The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has suffered from violent conflict since the early 1990s, with periods of regional and local/national level conflict. Despite relatively calm elections in 2006, the eastern part of DRC has remained conflict-ridden. The conflicts in eastern DRC centre on control of land and natural resources, and are caused by structural injustices present in systems of political and ethnically centred patronage.
These systems are further exacerbated by the negative effects of a war economy dominated by armed groups and their control of local natural resources through the terrorisation of local communities. Gender-based violence remains a serious problem throughout the conflict area. Conflict has been sustained by a lack of good governance, in combination with a middle class not yet strong enough to become an effective change agent for peace and superficial peacebuilding efforts that have tended to avoid the root causes of the conflicts.
The international community, international NGOs, local civil society, traditional elders and churches all play an important role as peacebuilders and unifiers. Their efforts do, however, need to be backed by regional and national authorities through legal sector reform and sincere efforts of disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups combined with security sector reform.
Despite the military victory over the M23 by the joint UN (MONUSCO) and government forces in 2013, armed movements and open violence is still a reality in many parts of eastern DRC. The international community, under the leadership of Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General to the Great Lakes region, maintained its pressure on the Congolese authorities to complete political negotiations begun in Kampala and to reach an agreement with the armed movement.
In response, in February 2014, the Congolese government granted amnesty to the combatants, freeing them from charges, except for crimes against humanity, acts of genocide and war crimes. The disarmament process has slowly begun, though it has had varying degrees of success.
In spite of these encouraging events, the institutional problems that have long characterised the DRC, especially in the east, persist. The weaknesses in governance observed at all levels, the disconnect between devolved and decentralized entities, as well as the deficient electoral process constitute the basis of different conflicts that are routinely interethnic and continue to undermine the stability of local communities.