* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Despite the vast mineral wealth of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), its people are some of the poorest in the world. Decades of conflict have left the country devastated. And although the M23 rebel movement was defeated in November last year, armed groups continue to control large areas in the east of the country. This insecurity, combined with the inability of the state to govern the country, means that roads and other infrastructure remain dilapidated, millions of people are unable to access basic public services, and young people struggle to find jobs.
Yet despite these troubles, life goes on in eastern DRC. In a region where economic opportunities are limited, small-scale cross-border trade is one of the most important means for ordinary people to feed, clothe and educate their families. According to research by International Alert, cross-border trade provides an income for tens of thousands of small-scale traders across the eastern borders of DRC, three-quarters of whom are women. This trade is also a daily reminder of the positive economic links between DRC and its eastern neighbours, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, despite the political tensions between them.
To illustrate this, peacebuilding organisation International Alert has launched Crossings: The journey to peace. Featuring photographs by award-winning photographer Carol Allen Storey, with interviews by independent researcher Alexis Bouvy, this exhibition offers a compelling glimpse into the lives of cross-border traders in eastern DRC, and illustrates their potential to contribute to peace in the region. The exhibition is hosted and sponsored by Pullman Hotels.
According to Dan Smith, Secretary General of International Alert:
“The exhibition highlights the importance and transformative potential of cross-border trade, which is not only a source of livelihood for millions, but a platform for building trust, regional integration and reconciliation between the peoples of this divided region”.
In the words of Ms Uwimana Butoyi Naima, President of the Network of Cross-border Traders in the Great Lakes region:
“Government officials from Rwanda and Congo just have to make peace. Follow our example. We, women from both countries, have made peace”.
So central is cross-border trade to the people in this region that in June 2013 the World Bank announced $1 billion in new funding to help these countries provide better social services, fund hydroelectricity projects and generate more cross-border trade.
Through a collection of photographs and interviews, Crossings: The journey to peace challenges predominant narratives about eastern DRC, which focus on ‘conflict trade’ and ‘rape’ above broader lived experiences.