Building bridges between communities and local government in the DRC

Annabel Morrissey Governance, Methodology


Annabel Morrissey recently returned from a visit to Equateur in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where she visited Oxfam’s Within and Without the State programme which aims to improve the quality and effectiveness of civil society programming in fragile states. This is no small feat in a country where there has been ongoing instability and conflict for the last 20 years. Here she reflects on the programme’s strengths.

Over the last few years international NGOs working with local communities in conflict affected areas of the DRC have developed an approach called the protection model. Community protection committees identify protection issues and work between communities and government or armed groups to broker peaceful solutions.

Promoting a process of non-confrontational dialogue and strengthening women’s voices within it has had tangible results in reducing abuses…Promoting a process of non-confrontational dialogue and strengthening women’s voices within it has had tangible results in reducing abuses, improving gender equality and developing more positive relationships between citizens and those in power.

The Within and Without the State programme (WWS) has adapted this approach as a pilot for governance work in the West of DRC, renaming the structures ‘community development committees’ in recognition of their role in raising wider issues beyond just protection threats.

As much of the international community’s focus has been on the east of the country, which has a long history of conflict, the presence of NGOs is limited in the west, despite the high rates of poverty and endemic issues of fragility and weak governance.

Having heard positive stories on the impact of the project so far, I was keen to see the progress for myself with two questions in mind: What does this change look like? And how is this change happening?

From my observations and conversations with community members, government authorities and staff, I found six key contributing factors to constructive engagement between civil society and the state:

  1. Building on existing structures using clear programming guidelines.
  2. Having separate spaces for women to meet and discuss.
  3. Finding non-confrontational entry points for dialogue with power holders.
  4. Finding collective solutions between communities and the state, despite limited resources for service provision.
  5. Empowering women in the public sphere, leading to change at a household level.
  6. Recognizing success in the form of compromise.

It’s still early days for the WWS programme in DRC (launched in October 2015). What we are seeing represents the first stages in building a ‘social contract‘, enabling non-confrontational dialogue between citizens and state. 

Through a combination of creating women’s groups who can meet separately, develop confidence and talk freely about the issue relevant to them, mixed development committees who receive training on advocacy and how to approach the government, and training for local government and community members on the Congolese law, we are already seeing impact in our local governance work in Equateur. 

How that change happens and what that change ultimately looks like is unique to the contexts and constraints of governance in Equateur. As the programme now launches into its second phase, the team are continually shifting their approach and remaining dynamic with the changing context, whether that be changes in provincial authorities, the implementation of decentralisation, and the likely impact of national elections and change in power over the next year.

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Photo: Protection committee, DRC, December 2014. Credit: Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam

Author: Annabel Morrissey
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.