How programme learning in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) led to piloting a new approach to governance and protection

Annabel Morrissey Governance, Humanitarian, Protection

As we publish a new research report, Protection and Governance: Linking good practice in protection and governance programmes in the DRC, Annabel Morrissey reflects on what Oxfam has learnt about the cross over between governance and protection and how this learning is being used.

When, for the first time ever in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), people refused to pay school fees a compromise was reached. “In the DRC public schooling is free but the State’s failure to pay teachers’ salaries led to the widespread practice of paying ‘school fees'”, explains Jose Barahona Oxfam Country Director, DRC.  ‘The Provincial Minister for Education travelled to see and hear for himself what was happening.’ In the negotiation that followed it was agreed that 50% of fees be paid this year, but nothing next year. ‘This is a fantastic step change in a fragile context like DRC. Often people have not received anything from the State, so they don’t expect anything, so they don’t demand anything, and if they do, they look to the NGO community and not to the State.’

This paints a picture of what ‘governance programming’ means in practice.  It is a pilot that is combining the best of Oxfam in DRC’s community based governance and protection work.  It is a coming together of minds, experience and commitment from the DRC Protection Team and colleagues within the governance -focused Within and Without the State multi country programme. So how did this lead to a new hybrid approach?

The impact of pooled learning

The pilot resulted from five years’ commitment ‘to capture and share knowledge and learning about what makes programming in DRC, Afghanistan, OPTI and South Sudan effective’. The aim was to adapt the protection approach used in the conflict ridden east to the needs of the non-conflict affected, but still fragile west, and to test its potential for future governance programming in DRC.

How to meaningfully engage women in local protection committees, how to understand what power and risk looks like in the local context, and how to engage in non-confrontational dialogue, are just some of the questions that have been driving reflection to inform adaptation for maximum long term impact to protect Congolese civilians and support community voice with local power holders.

Protection and Governance: Links and Divergence

In its exploration of the overlap between protection and governance, Oxfam’s staff and partners in the DRC share learning of potential value for the review and design of other governance and protection programmes in fragile and conflict affected settings. Paper highlights:

  • Integrating a governance approach helps to achieve wider protection aims
  • Community-level Women’s Forums ensure that the protection concerns of women and girls are acted upon; increase women’s confidence to participate in decision making spaces and encourage discussions on protection issues linked to gender discriminatory practices.
  • There were many similarities (discriminatory gender practices, illegal taxation and generalised extortion) between the conflict and non-conflict affected areas, albeit with additional protection threats related to armed groups and conflict in the east
  • Reference to the Congolese legal framework to increase knowledge of rights and responsibilities surrounding protection threats was critical
  • Many protection threats perpetrated by state authorities are underpinned by wider structural challenges (for example non- payment of salaries) requiring compromise
  • The approach has limitations, highlighting the need (context permitting) for stronger advocacy and policy engagement on structural issues, local development and budget transparency and support for the advocacy agendas of civil society organisations

In conclusion:

Protection and governance are closely intertwined in the DRC.

Many protection threats, such as illegal taxes and arbitrary arrests, stem from structural governance issues, whilst others, including forced marriage, are exacerbated by the challenges faced by local authorities to fulfil their role as duty bearers.

It is important to recognise the protection / governance cross over and the potential for positive (individual, collective and structural) change through addressing both. A rights and legal based framework, that builds bridges between communities and local authorities could be at the heart of a programme model able to adapt to a conflict or non conflict affected setting.

This pilot is raising the voices of communities denied their (universal and inalienable) Human Rights to free speech, education, liberty and safety.  It is helping to reassert the entitlement ‘without distinction of any kind’ to these rights for those even more marginalised, including women, and in Equateur Province, Pygmies.
And finally, possibly most important of all, it is preparing those with a duty of care, to listen, and to meet demands half way.

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Robert Palmer