Central Africa Mediation
What began almost
three years ago as a pilot project – started
by Judy Friesem and Kim Bush – has developed into a coordinated
effort to train community mediators for the Eastern part of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. Judy’s groundbreaking
training was followed up by George Brose during two six-week intervals
in the summers of 2007 and 2008. George conducted mediation classes with
Judy’s students and many others. In 2008, between George’s
two trips, Bridget Butt conducted transformative mediation training in
Rwanda, Burundi, North Kivu and South Kivu.
In total about two-hundred people received basic mediation training
and transformative mediation training. The new trainees were expected
to look for opportunities to mediate disputes in their neighborhoods,
schools and churches. When George came, six months after Judy had completed
her courses, he found that the mediators had been very active already
mediating over 100 cases in the three countries. Many of the trainees
had been active in other AGLI programs; e.g. Alternatives to Violence
Project (AVP) and Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC). Thus
they had previous training and had conducted group animation and reconciliation
projects. Mediation was a new application to some of the problems that
they had been confronting in these other projects. However mediation
differs in that it focuses more frequently on conflicts between two individuals
rather than between larger groups. The disputes may or may not have been
ethnically motivated. This is not to say that mediation cannot be applied
to larger group conflicts.
North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Recent contact with one of the mediators currently living in Goma, DRC
indicates that a number of those trained have continued to go to the
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps to mediate. It has been widely
publicized that the ongoing conflict between the government forces and
numerous armed militias has caused those in the combat zones around Goma
to flee, moving constantly to seek a safe place to sleep and survive.
Even some of the residents of Goma are fleeing across the border into
Rwanda on a daily basis. Nevertheless, community life goes on in the
camps and in the city. People have neighborhood conflict as well as domestic
violence and disputes. The mediators are going into the camps to help
people resolve the community conflict which would be happening whether
there was a war going on or not.
In Burundi mediators from the capital, Bujumbura, and some outlying
areas were trained. Their practicum was done in a remote village where
several conflicts had been going on for years. The conflicts were within
families. In dispute in both cases were traditional rights of partitioning
land after the death of the head of household in one case and after a
divorce in the other case. The disputes had produced some very serious
domestic violence. Because the families lived in small communities, the
conflict was closely linked to daily village life and activities. The
mediators were able to adapt the formal training they had received from
Westerners and apply it using a more traditional African method. Two
mediators were used instead of a single mediator. There was gender balance
as well. Instead of mediating solely between the two disputants, members
of the village, the village Peace Committee, and extended family members
sat and observed the mediations. This would be much less likely to happen
in the West. These sessions resembled a conciliation technique called
Restorative Justice. Both cases settled after close to 4 hours.
In one case the dispute was between a mother and daughter and two women
served as mediators. In the dispute between a widow and her brother-in-law,
one woman and one man served as mediators. At the end of one of the mediations
several remarkable things happened. The disputing parties and their observing
families and village members rose together and prayed and sang. Impassioned
speeches were given asking why they had not been able for three years
to resolve the mediated dispute. An adult addressed several youth who
were present at the mediation, saying that they should learn from this
experience that there were better ways to resolve conflict than the violence
they were so used to promoting. These were people who over the years
had frequently been the victims of violence from many directions.
Not far from this
village a group of Tutsi children had been burned alive in retribution
for the assassination of the country’s Hutu
president Ndadaye in 1993. Reprisals against the Hutu population were
frequent in the area. It is this history of violence that can make it
difficult for even relatively small issues to be reconciled.
As we prepared to
leave the president of the local peace committee pleaded for us to
stay. He said there were thirty more cases to mediate. Time
didn’t permit. Here we were, mediators from the big city visiting
in the countryside and then going home. In most cases the mediators were
pastors, church employees, or civil servants who had taken time off from
their jobs to be trained and then had to return home. Their future mediation
work would be near where they lived. There was still an unmet need for
mediation in this rural area. In looking at the future of mediation work
it is clear that there is a huge need to train mediators from rural areas.
Truly it cannot be more grassroots than this.
Burundi faces another problem: the return of refugees to their homes.
When violence became widespread in the early 1970’s, many Burundians
fled to Tanzania where they remained in refugee camps for over thirty
years. By Burundi law they lost the right to reclaim their abandoned
property after thirty years. Recently Tanzania has begun expelling
these refugees and sending them back to Burundi. (This problem is so
serious that even the US has recently agreed to accept emigration of
14,000 Burundians.) Where to locate these long absent citizens in this
overpopulated country is a major question. Many were born outside of
Burundi while in the camps. They have lost much of the culture and
language of Burundi. They have no land rights. An offshoot of the Friends
community, the Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation Under the Cross
(MIPAREC) has been organizing Peace Committees and, in fact, hosted
our Mediation trainings and regional meeting in their visitors’ center.
They have worked with retuning refugees and sponsored some mediations
about reclaiming some of the land that was lost by the refugees. Training
of additional mediators could help promote the resolution of this problem
of land distribution. Imagine someone who has been living on a property
and who has legal rights to the property being willing take part in
mediation to discuss sharing this land with the original owner.
Opportunities in South Kivu, DRC
In 2008 two trainings
were held in Uvira, North Kivu Province of the DRC. Bridget Butt of
Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI) conducted
the first training followed by George Brose a few weeks later. During
that time participants living on the Haut Plateau above Uvira expressed
interest – in fact they pleaded with us – to lead trainings
up there in 2009. The Haut Plateau is an area above the Rift Valley that
has a substantial population of ethnic Tutsi people known locally as
Banyamulenge. They are not recent immigrants; they have been living there
many generations. There is much conflict between the Banyamulenge and
their neighbors. It will be a long bus ride and a long walk into the
area where they live but the need for mediators is great.
Rwanda has received
the most publicity because of its genocide of 1994. As a result it
has been the recipient of significant international aid
for the reconstruction of the country unlike the DRC and Burundi. The
reconciliation process is institutionalized to a greater extent than
in neighboring countries. How well reconciliation is being accomplished
might be the subject of a lot of research without generating consensus.
It appears that AGLI plays an important role in the reconciliation that
does go on in Rwanda, perhaps without due recognition for their efforts.
Recognition indeed is probably at the bottom of AGLI’s list of
priorities. I’m somewhat at a loss to evaluate the needs of the
country that AGLI can address at this time. My experience in the rural
areas is almost non-existent; Byumba is the lone exception. I have heard
stories that during the April mourning period that commemorates the genocide,
Tutsi children at boarding schools receive threats that the genocide
is not over. Notes are left on their beds while they are absent. There
may be an opportunity to meet and train some of the children at a boarding
school where I have a small contact. The headmaster of the school is
a Marist brother who has a close liaison with the village of Yellow Springs,
Ohio. From this it may be possible to get an invitation to do some mediation
training with children.
In conclusion, if I am able to return to Africa this summer, I would
like to continue trainings in the Goma area, perhaps in the IDP camp/s
where Friends currently support the population. If the camps ever close
and people are able to return to their homes mediation skills will go
home with them. Uvira and the Haut Plateau in the Eastern Congo and village
mediators in Burundi all need further training. By developing mediators
in several villages we can observe whether and how the process takes
effect in those areas. According to reports from Burundi there are currently
people mediating land disputes, but they have little or no training.
In Rwanda there are lots of institutions doing reconciliation, but there
may be rural areas and possibly schools where mediation can be developed.
An additional place that may benefit from having trained mediators, not
mentioned above, is the Island of Pemba off the Tanzanian coast where
Friends hope to recover lost property.
If mediation can be introduced by well-trained mediators, it has a better
chance of succeeding and being maintained. Any mediation program needs
continued support in its early years to achieve an established place
in society. Should we fail to maintain and support what has been initiated
we will diminish the chances of mediation thriving in places where it
is truly needed.