The dangers of simplistic single narratives

As Stearns argues in this excellent book, the causes of the conflicts in eastern DRC are multiple and complex. Yet simple narratives in the media and among aid workers and advocacy groups have tried hard to reduce these causes to a fight over minerals; and similarly the consequences as mass rape of women and young girls (remember the video cameras fiasco??). In reality the story is more complex than this.

Here is a quote from a good paper on the international community’s responses to the Congo (DRC) conflicts by Severine Autesserre in the latest edition of African Affairs:

“These narratives focus on a primary cause of violence, illegal exploitation of mineral resources; a main consequence, sexual abuse of women and girls; and a central solution, extending state authority. I elucidate why simple narratives are necessary for policy makers, journalists, advocacy groups, and practitioners on the ground, especially those involved in the Congo. I then consider each narrative in turn and explain how they achieved prominence: they provided straightforward explanations for the violence, suggested feasible solutions to it, and resonated with foreign audiences. I demonstrate that the focus on these narratives and on the solutions they recommended has led to results that clash with their intended purposes, notably an increase in human rights violations.

The international actors’ concentration on trafficking of mineral resources as a source of violence has led them to overlook the myriad other causes, such as land conflict, poverty, corruption, local political and social antagonisms, and hostile relationships between state officials, including security forces, and the general population. Interveners have singled out for support one category of victims, sexually injured women and girls, at the expense of others, notably those tortured in a non-sexual manner, child soldiers, and the families of those killed.”

The paper is a grim reminder that “fixing the Congo”  – whatever that means – will take a long time. More on this here.

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One thought on “The dangers of simplistic single narratives

  1. Yes, absolutely, but we also have to refrain from another reductive narrative, which is that we are reducing the eastern Congo to simplistic narratives (apologies for the infinite regress). While it is true that some NGOs, governments and media outlets are guilty of this, it is certainly not true for many of the other actors working on the Congo.

    I am also not as sure as Séverine that conflict minerals legislation – which has been pushed by many with a nuanced appreciation of the situation on the ground – has had such a negative impact on the Congo. The debate continues.

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