Youth Participation and Non-Violent Resistance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: The Case of LUCHA

Since its colonisation in 1885, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been plagued with violence, conflict and underdevelopment. Much of its post-independence period in the 20th century was spent under the brutal dictatorship of President Mobutu Seso Seko. At the turn of the 21st century, the country was embroiled in its second civil conflict since 1996. Although DRC has not officially relapsed into civil war since 2003, it has experienced an extremely negative post-war peace. In 2012, one of the strongest armed groups of recent times—the M23 movement—captured Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. It was finally defeated by a joint offensive by the Congolese army and a special UN Force Intervention Brigade with an unprecedented mandate to fight armed groups in the country. Around this time, a small youth-led movement emerged in Goma. This called itself LUCHA, a portmanteau of the French phrase Lutte pour le changement (‘struggle for change’). According to some of its members, the name was also inspired by the Spanish La lucha, meaning ‘fight’. However, what set LUCHA apart from many other movements that had emerged in the eastern DRC was that it was explicitly against the use of violence. LUCHA sought to use peaceful protest to hold the Congolese government to account and agitate for change for Congolese citizens. In the past five years, LUCHA has grown into a nationwide youth movement, with branches in every major city in DRC. This paper presents a case study of LUCHA as an example of leadership for transformational change in DRC. It finds that bringing about political change—both at the elite level and in terms of the civic empowerment of the Congolese people—is one of the guiding principles of LUCHA, and seeks to unpick how the movement has brought about this change. It finds that LUCHA’s horizontal leadership structures and collaborative form of leadership have been instrumental in its success, although at times its leadership style has also created certain divisions within the movement. While the study focuses primarily on the single case of LUCHA in DRC, it draws on literature that examines youth, horizontal leadership and social movements from around the world, as well as literature on similar African youth movements, such as Y’en a marre in Senegal and Le balai citoyen in Burkina Faso. It is hoped that this case study of LUCHA will add to the empirical body of evidence on youth as drivers of social change in Africa.