Accepted paper:

Peacekeepers as vampires: Agency, rumors, and protection in areas affected by the Lord's Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo


Kristof Titeca (University of Antwerp)

Paper short abstract:

How do local populations look at peacekeepers, and how do they make sense of their actions? By looking at the MONUSCO peacekeepers in DRC, in the area affected by the LRA, this paper shows how rumors are used to give meaning and express discontent.

Paper long abstract:

From 2008 onwards, the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army started committing large-scale atrocities on Congolese territory. For the population, the LRA is a fundamentally foreign phenomenon, which is difficult to understand. Equally hard for the population to understand is the lack of protection: while UN peacekeepers have been established in the area, they largely fail to offer a level of basic protection. This paper shows how rumors about the peacekeepers (and their links with the rebels) are being used by the affected population to re-establish a degree of control over their lives, while at the same time allowing to express discontent over the peacekeepers' (lack of) actions. The paper shows how 'leakage of meaning' (Douglas 1986) takes place from already existing narratives and frameworks of interpretation to more specific LRA narratives: the LRA is understood through the frames of a weak and exploitative Congolese state, incompetent MONUSCO peacekeepers, and an exploitative neighbor (Uganda). Lastly, while these narratives are a manifestation of agency, they paradoxically reproduce and magnify broader power structures and feelings of marginalization. In demonstrating these issues, the paper more generally analyses to the production of knowledge of military interventions on a grassroots level, and shows how these have a powerful impact on how local populations interact with the various actors.

panel P050
A bottom-up perspective on military intervention in fragile states