I’m trying to challenge Western-derived frameworks through which we understand conflict by listening to people’s stories.” SUDA Perera
Lecturer in International Development
“Much of my work has focused on conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although United Nations peace-keeping forces have been there for the past 20 years, following two very bloody wars, the reality is that there are now more armed groups in the country than during the war.
“Often these groups are providing some kind of employment and more security for the local people than many humanitarian organisations whose staff members don’t usually stay long and leave without changing much.
“I’m trying to understand where the violence comes from and unpack some of the structural drivers of cyclical violence. I do feel that being a woman of colour has granted me a particular type of access to some armed group members who may be distrustful of white male researchers – I think they see me as less aggressive and more willing to listen to their grievances.
“At the same time, there is a perception that Congo is one of the most dangerous places in the world for women. I always work with amazing local fixers, who have helped me develop contacts and advise me of security. The armed groups I talk to have always been respectful. To be honest, I’ve found the militarised masculinities among some of the UN peace-keepers I’ve interviewed often more threatening than those of the armed group members I’ve interviewed.
“I have come to learn that local populations don’t see peace-keepers and charities as necessarily there to help them, and they’ve learnt to fend for themselves. I’m trying to challenge Western-derived frameworks through which we understand conflict by listening to people’s stories and analysing how they theorise about the world and their place within it.”