Accepted paper:

From Rebel to Humanitarian: Redemption, pragmatism and sense-making in the Democratic Republic of the Congo


Myfanwy James (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores story-telling among Congolese war veterans-turned-humanitarian fixers in the DRC. It explores the functions of story-telling, the narratives they form to describe their transition to humanitarianism, and how story-telling to a researcher becomes a means of demanding recognition.

Paper long abstract:

In order to operate in North Kivu, in the eastern DRC, international NGOs must negotiate with local armed groups. During these negotiations, Congolese humanitarian staff act as "fixers": they collect information, analyse the context, and form and maintain contacts among local armed groups. Many are former rebels themselves.

This paper explores story-telling among Congolese war veterans-turned-humanitarian fixers.

First, it describes how story-telling is both a risk, and a resource, in their humanitarian careers. On the one hand, story-telling is a resource: recounting their military past can help forge connections with armed groups. On the other hand, many combatants-turned-humanitarians must purposefully hide their past from their colleagues in order to gain employment and avoid distrust.

Second, this paper explores the stories former combatants tell to explain their transition. Some describe humanitarianism as redemption: a way of making amends, and coming to terms with feelings of abandonment and hopelessness after failed disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes. Others highlight pragmatism: with limited job opportunities, de-mobilised rebels with contacts and an understanding of local political dynamics became ideal candidates for humanitarian organisations.

Finally, this paper explores story-telling to an external researcher as a process of cathartic sense-making for veterans-turned-humanitarians. By narrating their story, Congolese humanitarians demand recognition and reclaim agency over the trajectories of their lives.

panel His02
Storytelling and social order in Africa