Women building peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo – Salomé Ntububa

Mary Robinson Centre, Visiting Scholar Salomé Ntububa gave two public research seminars during her time at NUI Galway in October 2016. Salomé, the Regional Emergency Manager for Central Africa, Christian Aid in Democratic Republic of Congo spoke about her work with MA student in the Centre for Global Women’s Studies Mathilde Chanfreau.

From South Kivu, Salomé has worked as a humanitarian practitioner for over 17 years, in East and West African countries. She is an engineer and a specialist in rural development and crop management, as well as being trained in emergency management, disaster risk reduction, climate change, child protection, project management and monitoring and evaluation. Currently, Salomé leads Christian Aid’s humanitarian responses in Central Africa, including monitoring the political and security situation to anticipate future interventions. She works closely with local partner NGOs to build capacity and to ensure timely interventions, backed by transparent systems of accountability.

Below is the interview with Salome, and you can hear her lecture on Women building peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo’ at the Centre for Global Women’s Studies, co-sponsored by Gender Arc here.


Mathilde Chanfreau: In your view what is the current status of implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and Great Lakes Region?


Salomé Ntububa: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, which was signed by the member states of the Great Lakes Coalition: Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. These countries gathered together to reinforce the security in the region and particularly in the DRC. After the signature of this agreement, there were many initiatives set up with the cooperation of the United Nations. We saw a lot of commitments and some rebellions could have been stopped thanks to this agreement. But these past few years, and especially this year, we saw a letting up and today we do not hear much about the agreement. The countries are focusing on their own domestic issues and we did not see much implication from them in that agreement. There were elections in Uganda and post-electoral issues in Burundi. In December, there will be elections in DRC as well. Because of these domestic issues, the countries did not really show some interest to uphold the agreement. There is a lot of insecurity in DRC and especially in the region of Beni (in the East DRC), where there were some massacres. The massacres keep happening, but we do not see the effects of the agreement or discussions to solve the problem. Normally, these states should act together to protect civilians, but in fact they keep suffering more and more. There are many killings and massacres, and therefore we are wondering whether or not we should revise the Framework or what we should do to strengthen it.


How would you describe the nature of the conflict in East DRC currently?

S.N.: Currently, there are many conflicts in East DRC. There are hot points mainly at the border with Uganda, in Beni. On the one hand, there are some members of ADF-Nalu (Islamic militia), that are Ugandan rebels. They infiltrated the local population and are looking for having some control, some power over the territory of that province. They attack everybody and kill people in mass. On the other hand, there are identity conflicts, where in some zones different groups or tribes are opposed. They want to find themselves an identity, an origin and a land, so they fight against each other. There are civilian wars about ethnic and tribal interests; therefore that identity conflict is a big issue in the eastern part of the country. There is also another problem which is the control that armed groups have over mining zones. Where there are mining conflicts, there are “war lords” who impose and are looking for having control over these resources. They threaten the population to exploit the resources and sell them to make a lot of money. But it is not all, there are also bandits operating in the region. Because of the lack of control from the police or the government, they take advantage to steal and plunder. They will not be judged for their crimes. So, that is an overview of the conflicts and issues currently happening in East DRC.


Are the resources mainly located in East DRC?

S.N.: The mining resources are mainly in East DRC, but there are other kind of resources in the South and in the middle of the country as well. The most wanted resources, like coltan, are located in the East. Coltan is mainly used for mobile phones or weapons. It is a very expensive resource and a very useful one, which is more located in the East than any other part of the country. These resources are easy to exploit and valuable on the international trade markets. It is also easy to get these resources out of the country because of the proximity of the borders, thus it is easier to trade.


What is your view of the role of the UN Mission MONUSCO and the operation of the FIB at the present time?

S.N.: The mission of the United Nations MONUSCO, previously MONUC, celebrated its 15th anniversary of existence in Congo. This mission was implemented after an important crisis when the country was divided in two parts. Efforts were made to reunify the country. Thanks to the Framework, a lot of work was done to gather the opposants. In this agreement, the diplomatic side was quite effective especially at the beginning. However, regarding the military side, we did not really see the outcomes. When the peacekeeping mission began, it was first an observation mission, and then measures were set up. For instance, now there are peace intervention brigades but since they operate, there were not much impacts. It has been years that there are killings in Beni-area and now we are speaking about thousands of people directly affected. This is an area with about 7 million people, and for such a big population, when we speak about more than thousands of dead and one million displaced people, it proves that the crisis is important. Up to now, this mission did not prove its effectiveness to solve this crisis. Today, the country is again in a pre-electoral crisis, so we are wondering if we should revise the mission and ask what is the purpose of the mission or what is it bringing to the population. In my opinion, I think this mission serve its own interests and not those of the population, especially when we see the living conditions of the population over there. The conditions deteriorate more and more. Five years ago, Beni was still a stable region, there were no killings, and there were no population movements, there were happening in other parts of the country. But now even though the brigade is there, there are a lot of population movements. The rebels are becoming more and more criminal. Therefore the effectiveness of the mission is questioned. Another deficit of the mission is that this kind of mission is located in the cities or the towns and it cannot reach the remote areas of Congo and the population living there. Yet it is where the rebels are. The inhabitants of these areas cannot go to the fields to cultivate them anymore. The rebels monopolise fields and parks where they kill animals and people. Everybody is suffering from it. Because of that they destroy the population and the environment. Even though the mission is there and things are evolving, it failed to establish peace. In terms of diplomacy, it tried to do something but concerning the ending of the killings, the purpose of the mission has not been reached yet.


Is the current UN Envoy well known in DRC (e.g., as Mary Robinson was)?

S.N.: Not really. Maman Sambo Sidikou, who is the current “Special Representative for the DRC and Head of MONUSCO”, is not really known. He is new but still tries to commit and make things change. On the other hand, his deputy, Mamadou Diallo, is more on the field. But for the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, we do not see him. About the crisis in Beni, which is a great crisis that Congo had not known for a long time, he did not do that much, when it has been two years since he replaced Mrs. Robinson, but he is not as present as she was and that what is missing. We saw Mrs. Robinson really commit to fight the crisis, especially the 2002-2003 crisis, when the country was attacked and some rebels even managed to take Goma (a town in the East). Following to that, there were a lot of negotiations to free the zone and they left. But regarding the ADF-Nalu crisis, there were not much efforts, or at least we do not see them.


Explain your vision of the role of local level development as a form of peace building?

S.N.: I really believe in development. Before the current crisis, we saw Congo as a country that was starting to develop, that discovered agri-food and mining industries. Those were kinds of development that were starting to take shape in Congo. After that, there was the dictatorship phase, when the dictator (Mobutu Sese Seko, 1930-1997) took everything. He had control over the social and economic sectors and over the whole country. He monopolized everything and unfortunately he did not develop some sectors and therefore did not develop the country. Instead, he stole the country. After that, there was therefore a lack of development, and because of that, the population was frustrated. Then, other groups also wanted to have power to take over the resources of the country and that is how the conflict started. It happened because of this lack of development and this dictatorship imposed on Congo. According to me, I think we really should develop every sectors but the agricultural one particularly, from which 90% of the Congolese population depends on. Concerning the mining sector that bring in lot of resources to the country the development is quite contentious currently. But if there is a proper development of this sector, everybody will beneficiate from it. Congo has a population of 70 million of inhabitants and this population grows everyday, therefore the small part of land, that there is left, will become a source of conflict. People will start to fight for these lands. There is also the issue of the youth, that has to find jobs, and when this youth is unemployed and has nothing to to do, it turns to weapons. Therefore, this development is very, very important for us. It will allow the citizens to think about their future, to be able to develop their environment, to address different challenges that they face and to do so in more enterprising way. This development is one of the solutions to stop the conflict in Congo. We need to invest into the private sector, into the companies where people had jobs and with these jobs they could eat and even send their children to school. Today, we have to pay for education even for primary schools. But with those companies that used to work, there were schools and roads and everything used to work. So, I think that we need a national and even local development. Because one of the concerns is to see how the local business and development are working; and at the international level as well, for people working in the mining sector. Therefore we really need a local development, because people are suffering and we have to see how to build it parallel to the national and international developments. That is the key.
Do women have a particular role to play in this regard?

S.N.: Absolutely. I even think that if Congo manage to resist, it is because women took that responsibility. In case of conflicts, we see that men are either in armed groups, or they run away, they will not stay on site. Women are staying with the family. In refugees or displaced person camps or villages, you will see mostly women and children. These women there did not give up, they are taking the charge of taking care of children. They also try to develop an informal economy to survive. They do not let themselves be pushed around despite what they live or might have lived in the past. Thus I think, that the development we talked about has to come from the women. Women are victims of this conflict but they developed many assets and survival means that we need to strengthen. They should be encouraged to have a proper education because many women did not have the chance to be educated. They also need to connect with other women in the world to see what they did in similar situations and to draw inspiration from what has already been done. I believe that the role of women is very important. We see that in many sectors like security or development that women are unfortunately sidelined. Women are left with activities considered as basic. But when it is about the management of the State, about negotiations or about peace, women are absent. Nobody consults women, when those are the same women that reared the negotiators and the rebels.  The same women are feeding them with their agricultural production. But when time comes to negotiate and make decisions, they are forgotten. Therefore, I think that women have to be involved at every level. Average Congolese families are composed of eight persons and women manage to take care of eight persons. That is why I think that the experience of the woman in managing a family is the starting point. Women need to be involved and associated to the management of resources and on the political, social and economic levels. Women also need to be recognised because they are doing a lot of efforts but they are not truly appreciated and I think that is a mistake from the decision makers. They have to nominate more female leaders. There are some but only at a particular level. Moreover, women who are victims of injustices and are smashed by individuals who take advantage to rise and to gain more power at their expense. They should rather be introduced as models and should be listened to. But we do not listen to them and there are people speaking in place of them. Therefore I think that we should let some space to women so they can express themselves and share their ideas. Women are not given that chance today.


In the Framework, it is written that measures should be taken to protect women from violence in armed conflicts, was it done? What is really effective?

S.N.: It was indeed one of the aim of the Framework: strengthen the protection of women and it was not really effective. In terms of justice, it was also not effective enough. There were many situation in the country, where justice was not reinforce. I think that it is the most important element. Justice did not play its role well yet, it is not fair enough. I think that what is lacking in the Framework is the issue of responsibility and especially the responsibility of the State towards its citizens and this issue was not really well addressed. Another problem in that agreement is that it is very theoretical. Practical speaking, there are missing elements, for instance the responsibility of the police, even though it is intricate. Moreover, I think that is really important that the police integrate the gender element in its policy. Today, the police is composed mainly of men, who are not looking for protecting the population, who is trying to survive. And I think that it is not normal, especially for the police, because its role is to protect the population, to protect life. Furthermore, there are not many women in the police. Women should be trained to integrate the police forces. There are a few police women who were working on issues concerning sexual violence and we saw an impact. There is also a colonel women called Colonel Honorine (Honorine Munyole) in Bukavu who worked on fighting violence against women, that was never seen before. Unfortunately she was transferred to another town, where there were not many violence cases. We should rather trained thousands of Colonel Honorine and more female brigade that would have the mission to protect. We should prepare the youth to learn how to protect themselves as well, but unfortunately there is no speech that encourage it. People forget that they also have a responsibility to protect themselves. The MONUSCO mission exists for fifteen years now and when there is a problem people wonder where is the mission, but they forget that they have a responsibility and that they can maybe do something, be involved. That was in terms of administration. Now socially speaking, there is nothing. In my opinion this is the base to build a country, to build peace, because there is something to protect, but if there is nothing, what should we protect? There are no discussions about social security and retirement pensions. Moreover, I think we should integrate more the people who are already working on social issues and who are already on the field. So, the agreement is working for and with people in higher sphere, that make decisions but it forgot to integrate this community that already working on these issues everyday. There were not asked about their vision for peace or how they could be supported in their work to maintain peace. There were no connections between what was already there and what was created with the Framework.


In your view, which elements of the PSC framework are still important to achieve?

S.N.: The integration of women. We always talk about gender and include the gender issues in the debate. This is as if gender was only see more women in the media or talking about women but in fact we do not teach how we must integrate gender. For instance, when we talk about including more women into the police forces, that is good, but concretely how does it work and how many women would it be? So, we can fix the problem with basic examples. We do not need to be too theoretical, instead we need to look at what it is already there and what is missing to improve the system.
For more on Salomé’s visiting scholarship to the Mary Robinson Centre click here.