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The Trouble with the Congo


  • 1 b/w illus. 7 maps 1 table
  • Page extent: 344 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.51 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521156011)

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 (2003–6). 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.

• Suggests a new way to explain peacebuilding failures: the international neglect of local violence • Refines our theoretical understanding of international interventions by demonstrating how a dominant peacebuilding culture shapes strategies on the ground • The first academic book that explains why the massive international efforts, including the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, have failed to end the deadliest conflict since World War II


1. The peacebuilding world; 2. A top-down problem; 3. A top-down solution; 4. A bottom-up story; 5. The defeat of bottom-up solutions; 6. Beyond the Congo; Appendix. Chronology.

Prize Winner

Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order 2012 - Winner

Winner of the 2011 Chadwick F. Alger Prize, International Studies Association 2011 - Winner


'The 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.' Rene 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

'A brilliant new book by Barnard Professor Séverine Autesserre.' Foreign Policy

'… a powerful, perceptive book whose subtitle signifies its central argument: wars have local roots; therefore, the peace process must be localized, and would-be peace builders need to engage conflicted societies at every level … the culmination of years of fieldwork and research, more than 330 extended interviews, and several articles … offers new ways of understanding and resolving civil wars and of understanding why peacebuilding efforts have often foundered. [Autesserre's] case study of the failed international intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo … underscores the incongruence between the complex grassroots bases of the conflict and the predominantly state-centric, top-down approaches of the UN and other external actors. This reconceptualization of civil wars and international peace-building modalities leads logically to … policy recommendations to guide future peacemaking enterprises … should be on the must-read list for scholars, advanced students, and international policy professionals … highly recommended …' Choice

'Autesserre's recommendations, which open up new avenues of thinking about bottom-up peacebuilding strategies, contribute to the establishment of preconditions for a radical change not only in culture but also in action.' Geoffroy Matagne, African Security Review

'The main virtue of the book is that it uncovers a major blind spot in the work of international peacebuilding bureaucracies: conflict resolution at the local level.' Thorsten Benner, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

'The Trouble with [the] Congo is an exemplar piece of research and an excellent example of the deeper insights that can be gained from qualitative studies of the micro-dynamics of civil war spearheaded by Stathis Kalyvas and his colleagues at Yale University. Autesserre's book offers the most succinct yet complete account available in English of the Congolese conflict and the international intervention and it provides a fresh perspective on the micro-foundations not only of the sources of conflict but also of the sources of imperfect intervention strategies.' Christof P. Kurz, Journal of Politics

'Drawing from a great variety of qualitative sources, and most notably, years of ethnographic work and more than 330 interviews, Autesserre links the collective international neglect of local conflict dynamics to the presence of a dominant international peacebuilding culture, which she defines broadly as the shared set of 'ideologies, rules, rituals, assumptions, definitions, paradigms, and standard operating procedures' that shape international actors' 'parameters of acceptable action' in the field … [her] rigorous empirical analysis has successfully positioned the previously widely neglected issue of local conflict at the forefront of contemporary debate on international intervention - the litmus test of a scholarly work of exceptional quality and international relevance.' Lisa Karlborg, African Studies Review

'Readers eager to understand the origins and persistence of the deadliest conflict since World War II have a valuable new resource grounded in a powerful critique.' A. Carl LeVan, Political Science Quarterly

'Séverine Autesserre has written a brilliant book on peace-building in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It has already won a major academic prize, and easily deserves the further accolades it is sure to garner. The book will be of enormous interest to students of the multiple conflict in the DRC and to practitioners of peacemaking throughout the world. It also serves as a model for excellence in qualitative research design. The study has the potential to change substantially the culture and practice of peacemaking for the better if policymakers are willing to hear the heartfelt and constructive criticism embodied in this analysis.' John F. Clark, Perspectives on Politics

'In this impressive volume, Séverine Autesserre [offers] a compelling and engaging account … Her analysis is clear and its implications are highly relevant for making sense of other peacebuilding failures in troubled states. Along the way, she provides a great deal of rich detail about specific forces needed to understand the long term violence in the Congo's eastern provinces.' Marc Howard Ross, Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflicts

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