Six of China’s leading researchers participated in a recent study tour in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), supported by AFSC’s Asia and Africa programs and the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in New York. Their interest in broadening their studies on the United Nations and Africa to explore civil societies meshes with AFSC’s decades-old support for similar work both in China and Africa.
As researchers from some of China’s most influential institutes, they hoped to reduce China’s “information deficit” about the region’s civil societies, even as China increases its aid for the UN’s traditional peacekeeping efforts, explained one participant from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The six met a wide range of people, from top UN officials to staff of local organizations rehabilitating former child soldiers. One Chinese participant found African civil society in both Burundi and the DRC to be organized and playing an important role. Based on that experience, she suggested that China might broaden its concept of peacekeeping so that it might better support civil society to protect vulnerable groups and restore conflict-affected communities.
Another participant was especially impressed by conversations with Pakistani peacekeepers and members of civil society working near the peacekeeping base in South Kivu. The Pakistani peacekeepers noted that the construction of schools and a local information center were much more important to the local people than security patrols. Civil society on the other hand expressed concerns that local communities had become too dependent on these patrols.
“China is focused on the hard side of its engagement with Africa right now, but much more work could be done on the soft side. It is for this reason that we really need to promote studies of peacebuilding,” said Fu Xiao from the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.
In the coming weeks, each researcher will produce an academic article on his or her findings from the trip for publication. AFSC hopes to build on those findings to support broader engagement by Chinese representatives with local civil societies, as well as international community peacebuilding processes.