Mitigating the impact of armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo (Butembo)


The city of Butembo and its population was spared from much of the fighting that took place across the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1999-2003 thanks to the efforts of local people and organisations.

The regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) came to a violent end in 1997. In the uncertain aftermath of his downfall, the Second Congo War erupted. The province of North Kivu, which is located on the international border with Uganda and Rwanda, has been at the heart of many of the conflicts that have plagued the DRC ever since. Indeed, the region served as the staging ground for rebel offensives against the forces of Mobutu and North Kivu was once again employed to launch attacks against the administration of his successor, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In 1999, the main rebel group operating out of North Kivu, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie, RCD), splintered, dividing the province into two. This complex security situation was complicated further by the presence of smaller armed groups, ranging from Mai-Mai militias loosely affiliated to the government to exiled Hutu forces from Rwanda.1 In this context, armed conflict was widespread. However, in the historic trading city of Butembo, religious leaders and the business community managed to forge an island of relative peace which not only helped to protect the local population, but also provided shelter for tens of thousands of displaced people.

The Catholic Church emerged as a key agent for peace in North Kivu in 1994, when the local bishop negotiated a truce between armed groups on the Ugandan border. When war broke out, the local clergy publicly denounced abuses committed by various armed groups, frequently met with political and military leaders, and played a key role in the establishment of Crisis Committees which, in the absence of state institutions, served to maintain public order, oversee the allocation of humanitarian assistance, and manage, as far as was possible, the armed conflicts in the area.2 Meanwhile, business leaders used their collective bargaining power to extract concessions (such as ending the harassment of civilians) from the armed groups.3 When prime agricultural land was fortified by armed groups in 2001, the local Bishop was able to extract a public apology for threatening the city’s food security and a withdrawal of the forces in question. In later years, the Bishop also mediated several ceasefires. Remarkably, these efforts succeeded in sparing the city from much of the violence plaguing the region and demonstrably mitigated the impact of armed conflict on civilians. While the rest of the DRC suffered famine and war, residents of Butembo built a hydro-electric dam, maintained relatively high standards of education and healthcare, and maintained law and order in their city.4

1 Jason Stearns. “North Kivu: The Background to Conflict in North Kivu Province of Eastern Congo.” Rift Valley Institute Usalama Project. (2012) pp.32-3

2 Mike Jobbins. “Community-Driven Civilian Protection in the DRC: Preventing Violence and Mitigating Harm.” Exploring Civilian Protection: Community Self-Protection Strategies, Brookings Institution Seminar. (2010) Available at: (Accessed 05/01/2022) p.10

3 Ibid. pp.8-9

4 Laura Seay. “Why one city in Congo is astonishingly stable and prosperous.” The Washington Post. (2015) Available at: (Accessed 05/01/2022)

Start Year


End Year



Butembo, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo

UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Vertical (state-based) intrastate conflict with foreign involvement

Type of Initiative

Local action, Peace infrastructure

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

Local people and organisations




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