A story circulates in the small circle of aid workers who spend their lives working in various war environments. Depending on whether I was in Kosovo, the Congo, or Afghanistan, I heard different versions of it applied to the World Bank, the United Nations (UN), or the International Monetary Fund, but its basic components remained the same. In the Congo, for example, the story ran along the following lines. The UN recently published a report on its action in the country. Surprisingly enough, entire sections of this document focused on East Timor. The organization launched an internal inquiry to determine the reasons behind this puzzling discrepancy. It discovered that the staff member who had prepared the report had just been redeployed from East Timor to the Congo. On arrival in his new position, he implemented the exact same strategies in the exact same way he had done in all his previous postings. As usual, when reporting time arrived, he took his template report, hit “search and find,” and replaced “East Timor” with “the Congo.” This time, he simply missed a few occurrences.
This anecdote encapsulates a complaint that I frequently heard while conducting fieldwork in the Congo. In the words of a local peacebuilder, “there is a tendency for foreign interveners at different levels to arrive with their baggage, their methodology; sometimes they call it their ‘toolkit.’”