Join Professor Séverine Autesserre for a discussion of her new book, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding.
Refreshments will be served.
Co-sponsored by Columbia’s Institute of African Studies (IAS), and Barnard College’s Human Rights and Africana Studies Programs
Autesserre is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and a Member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Her research interests include civil and international wars, international interventions, and African politics.
Autesserre’s new book, 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.
“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
“Autesserre’s book stands as a major contribution to our understanding of the roots of conflict in eastern Congo and the failure of the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) to effectively restore peace. She develops a highly original and theoretically innovative framework for reconceptualizing both the nature of conflict in eastern Congo and how to deal with it. This book will be read with considerable interest, and no little trepidation, by UN officials and international peacemakers in general, as well as by students of international relations and African politics.”
– René Lemarchand, Emeritus Professor, University of Florida
“This is a disturbing book about a failure that is not acknowledged as a failure, about intervention strategies that do not address key sources of deadly violence, and about the trained incapacity of diplomats who look solely to national agreements and processes to end long-standing wars. This is a book that aims to challenge and change peacebuilding orthodoxy.”
– Stephen John Stedman, Stanford University