Search for Common Ground (Search) conducted a youth-led research exercise between June and August 2019 in order to better understand the dynamics of youth participation in violence in North and South Kivu and to make recommendations for youth involvement programming in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It builds on a study conducted by Trauma Treatment International that involved ex-combatants, adults, and youth from communities in the same area. This study used a Youth-Led Research approach1 and all of the data collected and presented in this report are based on the perceptions of the respondents, including both youth and adult community members. The research focuses on three main gaps in the current literature, namely: (i) the perceived push factors for youth engagement into violence; (ii) the protective factors that prevent youth engagement in violence; and (iii) the significance of youth engagement in violence: perceived processes and effects.
Research was conducted in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu and in Sange district in South Kivu in July and August 2019. It reached a total of 848 respondents-- 404 females and 444 males. Under the supervision of a facilitator, the youth researchers carried out the preliminary data analysis, which the research team then triangulated.
First, it is important to highlight that the main target of the study was not, nor was it ever intended to be, youth categorized as “violent” (i.e., former and/or ex-combatants). Rather, the study focused on Rutshuru and Sange’s youth populations, as well as their adults. Therefore, the majority of responses collected are the perceptions of the inhabitants of the targeted communities regarding what drives certain youth to engage in violence, and are not based on factual events or on the responses of violent youth themselves. Nevertheless, the perceptions of community members living in the zones targeted by the study were important when seeking to understand the stereotypes and prejudices towards youth in Rutshuru and Sange, as well as the perceptions of their level and type of engagement in violence.
The research was structured along three primary lines of inquiry: the perceived push factors for youth engagement in violence; protective factors that prevent youth from engaging in violence; and the impact and patterns of youth engagement in violence. Additionally, before discussing these questions in great detail, respondents from focus group discussions and key informant interviews described the characteristics of violence in their communities.
North and South Kivu face acute levels of insecurity, instability, and intercommunal conflict, exposing youth to harassment by armed groups, criminal gangs, and members of state security forces. These transpire in the form of kidnappings, armed robbery, petty theft, illegal roadblocks, arbitrary detention, and cattle rustling. In South Kivu, cattle raiding was identified as a major source of violence, while in North Kivu violence driven by land conflicts was named as a key source of violence. In both the research zones, sexual violence, primarily against women and girls, was identified as the most prevalent form of violence. The research also found that different cyclical events, such as the May-September dry season as well as harvests periods and other economic trends can lead to spikes in violence throughout the year.
The research found that a wide range of political, socio-economic, social-psychological, and individual push factors contribute to youth participation in violence. The responses provided by respondents suggest that rather than a single push factor, numerous different factors influence whether or not youth engage in violence. Political push factors included exposure to insecurity, incidence of intercommunal conflict, impunity, and corruption. Respondents identified socio-economic push factors, such as access to economic opportunities and education. These were noted to be particularly salient when they correlated with existing horizontal inequalities tied to ethnicity or other identity markers. Social-psychological factors largely related to the perceptions that adults held towards youth, which can exacerbate socio-political alienation: many adults cast youth as alcoholic drug users. However, the traumatic impact caused by living in a state of chronic insecurity was also named. In general, youth responses tended to focus on systemic factors within their environment that prevented the fulfillment of basic needs, such as belonging, meaning, esteem, and agency. On the other hand, adults tended to attribute the decision to participate in violence to individual failures and behavioral deficiencies.
The participants in the study named three major types of protective factors that decrease youth engagement in violence: 1) actions/initiatives that aim to increase youth’s participation in community life and decision making; 2) a strong foundation of formal and informal education; and 3) access to sustainable livelihoods. Mirroring the conversation on push factors, participants noted that no single protective factor can sufficiently ensure that youth do not engage in violence. Yet, an overwhelming number of participants noted that existing mechanisms are not effective at sustainably dissuading young people from engaging in violence. They noted that in many cases initiatives and programs that are meant to engage youth and promote youth participation fail to adequately promote their ownership and role from the beginning.
This research learned that even a relatively small portion of youth engaging in violence can have serious consequences on community life, as well as on relationships between youth and other community members. According to interviews in the community, the attitudes and perceptions of adults towards youth are often negative. While this is a result of the violence, it can also motivate other youth to engage in violence in the first place. Overall, a legacy of violence in the Eastern DRC, as well as traumatic experiences faced both by youth and communities at-large, has strained relationships between youth and the wider community, undoing much of the social fabric.
In terms of how this violence affects the youth themselves, differences were detected among female and male youth. Young men are often perceived as the victims of physical violence, manipulation or harassment by authorities, whereas young women are perceived as the victims of GBV, which contributes to the perception that girls carry Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Girls are also known to be the victims of early and forced marriage, in addition to socio-economic discrimination, especially in South Kivu.
Many respondents discussed the impact they see violence having on individuals, families and communities.
In North and South Kivu, major consequences included imprisonment, injury, death, STIs, and other illness es, as well as persistent poverty and loss of respect within society. While in North Kivu the most frequently mentioned impact of violence was displacement or rural exodus, in South Kivu the impact of trauma and corresponding deteriorating mental health conditions were most frequently cited.
Search worked with youth researchers to generate a set of recommendations based on these findings in order to better orient policy and initiatives aimed at building peace and empowering youth.