The Great Lakes Civil Society Project

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In Tanzania, DRC and Burundi, more than 400.000 Burundian and Congolese refugee have been in exile for up to 40 years after being forced to flee wars and violence resulting from the socio-political history of their countries. In 1972, 1988 and 1993, hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled in waves from political crises and massacres triggered by the internecine contest for power between the Hutu and Tutsi communities. In 1996-97, huge numbers of refugees left the DRC when Mobutu was ousted during the AFDL war after thirty years of dictatorship. These movements continued after the second Congolese war of 1998-2003, and do so today in North and South Kivu as the result of repeated clashes between rebel groups and the regular army.

What does the future hold for those refugees? After 40 years in exile, returning “home” can be unthinkable for some refugees despite the pressure for voluntary repatriation. What are the other options?

To better understand the refugees’ point of view and the reasons why they refuse to return, DRC’s Great Lakes Programme and its partners ADEPAE, SVH and Rema carried out a research project bringing new light on how Congolese and Burundian refugees live from day to day in exile in the Great Lakes region, and how they perceive and understand the options available to them in this context. This documentary is part of that project, and was recorded in partnership with Local Voices during the validation workshops in July-August, 2013.

The Great Lakes Civil Society Project (GCP) is a regional programme implemented since January 2010 by the Danish Refugee Council in partnership with civil society organisations in six countries of the Great Lakes region: Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

The project’s vision is for civil society to hold governments accountable to the commitments made for protecting displaced persons in their country, by proposing realistic policy solutions to conflict and displacement.

The project supports national civil society organisations in documenting and analysing specific displacement and conflict issues, and translating these analyses into practical advocacy goals at the local, national and regional levels. It draws on existing legal and political frameworks for the protection of refugees and IDPs, such as the Great Lakes Pact on Security, Stability and Development, and the African Union Kampala Convention, as well as national-level IDP and refugee policies and legislative tools. Where possible, it encourages cross-border learning between civil society organisations and regional initiatives aimed at providing joint solutions to regional displacement problems.

Overall issues addressed by the GLP

Addressing the links between conflict and displacement
A crucial link exists between conflict and displacement and, in operational terms, they cannot be addressed in isolation from each other. This means that it is essential to conduct research that can help better define this link and identify its specificities from one geographic reality to the next. It also involves a conflict transformation approach on the ground to target the link and prevent its effects, while ensuring the involvement of strategic actors capable of bringing about long-term change.

The GCP and its partners have noticed that the approaches adopted by actors in the field tend to tackle displacement as a technical matter requiring a short-term humanitarian strategy, ultimately dealing with the consequences of displacement rather than its root causes. For example, research carried out in 2011 by SVH and ADEPAE showed that the strategies envisaged by humanitarian actors in response to returning Congolese refugees in South Kivu ignored the historical and political aspects of the conflict, and had little regard for the potential impact of these returns on latent conflict. Protection and assistance strategies must thus be placed within a much wider framework addressing conflict transformation and reconciliation. This explains why the programme has adopted an intervention strategy that encompasses related issues of local governance, land management, power and authority, identity and reconciliation.

Bridging the gap between public policies and local needs
The GCP’s programming priorities seek to respond to the limits of governments’ strategies and policies for responding to displacement and for providing adequate protection and assistance in the long term. Despite the commitments made by the governments at the regional and national level (through the signature and ratification of regional instruments such as the Great Lakes Pact or the Kampala Convention, but also through the adoption of national-level frameworks on IDPs, land management, gender and the like), the translation of these standards into realistic normative frameworks that are implementable and adequately resourced remains a major obstacle in all the countries concerned. Policy frameworks are often disconnected from local needs and realities, failing to take into account sub-regional specificities, and tend not to offer clear implementation plans outlining roles and responsibilities that can ensure a high degree of institutional buy-in. The lack of coordination between the various actors involved in the policy development process combined with a shortage of financial and material resources available to implement them underscore the need to carry out targeted advocacy and capacity-building of national-level actors, and to anchor this advocacy around professional, credible and relevant analyses.

Increasing civil society's involvement in policy making
In addition to the inadequacy of existing normative frameworks, civil society's involvement in defining and implementing these frameworks remains limited. In most cases, national policies and legislation are not based on any solid analyses outlining the needs of local populations, and are drawn from processes in which civil society is often absent. Yet civil society has a major role to play in the analysis and definition of these needs, as well as in the reflection that serves to define public policies to provide a strategic and relevant response. In order to reduce the gap between national approaches and local realities, civil society clearly needs greater capacities and increased support if it is to fully play its part. – “Civil society” refers here to NGOs operating at the national and regional levels, with a certain amount of experience in strategic advocacy alongside various government actors. Civil society actors must be able to represent and convey the aspirations of the most vulnerable segments of society, including IDPs, women and children, while providing credible, objective analyses of their needs, and taking heed of the limits of existing political frameworks.

Funding
The Great Lakes Civil Society Project is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) under the Peace and Security unit of its Regional Cooperation office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.