The Trouble with the Congo

Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding

The Trouble with the Congo

The Trouble with the Congo suggests a new explanation for international peacebuilding failures in civil wars. Drawing from more than 330 interviews and a year and a half of field research, it develops a case study of the international intervention during the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s unsuccessful transition from war to peace and democracy (2003–2006). Grassroots rivalries over land, resources, and political power motivated widespread violence. However, a dominant peacebuilding culture shaped the intervention strategy in a way that precluded action on local conflicts, ultimately dooming the international efforts to end the deadliest conflict since World War II. Most international actors interpreted continued fighting as the consequence of national and regional tensions alone. UN staff and diplomats viewed intervention at the macro levels as their only legitimate responsibility. The dominant culture constructed local peacebuilding as such an unimportant, unfamiliar, and unmanageable task that neither shocking events nor resistance from select individuals could convince international actors to reevaluate their understanding of violence and intervention.


 Reviews:

“Over a decade old, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) is now the biggest multilateral peacekeeping effort ever, with close to 20,000 troops and civilian personnel and an operating budget over a billion dollars. Cycles of extreme violence in the country have led to some criticism of the UN’s efforts, and Autesserre’s book provides a unique ethnography of the organization in the Congo, the outlook and values of its staff, and its operational logic…Autesserre’s arguments are clearly stated and compelling…”
Foreign Affairs

The Trouble with the Congo is a magnificent accomplishment and is must-reading for anyone interested in whether, why, and how the international community might be able to reduce the cases of violence around the world. Scholars will admire how Autesserre uses a combination of theoretical analysis and ethnography to show us how two different worlds collide, and how peacebuilders do not see the collision even on impact. My hope is that practitioners will take to heart the book’s call for critical self-reflection and use its insights for more effective policy prescriptions. Wonderfully written, the book delivers a cool but passionate analysis, born from Autesserre’s courage, commitment to Congolese, and sincere desire not to simply identify criticisms of peacebuilding but to suggest ways in which it can improve its craft to help the people on the ground.”
– Michael Barnett, University of Minnesota

“What happens when international peacebuilding is culturally focused at the national level, yet most conflict takes place at the local level? Using extensive, painstakingly collected evidence, Autesserre shows that the macro-micro mismatch is not only a methodological shortcoming but also a grave policy failure. By helping to frame a nasty concatenation of local conflicts as a ‘postconflict situation,’ this policy focus ended up exacerbating the war and its attendant human suffering. At once a gripping account of war and failed peace in the Congo and a strikingly lucid and original examination of the causes of peacebuilding failure in civil war, this book demonstrates why deep contextual knowledge remains an essential precondition of theoretical innovation.”
– Stathis N. Kalyvas, Yale University

"The trouble with the Congo is a well-researched and provocative book, and its arguments are comprehensively supported with solid evidence. The bibliography will be a resource for scholars of Central Africa for decades. The questions Autesserre’s arguments raise are based on logical arguments which provide grist for the theoretical mill and open up and point the way to new research agendas." - Michael Nest, African Security Review

"A much-needed contribution to the literature on the micro-dynamics of violence and peacebuilding, Séverine Autesserre's The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding is an outstanding work of political science. It is so meticulously researched and well reasoned – while based on solid evidence – that it is difficult to criticise the author’s central claim that conflict continues in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) because it essentially never occurred to the international community that it needed to be concerned with local peacebuilding initiatives. - Laura E. Seay, African Security Review

"Autesserre’s interpretation of events in Congo has wide academic appeal and direct policy implications. She recommends devising and implementing local peacebuilding efforts to accompany efforts being made at the national and regional levels.... Autesserre does an excellent job of convincing the reader that, in many ways, international peacebuilders lacked the basic skills, such as knowledge of local power dynamics, linguistic skills, etc, necessary to resolve conflicts at the local level." - Zachariah Mampilly, African Security Review

"Autesserre’s recommendations, which open up new avenues of thinking about bottomup peacebuilding strategies, contribute to the establishment of preconditions for a radical change not only in culture but also in action." - Geoffroy Matagne, African Security Review



"Autesserre has powerfully turned our attention to the missing local piece/ peace of the complex challenge that is peacemaking/peacekeeping/peacebuilding, of the violent puzzle that is the eastern DRC, and of many other ‘post-conflict’ settings.... In this, her book makes a powerful contribution." - Stephen Jackson, African Security Review

"The Trouble with the Congo is an important study that adds greatly to the growing literature on international peacebuilding in Africa and other areas of the world. This study is essential reading for anyone interested in modern Africa and the failure of international peacebuilding in the last two decades." - Sandra Trudgen Dawson, African Conflict & Peacebuilding Review

"Autesserre offers a powerful analysis that contributes to an understanding of the significance of culture in peacekeeping operations, from both an institutional and a grassroots perspective.... Her book is an absolute must for anyone interested in the Congo wars." - Steven Schouten, International Affairs

"The strong and convincing argument for local peace-building will secure the book to be a new fixture in the peace-building literature firmament." - John Karlsrud, Forum for Development Studies

'The Trouble with [the] Congo is an exemplar piece of research and an excellent example of the deeper insights that can be gained from qualitative studies of the micro-dynamics of civil war spearheaded by Stathis Kalyvas and his colleagues at Yale University. Autesserre's book offers the most succinct yet complete account available in English of the Congolese conflict and the international intervention and it provides a fresh perspective on the micro-foundations not only of the sources of conflict but also of the sources of imperfect intervention strategies.' Christof P. Kurz, Journal of Politics

'Drawing from a great variety of qualitative sources, and most notably, years of ethnographic work and more than 330 interviews, Autesserre links the collective international neglect of local conflict dynamics to the presence of a dominant international peacebuilding culture, which she defines broadly as the shared set of 'ideologies, rules, rituals, assumptions, definitions, paradigms, and standard operating procedures' that shape international actors' 'parameters of acceptable action' in the field … [her] rigorous empirical analysis has successfully positioned the previously widely neglected issue of local conflict at the forefront of contemporary debate on international intervention - the litmus test of a scholarly work of exceptional quality and international relevance.' Lisa Karlborg, African Studies Review

'Readers eager to understand the origins and persistence of the deadliest conflict since World War II have a valuable new resource grounded in a powerful critique.' A. Carl LeVan, Political Science Quarterly

'Séverine Autesserre has written a brilliant book on peace-building in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It has already won a major academic prize, and easily deserves the further accolades it is sure to garner. The book will be of enormous interest to students of the multiple conflict in the DRC and to practitioners of peacemaking throughout the world. It also serves as a model for excellence in qualitative research design. The study has the potential to change substantially the culture and practice of peacemaking for the better if policymakers are willing to hear the heartfelt and constructive criticism embodied in this analysis.' John F. Clark, Perspectives on Politics

'In this impressive volume, Séverine Autesserre [offers] a compelling and engaging account … Her analysis is clear and its implications are highly relevant for making sense of other peacebuilding failures in troubled states. Along the way, she provides a great deal of rich detail about specific forces needed to understand the long term violence in the Congo's eastern provinces.' Marc Howard Ross, Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflicts


 Prizes:

Winner, 2011 Chadwick Alger Prize, International Studies Association
Winner, 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order

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