twin concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), stating that “PoC is meant mainly as a guide to how to act, not a trigger for whether to act”. The authors therefore caution that the two should be kept separately to avoid that R2P interventionist character tarnishes the legitimacy of PoC, which largely reflects what the Secretary General said himself in 2012. But the most interesting chapter is Stensland and Sending’s political economy analysis of protection. According to their argument, PoC is the playfield in which OCHA, DPKO, UNHCR and others formulate and advance different aspects of protection to compete for influence and resources. The uncertainty of the term is thus not mere coincidence, neither is it caused by the inherent challenges of protecting civilians, but rather represents the product of differing views and organizational interests. Particularly OCHA had good reasons to press for a vague and comprehensive definition of PoC, as it allowed addressing more issues, secure influence in the UN Security Council, and representing the demands of the humanitarian community.

In a second part, the book then turns to five case studies of PoC implementation in Africa: MONUC (Congo), AMIS and UNAMID (Darfur), UNMIS (South Soudan), MINURCAT (Chad) and UNMIL (Liberia). The empirical descriptions from the field are intended to familiarize the reader with the challenges for implementation, and provide an overview over the heterogeneity of understandings and practice. At the same time, reinforcing the understanding of practice also allows for a more academic perspective of the rupture between headquarters and field and the way that protection discourses are created and influenced on these different levels. However, although giving the reader a useful idea about what protection looks like in practice, the field chapters remain too descriptive and context specific. Instead of this sort of a report style, I would have expected more analysis, the identification of underlying mechanisms and maybe even some use of theory to produce real arguments and insights.

Obviously, this is a must read for people that are interested in or working on how the UN does protection. Originally quite excited about this book, I was disappointed that the leading researchers on protection have mainly restated earlier articles in not very engaging writing.