The RVI Usalama Project
The eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has been mired in violence for two decades and continues to be plagued by dozens of armed groups. Yet, these groups—and how they interact with their social and political environment—remain poorly understood. The Usalama Project is a field-based, partner-driven research initiative that aims to examine armed groups and their influence on Congolese society (Usalama is Swahili for safety or security). It constitutes a source of reliable and public information for a wide audience from policymakers to civil society activists, both in the Congo and beyond.
The Usalama Project takes a qualitative approach to field-based research. It traces the trajectories of armed groups and analyses the contexts in which they operate by means of interviews with a wide range of actors—including local authorities, representatives of civil society, small and large-scale business interests, and members of armed groups. It also draws upon available historical and administrative sources, reports and scholarly work by Congolese and international researchers and organizations.
Phase II: Governance in Conflict (2015-2016)
The second phase of the Usalama Project, led by Judith Verweijen, was launched in 2015. Entitled ‘Governance in Conflict’, it examines the relationship between armed groups and local governance structures in the eastern Congo. The project asks a number of questions: How do armed actors affect conflicts related to public authority? How, in turn, do local authorities shape patterns of armed group organization? And what are the effects of armed group presence on governance and service provision? The research also examines government policies and external interventions aimed at reducing armed group activity and improving the quality of local governance and conflict resolution.
The ‘Governance in Conflict’ phase of the Usalama Project is part of the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). This is a four-year research programme on political settlements in conflict-affected states which aims to inform policy at the national and international level. It is implemented by a consortium of five partners, including the Rift Valley Institute, and is led by the University of Edinburgh’s Global Justice Academy.
Phase I: Understanding Congolese armed groups (2012-2013)
The first phase of the Usalama Project ran from 2012-2013 and was led by Jason Stearns. Entitled ‘Understanding Congolese armed groups’, it addressed the lack of knowledge about armed groups and the national army in the eastern Congo. To that end, it poses a series of questions such as: What is the history of these armed groups? Who supports and controls them? What are the relations of particular groups to the state, to neighbouring states, to business interests and to the Congolese armed forces? Why have some groups been so difficult to demobilize, while others have disappeared? The project produced eleven research reports and four briefings over a period of 18 months, which are available in English and French.
This phase was conducted in partnership with the Catholic University of Bukavu, with support from the Open Square Project and Humanity United.
For more information on the Usalama Project, please contact the RVI Great Lakes Programme Manager.