Democratic Republic of Congo
Justice and Memory


Together with secondary school students, teachers and local experts in the field of reconciliation, the project team of Uprooted has been working hard over the past year to put together educational materials to teach and learn about the various conflicts that have plagued the Kivu provinces in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo since the 1990s. This has resulted in an online and paper-based educational timeline ‘uprooted’ or, in French, ‘Déraciné.

To understand how the materials can help to ‘uproot the roots of conflict’ (hence the project’s name), the team set up a pilot study. The study involves 20 history and civic education teachers and close to 400 students from 10 secondary schools in and around the city of Bukavu, the capital of the province of South Kivu. While there have not been any armed confrontations since 2004, it was the first large city in eastern DRC to fall under control of rebel forces in 1996. Recently, tensions have been flaring up again in neighbouring North Kivu with the re-emergence of the M23 rebels.

The pilot study consists of a pre- and post-intervention survey to measure changes in the knowledge students have about the complexity of conflict in the region, and in their ability to understand the perspectives of other ethnic groups (i.e., historical perspective taking). Recently, we concluded the pre-intervention survey. Here, we briefly share five important insights:

  1. Upon inquiry about their perceived knowledge of the history of conflict in the region, only 11.7% of students believed their knowledge of the conflict was (very) good. The large majority (69.6%), by contrast, thought it was (very) poor. About one fifth (18.7%) was under the impression their knowledge was neither good, nor poor. Thus, in their own view, students still have a lot to learn about the actual causes of conflict in the Kivu provinces.
  2. Open responses to a question probing students to describe the causes of conflict confirm that students have selective and, at times, biased understandings of the past. Notably, most students only provided succinct and reductive accounts, citing single causes, such as tribalism, land conflicts or competition over natural resources. Others held political elites responsible for the state of the country, or blamed the neighbouring Rwandan state for supporting rebels. Only few made reference to structural factors, such as poverty and inequality. Undoubtedly, these factors have all contributed to conflict, but on their own, neither has the explanatory power to explain the country’s complex history of multiple, oftentimes overlapping conflicts.
  3. Overall, students exposed moderate levels of historical perspective taking (Bilali & Vollhardt, 2013). Promisingly, more than half of the students (53.7%) disagreed (strongly) with the statement ‘I am sure that the history of conflict in Kivu that I have learned from my family and peers is the only true history’. Slightly less than half (40.1%) also disagreed that allowing expressions of different views of conflict history causes too much confusion. Still, so far, only one fifth (17.1%) had already tried to learn about the history of conflict from other groups’ perspective. Thus, students are open to learning new perspectives – they are just yet to discover them.
  4. Most students (48.3%) felt sad thinking about their region’s history of conflict, but a significant number (37.3%) indicated that it made them angry. Others felt confused, and some (3.6%) didn’t feel any particular emotion thinking about it. When addressing the history of conflict in class, teachers should be aware of these different emotions and how to react to them.
  5. Finally, we enquired whether students actually agreed that they should be taught about the causes of conflict at school. An astounding 88.9% of students believed that doing so would be propitious to fostering peace and reconciliation in the country. Teachers should nonetheless be aware that not all students support such teaching and that they could therefore face some resistance in class when using Uprooted.

Currently, the teachers have started to use the materials in the classroom. While we are convinced that these results suggest that students are eager to use materials such as ours with potentially great benefits, only the post-intervention, planned to take place in 1.5 months, will tell us with certainty whether our project can effectively address students’ selective knowledge and increase historical perspective-taking.

Learn more from the ‘Uprooted’ website (in French): Déraciné

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