‘In Their Eyes: the perception of aid and humanitarian workers by irregular combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo’ (March, 2014)
As INSO prepares to launch regular thematic reports, we are sharing the findings of our first research project conducted by Justine Brabant and Christoph Vogel. In a complex yet relatively accessible context characterised by a myriad of armed actors, this comprehensive study seeks to examine the perception of humanitarian organisations and their work by irregular combatants in Eastern DRC.
The results, which were based on an analysis of 75 interviews with 15 armed groups as well as a questionnaire completed by 45 NGO representatives in North and South Kivu, highlighted two main conclusions. Firstly, and despite the heavy presence of irregular combatants in their areas of operation, many NGOs have never engaged with armed groups in Eastern DRC. Secondly, while responses varied depending on personal dispositions and motivations, armed groups generally demonstrated a positive view of humanitarian organisations and principles but criticised NGOs for a perceived incompetence, nepotism and corruption in delivering assistance.
Although the report was released to INSO members in DRC over three years ago, it contains some relevant and enduring insights for those seeking to engage with armed actors in other parts of the world as well as for researchers. Primarily, the authors recommend that NGOs construct clear, consistent and inclusive engagement strategies within and across armed groups. By doing so, NGOs will not only establish structured communication systems as opposed to informal personal relationships, but they will also mitigate the risk of appearing selective and biased. The development and application of internal mechanisms related to armed groups will additionally enable NGOs to transparently assess, monitor and report on breaches of humanitarian and operational principles. While in need of updating, the extensive list of predominant actors in the appendix provides NGOs with a basis for identifying and mapping key information regarding armed groups in North and South Kivu. Lastly, and exemplifying the value of INSO’s mandate, this research illustrates that understanding the presence, perceptions and practices of armed groups is instrumental for ensuring the legitimacy, effectiveness and sustainability of humanitarian access.