Promoting Prosperity in The Republic Of the Congo

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During a period of violent conflict in the Republic of the Congo’s Mayama district from 2016-2017, Jean de Dieu Malanda Nsiété, a self-described ex-combatant, says he burned down homes, stole from neighbors, hurt and killed people. When the fighting ended, he never imagined he could be accepted back into his community.  


shopkeeper in Republic of Congo

Jean de Dieu Malanda Nsiété, a participant in CRS’ BBK project, sells from his shop in the Matsoua neighborhood in the Mayama district in the Republic of the Congo.

Jennifer Lazuta/CRS


“They had nothing left when the war was over,” he says, explaining in more detail how he, regrettably, destroyed people’s lives. 

“The world was divided between ex-combatants, military and civilian populations,” he says. “How do you live with ex-combatants?”  

His road to reintegration and acceptance into the community came in 2021, with the arrival of the USAID-funded Bisalu Bia Kidzunu,or BBK project. Bisalu Bia Kidzuni, which translates to English as “works for peace,” was implemented by Catholic Relief Services in partnership with the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace in two conflict-affected districts.  

As a first step, community members from 20 villages—regardless of whether they identified as ex-combatant, military, or civilian population—were invited to take part in a six-month training on social cohesion.  

Here, they came together for learning sessions and open dialogue to discuss topics such as trauma recovery, problem resolution, forgiveness, acceptance, respect and understanding. The goal was to help people live together again in peace and with trust.

Barthelemy Bassoumba, president of the dialogue and reconciliation committee in the Mayama district of the Republic of Congo

Barthelemy Bassoumba, president of the dialogue and reconciliation committee in the Mayama district of the Republic of Congo, works closely with CRS as part of the BBK project. Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS

The curacy of the Saint Pierre Claver parish and president of the Mayama Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee, Abbot Barthelemy Bassoumba, worked closely with the social cohesion aspect of the project, and says these sessions helped break down barriers between the different groups.  

“We told them: ‘Despite our differences, we all have the same goal, the same objective: to live well,” he says. “And because we have the same objective, we must work together to obtain this objective. We all have the need to live. And the reality is we all live here, so we need to accept to live together in peace; to live with understanding and brotherhood, to collaborate.” 

A change, Barthelemy says, was not immediate and the process is still ongoing. But with time, people started opening to each other. They started talking. They started to forgive. They started to come together.  

A turning point came in 2022, when a community market was opened where for the first time in many years, people of all backgrounds came to sell and shop. Previously, the different factions would only buy and sell amongst their own group.  

Once there was trust within the community, project staff trained people on the Savings and Internal Lending Community, or SILC group model, which provides a safe space for community members to save and borrow money. At the same time, they learn how to better manage their finances and are encouraged to start new income-generating activities.   

“When the idea was introduced, people said, ‘Just give us the money because to bring us together to save together is unthinkable,'” Abbot Barthelemy says. “They said, ‘It’s my money. I can guard it myself. Why take our money and put it together? What will that bring?’ But with experience, they understood the purpose of BBK.  Before they feared each other but now they have found peace in their hearts.” 

Having known no other work but as a fighter, Jean de Dieu says he was interested in joining a SILC group so that he could start his own business.  

Using his first loan from the SILC group, Jean de Dieu built a small shop and bought some stock. With subsequent loans and using the profit he earned, he expanded his merchandise line and opened a charging station where people can come to charge their cell phones. He says that thanks to the social cohesion training, customers are no longer afraid of him. Business is going well, and he is better able to provide for his wife and three daughters.  

Jean de Dieu then went a step further and was trained as a private service provider. He is now certified to train others on the SILC model. He currently oversees two SILC groups and is a member of a third. He also volunteers as a town crier, walking through communities with a megaphone to spread messages about peace and social cohesion. 

“The Bible says anything is possible,” Jean de Dieu says. “And it’s true. We are at ease now. It is calm. Now we just want to move forward and improve our lives. What passed is past and we are free. I serve everyone at my shop without discrimination. People come to borrow money from me.  We trust each other. We are improving our lives together.” 

To respond to the needs of the population, Catholic Relief Services , in partnership with the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, implemented a peacebuilding project in communities affected by the conflict in the districts of Kindamba and Mayama of the Pool department in the period from April 2021 to May 2023, called Bisalu Bia Kidzunu, or Works for Peace, financed by USAID. The project targeted 20 villages in the districts of Mayama and Kindamba. CRS worked with the engagement of key local leaders to increase community resilience in the face of violence. The project strengthened the resilience of target communities and reduced the likelihood and intensity of intra- and intergroup violence in the future through proven approaches to address trauma, strengthen social cohesion, combat discrimination, and provide basic financial assistance to vulnerable populations. Thanks to this funding, CRS Congo reached 3,046 households, including 600 for social cohesion activities and 2,446 for SILC activities. Over the course of two years, 121 SILC groups were trained and created.