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Communities and authorities work together towards stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Story Justice and peace
Democratic Republic of the Congo -

In the conflict-ridden east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), violent crimes are commonplace. Too often, the lack of an effective justice and administrative system leads to impunity. The ESPER programme, a collaboration between VNG International and Cordaid, supports inclusive judicial governance in eastern DRC and assists the government in bringing stability to the region.

ESPER is a French acronym for Together for Security and Peace in the East of the DRC. Cordaid and VNG International implement the programme in three provinces: North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri.

The efforts are all about strengthening the social contract and restoring state authority by raising awareness and engaging the community.

The conflict in eastern DRC

Results & Indicators

  • 28 years of conflict

  • 5.3 million people have been displaced

  • 6 million people have been killed

Mobile court hearings

ESPER has supported the authorities in holding several military and civil hearings. These outdoor courtrooms bring legal services straight to the community and strengthen the authority of the state and the justice system.

‘It wasn’t until the hearings started that we understood the reason for the massacre.’

In Aru, a town in the far northeastern corner of the massive country in the heart of the African continent, a military garrison set up a mobile court hearing in collaboration with the local security committee.

Hundreds of villagers gathered in a large open shed. Azabho Masanga is one of them. Patiently he waits for the judges to come to their verdict. On his arm, he is wearing a metal brace to keep his broken humerus in the correct position. The scar of a gunshot wound is showing just above the collar of his T-shirt.

‘Soldiers broke into our village and started shooting at civilians’, he says. Azabho tells the story of this traumatic experience in a factual and controlled manner. ‘Some of my friends died. Thank God I’m alive. I was shot in the arm. It broke my bones. The bullet went through my lungs and came out of my chest.’

Youth at work in the DR Congo.
Participants in the youth support centres. Next to the mobile court hearings, these centres play an important role in bringing stability to the region. Image: Eric Tshamala Lafaveur/Cordaid

For a long time, Azabho was completely in the dark about the killers’ motives. ‘It wasn’t until the hearings started that we understood the reason for the massacre. They were avenging the death of one of their colleagues.’

It’s time for the final verdict. The judge has spoken; justice has been served. Soldiers are guiding a group of young men through a large metal gate. ‘I’m really satisfied’, Azabho says. ‘These criminals have been convicted and I am thankful for the justice system.’

Results of the ESPER programme

Results & Indicators

  • 1,496 people come together each month to plan actions and assess security issues that need to be resolved

  • 871 conflicts have been resolved, half of them through a civil court

  • 112 radio broadcasts to raise awareness on justice issues, reaching approximately 80% of the population in the region

Youth support centres

Impunity is not the only social problem in these troubled communities. Despair and a lack of opportunities of almost any kind drive many young people into abusing drugs and committing serious crimes, like armed robbery and kidnapping.

That is why ESPER also works with the communities, authorities and partners to engage the population in the process of finding structural solutions to the root causes of these problems. In so-called youth support centres, young people can work, contribute to developing their community and learn crucial skills to resist the temptations of crime.

Watch this video about the activities and the participants in the ESPER programme:

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‘My father enrolled me into school, but I refused to go’, says Daniel Nyadri Adnrozi. ‘I was smoking marijuana, taking various drugs and drinking heavily. My father decided to stop paying for my education. To get money, I would steal from people in the village.’

Daniel was destitute. Until the project staff offered him a way out. Now, he is clean and working hard to improve his carpentry. ‘Since I’m working in the centre, I have given up on drugs entirely. I realised that the work requires a lot of energy. You can’t do this work when you’re drinking or using drugs. I’m four months sober now.’

Header image: A mobile court hearing in Aru, eastern DRC. Image: Eric Tshamala Lafaveur/Cordaid