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The Trouble with the Congo
Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding

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Part of Cambridge Studies in International Relations

  • Date Published: June 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521156011

$ 31.99 (G)

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • 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
    Read more


    • Winner of the 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order

    Reviews & endorsements

    “Over a decade old, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) is now the biggest multilateral peacekeeping effort ever, with close to 20,000 troops and civilian personnel and an operating budget over a billion dollars. Cycles of extreme violence in the country have led to some criticism of the UN’s efforts, and Autesserre’s book provides a unique ethnography of the organization in the Congo, the outlook and values of its staff, and its operational logic…Autesserre’s arguments are clearly stated and compelling…”
    – Foreign Affairs

    “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

    "The trouble with the Congo is a well-researched and provocative book, and its arguments are comprehensively supported with solid evidence. The bibliography will be a resource for scholars of Central Africa for decades. The questions Autesserre’s arguments raise are based on logical arguments which provide grist for the theoretical mill and open up and point the way to new research agendas." - Michael Nest, African Security Review

    "A much-needed contribution to the literature on the micro-dynamics of violence and peacebuilding, Séverine Autesserre's The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding is an outstanding work of political science. It is so meticulously researched and well reasoned – while based on solid evidence – that it is difficult to criticise the author’s central claim that conflict continues in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) because it essentially never occurred to the international community that it needed to be concerned with local peacebuilding initiatives. - Laura E. Seay, African Security Review

    "Autesserre’s interpretation of events in Congo has wide academic appeal and direct policy implications. She recommends devising and implementing local peacebuilding efforts to accompany efforts being made at the national and regional levels.... Autesserre does an excellent job of convincing the reader that, in many ways, international peacebuilders lacked the basic skills, such as knowledge of local power dynamics, linguistic skills, etc, necessary to resolve conflicts at the local level." - Zachariah Mampilly, African Security Review

    "Autesserre’s recommendations, which open up new avenues of thinking about bottomup 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

    "Autesserre has powerfully turned our attention to the missing local piece/ peace of the complex challenge that is peacemaking/peacekeeping/peacebuilding, of the violent puzzle that is the eastern DRC, and of many other ‘post-conflict’ settings.... In this, her book makes a powerful contribution." - Stephen Jackson, African Security Review

    "The Trouble with the Congo is an important study that adds greatly to the growing literature on international peacebuilding in Africa and other areas of the world. This study is essential reading for anyone interested in modern Africa and the failure of international peacebuilding in the last two decades." - Sandra Trudgen Dawson, African Conflict & Peacebuilding Review

    "Autesserre offers a powerful analysis that contributes to an understanding of the significance of culture in peacekeeping operations, from both an institutional and a grassroots perspective.... Her book is an absolute must for anyone interested in the Congo wars." - Steven Schouten, International Affairs

    "The strong and convincing argument for local peace-building will secure the book to be a new fixture in the peace-building literature firmament." - John Karlsrud, Forum for Development Studies

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521156011
    • length: 344 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 28 mm
    • weight: 0.48kg
    • contains: 1 b/w illus. 7 maps 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    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.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Advanced International Relations
    • Comparative African Politics
    • Comparative Politics, Human Rights
    • Ethnic Conflict and Civil War
    • Human Security and the Responsibility to Protect
    • International Cooperation
    • Nat Resource and War in Africa
    • Peacekeeping
    • Politics Of Humanitarian Intervention in Africa
    • Politics of Humanitarian Action
    • Public International Law
    • Rhetoric & Writing ll: Argument and Research
    • Seminar: Civil Conflict in Africa
    • Senior Seminar on Military Intervention (Note:I need a print copy please)
    • State, Society, and Development
  • Author

    Séverine Autesserre, Columbia University, New York
    Séverine Autesserre is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, specializing in international relations and African studies, at Barnard College, Columbia University. Her research focuses on civil wars, peacebuilding and peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and African politics, and her findings have appeared in scholarly and policy journals including Foreign Affairs, International Organization, the African Studies Review, the Review of African Political Economy, the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, and Birikim. Over the past twelve years, Professor Autesserre has worked periodically for humanitarian and development agencies in Afghanistan, India, Kosovo, Nicaragua, and the Congo.


    • Winner of the 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order
    • Winner of the 2011 Chadwick F. Alger Prize, International Studies Association

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